When most people think of California wines, they typically think Napa Valley or other Northern California wine regions. But, if you really want to experience all that California’s wine producers have to offer, you have to be a bit more adventurous than that.
In this blog, I highlight winery tours in Paso Robles, an award winning region that is well worth the trip. Your wine journey will take you through the central coast of California which spans 300 miles and over 93,000 acres to one of the best wine regions in California, San Louis Obispo County, which is smack dab in the middle between San Francisco and Los Angeles, about a 3.5 hour drive from either direction.
If you plan on touring more wine regions, I recommend making your home base Paso Robles which has over 200 wineries. I couldn’t even begin to list each and everyone so, I will include an interactive map of Paso Robles wineries later for your reference.
[This post was originally posted November of 2022. Updated January of 2023]
You know the feeling you get when people are raving about something you know very little about?
Well, that’s how I feel about wine. Here’s the extent of my wine experience…I go to a restaurant, look at the wine list, order a glass, sip it with my meal.
I either love the way the wine tastes and order a second glass or am not crazy about it and leave it to someone else to drink (which happens most of the time). 🤣
But, from many years of watching movies and documentaries like Sideways, Bottle Shock and SOMM and hearing my wino mom rage on and on about wine’s science, history and explosive wine and food pairings, I realized that there was something that I must have been missing.
Everyone Has a Wine Journey 🍷
Whether you love or hate wine, everyone has a wine journey.
For me, it’s not that I wasn’t curious about wine or didn’t enjoy the flavor, it’s that it wasn’t always available to me.
In my early 20s, I had a horrible physical reaction with red wine that caused pain to rush up my spine and left me with a headache after just a sip. It was the oddest thing. Then, a few years later, something magical happened. I took a sip of wine and had no reaction. For the first time, I was able to enjoy wine without pain.
I’ve been a drinker of wine for many years now but still felt a longing to have the type of experience that other people do.
You know… the kind where wine lovers say they remember the Summer that they felt the ripe grapes dance on their tongue, the sun kissed soil flowing through their hands and the air caressing the vines… that kind of poetic wine experience?
Watch how beautifully Maya from Sideways describes the life of wine…
So, naturally, I went where any wine ingénue goes to learn about wine…. California Wine Country.
I was born and raised in Southern California but left to live in the Northeast in my teens which was far too soon. There was so much more to learn. But, it’s never too late.
So, I packed my bags, “Wine Connoisseur Journal” in tow and away I went to California. First stop? Paso Robles, Napa’s less glamorous, underestimated cousin with more substance. 😉
California is the 4th largest producer of wine in the world, and is responsible for 80% of all wine made in the US.
Wine Tasting in Central California is Just Better
One of the biggest differences I noticed between Northern California wineries and Central California wineries is that they are a lot more approachable with their small-town charm and lower price point tastings.
When I visited Paso Robles wineries over the Summer, crowds didn’t seem to be an issue either and I’m not entirely sure whether it’s because there are an abundance of other wineries to explore in this region or if there was a lack of visitors in general, but you didn’t seem elbow to elbow with anyone which I was thankful for after visiting Napa.
I’m going to go with the former observation rather than the latter, as I sit and recall the literal open spaces of the vineyards I visited.
While it’s true that Chardonnay is the number one varietal coming out of California, this region has also made their mark with Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet and some Merlot and Pinot Noir.
🍇 Pro Tip: Not all wines are created equal. Without a doubt, you will taste wine that you absolutely love and that you also absolutely can’t stand. I’ve even walked out not liking any wines from a winery. It’s part of the fun! I like to bring my wine journal and take notes on my favorites. Also, so I can order more bottles later. Many wineries even have wine clubs that you can sign up for where you get an exclusive selection only available to members.
Winery Tours in Paso Robles
If you enjoy Zinfandel…
- Turley Vineyards
If Zinfandel is your go-to wine, then Turley Vineyards should be your go-to vineyard. Their selection has consistently ranked year after year on Wine Spectators Top 100, which despite what many think, is not some bougie, expensive wine ranking. Inexpensive wines have outranked the most expensive as well. Wine Spectator has even listed wines for less than $15. As they say, “great wine doesn’t have to be expensive”.
Tasting is by appointment only and runs about 60 minutes $25 PP.
- Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden
If you enjoy art and beautiful landscapes, Sculpterra Winery is a must stop. Call ahead to see if you are lucky enough to visit when they have live music in the garden. They also have a rotation of food trucks that provide delicious accompaniments to their wines.
With multiple tasting bars and a wide-open outdoor space, you never feel rushed or crowded. After you’ve discovered your favorite, buy a bottle, get some snacks and head out to the grounds to enjoy a leisurely stroll through the rows of grapes and countless sculptures to fill the senses.
The winery is also dog friendly.
If you enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon…
- Ernest Hemmingway Vineyards
Aptly named after “the Most Interesting Man in the World”, this luxurious tasting room also offers farm to table dining options. One of the hot spots for weddings, the grounds are as lovely as the wines are tasty.
- J. Lohr
I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s kind of cool to see where a familiar brand comes from. If you come to my home, you’ll always find a bottle or two of J. Lohr in my wine cabinet and one being chilled.
