Paso Robles: New Tastes, the Arts, and a Sense of Adventure

November 29, 2014 Updated: December 1, 2014

A leisurely weekend drive through California’s aromatic vineyards is one way to escape into nature. But I decided to experience an exhilarating aerial view of some 14,000 acres of emerald greenery and ripening grapes through the Paso Robles wine region—which gave me quite another perspective and a hair-raising adventure.

As I soared over lush landscape spanning some 4,500 combined feet of five ziplines, part of an informative tour with Margarita Adventures on Santa Margarita Ranch, a rush of adrenaline shot through my system. After catching my breath at the end of each platform, I could appreciate the unspoiled rolling hillsides while trying to catch a quick glimpse of a bald eagle, bear, or mountain deer.

The fifth and final 1,800-foot zipline over vineyards gave me a birds-eye view of Paso Robles Wine Country, one of California’s fastest-growing wine regions touting 250-plus wineries.

Just a 20-minute car ride away from the tiny town of Santa Margarita sits the artsy and historic city of Paso Robles, with a population of about 30,550. The city just celebrated its 125th Anniversary as an incorporated city with a rich legacy.

Located mid-distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco and exactly 230 miles each way to both cities, Paso Robles has undergone a major growth spurt on the culinary front, with a slew of new restaurants, pubs, and tasting rooms opening up in and around the downtown area.

Exploring the Food Scene

At the popular Thomas Hill Organics bistro on Park St., where chef Christopher Manning puts his background in wine country dining to excellent use, the wine bar offers a comprehensive wine and beer list, along with table service.

I enjoyed a hearty brunch on the restaurant’s covered patio of black lentil tacos with carrot puree, coconut, and cashews, and also beef tenderloin fried eggs—enough for two.

Just across the way is the family-run Fish Gaucho, with its comfy outdoor seating. Opened less than a year ago by cousins Donovan Schmit and Troy Larkin, the restaurant came to mind after a trip to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. They brought back the Baja-style flavours apparent in the fresh salsas, ceviche, lobster, scallops, and tacos—along with an impressive beverage list of more than 85 tequilas and fresh-squeezed margaritas.

Santos MacDonal, noted chef and owner of the popular La Cosecha, was inspired by his own Honduran heritage and the abundance of fresh Central Coast ingredients. Some of the diverse dishes include Peruvian assorted fresh ceviche; rare, imported hams, sausages, and chorizo prepared in a variety of ways from Spain; Honduran pollo asado; and Monfongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish of mashed sweet plantains and Caribbean spices.

I saved room for dessert on my day’s trek through the town. The cocoa cookie I chose at the recently opened Brown Butter Cookie Company literally melted in my mouth with each bite and was just the right sweet-and-salty combo to leave a lingering memory of delight on my palate.

On 11th Street sits the new Second Press Wine Bar & Eatery, where I indulged in a remarkably scrumptious appetizer of crispy fried Brussels sprouts enhanced by an apple cider vinegar reduction and goat cheese fondue. Chef Ryan Swarthough prepared a succulent tri-tip sandwich on freshly baked Ciabaetta bread with cucumber and a tasty horseradish aioli topped with red wine shallots. Service was friendly, the atmosphere casual and quiet.

A few doors away is the best deal in town at the newly opened Haymarket, where I enjoyed a cup of quality brewed coffee for a mere 50 cents, with a free package of chocolate and vanilla biscotti to accompany the drink outdoors under bright yellow umbrellas. The lunch sandwiches were a bit pricier, but looked tasty.

Then there’s the Paso Underground tasting room, a newly opened winemaker’s collective featuring boutique winemakers Aaron, Clos Solene, Edmond August, and Turtle Rock Vineyards, where one can sample some unusual blends of a wide variety of wines.

But wine-tasting at a jewelry store? Can it be? Upon strolling into the 75-year-old family owned Siegel’s to get a latch fixed on my necklace—which goldsmith (and winemaker) Stu Golden generously fixed without charge—I realized to my surprise that I could even sample a taste of both white and red Frolicking Frog wines at the store’s small tasting room.

Local Artists Showcased

Food and wine are not the only areas of ongoing growth; the arts are also flourishing. This was quite evident during my visit to Studios in the Park, a non-profit art centre showcasing 25 local fine artists within 9 studios and 2 galleries. The art changes monthly. All week long in the mornings, several classes of elementary students from K to 5th grade receive free art classes as part of the centre’s Art Smart program for public school children.

The Vina Robles Amphitheatre, a new addition to the area’s performing arts, attracts well-known musicians in the industry. On my final night, I heard Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.

As enjoyable as it was to satiate my appetite with a sampling of new cuisine in the downtown area, I was blown away by my stay at Paso Robles’ hidden jewel: Comus House B&B at Denner Vineyards.

This magnificently designed home—with woodwork and doors crafted from 100-year-old wine vats and cathedral windows looking out on a 360-degree verdant view of 100,000-plus acres of Rhone Valley vineyards—was a dream stay.

The true piece de resistance were the gourmet morning breakfasts prepared by friendly innkeepers Felisa and Ron Johansen, punctuated by breathtaking views of 100-plus acres of vineyards below, which made an indelible imprint of the fertile richness and vast beauty of Paso Robles Wine Country.

For more information, go to and the new PasoWineApp available for iPhones.

Beverly Mann has been a feature, arts, and travel writer in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past 28 years. To read more of her articles, visit: