Living in California my family and friends always ask me if I’ve been wine tasting in Napa Valley or Sonoma. Sure, wine country and wine tasting just north of San Francisco is well known across the United States, but let me add a hidden gem to California’s wine country to do list – Paso Robles.
Paso Robles is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco making it about a 3 to 4 hour drive from both cities. If you’re coming from out of the state, the closest major airport is San Jose International Airport (SJC), about a 2 and a half hour drive. Other major airports in easy driving distance are Oakland (OAK), San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), Burbank (BUR) and Long Beach (LGB). For more helpful information check out Travel Paso.
Before you arrive, the most important transportation decision is how you get to the wineries. If you have a designated driver and a car, your decision is easy. If everyone plans on wine tasting you need to make sure you safely go from winery to winery. Here are two options I used and can highly recommend:
Designated Wine Driver
If you have a car that can accommodate your group, then you can hire a driver for the day. On my first trip we used DesignatedWineDriver.com owned by Bob Barker (not the host of “Price Is Right”). The service cost $35/hour for a max of 6 passengers along with a gourmet basket of cheese, snacks, bottled water and a DVD of pictures from your tour. Bob’s crew is available Monday through Sunday 8:00am to 8:30pm and allow you to pick your own route — any wineries you want.
The Designated Wine Driver was affordable and gave us a friendly driver who was really informative about the best Paso Robles wineries during the drive, but stayed out of our way when we were at the wineries (besides getting paparazzi-like photos of the group). I would HIGHLY recommend using Bob!
The Wine Line
During my second trip to Paso Robles we had a group of 8 and the best option we found was The Wine Line. For groups under 7, it’s more of a “hop on, hop off” type service. For larger groups like ours, we made reservations at the wineries and had specific pickup times throughout the day. The company provides a list of some of the best Paso Robles wineries that you can choose from, not ALL wineries in Paso Robles are available, but there are plenty of great options. The cost was $70 per person, we were given discounts on tasting fees at various wineries and our driver was on time for every pickup. The Wine Line was perfect for our needs!
Over my two trips to Paso Robles this year I visited 9 different wineries and drank over 45 tastings. Here’s a list of some of the best Paso Robles wineries I visited, starting with my favorite for each trip based on overall experience including vibe, service, setting and tastings.
1. TABLAS CREEK
A gorgeous winery with an extremely friendly staff and great tasting wines. We started the day with a walking tour that was extremely educational about the process of growing the grapes to bottling the wine.
How could I not visit my own winery?!?! Justin’s wines are delicious and the winery has a high-class restaurant vibe. There’s a large outdoor seating area with a lot of tables and beautiful views.
Known for attracting a younger crowd and having younger female employees. Booker has outdoor games and a nice picnic area. Service felt rushed at the end of the day and comparatively not as friendly.
4. TERRY HOAG
At the time of our visit it was under construction so we had our tasting in the back room on a makeshift table. Smaller compared to the other wineries, but the staff was very knowledgeable and accommodating.
Loved this winery! The staff was extremely welcoming, fun and true experts. The setting offered views of the vineyards, a variety of seating areas and backyard games like cornhole.
One of the best outdoor setups in Paso Robles. We snacked on cheese, crackers and grapes in the gazebo and played cornhole (I love games!). The staff was friendly but not as knowledgeable as other wineries.
The tasting room is very classy, upscale and trendy. Tables are pimped out with sets of Cards Against Humanity for guests and the staff is top notch. Felt like we were at a restaurant more than a winery.
A smaller winery with a very welcoming staff and good wines. A great spot to eat a meal outside.
Set in an older house-like building, there wasn’t a great outdoor setup. We set up chairs ourselves under a tree and didn’t learn much about the wines. Our server talked about “The Bachelorette” which was fun.
This is where I will stay every time I go back to Paso Robles if it’s available! Located in the middle of vineyards next to J. Lohr, this cute 3-bedroom house was PERFECT. We absolutely loved the privacy and the seclusion in the vineyards. The backyard is spacious with a fire pit and yard games. It’s further from downtown than other rentals, but so worth the escape.
What makes it even more incredible are the views from both the house and from talking a walk through the vineyards. Definitely hike to the top of the hill for sunset!
This 2-bedroom rental is located a couple blocks from downtown and is sandwiched between other houses on all sides. It’s cute, compact and has a backyard equipped with a grill, fire pit and great seating. If you want to be walking distance from downtown it’s a good option for exploring some of the best Paso Robles wineries.
“The best wine is the one you drink with friends.”
When I think about my wine tasting trips to Paso Robles, the bonding I had with friends – both old and new – is what I remember the most. I’m not a wine snob, and to be honest, after a few tastings the wines pretty much taste the same to me anyways. The laughs we shared and memories we created over our many glasses of wine is what makes wine tasting so worth it.
I also learned at some of the best Paso Robles wineries that “tasting notes” are NOT “ingredients” in the wines! Yes… I’ll admit it! I thought when they listed things like leather, cigars, pencil shavings or strawberries somehow those elements were incorporated into the winemaking process… thinking about it now, it’s pretty dumb, but it made for a good laugh! I was told that a lot of people actually think the same thing. So if you’re looking for a fun impromptu game while wine tasting, guess the “ingredients”!