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Fall food (and wine!) fests you don't want to miss

Harvest season, aka "crush" in the wine industry, is upon us. For L.A. food and wine lovers, that means a bounty of festivals within easy driving distance.

Taste of Beverly Hills - September 2-5, 2010

Think of this event as more a celebration of L.A. food culture than an ode to harvest season, especially considering the 90120 zip code.

Why go? This may not be a budget event, but it does offer good value: all-inclusive price tags from $125 (add $9.95 booking fee) include unlimited drinks and food samples from some of the city's highest-profile restaurants and chefs. Participating restaurants will include establishments like Bouchon, Bazaar, Mr. Chow, as well as uniquely L.A. favorites like Auntie Em's, Fig and Rock Sugar. Live demos will come from drool-worthy celebrity chefs like Fort Worth icon Tim Love and pop-up French wonder Ludo Lefebvre.

If you really want to celebrate Beverly Hills style, area hotels such as the Beverly Wilshire and the Thompson Beverly Hills are offering weekend packages ranging from $500 to $2,000 including accommodation and event passes. Locals can take advantage of the Swim & Siesta Package at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, which includes access to the rooftop pool and a guestroom between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. for $195. (That's not so much about value as paying to be plain fabulous.)

Paso Robles - September 30 - October 3

If an homage to agriculture is more your thing, California's Central Coast like a mini-Sonoma without the long drive. Paso Robles is most frequently touted for its grape and olive production, but area farmers also grow volumes of other fruits, vegetables and farm-raised seafood that appear on menus around the country.

Sunset magazine is sponsoring Savor the Central Coast, featuring tastings from more than 200 local wineries, farm-to-table and winemaker dinners, cooking seminars, and several farm tours. If you're planning to focus most of your efforts on wine tasting, don't worry--there are shuttles departing from various hotels and main points throughout the area. Special-event tickets range from $25 to $185, while main event day passes are $85 each or $150 for both days.

Click here to learn how to win two tickets to the Paso Glow dinner on October 2 and admission to Savor the Central Coast on October 3. Just answer in 100 words or less:  “What makes Paso Robles a place you want to visit?”

Temecula Valley
, which touts itself as Southern California's wine region, has a variety of wine festivals throughout autumn. The Temecula Valley Wine and Culinary Showcase is taking place at Monte de Oro Winery on September 17; three wineries will host grape-stomp celebrations on September 26; and the Harvest Celebration Weekend on November 6 and 7 allows guests to set out on a self-guided of 30 area wineries including barrel tastings and pairings. For more information, visit www.temeculawines.org.

Santa Barbara County
, specifically Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills, is synonymous with California wine and locavore dining, so expect strong attendance at the annual Celebration of Harvest festival, held on October 9 by the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association. But if you can't deal with big crowds and long lines, you're better off exploring this region on your own time at a more leisurely pace. For more information, visit www.sbcountywines.com.

Related articles:

Accidental tourists on L.A.'s culinary trail

Drive-to foodie getaways: Chefs' Holidays at the Ahwahnee

Five great grilled cheeses in L.A.

Chef Govind Armstrong talks Top Chef Masters and beyond

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