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Whether your visit to wine country is exclusively about finding excellent wines, or whether it’s more about a fun scene and gorgeous views, you really can’t go wrong in Paso Robles, California.

Featuring more than 200 wineries and tasting rooms, the Central Coast community, which is located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, offers a dizzying array of venues -- everything from small family-run operations with a few outdoor tables overlooking pastoral vineyards to lavish glass-walled tasting rooms abuzz with clinking glasses and sparkling conversation.

My preferences run somewhere in between, and Paso Robles has plenty of wineries in that middle-of-the-road category as well -- places that showcase the community’s fun vibe, its stellar vineyard views, and, of course, its delightful wines.

Despite the diversity, one thing is true regardless of where you stop: Paso Robles lives up to its friendly, laid-back reputation. Even at the higher-end wineries I visited, stuffiness was nowhere to be found. I found that the wine experts took the time to explain the varieties and tell the winery’s story.

Likewise, few of the wineries require reservations, and tastings are mostly moderately priced, with a few places even offering free tastings.

Based on the recommendations of countless local experts, as well as my own experiences, here are eight varied and not-to-be-missed wineries in Paso Robles. (By the way, the locals pronounce it PASS-oh ROW-buls -- “Robles” rhymes with “nobles.”)

Sclpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden in Paso Robles.
Cindy Barks

1. Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden

From the front-desk attendant at my hotel to the friendly visitor-center representative in downtown Paso, I heard a repeated recommendation from locals: Be sure to check out Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden.

And after spending a warm winter morning wandering amidst whimsical rock-carved felines, ballerinas, and elephants, I have to agree -- Sculpterra offers a uniquely entertaining wine-country experience.

With four staff artists, Sculpterra is as much an art gallery as it is a winery. From a stalking puma to fluttering dragonflies, the sculptures are sprinkled liberally throughout Sculpterra’s tasting room and charming front and back courtyards.

Wine is also central to the experience. A tasting will take you from Sculpterra’s refreshing chardonnay to its subtly spicy viognier to its full-bodied cabernet sauvignon and rich and fruity Statuesque.

For a perfect visit to Sculpterra, stop at the indoor tasting room for an introduction before heading to the backyard for a stroll among the sculptures and a wine sample at the outdoor bar. With wine glass in hand, venture into the vineyards that run right up to the courtyard and check out of the views of the winery framed by Paso’s classic majestic oak trees. If you’re hungry after your walk, sample a street taco or wrap sandwich at the food trucks that stop by the winery.

DAOU Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles.
Cindy Barks

2. DAOU Vineyards And Winery

Views, atmosphere, stellar wines, and a compelling story: DAOU Vineyards and Winery, with its mountaintop venue, has it all.

Started in 2007 by French Lebanese brothers Georges and Daniel Daou, DAOU capitalizes on its stunning location with a sprawling Mediterranean-style tasting room that features an indoor-outdoor patio. The numerous seating options all overlook the rolling hills of the vineyard. When I visited on a Saturday afternoon, groups lounged in clusters of comfy Adirondack chairs, sipping wine and basking in the views.

DAOU was another frequent recommendation from the locals I consulted, and the word has definitely spread that the winery located off the scenic Adelaida Road is the place to go for the region’s best views.

Even on the winter day that I visited, the winery was packed, and a parking attendant stopped me on my way up the hill. Parking at the tasting room is limited, and at times, visitors are directed to a slightly removed parking lot where a shuttle will take them up the hill. Reservations are recommended for tastings.

Tobin James Cellars in Paso Robles.
Cindy Barks

3. Tobin James Cellars

Tobin James Cellars, with its magnificent setting among the rolling hills of eastern Paso Robles, is known for a number of features.

First of all, Tobin James is the first winery you see as you approach the community from the east. After passing through green and amber hills dotted with black Angus cattle, the bright sunburst logo of Tobin James offers an enticing introduction to Paso Robles wine country.

Then, there’s the fun atmosphere. Walk through the doors of the winery that is located on the grounds of an old stagecoach stop, and the lively ambience will immediately put you in the mood for a wine-tasting adventure.

