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CA: Paso Robles: Paso is pure delight, Part 1

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A visit to Paso Robles, just over three hours from San Francisco, reaps huge rewards: Gorgeous vistas; verdant hillsides; delicious wines; farm fresh ingredients and terrific people.

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In 1828, the town was named El Paso des Robles (The Pass of the Oaks) for the ubiquitous oak trees. Rebuilt after the 2003 earthquake, Paso Robles – friendly and down-to-earth – is an increasingly popular destination.

Stay: Since Paso is a burgeoning wine area, my stay began outside of downtown among the vineyards at the classy and luxe SummerWood Winery & Inn. The contemporary living room and dining room/kitchen are open and airy with a country feel. Each of the nine spacious guestrooms has a patio, fireplace, and modern amenities with yummy bath products featuring cinnamon and basil and black pepper and fennel. Guests are treated to SummerWood wines and appetizers in the afternoon, coffee and dessert each evening, a farm fresh breakfast in the morning. Favorite wines included two blends: the 2010 Vin Rouge and the 2008 Diosa.

The next night, I chose the Paso Robles Inn, site of the original hot springs and steps from town center. The Inn has partnerships with local vintners, so some rooms are winery-themed and have a hot springs tub on the patio overlooking the lush gardens, koi ponds and towering oaks. After a long day of wine tasting, there’s nothing more spectacular than to soak in the warm thermal waters from the Paso Robles Hot Springs in the privacy of your room.

Dine: Bistro Laurent and Wine Shop has been host to wonderful French cuisine and international wines for 16 years. It’s an intimate, yet informal dining experience – both inside and out. Loved: Crispy fried shrimp wrapped in phyllo dough; seafood fricassee with a luscious clam stock; and succulent lamb sirloin with garlic jus. Wines included a 2010 Zenaida Cellars Zephyr, a 2008 Clavo Cellars Proprietary Blend Collusion and the 2011 Castoro Cellars Reserve Syrah.

La Cosecha Bar & Restaurant is a local hot spot with large open windows, outside seating and lots of reclaimed wood. From pan seared scallops over saffron rice with mushrooms to beef and potato empanadas to the braised beef short ribs in red wine sauce, the Spanish/Latin American-inspired cuisine is dynamic in its use of local ingredients and kicked up flavors. Wines included the 2012 Jada XCV, the 2010 Minassian-Young Estate Zinfandel and the 2009 Stanger Reserve Tempranillo.

Villa Creek Restaurant prides itself on local connections – with their ingredients and the Paso regulars who frequent it. The family style servings add to its casual style. The chanterelle mushroom risotto and the bone in rib chops with fork smashed potatoes were great. Wines included the 2011 Nicora GSM, the 2010 Law Estate Intrepid Syrah and the 2009 Degher Cabernet Sauvignon. (805-238-3000, www.villacreek.com)

OTHER ESSENTIALS: Visitor Information; Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

PATTY BURNESS can be found on Twitter at @pattygb

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