I've been wanting to checked out Paso Robles for some time now, so when one of my fav girls hit me up for an inpromptu wine tasting and castle exploring adventure over Veterans Day weekend you know I wasn't going to pass that up.
The plan was to wake up Saturday morning and take the quick 1.5 hour drive down to Paso Robles, check-in to the hotel and wine taste Saturday afternoon, then grab dinner in downtown Paso Robles, referred to by the locals as the City Park or the Square. Sunday we would wake up and take the 45 minutes drive to San Simeon to explore Hearst Castle.
Where To Stay in Paso Robles
We got to Paso around noon and first headed to the hotel to freshen up and park the car so we could uber to the wineries. Ideally, we wanted to stay near City Park. Unfortunately, when we started looking for hotel rooms/AirBnB's (if your new to AirBnB use my promo code and get $40 off your first book, full disclosure I will get a kick-back on it, I think like $40 also). Finally we were able to book a room at the La Quinta Inn on the eastern edge of town. The location was not great, and it felt a little overprices ($300 for a 2 double bed room) but the room did the trick for the night. It was clean, had a hot tub, and free breakfast (that was pretty standard but decent), so I wouldn't necessarily recommend this spot but in a pinch it will do.
The Lay of the Land
I did a lot of research on where to go tasting, usually I can only handle about 3 wineries (4 tops) so I wanted to make sure they were good. I learned that Paso Robles is essentially split into 3 wine tasting areas: West Paso Robles, East Paso Robles, and City Park. Both West and East Paso Robles have more wineries as opposed to tasting rooms, so you are actually tasting in the vineyards, which is so beautiful. From what I gather, West Paso Robles is generally a little less hyped-up/developed, so the wineries are still relatively small and intimate here, whereas East Paso Robles is a little bigger and more developed. City Park (downtown Paso) is more tasting rooms, which means no wine in the vines, however the trade-off is everything is walkable, being right in town, whereas in West and East Paso it is much more spread out and you either need a designated driver, take a tour, or take ubers everywhere. Also, I think the tasting rooms in City Park close a little later than the wineries outside of town, so it is possible to go wine tasting in the vineyards and then head to town for a few more hours of tasting.
Wine, Wine, Wine, In My Belly!
My friend really wanted to visit Tobin James, which is on the East Side, so we settled on staying on the East side for this trip, however I heard great things about the West side, and next time plan to focus my trip over there.
First stop Tobin James Cellars
We decided to start at the winery the furthest East and then work our way back to town, which meant our first stop was Tobin James Cellars. Tobin James is definitely a popular spot, most people if they are familiar with Paso Robles have been to or at least heard of Tobin James, you have probably seen their wines at the grocery store too. It is known as the party winery, and as soon as I walked in I could tell why. Set in an Old West style saloon, or the Grand Antique Bar, as they have so fondly named it, this winery definitely has a bustling and rowdy vibe. Before Paso Robles became the place to visit for wine, it was a small cowboy town, and stepping into Tobin James you definitely feel like you are more in a cowboy saloon then a winery.
Walking in we were greeted with a huge smile by our super cute wine hostess, Bethany, who seriously hooked us up and set us up for a great rest of our trip. We told her it was our first time in Paso so she gave us some great recommendations for tastings (listed below), food, and even some complimentary wine tasting vouchers. Personally, I really liked Tobin James wines, actually they were probably my favorite. They have a huge tasting list, all of which are free to taste (as Bethany put it they are so confident in their wines they are pretty sure after a taste you will want to buy), and if you do buy the wines are crazy affordable. Tobin James is definitely known for their big reds, which is kind of characteristic of the area, but I was super impressed with their whites and Rose, specifically I like the Tempranillo Rose (bright, refreshing, fruity, $22 a bottle), and the Dream Weaver Sparkling (which is only $12 if you purchase a bottle!). On the red side I really liked there 2015 Petite Sirah, Midnight Magic, at only $25 a bottle this is a true gem, dark and jammy, it is everything you want in a Sirah.
I will note, that when I was asking around before we left about Tobin James I heard very mixed reviews on their wines. I am not sure if this is because almost everybody has been here and you can't please everybody, or if because there wines are a little different than anything else you will taste in the area. They definitely have their own twist, which I personally love their uniqueness, but I have found some people don't like change. Everybody liked the winery for at least its atmosphere, thought.
