After months of asking me to go, I finally relented. My aunt and I were both vaccinated, so the trip from Los Angeles to Paso Robles – about three and a half hours’ drive – and the overnight there seemed less of a health concern. I wasn’t excited, but hey, it was only a single night, so I figured it couldn’t be too bad. And maybe, just maybe, Field of Light, an art installation at Sensorio in Paso Robles, would be kind of nice.
I didn’t expect this.
Field of Light isn’t just another art installation. It consists of nearly 60,000 spheres illuminated by fiberoptic cables that slowly change color, covering – and I mean covering – the landscape with patches of color meant to simulate a field of California wildflowers. It is hypnotic, capturing the brain and eye from every angle, a patchwork rainbow spread through the night air.
The artist, Bruce Munro, first conceived of the idea when visiting Uluru in 1992. After several small-scale trials, Field of Light opened there at the iconic Australian rock in 2016, where it has been declared a permanent exhibit. The owners of Sensorio saw the exhibit there, and immediately decided it would be both beautiful and appropriate here in Central California’s wine country, bringing it to open in 2019. After multiple shutdowns due to Covid, it is back open to the public, and it is hoped that, like its namesake down under, it will become a permanent fixture here.
Sensorio, a new venue right on Highway 46 just east of Paso Robles itself, is a perfect place to host Field of Light. Rolling hills dotted with oaks make an incredible backdrop, the trees helping to break up the lights in a way that makes them seem even more natural. The venue is new, with this being its premier, but plans are ambitious, including additional art installations, a hotel, and a conference center.
In that vein, Sensorio opened a second – similar – installation just this spring. Called Light Towers, it is made of 17,000 fiberoptically lit wine bottles, changing color to soft music. While not as immediately impressive as Field of Light, it is included with one admission, so call it an extra bonus.
Tickets are not cheap, starting at close to $40 for an adult. Entry is timed for either 7pm or 8pm, although as the lights aren’t visible until about thirty minutes after sunset, unless you want to take advantage of the food truck offerings for that first hour, you can save the money and book the later entrance. It is nice to watch the lights come on as the sun fades, but it isn’t necessary. The real show starts after dark.
There is a path that loops around the installation with traffic going in a single direction. There are occasional benches, but be prepared to have to mainly stand and walk a bit over a half mile to return to the start – and from there another short walk back to your car. The path itself is packed dirt, and fairly smooth, although it is understandably poorly lit so as not to compete with Field of Light itself. Flash photography is prohibited, but normal photos are allowed and encouraged. And you’ll want to take a lot, as every small twist of the path brings a seemingly new view, and every minute brings a new color palate.
My stay at Field of Light at Sensorio in Paso Robles lasted just under two hours, including the time spent waiting impatiently for the sun to set. My fears that this would be a waste of an evening were not borne out in the slightest. No, this exceeded any expectation I could have had. So if you find yourself within a reasonable driving distance of Paso Robles, California, and someone – maybe your aunt – suggests a visit, just say yes. Come here and marvel at the fields and oaks, and at Bruce Munro’s lights.
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