PASO ROBLES, Calif. —
Come for the wine. Stay for the 58,800-plus technicolor flowers. Paso Robles, just 3½ hours north of Los Angeles, is home — for now, anyway — to the “Field of Light at Sensorio,” 15 acres of fiber-optic solar-powered lights.
I recently traveled to this Central Coast community for a show at Vina Robles Amphitheatre, a concert venue among the region’s grapevines, followed by a day of wine tasting. Before heading home, I bought a ticket to see Bruce Munro’s “Sensorio,” situated on a rolling hillside.
I entered about at 7 p.m. on a Sunday evening and had hours to explore this jewel-toned wonderland. The crowd was sparse; at first sight it felt as though I had “Field of Light” nearly to myself. The installation filled in only slightly as the night progressed.
If “Sensorio” was in Malibu, it would be packed, said Dhaval Patel, visiting from Los Angeles after hearing about it from a friend in Bakersfield.
Fearing crowds would ruin the magic, his friend “asked me not to tell anyone,” Patel said.
“Sensorio,” which opened May 19, will run through Jan. 5. Entrance times will change because the sun will set earlier and earlier.
“People told us to arrive before sunset,” said Anny Choe, who was visiting from Orange County.
Even before sunset, “Sensorio” is visually compelling. The tiny white tendrils that illuminate after dark look almost lifelike as they reflect the setting sun.
Arriving early means you’ll have time to grab some food, enjoy some live music and find a seat to watch the sun set over the golden hills.
Local musicians take to the stage each night, providing a warm, acoustic welcome to visitors as they walk into the property. Cornhole and bean bags are set up for guests to play before descending into the installation.
Although interest in “Sensorio” understandably centers on its eye-popping light display, the operators try to appeal to all the senses. I recommend making a beeline to Ricky’s Taco Truck for chips, guacamole and a burrito (vegetarian versions will be made on request) to enjoy while taking in the lights.
The west end of the installation seems to be the most popular place for visitors to watch the lights illuminate, but the south side offers a prime view of the sun slipping over the horizon. Keep a careful eye on the lights as the sun sets; they appear to turn on in clusters depending on which areas darken first.
After the sun sets, most guests begin wandering along the installation’s winding paths. Wear comfortable shoes. The outermost pathway is just half a mile long, but you’ll likely end up making more than a few laps as you take in the lights.
Temperatures in this town 30 miles north of San Luis Obispo can hit the 90s during the day but drop into the 40s and 50s at night, so bring a jacket.
While at “Sensorio,” I tried to resist the urge to take too many photos. Unlike the Broad’s Infinity Mirror Rooms or LACMA’s since-closed Rain Room, the field isn’t quite conducive for taking selfies to post on Instagram; they won’t turn out very well because you’ll always be back-lit by the lights.
Another key difference between “Sensorio” and buzzy art installations in Los Angeles? A palpable sense of peace among its visitors. In museums, installations often require long waits for just a few rushed minutes to see the art. But at “Sensorio” you’re free to take hours to explore, with relatively few others meandering its paths.
While you’re experiencing the “Field of Light,” don’t be afraid to mentally check out from the outside world for a while. Just take a breath, listen to the crickets and enjoy the lights slowly undulating from green to purple to orange and back again.
Info: 4380 Highway 46 East, Paso Robles; (805) 226-4287. Tickets start at $27 for adult general admission (plus fees and tax)