If my mom taught me one thing, it’s to always have a “drinking wine on hand”, meaning one that is at a middle of the road price point and easily accessible for every palate. One of these is J. Lohr, an unassuming vineyard that you can visit the tasting room of with advance reservations. Tours start at $20.00 with tastings lasting about an hour.
And because you came to California to wine hop, here’s a map of Paso Robles wineries. Many of them are family owned and operated which is pretty special.
Where to stay in Paso Robles
In Paso Robles, you’ll find everything from beautiful, high-end Bed and Breakfasts, low-end motels as well as middle of the road hotels. While Paso Robles seems like a nice quiet town, on my first night, I unfortunately went through Hotels.com and booked what seemed like a charming rustic place.
I don’t know who made those reviews, but it was terrible. My accommodation was in a not so great location on the edge of town. All night, I was worried about my safety, while in a less than clean room. I left as soon as it was daylight and found some great accommodations for my remaining week there.
Here are my top choices for every budget…
Go retro or be in nature
If you’re going to be in nature, you may as well go glamping. This adorable place that I booked via Trip Advisor, which had an option of vintage airstreams or tipis. We opted for one of the tipis. They were lux with a mini fridge and nice décor. The property itself was overlooking vineyards with a spectacular sunset. Picnic tables/grills, hammocks and a stock tank dipping pool were also available.
My last day, I opted for a middle price point Marriott surrounded by chain restaurants and a strip mall. It was convenient and right off the 101 Freeway. Sometimes you want to go where you know what to expect and Marriott has always been pretty consistent. You know what you’re getting.
For something a little bit more glamorous, try Allegretto Vineyard Resort & Spa.
This is a Tuscan getaway without the airfare. Spa service is available and you can even enjoy a massage from your hotel room. It’s luxury at it’s finest. You don’t need to leave the property as there is a wine tasting room as well as a fine dining restaurant right on site.
There are also plenty more things to explore in the area that aren’t wine related.
- Horseback Riding
- Paso Robles Market Walk
There are a lot of great bespoke shops, coffee roasters and cafes owned by small businesses and families.
- Paso Hot Springs
- Hearst Castle
- California Missions
The architecture of Paso Robles Mission is truly beautiful as is the history. Stroll the grounds and stop by the fountain as well as the bells towering high.
- Pismo Beach
How to Get Around Paso Robles Wineries
By now, you’re probably wondering how to get around! Most likely, you’ll be hopping around different winery tours in Paso Robles’ area. You can either take a wine tour or, my favorite, drive. If you flew in, you can rent a car at the airport or, here.
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That’s a Wrap!
While I still can’t call myself a wine expert, I walked away with such a greater appreciation for wine after exploring all the different areas in Central California, especially the winery tours in Paso Robles which made me feel more welcomed than wineries in Napa I visited. Lesson learned.
Now, get out there and enjoy all the California wines! Especially from Paso Robles. You’ll be thanking me later! 😉
Are you a wine lover? Do you have a favorite winery or wine experience? Tell me about it in the comments below.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like…
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Virginia City Nevada | Ghost Town in the Wild West
Thank you so much for being apart of this journey with me! I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.
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Until next time… keep it real.
At Real Girl Review, we value truth and always strive for accuracy. Posts are updated regularly. If you read something that still doesn’t sound right, contact me at email@example.com. I will investigate the facts and make changes as I deem necessary.
What an insightful post! Thanks so much for sharing. Paso Robles is such a charming and beautiful town that doesn’t get enough credit like Napa and Sonoma.
If you’re looking for a wine tour or experience that is truly unique, I would highly suggest checking out Third Wheel Tours. I just did a tour with them about a month ago and can honestly say I was impressed with their high level of service and attention to detail. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
What really sets Third Wheel Tours apart from traditional wine tasting tours is their authenticity – every interaction feels like a genuinely organic conversation with an engaging guide/driver.
And, here’s the kicker: you travel by sidecar! How awesome is that!? My girlfriend throughly enjoyed it and felt like this experience reminded her of things she’s seen on ‘The Bachelor.’
I can’t wait to get back to Paso Robles and try some new wineries!
Thank you for reading Nikki! I hope you visit Paso Robles soon! 🙂
Yum! Paso Robles looks like my kind of place! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Thank you for reading my blog Tam! I’m so happy that it introduced you to a wine region you hadn’t heard of before. 🙂
You’re right – when you think of Californian wine, you don’t think of Paso Robles, in fact, I have never heard of this region before so this was very interesting to read especially as someone who has worked at a winery (briefly) and is on a learning journey about wine in general!
Thank you for reading the blog and pinning it for later! Hope you have a great day.
I’ve actually never been to Oregon! I’d love to go one day.
Aww, thank you for being a continued reader and supporter of Real Girl Review! It means so much. I enjoy Pinot Noir too! 🙂
This looks like an amazing place to visit! I’ve pinned it for when I’m in the area!
I love going wine tasting! I’m not too far from you in Oregon. Would love to visit this region one day.
Great review as usual! Favorite wine? Petite Syrah or Pinot Noir. I also really like Magnificat from the Franciscan Estate (Napa).
California even has some vineyards in Southern California.