A big thank you to Travel Paso for hosting my stay so I could write this detailed review of my experience.

About 12 years ago, on a California road trip with my father, I remember pulling into downtown Paso Robles seeking dinner, to find the only two restaurants available that Sunday were closed. Oh, how times have changed. Today, the area has become an ambitious hotbed of culinary prowess and California ingenuity.

This premier California wine region, located halfway between L.A. and San Francisco, is known for having soil similar to famous French regions. More than just sprawling wineries though, Paso offers mineral hot springs, olive oil tastings, rich culture, and great food. The feast is more bountiful than ever, with a burgeoning restaurant, beer, and cocktail scene. Come to sip wine and stay for the creative fusion of flavors. Paso Robles is truly a feast for all senses.

Sensorio, Field of Lights in Paso Robles, California

Five unexpected discoveries on a trip to Paso

Wine pairings with Indian spices

The last thing we expected to find in Paso was spice pairings, but at LXV, a $25 wine tasting is paired with spiced cheeses, each carefully selected to compliment the varietal. Passionate vintners and owners Neeta and Junal Mittal discovered Paso in 2009 on a regular trip to Napa when their plane was forced to land during a storm. Today, they welcome guests in their downtown tasting room, to be mindful of how each spice pairing affects the enjoyment of the wine. A Reserve Cab may be paired with smoldering notes like smoked paprika BBQ rub spiced cheese and a Sangiovese paired with perfumed garden notes like hibiscus Persian lime spiced cheese. Primarily a Bordeaux house, their estate vineyard Armaa.N, in the Willow Creek District, boasts organic regenerative farming practices and clones of distinction. Next door to the tasting room, their gift shop sells spices, teas, and unique items that visitors are encouraged to sample and smell.

LXV, wine and spice pairing in Paso Robles, California

Book a wine pairing at COPIA, a newly remodeled, stylish winery with floor-to-ceiling windows, an outdoor deck, and a mid-century zig-zag roof line. Like LXV, Copia Vineyards and Winery grew out of great love and passion for winemaking, as Anita and Varinder Sahi began their wine journey interning as adults in 2016, then bought their first winery in 2017 after finding a site to produce world-class Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. Copia’s tasting room in the Adelaida District has 26 acres of vines, complementing its 50 acres of vines in the Willow Creek District. COPIA’s tastings pair with exquisite bites enhanced with Indian spices and ingredients. Taste buds are tantalized with a white blend of Viognier and Roussanne, served alongside coconut turmeric panna cotta with lime zest, cumin, coriander, Kashmiri chili, and sea salt. The Story red blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) is elevated by a flour tortilla with Spanish chorizo, sundried tomato, and saffron crème.

wine and food pairing at Copia Vineyards in Paso Robles, California

Anita is passionate about the process, expressing that “blending is our fun time of year. We approach it like cooking, like a spice box. Texture is our main driver when it comes to wine. The story is in the bottle and wine is what nature gives us. The wine feels like our children, like giving birth, from picking the first grapes and realizing the fruits of our labor. It feels great to taste those babies in the bottle.”

Exploding cocktail and craft beer scene

Paso is now one of the best cocktail scenes to experience in California if not America. Get to know downtown Paso with a libation hop when you tire of vino. Start with newcomer Cane Tiki Room and transport yourself to the South Pacific to order from over 200 different kinds of rum – even a $287 shot of Dictador 2 Masters Rum, aged 35 years in bourbon barrels. Wow! It might be impossible to pick just one invention here but start with a Bodega Heist featuring Mezcal, mango, and lemongrass soju served over a Tapatio cube releasing a slow heat that unfolds with each sip, turning your palette into an accomplice in this flavorful heist. For those with espresso martini cravings, order Thieves in the Temple with a Thai tea Borghetti espresso liqueur collision enhanced with cognac and rum, topped with chocolate Thai basil foam.

Tiki cocktails at Cane Tiki Room in Paso Robles

More exciting concoctions are found at plant-dripping Alchemists’ Garden, where sensory sips might feel like going down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole, as a PB&J Old fashioned shimmies out of a smoked wooden box and Belladonna’s painkiller tastes like a bubblegum vacation. Pair the libations with one of their fabulous food items like the Duck Chalupa carnitas in a crispy pita or fondue cast iron fries with raclette, mozzarella, and pepitas.

Cocktails at The Alchemists' Garden in Paso Robles

For the ultimate imbibing, don’t miss The Remedy, a 10-seat speakeasy lounge hidden within The Alchemists’ Garden, where new flavor profiles are introduced as magical potions appear on a cart, such as barrel-aged gin smoke infused with cinnamon bark and chamomile flower. Let the conversations grow deep in this sexy little parlor.

The Remedy speakeasy in Paso Robles, California

Sip more secret classic cocktails, a Grasshopper Milk Punch, or a Butter Pecan Old Fashioned at Eleven Twenty Two, an established speakeasy lounge where you can guarantee your phone will be taken upon arrival. This place is popular and intimate, and the weekend lines can be long, so arrive early.