Sit down at Tobin James’s antique mahogany bar, and you will be delighted by another popular feature: complimentary wine tastings. The friendly wine professionals behind the bar offer useful tips about the winery’s selections and will quickly ring up any purchases.

Be sure to check out Tobin James’s leafy and rustic front courtyard, complete with the rotating blades of a towering water pump.

Calcareous winery in Paso Robles.
Cindy Barks

4. Calcareous

For a secluded winery positioned on a lovely knoll, venture along the winding, tree-canopied route of Peachy Canyon Road to Calcareous.

There, you will be greeted by an elegant glass-walled tasting room that offers floor-to-ceiling views of the surrounding vineyards. Be sure to check out the wine-tasting flight of Calcareous’s Lily Blanc, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and its new release of Lloyd, a rich and full-bodied red, named after winery founder Lloyd Messer.

Halter Ranch in Paso Robles.
Cindy Barks

5. Halter Ranch

Located amidst the scenic hills west of Paso Robles, Halter Ranch offers a full-service experience complete with a massive tasting room, elegant restaurant, winery and cave tours, and horseback vineyard tours.

Step into the chic glass-walled tasting room of the Adelaida Road-area winery, and you will be instantly engulfed in the buzz of wine country. When I visited, I heard numerous languages being spoken and watched as the busy wine professionals poured tastes for multigenerational families and groups of young women obviously enjoying a girls’ weekend.

Starting with the covered bridge that you cross on your way to the winery, Halter Ranch delivers atmosphere with a capital A.

Eberle Winery in Paso Robles.

6. Eberle Winery

A fun and budget-friendly choice, Eberle Winery offers not only complimentary wine tastings, but wine cave tours as well.

The scenic winery located in eastern Paso Robles along Highway 46 is truly a full-service spot, featuring amenities such as an outside picnic deck as well as bocce and cornhole. It is also pet-friendly.

Pro Tip: Eberle is located near the Field of Light at Sensorio, a stunning walk-through display of glowing orbs spread over 15 acres of classic Paso Robles terrain. The winery makes a great late-afternoon stop before heading to the evening Field of Light display.

Lone Madrone in Paso Robles.
Cindy Barks

7. Lone Madrone

Situated on a hill between the mountain and the sea in western Paso Robles, Lone Madrone offers a rustic, family-operated tasting experience amidst the giants of Adelaida Road.

As a passion project of noted winemaker and founder Neil Collins, Lone Madrone takes an old-world approach to its winemaking. The winery is located on a 70-year-old Clydesdale horse ranch that has been renovated to include a pretty tasting room with an open-air bar and a patio overlooking the surrounding rugged vineyard.

Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles.

8. Niner Wine Estates

Known for its lovely heart-shaped grove of trees on the top of a hill, Niner Wine Estates offers the best of the scenic wineries in the western Highway 46 region of Paso Robles.

Heart Hill has been an icon in the area since the mid-1950s, according to the Niner website. Although the Niner family bought the property in 2003, the land’s ranching roots go back to the early 1900s, when cattle roamed the hillsides. Those early ranchers are said to have seen the romance in the heart-shaped grove and nurtured it through the decades.

Now, vineyard rows border the famous grove, and the Niner wineries operate in a solar-powered estate in the heart of Paso Robles wine country.

The winery features a circular wine bar that is bathed in natural light and features sweeping views of the surrounding vineyards. Wine-tasting appointments can be made from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Although walk-ins are accepted, the winery recommends appointments.

Located about 5 hours south of California’s Napa Valley, Paso Robles offers a welcoming, accessible option to the iconic Northern California region. And with 69 wine varieties and 40,000 planted acres (compared to Napa’s approximately 35 varieties and 45,000 planted acres), Paso Robles more than holds its own against California’s other classic wine regions.

Pro Tip: Although wine tasting is the predominant activity in Paso Robles, the community offers many other fun features as well, from olive groves to hot springs to early California ranching history. Learn how to spend a day in Paso Robles here.

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