Dean Clough

August 24, 2023

Portico Darwin: Paso Robles Travel Guide


We were only here for 3 days, but holy smokes, did we see and do a lot in this easily Diamond Certified area.  Diamond Certified for so many things beyond fine wine, which of course we guzzled, too.  We visited rad places in and outside of Paso Robles, stayed on a swank ranch in Templeton, went to a wacky museum and even crazier art installation, and drove to the coast for a brilliant afternoon of music in charming Cambria. 

I'm going all cliché here, but the fact is, Paso Robles has something for everyone.  Frankly, it would be a great place to live.  As a wine region, its beauty, and the quality of what's produced, is the equal of Napa or Sonoma.  And while I will always personally prefer Anderson Valley for the quintessential California wine experience, Paso is as trip-worthy as any other wine region we've visited, at least domestically.  No kidding.

But my typical disclaimer:  this is by no means a be-all/end-all bible for the region - there is too much to cover with just the 3 nights we had.  Also, the Textbook Delta Blues band Mighty Mississippi kept interrupting our time by insisting on putting on fabulous live concerts at great venues throughout our stay. 

The air gateway to Paso Robles is right next door, in Travel Guide-worthy itself San Luis Obispo.  SFO and LAX are each about 3+ hours away by car.  But SBP is very much an option if you're coming from one of its 8 nonstop destinations. 

And Holy Mother of God, there is passenger train service, from either SF (OK, Emeryville, but still) or LA, to Paso Robles!   Just one train a day from each city, but it's an option.

With all of that said, in the end, you're probably going to want a car, unless you stay in or near downtown Paso (for the record, most in the area leave off "Robles" when speaking of the place).  But one could easily fly into SBP or take the train right to Paso, and rent a car.  I'm just sayin'.


For the record, SF is actually in Central California, not Northern California.  So that means that Paso is really in Southern California, not Central California.  See what I mean?  But of course, nobody - nobody - says SF is in Central Cali.  So Paso Robles is in Central California.  Got it?

But no matter, because once you're here, Paso, Templeton, and the nearby coast have it all. 

Consider that the area above is essentially riddled with wineries and breweries, not to mention nearly endless options for hiking and biking.  But it also contains Hearst Castle in San Simeon, itself on one of the nicest stretches of the California coast - which is saying something - and you'll begin to understand.


OK - reread the disclaimer above.  We didn't stay at a hotel, and while I bet there are truly special ones in the area, we did the Airbnb thing.  And holy shit, did we score.   But holy shit, can I not recommend any hotels in this Travel Guide.

Our place was in a giant barn, that had a big and luxury studio apartment lining one end.  Frankly, it was perfect - the lead picture was the view at sunrise from the patio (and hot tub), and this is the access.

The folks who manage this property have a lot on offer, and of course, I have zero connection.  But we nailed it with this place.


OK - I still got my walks in.  Because Templeton is a gorgeous ranching and vineyard area. 

But unless you book in Templeton, info on my 4-mile loop won't be of much use.

So, in the interest of keeping this interesting, I'm going to feature the beyond-Diamond Certified Sensorio here, although it also could be in MUSEUMS/GALLERIES/PERFORMANCE ART.  

(It's also here because, apart from my daily walk, we didn't do shit in terms of hiking or biking or beachcombing or anything else.)

Going to Sensorio brought to mind attending a Cirque du Soleil show for the first time.  OK - it's not quite that ridiculous, but wow.  I will say without hesitation it is worth building an entire trip to the region around a visit here.  Yes, it's that impressive.

Here's the deal:

  • Sensorio is a highly unique light show presented in a massive area of rolling hills, just outside of Paso
  • Get the Terrace package - like a grown-up, and it's worth it
  • Get there before sunset, enjoy some wine and OMFG everything that's to come
  • Stay calm at sunset
  • Once it's dark, head out on the 1/2 mile round trip stroll through paradise
  • We didn't do it - shocker - but there's a bar way out there, in addition to the one at the Terrace
  • Return to the Terrace for a nightcap

BS?  Well, I think you need to go see it for yourself.  Or at least look at these - they are not enhanced or filtered.  And yes, those are massive gas fireplaces on the Terrace to keep you warm on cooler nights.


This trip was highly unusual in that we had exactly zero fancy meals.  In this, the literal salad bowl of the U.S.  A part of the problem was that Goddamned blues band we were following.  But you know, we didn't miss a thing, and frankly, we still had it all.

There are I am sure many fine places to eat around charming downtown Paso - but I can't say definitively, because apart from our wine tasting there, we did not have time for further exploration.

Likewise, wine tasting itself.  While we did 3 tastings, 2 were in downtown tasting salons and only 1 was at an actual winery (Booker).  Just know that wineries abound in the countryside that surrounds Paso.

And we were mad every time we drove by the ginormous Firestone Walker brewery and taproom complex right there in the middle of Paso.  Because we didn't have time for that, either.

As always, I provide links for places that are Serviceable or better.

BarrelHouse Brewing Company & Beer GardensDiamond Certified
  • I must say I've never seen a beer garden quite like this, mostly because of their performance facilities.  Our friends played at the smaller of the venues here (perfect, and pictured above), and the bigger one was . . . much bigger - more like a junior amphitheater.  And the beer was great, and the entire vibe completely kicked ass.
  • Important note:  We did not have a chance to check out the rest of the Tin City eating/drinking/marketplace complex, of which BarrelHouse is a part.  But wow, did it look cool. 

JUSTIN Downtown Tasting Room:  Diamond Certified
  • JFC what a wine tasting - $80/per person and worth every f'ing penny
  • Very very impressive room
  • Even better service
  • I initially thought a $47 charcuterie and cheese plate was ridiculous, but the fact is the two tastings, and the board, were the equal of a fine meal anywhere
  • And this isn't even their real place in the region - we did not visit, but their winery looks gonzo, and its restaurant has 1 Michelin Star (!)

LXV:  Bogus
  • Gosh, I blew a Saturday afternoon taking us here; we recovered later that night at Sensorio, but still

Cambria Pub:  Bogus
  • Our first stop in Cambria - in sight of the Pacific - was downtown, but it sucked
  • Flat beer and bleak vibe
  • This was a strong comeback from Cambria Pub
  • Felt like a local's place and was quite nice - at least for pre-show Fernet and tequila shots (but the food did look good)

Moonstone CellarsServiceable
  • A reasonable stop when in Cambria, but not worth a special trip
  • Their wines are pretty OK - we had their Zinfandel and Merlot, and each were good
  • But the live music they had that day there was better

Booker WinesDiamond Certified
  • This winery is as swank as you'll see anywhere
  • $50 per tasting - but again, worth it

Fun Fact:  There are 8 wineries within walking distance of Booker - and it's in the countryside


Yes - we did, and it wasn't the extraordinary Hearst Castle, which we've visited before and eminently doable from Paso. 

No, and in addition to Sensorio, this time it was the Textbook Estrella Warbirds Museum, which is right near Paso's municipal airport.  There's also a very fun auto museum on the grounds.

The greatest aviation or car museum I've visited?  No.  A great way to kill an hour or so whilst waiting for the wineries and/or beer gardens to open?  Hell yes.



OK, that's a lie.  We bought wine (even one from Booker for our wine cellar closet), and the filet mignons we grabbed at a Paso Albertson's for Sunday dinner at home in our Airbnb were just fine.

But I bet those so inclined can likely find just about anything - we are just 2 hours from Santa Barbara, after all.


(Yes!  A new Travel Guide section!)

This was our first visit to Paso Robles, and we can't wait to return, whether or not we're band groupies.  

About Dean Clough