Della’s (next door to its sister restaurant Michelin-recommended Hatch) will rock your taste buds with blistered creative wood-fired pizza (meatball and whipped ricotta with pickled fresno chiles), pasta (Bucatini Carbonara amped with carbonara foam), and mind-bending cocktails like a Banana Old Fashioned and Caribbean Cove with milk-clarified rum (that takes 3 days to make), pineapple, OJ, coconut rooibos tea and vanilla. Their specialty gin bar will make anyone appreciate this spirit, with options like Della’s Negroni made with amphora-aged gin.

Della's Paso Robles

For a different tasting experience, visit Re: FIND, a winery and craft distillery that makes spirits from grapes using the leftover saignee, as it arose from Villicana Winery’s mission to become more sustainable. They use the free run-off juice that is often discarded during the winemaking process, ferment it, and distill it, bottling the spirits unfiltered. Swoon over their cucumber or kumquat vodka, limoncello, gin finished in barrel, and numerous Whiskeys.

Paso Market Walk in Paso Robles, California

Brewing in this central California town is just as inventive. Plenty of beer options abound from small Hog Canyon Brewery in the Paso Market Walk to large nationally known brands such as Firestone Walker, plus plenty in between like Cal Coast, Paso Brewing Company, and Backyard Paso.

Be sure to visit the modern industrial-style complex called Tin City, where California’s beverage scene is next level! Home to more than 20 small production wineries, distilleries, breweries, Etto Pastificio (where you can take pasta to-go) and Michelin-star restaurant Six Test Kitchen. Start with a cider flight at Tin City Cider. Hmmm, we love Tin City’s Liliko’i fermented with passion fruit, Cousin Eddie co-fermented with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, and M’Orange cider blended with skin contact Malvasia Bianca.

Silva Brewing in Paso Robles, California

At Silva Brewing, brewmaster Chuck Silva crafts beer (and now wine). His Vanill-O-Boros is a must-try as this hand-bottled, corked, and wired stout is infused with a lustrous aroma of pure Madagascar vanilla aged in whiskey barrels for two years. At night, catch a hot act over beer and wine at Libretto, Paso’s first underground jazz club with piano riffs to ease any worries.

Intimate wine tasting experiences that connect with the land

While the best time to visit for wine tasting is from September to November when the grape harvest is in full swing, the peak growing season is from May to October.

Pelletiere Estate Vineyard and Winery is led by a mother-daughter duo growing Italian varietals from 30-year-old vines where if you are lucky you can sample their Legrein, a rare Italian varietal grown here and in only a few locations in the US. The roaming sheep amongst the vines munch down the grasses, adding to the charm of this European-feel estate. Book a wine-tasting vineyard tour to learn about their winemaking philosophy and farming practices like the “mothering” process used as a better alternative for planting new vines.

sheep and vineyards at Pelletiere Estate Vineyard and Winery in Paso Robles

Deep in Paso Robles on a 2,000-acre property, find Adelaida Vineyards and Winery, the 9th winery to spring forth in Paso, with vineyards on a wide variety of mesoclimates and soil types. Today they grow 20 varietals on 150 acres, 40 of which are dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Food and wine pairing at Adelaida Winery in Paso Robles, California

Amp up your food and wine pairing here with a hilltop wine experience overlooking the vast land, considered the best place to make concentrated wines, as grapes planted here are on some of the highest elevations and toughest access points for ideal sun exposure and ripening. Sip Adelaida’s Signature Estate wines like Syrah, a Mourvedre, and a 2018 bold juicy Cab from their Viking estate vineyard aged in French oak – all paired with elegant bites like coffee-rubbed beef tenderloin and duck confit on a wonton crisp.

Bird's eye view of Adelaida Vineyard and Winery in Paso Robles, California

Put Alta Colina Vineyard and Winery on your list, as this hilltop wine-tasting opportunity is also a must-try, with owner/grower/winemaker Bob Tillman, who bought the property in 2003. Appreciate the estate-grown Rhones like a bird above the land at one of Paso’s highest-altitude vineyards. Bob says Petite Syrah is the best wine grown here, with easy tannins and notes of blackberry cobbler.

Vintage campers or colorful trailers at Alta Colina Vineyard and Winery in Paso Robles, California

We appreciated the estate Syrah, Mourvedre, and estate Grenache used for rose. Stay awhile and hobble down the hill to stay. overnight in a 1950s vintage camper, as colorful trailers hug a pond surrounded by Alta Colina’s 31 sweeping acres of wine grapes. A private chef can be requested to cook for guests as well as host yoga on the dock, but the best part is falling asleep after a wine-fueled day under the dazzling stars with no light pollution in this uber-private location.

