Paso Robles: Illuminating The Best of the Central Coast

Sensario Field of Lights @Cori Solomon

Paso Robles, which means The Pass of Oaks, is located in San Luis Obispo County along the Salinas River. In the early days, people traveled to Paso Robles for its Mineral Springs. Cattle ranchers, almond and apple growers, and dairy farmers were the first to settle the area. Today the city is becoming an exciting place for both the arts and, of course, the expanding wine industry.

As one drives up the pass from the cooler climate of San Luis Obispo, one notices a change in scenery as rolling hills expand out on either side of the city. Driving west, the elevation begins rising until it reaches the foothills of the Santa Lucia Coastal Range. The town lies about 24 miles from the Pacific Ocean, which is important for the wine industry because of the diurnal changes between night and day. The ocean breezes, and often the marine layer comes through the Templeton Gap cooling the temperature by as much as 50 degrees.

In Paso Robles, wine typically takes center stage with over 200 wineries in eleven AVAs. Still, of late, a unique attraction has become the focal point of a visit to Paso Robles. It is Light At Sensario, the Field Of Lights, and the new Light Towers.

Sensario Field Of Light

If you want a truly wow moment, the visual effects of Sensario are awe-inspiring. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Entering the 15-acre park before dusk, one glimpses the rolling hills dotted with oak trees and suddenly feels a sense of calm and serenity to the landscape. As you stroll the paths, one sees the fiberoptic balls that are reminiscent of flower buds.

I walked to the end to the final exhibit, the towers before sunset, to get a visual lay of the land. The atmosphere completely changes, entering the tower area as the music begins to play. The songs, a choral melody, add to the serenity of the place. At first, you see glimmers of color as dusk sets in. The wiring inside the bottles that form the towers start to flicker. As the lights come on, the world around you ignites slowly with bright colors. I was mesmerized by the colors. It reminded me in its own way of wandering in a field of tulips in Holland during the spring as the buds begin to bloom.

The exhibit created by artist Bruce Munro is his latest and largest installation. Although not the same, it reminds me of Christo’s environmental installations. In Munro’s case, his artistry is created through light. Sensario’s Field of Light utilizes 58,800 stemmed spheres lit by fiber optics and solar power. They illuminate the landscape in blooms of color. The tower portion of the exhibit pays homage to Paso Robles wine country. This portion of the display consists of 69 towers containing 17,000 clear glass wine bottles that come alive with shades that dance to the musical score that plays in the background.

The backdrop of the Paso landscape brings forth a new vista of beauty that any art lover must-see. I recommend arriving close to an hour before sunset to get the full visual effect of the countryside. It is a panorama of color you should not miss.

Sensario Light Towers ©Cori Solomon
Sensario Light Towers

More Paso Robles Art Scene

If you still want to take in more of the Paso Robles Art Scene, visit the Studios on the Park located across from the park. The gallery is unique because, at any given time, one of the gallery’s artists is available in their studio gallery for demonstrations and to answer questions. The gallery’s concept, the interaction between the artist and the visitor. One gets to view the creative process in action as you stroll through various studios and galleries.

I met Drew Mayerson on my visit, who creates representational art focusing on landscapes and cityscapes through light and color. His medium is oils.

The Park Paso Robles ©Cori Solomon
The Park, Paso Robles

Downtown Paso Robles

Downtown Paso Robles is centered around a public park that was donated in 1864. Across from the Park lies the Paso Robles Inn, the first hotel in the area and steeped with history, including a three-week visit by well-known pianist and composer Ignace Paderewski. The hotel burned down in 1940 and was rebuilt in 1942. Today some say one room is haunted because, on several occasions, a call came into the front desk from room 1007. When reception picked up, there was no one on the line. Even eerier was the fact no one had checked into the room. There also was a 911 call, and of course, when reviewing the guest registry, the room was vacant.

The downtown area is filled with shops and restaurants that add to the flavor of the town. One must stop at the Brown Butter Cookie Company. From a food specialty shop in Cayucos, CA, the Original Brown Butter Sea Salt Cookie was introduced in 2008. It was such a hit that in January of 2009 owners, Traci and Christa Hozie converted the shop into Brown Butter Cookie Company. The store is a Paso Robles mainstay. I first discovered the cookies at Savor the Central Coast and have been hooked ever since. My favorite is the Coconut Lime cookie that is only sold from April through June.

n Butter Cookie Company ©Cori Solomon
Brown Butter Cookie Company

This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Wander With Wonder.

To Read The Full Article Paso Robles: The Best Of The Central Coast

Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer received hosted accommodations, some meals, and other compensations for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.