Santa Barbara and the Central Coast: Places to Explore

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Paso Robles

In the 1860s tourists began flocking to this dusty ranching outpost to "take the cure" in a luxurious bathhouse fed by underground mineral hot springs. An Old West town, complete with opera house, emerged, and grand Victorian homes went up, followed in the 20th century by Craftsman bungalows. A 2003 earthquake demolished or weakened several beloved downtown buildings, but historically faithful reconstruction has helped the district retain its character.

More than 200 wineries pepper the wooded hills of Paso Robles west of U.S. 101 and blanket the flatter, more open land on the east side. The region's hot summer days and cool nights yield grapes that produce robust Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel. Pinot Noir does well in some of the cooler, more fog-heavy western sections. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier are among the white-wine grapes that do well here.

Small-town friendliness prevails at most wineries, especially smaller ones. Pick up a regional wine-touring map at lodgings, wineries, and attractions around town. Many lodgings pass out coupons good for discount tastings. Most tasting rooms close at 5 pm; many charge a small fee.

More attracts people to the Paso Robles area than fine wine and fancy tasting rooms, however. Golfers play the four local courses and spandex-clad bicyclists race along the winding back roads. Down-home and upmarket restaurants, bars, antiques stores, and little shops fill the streets around oak-shaded City Park, where special events of all kinds—custom car shows, an olive festival, Friday-night summer concerts—take place on many weekends. Despite its increasing sophistication, Paso (as the locals call it) more or less remains cowboy country. Each year in late July and early August, the city throws the two-week California Mid-State Fair, complete with livestock auctions, carnival rides, and corn dogs.

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