Paso Robles: A dog-friendly weekend escape

Dog-Friendly Thomas Hill Organics
San Luis Obispo County is a very pet-friendly area. This article is the first in a series showing the virtues dog-friendly California. I will begin with Paso Robles, as this was my first stop in my journey discovering fun places to visit with a dog. My canine companion on this excursion was my Saluki, Zoe.

Originally Paso Robles was known for its Mineral Springs. These thermal springs brought many a traveler. Cattle ranchers, almond and apple growers, and dairy farmers were the first to settle in the area. Today Paso Robles, which means the Pass of Oaks is becoming an exciting place for both the arts and of course the expanding wine industry. If you are a wine enthusiast, which I am, the area is known for Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and some fabulous Rhone varietals. Many of the wineries are pet-friendly and allow you to bring your dogs into the tasting rooms.

Dog-Friendly Ecluse Winery

One such winery is Ecluse, owned by Steve and Pam Lock. Located minutes from the downtown area of Paso Robles, the vineyards are situated on scenic rolling hills. Aptly named because in French, Ecluse means locks on a canal. In this case, Lock refers to Steve and Pam’s surname and their Lock Vineyard. The wines are excellent especially the Zinfandel and the Cabernet Sauvignon. After sampling both my best description of these wines are smooth and velvety. The balance is superb. My dog Zoe could not imbibe, but she certainly tried to make herself at home tasting the snacks offered on the counter. It was quite obvious that the winery is dog-friendly after seeing Zoe’s maneuver in the tasting room.

Dog-friendly Ecluse Winery
Dog-Friendly Ecluse Winery Counter Surfer Zoe

In addition to these wines, anyone who is a dog lover must taste the Blind Dog Midnight Run Cuvée. I found an eclectic blend of what Ecluse calls their leftover red varietals. The wine is a soft, easy-drinking table wine. What is more impressive is that this wine pays tribute to the Lock’s Blind Dog Toby who started life as a rescue dog and became a deaf assistance dog before becoming blind several years ago. Toby today is a very happy go lucky dog even with all her handicaps. Not only does the wine pay tribute to Toby but donate a portion of the proceeds to Dogs for the Death.

Dog-Friendly Downtown Paso Robles

Exploring the town of Paso Robles with your dog can be quite fun. The downtown area is going through lots of revitalization.

If you are an art lover, visit the dog-friendly Studios on the Park. Upon entering this art gallery squiggle and Smudge, two Boston Terriers and the gallery’s mascots greet you. Not only do these two welcome you, but also various artistic renditions of the dogs by some of the local artists hang throughout the gallery.

What is unique about this gallery is that at any given time one of the gallery’s 21 artists will be working away in their gallery studio and are available for demonstrations and to answer questions. The concept of the gallery is one of interaction between the artist and the visitor. One gets to watch the creative process in action as you stroll through various studios and galleries.

Studios on the Park - Sasha with Boston Terrier
Studios on the Park – Sasha with Boston Terrier

Dog-Friendly Dining

While visiting Paso Robles, one must take the time to have a meal at the pet-friendly Thomas Hill Organics Market Bistro & Wine Bar for lunch or dinner. This restaurant is a hit with both the locals and tourists. When I saw the owners of one of my favorite Paso wineries, Caliza enjoying a meal, I knew I was in for a yummy treat. Thomas Hill Organics takes the Farm to Table concept to another level by using their own organically grown fruits and vegetables.

Joe and Debbie Thomas came to the area to start their farm, which is nestled in the east hills of Paso Robles, own Thomas Hill Organics Market Bistro & Wine Bar. The farm is planted with over 900 fruit and nut trees and is filled with beds of seasonal produce.

For those dining with pets, the restaurant’s charmingly quaint covered courtyard patio makes for the perfect dining experience. My canine dinner partner, Zoe quickly settled herself by my side but soon crawled in my lap to check out the aromas emanating from my plate.

Thomas Hill Organics in Paso Robles.

On this occasion owner, Debbie Thomas and Chef Julie Simon chose our courses. I always prefer when the chef decides as it gives the chef more creative freedom. We began our meal with the Green Lentil Tacos, Carrot Puree, Candied Jalapenos, Watermelon, Cilantro, Cashew & Coconut. This unusual combination was a fantastic starter.

Next came a salad of Roasted Beet & Strawberry Salad with butterleaf lettuce, oranges, and Kumquats with orange sesame vinaigrette. My main course featured a delectably wonderful Roasted Duck Breast with black rice, baby Bok Choy, scallops, strawberries, and a fried egg. Others in my party chose the Pan Seared Scallops. Both the scallops and the duck were cooked to perfection. I found the unique creations brought out distinct organic flavors.

As a side note, Thomas Hill Organics accommodates to those like me who have allergies and dietary restrictions.

Joe Thomas’ started as an art teacher. He now is a participating artist at the Studios at the Park Gallery. After a pleasing meal at Thomas Hill Organics, you might want to stroll over to the Studio on the Park and view Joe’s artwork.

Dog-Friendly Paso Robles Inn

For pet-friendly accommodations, I recommend two hotels in the downtown area. One is the Paso Robles Inn, the oldest hotel going back to the 1800s. The hotel was built next to the mineral springs that Paso Robles is so famous for. You can enjoy these thermal springs during your hotel visit. The grounds of the hotel are perfect for taking a stroll with your dog at any time of the day.

Wandering the gardens, you will discover that some of the vegetation is the vegetables and herbs used in the hotel’s dining room. The pet-friendly room comes with the following pet amenities; pet water and food bowl, pet blanket as well as a toy and treats.

I must also remind visitors upon your dog upon entering the room will meet a new friend know as the cow towel that adorns every bed in the hotel. Please don’t let your dog go attacking this harmless bed buddy. The cow towel is laden with lollipops for human consumption.

Dog Friendly Paso Robles Inn Towel Cow
Paso Robles Inn Towel Cow

What is unique about this hotel besides its history is that a portion of the $25 pet deposit goes to the Woods Humane Society. Knowing part of my pet deposit is going to a good cause make the pet fee more palatable.

Dog-Friendly Hotel Cheval

Another charming boutique hotel that is pet-friendly is the Hotel Cheval. Cheval means horse in French, and the theme of this hotel is just that. This intimate luxury hotel exudes an ambiance mixed with contemporary flair and cozy old-world charm. Your pet-friendly room includes a pet bed as well as a water and food bowl.

Dog-Friendly Hotel Cheval
Dog-Friendly Hotel Cheval

Note: Common to the wine and travel industry, this writer was hosted to this winery visits, accommodations, and eateries. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.