Dying to go to Italy this summer but can’t afford the airfare? Who needs Europe when Paso Robles has everything Italy has except the language barrier — and those pesky Italian men?
Located midway between LA and San Francisco near the Central Coast, Paso Robles has nonstop sunshine, a Mediterranean climate and miles of rolling green hillsides carpeted with organic farms, ranches, dairy farms, orchards — and more than 200 artisan wineries. The 1800s downtown is crammed with tasting rooms, farm-to-table restaurants, sidewalk cafes, farmers markets, museums and antique shops. Paso Robles is also just a short drive from the staggering beauty of Highway 1 and the coast. Here you’ll find more wineries, vineyards and farm-to-table restaurants along the Pacific Coast Wine Trail, drop-dead-gorgeous wine towns like Cambria, miles of pristine beaches pounded by thundering surf, rugged cliffs that crash to foaming surf, a tide pool that will keep you entranced for hours, and the storied Hearst Castle, which towers from its rocky perch over the Pacific.
Five reasons to check out Paso Robles now
Gimme wine, wine, wine: Paso Robles was recently named the Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and it’s also why esteemed wine critic Robert Parker says that the wines of the Central Coast will “rule America.” During a visit to Paso Robles Wine Country, you can explore wineries that collectively produce more than 40 diverse wine grape varieties, including proprietary Paso Robles blends of Bordeaux, Rhône and Zinfandel varietals. Many wineries host summertime dinners, parties and concerts, and there are guided and self-guided wine tours galore for every palate and budget. www.pasowine.com/wineries
Home, James! I’ve been to Italy several times, but in all my travels there I’ve never stayed anywhere as beautiful as Allegretto Vineyard Resort by Ayres, a castle-like villa surrounded by 20 acres of fledging vineyards, Mediterranean-style gardens and spouting fountains. Modeled after a real Tuscan villa and authentic down to the last nail, the villa is complete with a French-inspired treasure chest of a chapel with stained glass windows that I accessed via the Romeo and Juliet Tunnel, scaled to accommodate a horse and small carriage. With a double staircase for a bride and groom, it struck me as the perfect place to get married — if only hubby and I had known about this place 25 years ago! Inside the inn, my spacious room had 14-foot ceilings — I could have flown a kite in there — and French doors that opened up to a private patio overlooking the inner courtyard. After a tour of the vineyards, I headed to the inn’s intimate Cello Ristorante for Italian-inspired farm-to table cuisine (Cello also serves local wines, one made by Allegretto) and set the alarm for my 9 a.m. vino therapy facial at the inn’s tiny spa. On the long walk back to my room, I took a stroll around the inside of the hotel, whose walls and hallways were adorned with art treasures from all over the world: antiques from India; Russian Impressionist paintings; intricately-carved wooden doors from Asia; and a crystal sculpture in the shape of a woman that seemed to mirror my sentiments as it slowly changed hues — pink for the glow my facial had given me, purple for the tranquility Allegretto had wrapped me in and blue for the way I felt at having to leave so soon. www.allegrettovineyardsresort.com
They call this a motel? Paso is so wine-crazy that even the local La Quinta (motel chain) has its own winery, vineyards, evening wine tasting and even its own label, which was created by the employees. It’s also the only La Quinta on the planet with a separate building outfitted with plush 1- and 2-bedroom apartments equipped with the works — full kitchens, dining rooms with gas fireplaces, and bedrooms with cushy pillow top beds. Balconies overlook the vines, outdoor pool, Jacuzzi, fitness center and more. Rates start at $129 per night and include wine tasting and breakfast — you won’t find a better deal anywhere. www.lq.com
Farm-to-plate eating: Along with vineyards, Paso Robles is also home to a slew of organic farms, orchards, ranches and more, many of which sell their homegrown wares to local restaurants. One of the tastiest places to eat your veggies and more is Thomas Hill Organics, a quaint eatery in downtown Paso where the lentil tacos, grilled artichoke and cheese plate, avocado toast (a Central Coast classic!), and the pork belly sandwich will put you over the moon. Wash it down with a local wine or two and treat your sweet tooth to orange crème brulee for dessert! www.thomashillorganics.com
Work it off! With trails like Cerro Alta, you can kiss your treadmill or stair climber goodbye. The trail starts at Cerro Alto campground in the Los Padres National Forest, halfway between the towns of Atascadero and Morro Bay on Highway 41. There are several options and loops, but if you had that crème brulee for dessert, you may want to go for the summit! It’s a steep climb — you’ll gain 1,500 feet in just two and a half miles, but the view from the top, one of the highest places on the Central Coast, is pure panoramic heaven: Paso Robles’ patchwork-quilt-scenery unfolds in rolling green hills dotted with sheep and cattle, vineyards marching for miles, brilliant yellow mustard fields, slopes carpeted with orange poppies, grassy meadows speckled with wildflowers, and looking-glass lakes glinting from the land like tiny mirrors. On the western horizon where the end of the land meets the edge of the shining sea, Morro Rock stands sentinel over the deep blue Pacific. It’s magic. www.pasoroblesguide.com/outdoors/cerro-alto