Tucked along California's central coast, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the city of Paso Robles is known for its rich agricultural history. Today this once “almond capital of the world" is also revered for its wineries and olive groves, with plenty to attract both foodies and outdoor enthusiasts.
While not quite as legendary as Napa and Sonoma valleys, there are hundreds of wineries in and around Paso Robles, a central coast region best known for its reds—rich cabernet sauvignons, spicy syrahs, and signature zinfandels—though white wines run the gamut from Rhone-style viogniers to buttery chardonnays. Commercial winemaking in the area dates back to the late-19th century, and has its roots at SLO's Mission San Miguel. These days, however, you'll find many family-owned boutique wineries tucked within pocketed micro-climates with picturesque tasting rooms and spectacular vineyard views. Bicycling tours are a popular way to enjoy multiple wineries, but if you'd rather sit back and relax there are plenty of driving tour options as well. You can also embark on a walking wine tour of the city's downtown tasting rooms, or opt to visit some of the local breweries and/or distilleries instead.
Although the California Gold Rush took place in the state's Sacramento Valley, you'll still find plenty of gold in the hillsides of San Luis Obispo County—liquid gold, that is. That's because Paso Robles is home to dozens of small-batch olive orchards known for producing pure extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). You can spend an entire afternoon or weekend tasting EVOOs at places like Olio Nuevo Ranch, Kiler Ridge Olive Farm, and Pasolivo. Once you learn the nuances of olive oil and how to decipher its distinct attributes, you'll never look at a bottle of EVOO the same.
Soak in the Area's Soothing Waters
Thermal hot springs and Paso Robles go hand-in-hand, so once you've finished tasting your way through the region it's time to settle in for a good soak. The area's three remaining hot springs include those at the Paso Robles Inn—a 19th-century inn and one-time hiding spot for outlaw Jesse James, who undoubtedly made use of the hotel's healing waters—Franklin Hot Springs, with its rustic setting and natural 100.1-degree mineral baths; and the River Oaks Hot Spring Spa, home to a private mineral spa, along with services like massages and facials. Ready to indulge? We thought so.
Head to the Lake
One thing about Paso Robles: it offers no shortage of ways to relax. If it's a refreshing dip you're after, head to Lake Nacimiento, an 18-mile-long SLO County reservoir that branches off into numerous arms and channels where you can find your own hidden cove. Lounge on the beach or enjoy the water by swimming, wake-boarding, or waterskiing. Dogs are welcome on a 5K path that winds through the lake's neighboring pine and oak groves, and the greater Nacimiento Resort is brimming with camp grounds perfect for resting your head at night. There's even a well-stocked general store with camping supplies, as well as beer, wine, fishing gear, and tackle. The latter two are especially useful since white bass, catfish, carp, and bass are in plentiful supply in the lake's warm waters.
Relax in Downtown City Park
As the centerpiece of Paso Robles, Downtown City Park has long been a gathering place for both local residents and visitors alike. In warmer months the grassy 4.8-acre square comes alive with festivals and events like Concerts in the Park, the Wine Festival, and October's Pioneer Day, a celebration of the region's rich agricultural heritage. There's plenty here to entertain year-round, though, whether it's settling in for a picnic or a taking self-guided tour of the surrounding architecture, which includes Paso Robles' Classical Revival-style Carnegie Library and the Paso Robles Inn, a historic property that once hosted the likes of President Teddy Roosevelt and performer Will Rogers.
Explore Pioneer History
The city's Pioneer Museum celebrates the Old West and life in Paso Robles during the 19th and 20th centuries. Along with a collection of historic artifacts ranging from printing presses to farm tools, you'll find a specially handcrafted horse saddle, a chuckwagon highlighting the history of cattle ranching, and even one of the largest collections of antique barbed wire on the planet. Step inside a reconstructed 19th-century jailhouse (outfitted with the original jail door), see what a one-room prairie schoolhouse was like in the early 20th century, and get to know greater Paso Robles in a whole new light.
Experience a World of Aircrafts and Automobiles
At the non-profit Estrella Warbird Museum, you can try your skills in a full-size F/A-18 cockpit simulator, stroll among aircraft ranging from Douglas Skyhawks to Lockheed Starfighters, and peruse displays that include military vehicles, static missiles, and wartime radio gear and equipment from WWII through the Vietnam era. There's also the museum's separate Woodland Auto Display—a 17,000-square-foot space filled with a vast collection of land vehicles such as NASCAR race cars, Model Ts, and vintage motorcycles, most of which have been restored to their original conditions.
Shop, Dine, and Discover
Whether it's splurging on that special bottle of celebratory wine or searching for a one-of-a-kind antique, Paso Robles offers a plethora of shopping opportunities including retail stores, artisan boutiques, and vintage wares. Try on Stetson hats and Western boots at the Boot Barn, peruse autographed baseball bats and restored classic refrigerators at Great American Antiques Mall, or pick up some souvenir chocolates or a fun gift box for everyone from your favorite baker to the cat mom in your life at the General Store Paso Robles. Then settle in for a meal at one of the city's many eateries, which include farm-to-table restaurants, Mexican taquerias, seafood establishments, and BBQ joints.
Hit the Waterpark
Opened in June 2007, Ravine Waterpark brought Paso Robles a refreshing new way to enjoy summer, including racing side-by-side down the five-story-tall Quadzilla twin slides or floating lazily along the park's Kickback Kreek. The Tadpool is geared toward little ones, while adventurers can try out riveting attractions like the rocketing Kamikaze and dizzying Vertigo. There's also a wave pool and a sandy beach ideal for a bit of downtime, as well as a tiki bar and plenty of on-site dining (think pizza, hamburgers, and tacos) to get your energy levels up for a rollicking afternoon.
Spend a Day at the Fair
Paso Robles is home to the California Mid-State Fair, a 12-day festival that takes place annually at the end of each July. Join the thousands of attendees who flock to the grounds for everything from farm art to home winemaking competitions. Attend a barn dance, savor a delicious pancake breakfast, and catch performers like Carrie Underground, Eric Church, and Pentatonix. There are also pig races, pony rides, and plenty of livestock events, not to mention a carnival with rides and loads of carnival fare.