By Jackie Burrell
There's no doubt about the joy of winery-hopping your way down the Central Coast. But if you're pressed for time -- or prefer to mix a little shopping and noshing in with the sipping -- downtown Paso Robles packs an abundance of charm into just a few square blocks. Bistros, shops and more than a dozen wine-tasting rooms surround the city's downtown square, site of wine festivals, art fairs, summer concerts and, we're told, a twinkle-lit Victorian Christmas fete attended by the Snow Queen, Ebenezer Scrooge and, of course, the Clauses.
You could spend days popping in and out of the shops and tasting rooms, but here's a sampling to get you started. You'll find the downtown restaurant lowdown on page 10.
1. Pithy Little Wine Co.: From the retro white bicycle out front to the vintage labels on the Cruisin' the Coast pinot noir, this is a seriously cute tasting room. A tasting flight ($10) includes four wines and a tiny box of food pairings, so you can nibble the perfect cheese with your One Trick Pony or Bull in a China Shoppe blend. This is also the spot to pick up clever gifts for any hard-to-shop-for oenophiles, including corkscrew-adorned aprons and varietal coasters -- made of cork, of course. Open Thursdays through Mondays. 1244 Pine St. B, Paso Robles; www.pithywine.com.
2. Paso Underground: Too many wineries to choose just one? This tasting room collective features wines from Aaron, Clos Solene, Edmond August and Turtle Rock Vineyards. Open afternoons Friday through Sunday. The street address is 1140 Pine St., but the entrance is off Railroad Street; www.pasounderground.com.
3. Studios on the Park: Take a break from the sipping with a little artistic reverie, but don't be surprised by the 1951 Hudson Hornet parked inside the entrance. This was a Hudson Packard car dealership in the 1930s and '40s, and spent several ensuing decades as an auto parts store. These days, it's home to nine art studios shared by two dozen artists of every genre. Stop by Studio 10 to chat with Rod Aszman, for example, as he works on a meticulous historical railroad painting, locomotive smoke billowing under his brush. Or swing by Studio 5 to talk etchings, linocuts and intaglio printing with Rosey and Barbara Rosenthal. Free, but donations are encouraged. Open afternoons Thursday through Sunday at 1130 Pine St.; studiosonthepark.org.
3. Asuncion Ridge: This winery has vineyards and an inn atop the Santa Lucia Highlands. But if you want to taste their pinot noirs and red blends, including the 2009 Salacious (a grenache, syrah and mourvedre blend) and the syrah-centric 2010 Notorious, head for the winery's tasting room downtown. Belly up to the wine bar or settle into a comfy chair near the grand piano. The tasting fee is $10, waived with any wine purchase. Open daily, live music on Saturday evenings; asuncionridge.com/tasting-room.
5. Firefly & Co.: Want to do a little shopping? There are three particularly charming shops along 12th Street, starting with the divine little General Store (841 12th St.; www.generalstorepr.com; details on page 11). Check out the Firefly (839 12th St.), which carries Anthropologie-esque accessories, gifts and quirky home accents, then pop next door to the shoe-centric Sole Tree (835 12th St.), which has an Anthropologie vibe, too.