El Paso de Robles means "Pass of the Oaks," but these days the Central Coast region along Highway 101 is best known for its vineyards. The history of the area's gentle rolling hills is steeped in Native American roots, Mission Fathers, and connections to industrious pioneers of the Old West. In recent years, the San Luis Obispo County town has seen a tremendous amount of growth, landing itself on the map as a top California wine destination and center for culinary ingenuity.
The Salinas Indians inhabited Paso (as the area is known to locals) thousands of years before the mission era began in California. Its original Native American population made use of what was then (and still is) considered healing hot springs and mud baths. In 1864, the first El Paseo de Robles hotel boasted a mineral springs bath house, and in 1882 Drury James (uncle of formidable outlaw Jesse James, who once hid in tunnels underneath the original Paseo Robles Inn) and the Blackburn brothers (who purchased the Rancho Paso de Robles Mexican land grant in 1857), advertised "El Paseo de Robles Hot and Cold Sulphur Springs and the Only Natural Mud Baths in the World." Today healing hot springs at the storied Paso Robles Inn and River Oaks Hot Springs Spa draw visitors who want to soothe aches and ailments or simply kick back in the warm waters.
The wine grapes of the landscape were originally introduced in 1797 by Franciscan missionaries and Spanish conquistadors, but Paso wasn't firmly acknowledged as a wine making region until grapes from Rancho San Ignacio (once owned by famed piano player Ignace Paderwski's, who frequented Paso and bought 2,000 acres of land there) were applauded and awarded in the industry. Throughout the 1960s and '70s a new crop of winemakers took Paso by storm and cultivated what is now considered the fastest growing wine making region in California. Known for its Zinfandel, Paso Robles draws oenophiles from far and wide who come to town to experience the area's more than 200 wineries and 40 varietals. The Hope family have been on the forefront of the local industry for more than 30 years. The family's five labels include Treana, Liberty School, Austin Hope, Candor, and Westside Red, and can be sipped at tasting rooms all around town.
What would wine be without savory fare to pair with it? Thomas Hill Organic Market Bistro & Wine Bar is known for its farm-to-table seasonal menus. The Thomas Hill Organic family-owned and run farm specializes in heirloom fruit, vegetables, and nuts, as well as Italian varietals. Il Cortile—the newest Italian restaurant to hit downtown—serves up authentic Italian dishes and offers a mozzarella tasting menu, which includes fresh burrata, mozzarella di bufala, and mozzarella da gioia del colle.
With celebrated wines, fine dining, and healing hot springs, it's little wonder the small of community of Paso Robles is growing by the minute. Take a cruise along Highway 101 and stop into the town soon, before its old world charm catches up with 2010.
3548 SPRING ST
8950 Union Rd
At Hwy. 46 E., 8 miles east of U.S. 101
1305 Park St
1144 Pine Street