Napa might be synonymous with California wine country, and Sonoma may be its little sibling. So what does that make Paso Robles? The best of the bunch.
This unheralded stretch of wine country sits between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with hundreds of wineries in a laid-back environment. You'll find more than 40 types of wines at budget prices compared to the more popular spots to the north. Better yet, there are many wineries with free tasting rooms and many with a one-of-a-kind vibe.
We spent a few days exploring wineries in this region with two kids in tow and at the height of the summer heat in July. And it was still amazing. Head for Paso Robles if you want to soak in live music, food trucks, incredible views, and outdoor games – all while sipping wine in a crowd-free setting.
Getting There … And Getting Around
Paso Robles is located just inland from California's central coast. It's about a three-hour drive from San Francisco (SFO) and about 3 1/2 hours from Los Angeles (LAX), so flying into either city and renting a car is your best bet. Or fly into Santa Barbara for a quicker drive at around 2 hours.
But why not make a road trip out of it? There are plenty of scenic stops you can make along the way through Central California.
Once you make it to Paso Robles, keep in mind it can be a long drive between wineries. Some might be next-door neighbors, but others are eight-plus miles away from each other.
So you may want to plan on keeping a designated driver – or hiring one. There are multiple options in the regions including SLO Safe Ride or Designated Wine Driver. Or just look up one of many tours offered throughout Paso Robles with several planned stops.
Hit all the Best Wineries
This is what you came for. But where do you even start?
With so many wineries, it can be hard to pick and choose which to try. So we've compiled a list of some of the best places we came across, with a mix of popular tasting rooms as well as some smaller, more intimate family-run wineries.
This list goes from west to east so you can put together a route with multiple stops or focus on one area to visit. But keep in mind this is just a small sample of some highlights – it's by no means comprehensive.
Come for the wine, stay for the view.
DAOU offers one of the best scenic views over the hills in all of Paso Robles. It sits atop a hill overlooking the surrounding vineyards and has a large outdoor space with comfortable chairs and seating areas as well as a nice indoor bar and restaurant. Just be prepared to pay a bit more here.
The tasting fee is on the steeper side at $40 per person, though that's waived with a three-bottle purchase. You can also spring for a food and wine pairing like the cheese & charcuterie experience at $55 per person.
Among the Paso Robles wineries, DAOU can be more crowded so you might want to make a reservation. Or just show up to soak in the views as we did – or buy a bottle and sit outside.
Peachy Canyon is a cute stop in a whitewashed old 1800's schoolhouse that was converted into a tasting room on beautiful grounds with rolling hills and native oak trees. They offer a variety of wines in their tasting room and have a nice outdoor space with an oversized Adirondack chair for photo ops.
The tasting fee is $15 per person, though that's waived with a two-bottle purchase. It's on the west side of town, off Highway 46.
Shale Oak has a very unique building for its tasting room, with a huge stained glass wall and mid-century look that belies its laid-back vibe.
This winery is big on sustainability. The team behind Shale Oak came together to create the building and space with minimal environmental impact.
It also has an outdoor space with live music playing often, too. Wine tastings clock in at just $15 per person. Look for it on the west side of the city, just down the road from Peachy Canyon. If you're looking for more stops nearby, Niner Wine Estate and Tooth & Nail are good options on the same stretch of road.
Moving over to the east side of town, walking into this winery feels like you stepped into someone's Italian villa.
You are. The family behind Mitchella lives on-site and opens up a wing of its grand estate for their tasting room, along with a cozy patio in an intimate setting plus a small store. This small winery screams family, as does its handcraft small-batch wines.
They have tables and a swing set outside and let us walk into the rows of the vineyards to even try a few right off the vine. A highlight here is that they pair their wine tastings with cheese, still at a cost of only $15 per person – though that's also waived with a two-bottle purchase.
One of the founding “pioneers” of this region started Eberle winery after breaking off from his family's Estrella Winery. This place offers a beautiful view off a scenic deck outside, bocce ball and bean bags, and often has live music and other events.
But best of all, Eberly offers free tastings and tours of the caves. This is a place you can really spend some time soaking in the views, playing games outside or listening to music and touring the caves. You'll see their iconic symbol of the boar on bottles and a statue outside, which is the German origin of the name. It's located to the east of town off Highway 46.
You know a winery is good when even its competitors mention it.
Steinbeck is one of the founding wineries in Paso Robles – the grandfather and patriarch of the winery, now in his 80s, still drives his tractor around to work the land of the vineyard. It's a seventh-generation family-run business that spans more than 100 years, distributing across the region as well as running a small tasting room and varieties of their own.
The taproom was converted from an old blacksmith shop dating back to the early 1900s. You can do a tasting here at $10 per person, waived with the purchase of just one bottle. Or schedule a vineyard tour with a tasting, too, with one of the family members at $20 per person to learn more about the rich history of this proud family-run estate. It's located on the east side off Highway 46.
Sculptera is a little further south on the east side of town, off the beaten path of Paso Robles.
And as the name suggests, there is actually a sculpture park curated throughout the grounds. It's a very family-friendly spot. Come here to enjoy free art and listen to live music year-round on Saturdays and Sundays. They have both red and white wines to choose from in the tasting room
Tobin James Cellars
This is a popular often bustling tasting room and for good reason: Tobin James Cellars offer free tastings and are open later than most other tasting rooms, serving wine until 6 p.m. It has an Old West saloon feel to the atmosphere and an outdoor patio, serving a variety of both reds and whites. Tobin James is on farther on the east side, outside of town off Highway 46.
Wineries South of Paso Robles
If you're driving up from Los Angeles or up for a longer drive, there are several wineries worth stopping at on your way through Paso Robles.
If you're looking for sparkling wines, Laetita is known for them – along with a handful of other varieties like Pinot Noir. Just be careful of the turns off the highway, as it's a known spot for car accidents.
Kelsey See boasts a unique atmosphere, thanks in large part to the peacocks roaming the farm-like setting around their tasting room. They also offer some wines infused with apple.
Paso Robles doesn't disappoint, with an unbeatable mix of some unique and friendly wineries making outstanding wines at a great price – and with fewer crowds.
You'll leave feeling like an insider, with an edge on some of the most affordable and chill vineyards of California.