I would definitely recommend going to Tobin James, especially if it is your first trip to Paso as it is somewhat of an institution. It was a great spot to kick-off our trip and get into the wine tasting spirit. My only criticism of Tobin James is there actually isn't any vineyards nearby, which I had no clue until we got there. Also, on a nice day I like to be tasting outside, and although they do have an outdoor space ,it is more like a picnic area if you buy a bottle. But the bottles are so cheap you may as well!
Next Stop Gluntz Family Winery
I was super stoked driving into Gluntz, just down the road from Tobin James, I could tell pulling up that this had more of the smaller family owned wine in the vines vibe I was going for. The tasting room was much more low key than Tobin James and didn't have the rowdy vibe we had previously come from. Being a family owned estate, I was kind of expecting a more intimate experience, which looking back on it now I am not really sure if I got, the winery hostess seemed to be a little shy maybe (putting it nicely), she didn't really readily offer up information about the wines, I was really looking forward to being offered a tour of the wine room or information on their grapes, but that was obviously not going to happen.
But that was okay, because we can entertain ourselves, lol. We moved outside into their beautiful outdoor patio that overlooks the rows of vines, this is really the spot to taste! Featuring 3 Zinfandels on the tasting list, we really got some big, bold, tastes as Gluntz. These wines are more characteristic of the grapes from the area, classic, big, bold, lots of cherry. But the real show stopper was the 10 year Tawny Port, served with sea salt chocolate. I love port and don't get it too often so I was excited when I saw that their tasting ended with this special little treat. It was delicious, and a great price point for Port (especially compared to there other wines that were more in the $25-40 range a little high I think), I am kind of kicking myself for not buying a bottle.
Me and the girls chilled here for awhile, the wine was good, the atmosphere was beautiful, quite and tranquil. I would have liked a little more of a friendly staff, but I will just chalk that up to the staff just having bad day because I have heard from others that the service here is good.
Last Stop Eberle Winery
OMG Eberle was all I was looking for in a Paso trip winery, tasting in the vines, super fun (corn hole, music set-up, taco trucks), and enjoyable wine staff....Eberle had it all. First, the Eberle experience, right when we walked in we were greeted with a big smile from the staff and immediately offered a tour of their vineyards and the underground caves where they age the wine. We got to Eberle kind of late and really did not want to miss the sunset so we decided to skip the caves, but next time I am definitely making more time for this. We tried some wines, but at this point my pallet was pretty much shot, so its hard to really assess the wines. I will say they had a very nice 2016 Barbera, deep red cherry notes with a lingering spicy finish, I definitely bought a bottle.
But tasting on beautiful patio while the sun set over the vines was the absolutely breathtaking, a true Paso experience, a great way to end our East Paso tasting adventure.
Some other Winery Recommendations
We got a lot of great recommendations before and while we were at Paso, I definitely will need to plan a couple more trips back to check everything out. Below are some of the places people recommended to us but we did not have time to experience. I have split it up between East and West Paso:
Pear Valley- we actually tried to go here but it was closed for an event, it is right around Glunz and Eberle so I good one to add if we had the stamina for four wineries
Red Soles Winery (Bethany highly recommended this one)
Doce Robles - my co-workers swear by the Barbera here
Grey Wolf Cellars
Dinner in City Center
By this time we were starving, not many wineries have food, or limited options. Tobin James had some small appetizers, like a cheese plate, and Eberle had a taco truck, but we missed it. We had our hearts set on Mexican food and everybody had recommended to us Fish Gaucho, so we made our way back to town. There was some kind of event going on in town so it was surprisingly busy and poppin' by the time we got there, not the sleepy town I had heard of. We got to Fish Gaucho and they told us the wait would be a hour and a half, we decided to put our name in since everything was so crazy busy, 15 minutes later the called us, go figure. Honestly, the food at Fish Guacho was only okay, actually pretty underwhelming. We shared the Pork Pozole which was pretty low on flavor, then I had the Carne Asada which was pretty boring as well, I also had a house margarita that was fine. My friends had the Short Rib Enchiladas, and the Torta, I tried both, they were pretty underwhelming. Overall, the food wasn't bad, it just wasn't good either. But I will say the service and ambiance is cool there, if you want to get some good tequila it looks like they have a pretty legit tequila bar.
