The Complete Package: Downtown Paso Robles
Explore libations, food, shopping, and adventure — all within just a few blocks
Photos and story by Katherine McMahon
Paso Robles is known as wine country — a place for getaways spent driving through oak groves and rolling hills to visit vineyards. But the heart of Paso, the Downtown area, has an incredible life of its own with enough dining, wine tasting, shopping, and places to stay to make an amazing vacation in itself — all without venturing more than a few blocks.
When Paso Robles was founded in 1889, two blocks in the center of town were set aside as a public park. The 5-acre City Park features massive oak trees, a gazebo, and a playground, as well as lawn areas and picnic tables. The park is used for events like the wine festival, holiday tree lighting, and farmers’ market. What was once the historic Carnegie Library, in the center of the park, is now known as the Paso Robles Historic Society and Museum. Downtown has grown up around the park, and within a few blocks in any direction is everything for a complete Paso Robles experience.
Start your day in downtown Paso with breakfast at AMSTRDM Coffee House or at the aptly named Brunch. AMSTRDM makes great breakfast sandwiches and excellent cappuccinos. Brunch is known for its breakfast pizzas. Red Scooter Deli, just opposite the southeast corner of the park, is also an ideal place for something to get your day going. They feature an extensive list of wraps and sandwiches as well as soups, salads, and smoothies.
In Downtown Paso, you can have the experience of wine country without having to get in your car. Without the vineyard setting as a backdrop, these tasting rooms let their personality take front and center. Many of them are small boutique wineries where you may be served by the owner and winemaker and get to engage in a discussion of wine, food, music, life, and all things Paso. There are almost 30 tasting rooms within downtown! Here are just a few that I have visited.
At LXV, Neeta Mittal brings an understanding of the spices from her native India to create a tasting experience that pairs exotic flavor blends with her wine, named by USA Today as one of the top 10 tasting experiences in America.
Copia Vineyards is a reflection of the partnership between Varinder and Anita Sahi. They bring their love for wine — and each other — together with their backgrounds in engineering and hospitality. The result is an attention to high quality and detail. The tasting room perfectly complements their wine through the elegance of the furnishings and the sophisticated selection of artisanal cheeses.
Jason Bushong of Bushong Vintage Company grew up in Southern California collecting vinyl records and has worked for 23 harvests in Paso. His tasting room vibe is like a retro lounge with a wall of vinyl and artwork that forms a link between his high-quality wine and his favorite record albums.
Ray Schofield of Cloak & Dagger is more guarded about his past, which fits with the mood of his sleek tasting room and luxurious wines. The varietals in the red blend Cryptology are a secret that he challenges you to guess when tasting. Is that Cab or Syrah I taste? He keeps it a mystery.
At Cypher Wineries, owner Susan ‘SAM ZinPunk’ Mahler “cracks the code” of winemaking and creates fruit-forward aromatic red blends with clever names like ZinPunk, Slayer, and TheoryZ with eye-catching anime labels that reflect her personality.
My new favorite wine in Paso is Diablo Winery on Pine Street, just off the park. Enrique Torres has a long history in Paso working at other wineries; he was formerly assistant winemaker at Cali Paso Winery. His hands-on training helped him develop a keen appreciation for how wine is crafted from vine to bottle. Diablo is his passion project. Unlike most wineries in Paso, which focus on French varieties, Enrique focuses on Spanish-style wines like Albariño, Tempranillo, and Garnacha. For me, there was something truly wonderful about what he had created.
In between all the wine, stroll among the many boutiques in Paso. A personal favorite is the Paso General Store, featuring local crafts, artisan beauty products, and fun gifts. There is also a Brown Butter Cookie Company and Negranti Creamery, which specializes in sheep’s milk ice cream. Or explore Studios on the Park, a collection of art studios and galleries that also offers art classes, across from the east end of the park.
As the day ends, Downtown Paso has impressive dining options in a small area. Within a short walk of the park is an incredible range of cuisines – Italian, French, Mediterranean, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Steakhouse, barbecue, farm-to-table organic, and more. My favorites are in the blocks between the park and 13th Street.
