5 things to do in Paso Robles, California

The little town of Paso Robles on the Central Coast is a well-kept Californian secret with its fabulous vineyards, outdoor installation with thousands of glowing spheres, fine dining, and so much more. 

It is a perfect place for a short family weekend getaway and is only 2.5 hours from San Jose, CA, or 2 hours from Monterey, CA. Let’s take a look at some kid-friendly activities that the whole family would appreciate.

Where to stay?

When going on vacation, whether a short getaway or a weeks-long trip, along with being excited about exploring new places, we get excited when we get to pay less by redeeming points and miles. Obviously, not all the time we get to stay in luxurious accommodations, well, because not all the places have them 😅.

When planning our trip to Paso Robles, we quickly checked if the city had any Hyatt or Hilton properties since we have the highest status in both of these chains and a enough of points to redeem to book the stay.

The only Hyatt – the Hyatt Place Paso Robles is only projected to open in 2023 (we actually drove by it, but they have yet to start the construction).

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And there are two Hilton properties – Hampton Inn & Suites and Home2 Suites. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Paso Robles and booked a Standard Room for 50,000 Hilton Points ($404.06 cash value), and as a Diamond member, we got upgraded to a Studio Suite. The hotel was about a 10-minute drive from downtown Paso Robles.

There is also a great number of Airbnb rentals in the area if you would prefer to have a whole place to yourself.

1. Enjoy good food at one of the restaurants

We arrived in Paso Robles around lunchtime and headed to the restaurant right away. We already looked up a couple of options on Yelp, so we knew exactly where to go.

Fish Gaucho

We parked downtown and went to the restaurant called Fish Gaucho. It is a modern Mexican cuisine restaurant with the most delicious tacos. The short rib tacos would knock your socks off! We also ordered a kid’s version with just cheese and meat; Sophia practically had to fight for the third taco and did not want to share it with her baby sister 😅.

Thomas Hill Organics

While looking for a place to have lunch on Sunday, we ended up having brunch at Thomas Hill Organics. This farm-to-table restaurant definitely did not disappoint, starting with a lovely patio with a canopy and ending with great food.

We had avocado toast, burrata salad, and eggs Benedict, but everyone’s favorite was the Overnight Waffle with whipped strawberry cream!

2. Visit the Estrella Warbirds Museum

The Estrella Warbirds Museum is dedicated to restoring and preserving military aircraft and vehicles. As they say on their website, “Our approach, however, is not to glorify conflict but rather to make a future generation aware of the fact our way of life does not come without sacrifice.”

We could not have said it better ourselves, as it is essential to learn the lessons from your past, not to repeat them in the future, and to teach your kids the importance of that.

The museum featured a lot of exhibits and had several halls with historical military cars, an auto display with hundreds of race cars, and a radio room. It was pretty neat and educational and we recommend visiting it if you are in the area.

3. Go to the Charles Paddock Zoo

The Charles Paddock Zoo is home to more than a hundred species, including a tiger, giant anteater, and tortoise, and is actually the only zoo on the Central Coast.

It is relatively compact, and it might take only an hour to see all the animals. We liked that it was not crowded and we could take our time to observe the animals and learn interesting facts about them.

Our absolute favorite was red pandas! I think it’s actually our first time seeing them. There, in the picture below, is just one of the three red pandas taking a morning nap. We came back after finishing the walk to say goodbye, and he was already walking around, looking cute as ever in his fluffy red coat.

💡 Good To Know

The Charles Paddock Zoo is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm (4 pm November 1st – March 31st).

The cost of admission is $12 for adults, $8 for kids 5-12 years old, and $5 for kids 3-4 years old.

4. Visit the Light at Sensorio

Visiting the Light at Sensorio by Bruce Munro was the reason number one why we decided to take this trip to Paso Robles. Yet, the city turned out to offer so much more than just this installation.

The Field of Light at Sensorio is an outdoor 15-acre installation field with 58,000 solar-powered spheres! These glowing spheres change color and look absolutely mesmerizing. We kept this exciting visit as a surprise for the girls and did not tell them until we arrived. Zoe kept saying she really liked the “decorations,” and Sophia was asking a lot of technical questions about “how, why, and for how long are they glowing for” 😅.

💡 Good To Know

While the Field always opens around sunset, please, check the specific dates before going, as the days of the week they are operating vary depending on the season.

The current schedule is November — December 31st: Thu, Sun from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm, and Fri, Sat from 5:00 pm to 9:30 pm.

The latest addition to the Sensorio includes 69 Light Towers with 17,000 wine bot­tles to celebrate Paso Robles as a wine country!

We actually did not even realize at first that it was indeed the wine bottles. To emphasize your experience, the Light Towers area blasts the African gospel through the speakers and makes you feel like you are in a magical world.

5. Visit the wineries

More than 200 wineries and thousands of acres of vineyards are in the Paso Robles area, and they sure make Paso Robles a wine country.

We only had time to check out one of them and went to the one named Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden since we wanted to combine wine tasting with a walk around the sculpture garden.

Visiting a winery is not always just about tasting a glass of wine and grabbing a bottle with you; there is something special about walking through the vineyards, seeing the grapes on the vines (meanwhile trying out a couple of those right from the vine 🫢), and enjoying the views.

Surprisingly, after taking a short walk through the vineyards, we discovered a hammock area surrounded by beautiful oak trees. I guess we could finally see where the town’s name came from – El Paso de Robles means “Pass of the Oaks” in Spanish.

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