Forty-year-old Katie Hayward had a bad hair day in 2010, and that's how her company got their signature headwear—a ship captain's hat.
"I had just started my tour business. The phone rang and someone wanted me to be available right away. My hair was wet, so I threw on a hat that belonged to my husband to cover it up. It was a fluke, but everybody loved the hat. It ended up being our thing—now all our drivers wear them," she says.
"We don't do cookie-cutter tours. We do private, customizable tours. We do Cabernet-only tastings, food pairings, blending seminars, olive oil tastings, farm tours, or whatever our customers want," she says.
Hayward's regional expertise comes from spending most of her life on the Central Coast. "I grew up in Atascadero and went to college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I live in Templeton now, really close to the hospital where I was born," she says.
Shortly after college, Hayward moved to San Francisco to try out big-city living, but the Central Coast drew her back. "I'm not really a city girl. In Templeton, we have a parade with tractors and horses on July 4th. I love that small-town stuff," she says.
With more than 300 wineries, Paso Robles is famous for sipping, but Hayward says there's also plenty for non-drinkers to do. "Many of the wineries offer a lot more than wine. Sculpterra Winery has a huge sculpture garden that's part of their winery, and they have live music on the weekends," she says. "A lot of people enjoy olive oil tasting, too. You take a tour of the olive oil press and then taste different flavored oils." Local farms that offer tastings include Pasolivo, Kiler Ridge, and Olea.
Hayward believes every Central Coast visitor should do three activities, and the first is a wine tour. "Whether or not you're serious about wine, you'll enjoy a tour. You get driven around on country roads and really get to experience the area's vibes."
She also recommends visiting downtown Paso Robles to browse the shops and restaurants, including her favorites, Firefly and Bijou. "They have a lot of jewelry and bohemian-chic clothes and cute little baby stuff, too," she says.
And finally, Hayward says, get out and see some of the region's natural beauty. "I love all our open space, the fact that it's so easy to hike up a mountain and look at the ocean. I love the vineyards and the beaches. It's all right here within a very short driving distance."
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
Hayward recommends these activities and destinations for Paso Robles visitors:
Light show: "Go to see the Field of Light at Sensorio. It's a huge display of lights that completely covers the hills and valleys. I always tell people to go at the magic hour while the sun is setting—don't wait until it's totally dark. You get a glass of wine and follow these little pathways through the lights. It's just beautiful and amazing that they have all these lights in a field in the middle of nowhere. Bring a sweater because Paso is known for its chilly evenings—that's why the grapes love it here so much. Right now the exhibit is scheduled until the end of September, but it's probably going to run past that. The owners are planning to build a hotel and park on the site."
Tin City: "Tin City is a hipster industrial park with boutique-style tasting rooms. You can go there and hang out all day, hitting one spot after another and maybe catching some live music. There's artisan ice cream, craft spirits, cider, wine-tasting rooms—it's like an adult playground. BarrelHouse Brewing Co. is the anchor, and it has all these small tasting rooms surrounding it."
Zip line adventure: "Margarita Adventures has six zip lines. In a couple of hours you get to ride on all of them. They drive you up to the top of Santa Margarita Ranch in a bus, and you learn all about the history of the ranch, and how the Robert Mondavi family saw its potential for growing wine grapes. The tour is really informative—I learn something new each time. They drop you off at the top and then you zip back downhill. You're literally zipping over Pinot Noir vineyards. I was little nervous my first time doing it, but it's super safe and they make you feel super comfortable. My mother is 72, and she did it."
Horseback Riding: "It's really fun to see the vineyards and rolling hills on horseback. Central Coast Trail Rides is a family-run stable. They offer guided daytime and sunset rides through a field of Cabernet vines and along a dry creek bed. It's a ride through the countryside that anybody can do."
Tacos: "My husband's favorite taco place is Los Robles Cafe. It's really traditional Mexican food, and they're famous for al pastor tacos. They slice the pork off a big piece of meat. You can even get menudo there. If you're a late-night person, Pine Street Saloon has great tacos, too. It's a classic cowboy bar that has karaoke three nights a week. A food truck comes by that serves amazing tacos."