Napa is lovely, and we mean no disrespect to Sonoma, but a weekend in Paso Robles, where spring weather is in full effect, is worth the gas money. There are first-rate tacos, a plethora of lo-fi wineries that charge only $5 for generous tastings, and an irresistible mixture of cowboys and L.A. transplants.
1. Leave work early on Friday so you can enjoy the drive south, which winds through beautiful farmland before depositing you in El Paso de Robles. Book a room at the perfectly preserved, 50-year-old Melody Ranch Motel. Melody Ranch Motel, 939 Spring St., Paso Robles; 805-238-3911
2. The taco stand outside La Reyna Market is open only on weekends, but Friday and Saturday nights, they serve until 10 p.m. The antojito-size al pastor tacos ($1.70 each) are the ones to get, garnished with fiery salsa. 532 24th Street, Paso Robles; 805-238-9909
3. Devote Saturday to wine tasting. Stop at Peachy Canyon, known for its food-friendly Zinfandel, and Tablas Creek, where you can sample a honeysuckle-scented Roussanne (tastings at both are $5; fee waived if you buy a bottle). Don't miss a stop at Calcareous, where the view rivals the Rhône-style wines (tasting, $10; fee waived if you buy a bottle; reservations recommended). Peachy Canyon Winery, 1480 North Bethel Rd., Templeton, 805-239-1918 or peachycanyon.com; Tablas Creek, 9339 Adelaida Rd., Paso Robles, 805-237-1231 or tablascreek.com; Calcareous, 3430 Peachy Canyon Rd., Paso Robles, 805-239-0289 or calcareous.com
4. Make a reservation for dinner at Artisan, the busiest and best restaurant in Paso. Chef Chris Kobayashi's food is rich, satisfying bistro fare, like a first course of wild mushrooms and a wobbly egg atop fine-crumbed brioche, and house-made cavatelli with rabbit sausage and loin. Pair the food with a bottle of something local. Artisan, 1401 Park St., Paso Robles; 805-237-8084 or artisanpasorobles.com
5. If Artisan shows you one side of Paso, breakfast at Los Robles Café shows the other. Here, cowboy hats, not diamond solitaires, are the accessory of choice, and a plate of chilaquiles starts the day right. Los Robles Café, 1420 Spring St., Paso Robles; 805-239-8525
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