“Build it and they will come” could have been a command created for British artist Bruce Munro, for in whichever remote spot this alchemist of light weaves his magic the crowds follow in droves. It’s happening again at Sensorio, a 15-acre plot in the hinterland of central California, where Munro’s Field of Light landed in May 2019.
It was all supposed to be over by January, but thanks to 100,000 enthralled visitors who have travelled from all over the world to Paso Robles to view 58,000 stemmed spheres coming to life as dusk falls, visitors will now be able to stroll among the colour-changing globes on gently sloping paths until at least June 30, 2020, admiring the light show from both above and below.
If Munro’s eponymous, indefinitely extended installation at Uluru in Australia’s Red Centre is anything to go by, Field of Light, could run for years at Sensorio, which aims to become a full-scale wellness venue incorporating a hotel and conference centre down the line. And that could be down to more than just the art because here in the hub of California’s central coast wine country the organisers have created a multi-sensory feast for the tastebuds and ears as well as the eyes.
Credit the VIP Terrace experience, a luxury upgrade to standard admission which grants entry to a raised area furnished with low tables and sofas overlooking the installation and rolling hills beyond. We arrived at opening time, bagged our ringside seats then checked in with a food kiosk already processing the online order we had to make in advance from a range of menu choices. We were issued tickets for two drinks, the options including a selection of excellent local wines; Paso Robles is now becoming as renowned a name in California viticulture as Napa and Sonoma.
After gazing at random tiny twinkles appearing here and there in the landscape as the sun went down, we received our three-course dinners packed individually in insulated bags which doubled as souvenirs of the event. Everyone gets salad to start, and from the autumn menu, I chose delicious red wine-braised short ribs with creamed horseradish (my companion had excellent herb-infused chicken, and there was a vegan option of black bean-stuffed bell pepper). Sides included perfectly-cooked roast or mashed potatoes plus a green vegetable, and while lemon pie seemed to be the favourite dessert, we opted for a highly grazeable mix of whipped goat’s cheese, baguette and dried fruit.
The good food and great view of the installation coming to life in the valley below, not to mention a comfortable perch on which to safely park our belongings for a couple of hours, went some way to justifying the fairly hefty $115 price. But general admission – from $30 for adults, $9.50 for children – is terrific value for such a world-class show. Walk-ins don’t have to go hungry; there is a Mexican food truck and drinks stall. Live music on an outdoor stage by successive acts brings a festival vibe to the proceedings and there are benches along the path on which to take a load off and gaze upon the lights in mid-promenade.
The show runs Thursdays through Sundays, with start times dovetailing with lengthening daylight hours – 5 pm in winter, 6 pm in spring, 7 pm once the clocks spring forward. It’s vital to arrive before dusk in order to experience the magic of this solar-powered installation coming to life twinkle by tiny twinkle.
Those arriving even earlier will love exploring the charming small town of Paso Robles with its shops, galleries and handsome central square. The city’s Relics Mall is a haven of vintage finds, and just a mile or two up the road the Allegretto Vineyard Resort offers luxury, Tuscan-style lodgings, gourmet dinners and tastings of its own homegrown vintages.
Sensorio should be celebrated not only for commissioning Munro, but for putting Paso Robles, which fields its own gloriously bucolic wine route, on the tourist map. Field of Light offers visitors one more reason to take the 101 coastal freeway from Los Angeles to San Francisco rather than the slightly shorter inland route and make an unforgettable mid-point overnight stop.
Tell me more about Sensorio in Paso Robles
Sensorio, 4380 Highway 46 East Paso Robles, California 93446
T: (805) 226-4287