Take a Trip to Paso Robles

This week I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting the central coast of California. My dear friend Julia, the editor of PopSugar SF, was doing a press tour of the quaint country city of Paso Robles. She invited me along for ride — here are my top picks from our quick and romantic two-day getaway.

Paso Robles is located along the 101, about three hours south of San Francisco. It’s a 20-minute drive from the coast and an up-and-coming area for wine tasting. With a population of only 30,000 people, Paso definitely has a small town vibe. The center of downtown Paso is a large square park with a public library and farmers market. The surrounding blocks are filled with shops, urban tasting rooms, art galleries, and restaurants.

STAY: While there’s several hotels around the city, the best place to lodge is at the Hotel Cheval, a luxurious boutique hotel located just off the square with a delightful equestrian theme. With gigantic plush beds, flat screen TVs, and sleek modern bathrooms, each room is sophisticatedly comfortable. The flip-on-with-a-switch fireplace and elegant, yet rustic decor make the rooms feel cozy and almost like home. What causes a hotel to be especially memorable is the little details and the Hotel Cheval goes the distance. Each room is named after a famous horse, delicious dark chocolate caramels are placed on the beds at night, and the property is dotted with chic wooden lounge chairs and oversized fireplaces.

DO: Paso’s biggest attractions are the wineries. There’s over 200 tasting rooms in the hills that surround the city. One winery that’s definitely worth a visit is the region’s oldest establishment. Founded in 1908, Rotta specializes in a wonderful variety of reds and a stellar party rose. If you’re lucky, a lady named Gale will be manning the tasting room when you arrive. With her knowledge of the winery and appellation, and her fabulous stories that revolve around drinking Rotta’s wine, this spunky senior with bedazzled glasses made our experience. For a more refined tasting, head over to Aron Hills. This tasteful tasting room overlooks the valley and has a selection of fine wines that include a light and fruity Chardonnay and a smooth, well balanced Primitivo. Castoro Cellars, the home of dam fine wines, is not to be missed. Their 2006 Tempranillo was my favorite wine of the trip: it was unlike any other wine we tasted, with a subtle complexity and deep berry color.

Don’t want to spend the day drinking? There’s still plenty to do in Paso. Pop into the galleries that surround the square; Vale Fine Art is the gallery that started Paso’s modern art movement. Currently they’ve got an homage to Steve Jobs in the form of a Speedy Graphito Snow White painting, and a Dia de los Muertos-esque showing of Dutch revivalist Edward Walton Wilcox.

Happy Acres Family Farm, a working goat dairy farm, is a 15-minute drive from downtown Paso. Owned by Stephanie Simonin, this fabulous little farm is perfect for families. Call ahead to set up a tour and you’ll learn how the goats are milked and see a wide variety of farm animals, from ponies to geese to teacup pigs. The day that we went, Simonin said the nursery was “empty,” but there was still a baby pony, baby goats, and a whole lot of the cutest, tiniest pigs I’ve ever seen.

EAT: For lunch, you can’t beat the Berry Hill Bistro. They’ve got a wide variety of sandwiches and salads with a sunny patio and view of the park. For dinner, Thomas Hill Organics offers cuisine with locally made products and intricate preparations. The duck breast with parsnip puree was cooked to succulent perfection. Over at Villa Creek, diners can choose from an interesting menu of Spanish and Tex Mex dishes. The butternut squash enchiladas with refried black beans are hearty and super flavorful.

DRINK: For a pre-dinner drink, hit up the bar at Villa Creek. They have a nice selection of vodka cocktails and an excellent margarita that’s served in a martini glass. Fancy, right?!

The Pony Club at the Hotel Cheval has a great deals on local wines (like the Tolosa Chardonnay pictured here) and inviting atmosphere, but if you want to live like a local, head to the Pine Street Saloon. Cowboys and land owners mingle at this divey and historic bar with pool tables, animals on the walls, and Wednesday night Karaoke.

SHOP: When planning a day of wine tasting, be sure to stop by Vivant Fine Cheese before you leave the city center. This fabulous little cheese shop with friendly service has everything you need for the perfect picnic. Select from a variety of cheese, charcuterie, bread, and cookies. For home decor and gifts, you must check out Firefly. From jade cake stands to wooden chandeliers, this boutique is filled with crafty treasures.

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