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California Highway 46, San Luis Obispo County
Among such fabled roads as California 1 in Big Sur, U.S. 395 on the eastern flank of the High Sierra and California 29 through the Napa Valley, California 46 keeps a pretty low profile. But between the nascent wine town of Paso Robles and oceanfront Cambria, it's about as fine a drive as can be, cutting for 40 miles across mounded Thomas Hart Benton hills. In spring there are wildflowers, and just about every turn leads to a pocket of wineries (including family-operated Fratelli Perata on Arbor Road), where you can sample the region's highly prized Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs. But be warned: Highway 46 turns eerie east of Paso Robles, winding through lonely, brooding country on its way to the Central Valley. Known in those parts as "Blood Alley," it's infamous for fatal accidents, including the head-on collision near the hamlet of Cholame that killed 24-year-old James Dean on Sept. 30, 1955.
-- Susan Spano