Vineyard view high on mountain at Alta Colina Vineyard and Winery in Paso Robles, California

Deep in the cellar with the library wines, guests at Le Cuvier Winery uncork special bottles from the 1980s-1990s for a price. Another wonderfully welcoming winemaker, Clay Selkirk, and wine crew will show you the ways of the wine world through an education in corkage, aerating, proper bottling, and more, after an educational food and wine pairing plus lunch where you will soon find out that fried chicken pairs well with brut bubbly and big bold reds always pair well with pork meatballs, rib eye, and dark chocolate flourless cake. Dine outside at this hilltop location or inside their tasting room with century-old stained glass doors. Le Cuvier wines are born with a hands-off approach as dry-farmed fruit is chosen whenever possible, wild yeast fermentation is practiced exclusively, and each wine spends a minimum of 33 months in neutral oak. For the ultimate memories, enjoy charcuterie, three library wines in the cellar plus three current wines for around $650 for 6 people.

Le Cuvier Winery wine and food pairing in Paso Robles, California

Blooming dining scene, from casual to high end

Besides the aforementioned delights and plethora of wine and food pairings at vineyard estates, there is a stellar lineup of dining options. Five restaurants in Paso are recognized by the Michelin Guide, two with stars (Six Test Kitchen and The Restaurant at Justin) plus three more honored this year (The Hatch, In Bloom, and Les Petites Canailles).

Add Brunch Paso to your foodie tour. Sit outside at this little corner spot for traditional breakfast fare with local ingredients. The Breakfast Pizzas are a huge hit while the Breakfast Burrito is unlike any we have sampled loaded with fresh spinach, avocado mash, crispy potatoes, layers of eggs, queso fresco cheese, and bacon crumble (or chicken apple sausage) with a crisp toasted soft tortilla. Consider the Berries & Cream French Toast or the S’more French Toast as a starter.

Breakfast Burrito at Brunch Paso in Paso Robles

For lunch, do not miss newcomer Baja and Sonora style Mexican FINCA, as every taco is a mouth explosion from Duck al Pastor to Baja Shrimp. The Mushroom Taco will excite carnivores with oak-grilled mushrooms, avocado, and cilantro cashew sauce.

Exterior of new restaurant FINCA in Paso Robles, California

Share the creamy guacamole and fresh ceviche outside on the patio of this little Victorian-like farmhouse where a white Burgundy and spicy margarita are the perfect complements to the super fresh ingredients and wood-grilled seafood. From a former chef/baker from Bouchon and owner of Napa’s Michelin Guide La Taquiza, it is no wonder this casual restaurant is taking Mexican fare to new heights. Nearby, Paso Market Walk boasts many gourmet food and beverage options and farm fresh delights functioning as a modern reinvention of the traditional farmer’s market.

Tacos at FINCA in Paso Robles, California

French fan favorite Les Petites Canailles is referred to as LPC by most and raved about by all. Chef-owner Julien Asseo spent his early years in Paso as his father was a Bordeaux native who launched L’Aventure winery in 1998. Later, Julien returned to Paso after culinary school, after classical training in Paris and Bordeaux, and working with many chef legends for over 17 years in Las Vegas and L.A. In 2019, he opened LPC with a super seasonal menu and a wine pairing that changes every two weeks. While steak frites is on the top of my ordering list for next time, make sure to save room in your stomach before LPC’s decadent rich-tasting menu. In March, the menu impressed with courses like quail stuffed with ground duck and dirty rice paired with a Gamay from Avila Scar of the Sea, Panko-crusted garlic aioli escargot, and Mighty Cap tempura oyster mushrooms. The smoked trout with a lemon puree and chive oil was our favorite bite along with the sinful cheesecake-y flan with caramel ending. Like most people we met, the chef touts the magic of Paso due to a sense of community.

wine and dessert at Les Petites Canailles in Paso Robles

Sensorio’s Field of Lights with more installations

If you haven’t been tantalized yet by the illuminated rolling hills known as the Field of Lights, where 100,000 glowing orbs shift their hues at dusk while darkness sets in, now is the time to stroll this ethereal landscape. Started as a pop-up, the Light at Sensorio has morphed into a permanent exhibit, drawing crowds from far and wide to witness the solar-powered light installation by artist Bruce Munroe, known for his large-scale illuminated artworks all over the world.

Sensorio, Field of Lights in Paso Robles, California

Today, find more pathways being constructed as the exhibit expands in entirely new ways, most recently with the newly installed Light Towers, where colors shift around glowing wine bottle statues paired with music, and a hillside that looks like a night of glowing jellyfish. Look closely and shooting beams of light accented by the blue sky and puffy clouds are actually fishing rods lit up in unison. As this outdoor fantasia continues to evolve, guests can now book elevated terrace seating with drinks and dining at food trucks and an on-site restaurant – making this an enchanting way to end a day in Paso. Make sure to book tickets in advance.

Field of Lights jellyfish called Sensorio in Paso Robles, California

It’s easy to find pleasure in all things in Paso Robles. Discover something new and indulge the senses.


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