We had gotten some other food recommendations throughout the day, that I would definitely opt for next time instead of Fish Gaucho, including:
Buona Tavola - supposedly really good Italian, this is where I want to check out next time
F. McLintocks Saloon - I am sure they do steak pretty good in Paso Robles so this would be another good option.
The Hatch - Looks kind of like a cool and trendy option for a small town
Taste in the Alley - supposedly this is the go-to for late night wine tasting, since they stay open the latest, I heard of some other locals bars that get kind of rowdy at night, if that is the kind of thing you are looking for.
I was really counting on some good food to get our energy back up, but after a full day of tasting we were dead. We stopped for some frozen yogurt on the way to the car and headed back to the hotel room for a full day ahead of us.
San Simeon and Heart Castle
Since I never sleep in anymore, we work up early, chilled in our room a little, had some continental breakfast and started the 45 minute trek to Hearst Castle in San Simeon. The drive over SR 46 west was absolutely beautiful. Once we got to Hearst we realized there was a 2 hour wait for the tour we wanted to go on, pro-tip book your tickets online before you go so you don't have to wait. But it gave us the opportunity to check out the area more.
Elephant Seals in San Simeon
If you are heading to Hearst Castle you must take some time out to see the Elephant Seals. I've actually been to San Simeon before to check out the famous Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery. The main viewing area is only 4 miles from Hearst Castle and you can see the seals on the beach here year round for free. According to the Friends of the Elephant Seal website the best times of year are from December through March. Personally, I think December is the coolest because this is when the big males haul out and fight for dominance on over pupping areas. The northern elephant seal is the largest seal in the northern hemisphere and the second largest seal in the world (after the southern elephant seal) so it is pretty crazy to see these big animals charge, bark, and bite each other, the duels are pretty vicious. Late January is when the moms start to haul out and give birth to the pups, by February/March the beach is littered with baby seals, sunning themselves. Otherwise these animals spend a majority of there lives out at sea, migrating, as I understand it a lot of their life at sea is not much understood, and we are just starting to track and understand these animals.
Lunch in Cambria
However, the time of year we visited the seals (October) is kind of the slow season, so there is not much to see other than juvenile and female seals sunning themselves on the beach. Since we live in Monterey and see seals all the time it was not too exciting for us. So we quickly moved onto go check-out the town of Cambria, down the coast about 10 minutes, and grab some lunch. This small town Cambria is about one street big with some cute shops, nothing really to brag home about but it seems like this area is starting to get cooler and cooler every year. I personally like it because it is not crazy touristy yet and still has the quaint small town vibe, but since it is not as touristy yet it also is pretty small and not much going on.
We got a recommendation from a shop owner to go to lunch at Indigo Moon, a small organic cafe on Main Street. I am so happy we went here, the food was extremely good, I had this great grilled chicken sandwich with brie and apple on a Focaccia roll (which I learned was also locally baked), one of my friends had the same thing and the other had the fresh pear and Gorgonzola salad which also looked great. We sat outside on a gorgeous patio and the prices were totally reasonable (around $15 for a lunch time appetizer). I would definitely go back!
The Castle - its like Hogwarts up in here!
Since it was our first time at Hearst Castle we decided to do the Grand Rooms Tour, which is what they recommend for first time visitors. It includes a tour of the Neptune Pool and gardens (which were my favorite), the Assembly room, the Refectory (Dining room), Billiards room, and Theater. The tour is given from the point of view of being a guest of William Hearst in his hay day, which was pretty cool to image yourself spending the weekend with your good old friend Bill in a freaking castle! Honestly to me the inside was a little stuffy for my taste, like my friend Melissa exclaimed it felt like you were on a Harry Potter set. But the outside to me was the absolute show stopper with its Mediterranean inspired facade, hand panted tiles, beautiful garden and amazing views of the ocean to the west and Santa Lucia Mountains to the East, I could definitely see myself with a book laying by the pool here. I guess Hearst called this place "La Cuesta Encantadad" - the Enchanted Hill, and you can definitely feel a little enchanted walking on the grounds.
Overall, the trip was such a nice quick get-a-way and didn't break the bank. Just goes to show that you don't need to put on a backpack and explore a distant, remote location to go on an amazing adventure. I've said it before and I will say it again, a great friend, the open road, and a good adventure is all I need in life.