Side-by-side on 13th Street are The Hatch and Della’s. They are owned by Maggie Cameron and Eric Connolly. Most nights, Eric patrons one or the other. They opened The Hatch first as a rotisserie and bar famous for its black pepper honey roasted chicken and hot skillet cornbread. Della’s was opened in 2021 and focuses on wood fired pizza. The pizzas have fun names and flavor profiles like “Girl Crush,” topped with pepperoni, jalapeño, and hot honey, or “Smoke Show,” topped with short rib, pickled pineapple, and roasted jalapeño.
Across the street is Fish Gaucho, serving modern Mexican cuisine including an extensive margarita list. The nachos are amazing and like a meal in themselves, layered with beef, cheese, avocado, and pickled onions. The tacos, ceviche, and house-made guacamole made with Morro Bay avocados are all so good.
Down an alley in the middle of the block towards the park is Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ. Jeff Wiesinger spent years working at winery kitchens and owned a food truck until the opportunity arose to establish his own restaurant in Downtown Paso. He has an array of smokers to make his own style of barbecue with a wine country twist. He’s won awards for his mac and cheese, but what really blew me away was the paella that eclipsed any paella I’d ever had before.
Close to the park is Alchemists’ Garden, which focuses on innovative botanical cocktails and globally influenced food. The menu includes the most amazing non-alcoholic cocktails I have ever seen. The menu also contains exciting small plates — beet pickled deviled eggs, cast iron fondue, corn ribs, and the single best desert ever: a brûléed banana split.
After the sun goes down, Downtown Paso remains alive. Done with wine? There is a thriving beer and cocktail scene in Paso. The Backyard on Thirteenth is an outdoor beer garden made from repurposed shipping containers and featuring live music on Friday nights. The CANE TiKi Room provides a fun, lighthearted experience of tiki-style cocktails in whimsical mugs. The Remedy, located in the Alchemists’ Garden, is a more serious speakeasy-style lounge where cocktails are an art form.
When staying over in Paso, I have enjoyed several of the hotels downtown. Hotel Cheval was named a top hotel in California. It’s conveniently located next to just about everything — it’s just a block away from the park. But it truly sets itself apart with its interior courtyard and private patios, which are an intimate refuge. And in the evening one of the staff acts as a S’mores Butler, making decadent, custom s’mores at the oak fireplace in the courtyard. A block away from the other side of the park is Piccolo, a contemporary hotel with a hip rooftop bar and a self-serve Moet champagne vending machine. Behind the Piccolo, facing toward the park, is the Paso Robles Inn, which is almost as old as Paso itself and has seen a lot of famous visitors in its history. It was renovated in 2014 and since the hotel was built on the site of mineral hot springs, it includes deluxe mineral spa rooms. Two blocks south, the Stables Inn is a charming collection of horse themed cabins that are unpretentious, yet stylish in every detail. A little further is the Farmhouse Motel. It is currently being renovated to reopen by mid-2023.
My favorite discovery on a recent visit to Paso was Libretto. This jazz club is in the basement under Fish Gaucho and features a nine-foot concert grand Steinway piano. This model is advertised by Steinway to be the overwhelming choice of the world’s greatest pianists, and it has drawn the talent from far and wide. Grammy award-winning pianists have traveled from all over to perform here. Libretto also showcases local talent. I saw the G2 Project, which features George Garcia — a San Luis Obispo architect who moonlights as a jazz pianist — along with Ken Hustad on bass and Darrell Voss on drums. They performed an incredible set of cool jazz classics, originals, and reinterpreted popular songs like “Roxanne” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Flowing through everything that I experienced was the Paso spirit. I was told several times that Downtown Paso Robles has evolved over the past decade to become a much more vibrant place. There is so much creativity, passion, and style. Creators compete to be the best, but they support each other with a sense of community. I found Downtown Paso an inspiring place to be.
Follow more of my adventures on Instagram at @vineyardsandvoyages.