It's a great opportunity this weekend to skip out of the daily grind, drop into the annual Taste of Ashland gala and indulge yourself with lots of tasty finger food, fine wines and great art — and of course chat up old friends you'll run into.

It's a great opportunity this weekend to skip out of the daily grind, drop into the annual Taste of Ashland gala and indulge yourself with lots of tasty finger food, fine wines and great art — and of course chat up old friends you'll run into.

One of the top social and cultural events of the year, it runs noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 26-27 and draws over 800 people who will cycle through more than 17 galleries, where local restaurants do pairings with area wineries and breweries.

It's $35 for one day or $55 for both, with proceeds going to promote members of the Ashland Gallery Association — and also to spur the city's economy before the Oregon Shakespeare Festival gets in full swing.

See atasteofashland.com or call 292-1256 for tickets and information.

"I notice every year, it's a time when people are excited in town. I've never seen the town so alive and people so happy, soaking up the art, wine and food," says Inger Jorgensen of Bohemia Gallery on A Street.

Her shop will feature wines by Foris paired with food from Ashland Bistro Café. Her art will showcase Janet Fagin-Smith, a well-known Seattle artist and Sumi Watanabe, who does art for Starbucks.

The Taste of Ashland takes place on Main and A streets and up some side streets in the Railroad District and a few other spots, with a private shuttle serving the loop. With your tickets, you get a wine glass and a gallery map that includes bus stops, (as well as gustatory).

"It's a great way to spend the weekend, an opportunity to stroll the streets of Ashland, see friendly gallery owners and even enjoy the art by Ashland High School students, which is on display at Inner Child Café (just up Oak from A Street)," says Tonya Ozone, event coordinator and marketing director.

"And be sure and wear good walking shoes," she adds.

The weekend kicks off Friday night with a Gala Preview at Ashland Springs Hotel, including live music, light food, no-host bar and an Artists Quick Draw and Auction. That's where 20 local artists whip out a masterpiece in under an hour — and it goes to the highest bidder. That event is included in ticket price and goes from 6 to 9 p.m.

A Taste of Ashland draws a third of its visitors from Ashland, many from the Medford area and as far away as Portland and the Bay Area, notes Ozone.

Near the plaza, one of Ashland's oldest galleries, Hanson Howard, will feature Japanese food from Kobe Restaurant and wine from Roxy Ann Winery in Medford, presented alongside the abstract expressionist art of Virginia Andrade and the sculpture of Candace Miller.

"It's a festive time, a lot of people enjoying three-in-one — food, wine and art and seeing what restaurants have to offer and getting comfortable with the galleries and their works," says Barbara Tupper of Hanson Howard. "Some people see art they like and come back to buy it later."

A Taste of Ashland welcomes spring — and galleries hope for good weather (the forecast calls for sunny and warm), so participants can do the walk comfortably.

Reach freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.