European Getaway in California: Hearst Castle & Wine Country
Updated: Jan 8
It's no secret that I am a self-professed Europhile. Ever since I first touched down from Spain back in September my fascination for European culture/art has only grown. So when my friend suggested we take a weekend trip to Hearst Castle, I was all in. We decided to stay in the neighboring town of Paso Robles since Hearst Castle is tucked away in the mountains off the coast and you can't actually stay in the castle—a true tragedy.
Paso Robles is a small town in Central California in a region known for its wine country, and chances are if you've ever driven down the 1 you've passed it. Our first stop on our wine country itinerary was none other than the Firestone Walker Brewery, because we figured we'd be wined out towards the end of the trip.
I'm not much of a beer aficionado but when I do drink beer, I prefer craft brews like IPAs and Pale Ales. After being stuck in the car for longer than we expected, we ordered two pizzas and beer like true Americans. My pizza was ultimately better (pig and fig babyyy) and my beer flight was the icing on the cake. This brewing company hit especially close to home because of its 805 brand of beer, aka my hometown area code. 805 represent!
After the pizza and brews we headed into town to check into our lodging. We at the hotel, motel, Holiday Innn—sorry I couldn't not include this Pitbull reference. After some much needed recharge, we headed into town for more food of course. Our evening reservation at french restaurant BL Brasserie kick started our European Central Cal adventure.
I wish I had taken more photos of my food, but the atmosphere was too upscale and intimate to have my phone out. Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable culinary experience. We ordered a bottle of white wine to pair with our escargot and oysters before the entrees. We ordered steak tartare and white truffle mushroom fettuccine as the main course. I don't think I've ever had such a perfect meal in my life before this. I was nearly ready to walk into the kitchen and plant a nice fat bisou on the chef. Figures, the first time I tried French food it wasn't in France.
My French food takeaways:
try the escargot you won't regret it.
West Coast oysters are superior to East Coast oysters.
just order the whole damn bottle at dinner; be a little bad and bougie.
don't be afraid to give your compliments to le chef.
Hearst Castle is a beautiful structural landmark seated atop an "enchanted hill" overlooking the California coast. What began as a humble venture by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan to build a ranch turned into an all-encompassing scheme of opulence and grandeur that spanned three decades.
Hearst Castle is now considered a National Park and is open to the public. It hosts an array of tours, each offering a distinctive experience and perspective into the mesmerizing world that Randolph and Julia created. For first time visitors, the Grand Rooms Tour is your best bet at taking in the general history and physical scope of the Castle.
The tours are 60 minutes and you are guided alongside a large group of people. If you're not into crowds, I'd suggest opting for a private tour. It quickly became crammed as our group slowly packed through narrow doors and corridors, and we struggled to hear the guide's commentary from the back-so a bit of the magic was lost in that. The best part actually comes after the tour when you are free to roam the grounds and embark on your own self-guided tour.
Every corner of Hearst Castle is brimming with gorgeous Mediterranean-influenced detailing and breathtaking views of the neighboring Pacific Ocean. Randolph Hearst dreamed of bringing Europe to California, and this magic castle is a true testament to his vision.
Wine Country Recommendations
There are a lot of cute and quaint Air BnB options in the wine country region, but be sure to book in advance because they get fully booked on weekends.
The Holiday Inn Express - this ain't the hotel, the motel, but the Holiday Inn (lol). It's not the Ritz, but it is super accommodating with their free daily breakfast buffet and free happy hour (that we missed and I'm still salty about tbh).
I'm only mentioning 2 of the 3 wineries we visited because the one winery I chose ended up being a bust. I'll admit I was too busy chasing the ~vibe~ and not focusing my attention on the quality of the wine. It's not my fault they had an ACTUAL MOAT around their winery and the place looked cool on Yelp!
Zinalley Winery - the least vibey of the three wineries we visited but the best wine we had in Paso Robles starts here. This place specializes in zinfandel (hence the name) and you can tell they really care about the integrity of the wine. It's a no-nonsense or fluff kind of winery, but it's still a great stop to take along your wine tour.
J Dusi Winery - my favorite winery, 10/10 vibes, and would definitely recommend. This was our final stop on our winery tour and we certainly saved the best for last. The wine was amazing, the charcuterie board was *chef's kiss*, and winning at buzzed cornhole while the sun went down was one of my highlights of this trip.
Shoutout to Pat Wagner at Hearst Castle for these awesome recommendations. Take it from me and don't ever overlook a local wino's true and tried recommendations while traveling.
Being a Southern California resident, it's easy to take for granted the beauty that lies just beyond our own backyard. You don't have to travel far to witness the vast topographic diversity across our beautiful sunny state and depending on where you are, the beach, the desert, or even the redwoods are just within reach.
If you haven't been to the Paso Robles Wine Country or Hearst Castle I highly recommend you take a weekend trip to visit this gorgeous Central California region. Take the scenic route aka the 1 and keep your eyes open to the scenery that passes you by. You might even spot some unsuspecting characters.