Temecula combines a storied past with a charming small-town vibe, artsy flair, culinary innovation and recreational adventures. Along the wooden sidewalks of the Old Town, eclectic shops, antique stores, galleries and restaurants celebrate the region’s buoyant arts and craft industries and agricultural bounty. Several vineyards nestle among rolling hills and beautiful vineyards, cementing Temecula’s reputation as Southern California’s wine country. From hot air balloon rides with champagne breakfasts and scenic horseback tours, Temecula is a fine place to relax, shop, indulge and partake of the finer things in life.
A SoCal Staple
Temecula is 60 minutes north of San Diego and 90 minutes southeast from Los Angeles on Interstate 15, which cuts through town. Adjoining the Pechanga Indian Reservation and San Diego County to the south, the Temecula Valley region brands itself as “Southern California Wine Country.” Summertime in Temecula is balmy, dry and sunny; winters are long, cool and cloudy, creating the perfect conditions for grape cultivation.
Hot air ballooning is a popular local activity, and a sunrise or sunset balloon ride is a magical way to revel in the region’s beautiful vineyards, undulating hills and mountains, and citrus and olive groves. California Dreamin’ offers this indulgence with a European-style champagne breakfast and wine-tasting packages in the Vindemia Winery’s serene rose garden.
On the Saddle
For more interaction with the landscape, several operators offer horseback tours of Temecula Valley’s wine country. At Wine Country Trails, all proceeds go toward the rehabilitation of horses rescued from abuse by passionate owner/operator Diana Lefort. Some 35 miles south of Temecula, the forests and meadows of Palomar Mountain State Park lure outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Reaching an elevation of 5,000 feet, Palomar offers a unique landscape to the dry lowlands below. The land is carpeted by majestic oak forests, chaparral, grassy meadows, fir and cedar woodlands. Lacing the area are more than 11 miles of trails that range from short walks to more arduous half-day hikes.
Taste of Temecula
The focus of most tourist attention in the valley is wine tasting. Southern California’s wine country is home to more than 40 wineries breathtakingly scattered over rolling hills. For serious oenophiles or casual aficionados, there’s every conceivable wine-related activity available, from a boutique wine-tasting experience to multiday stays at exclusive wine resorts. Old Town Temecula’s tasting rooms and wine bars provide a fine initiation to the region’s top vineyards, including Leoness Cellars, which offers gorgeous views from its hilltop location, as well as tastings of award-winning cabernet.
The Ponte Winery has been honing its wine-making skills since 1984 and now offers warm hospitality and vineyard tours/tastings amidst charming gardens. Owned and run by a family of Argentine and Italian heritage, the more idiosyncratic Doffo Winery cultivates and harvests their own grapes, plays classical music in the vineyards to stimulate healthy harvests and displays a vintage motorcycle collection.
Wining and Dining
Fine wine and culinary innovation tend to go hand in hand. Old Town Temecula is no exception, with restaurants serving everything from farm-to-table cuisine to Mexican fare and low-key pub food with innovative twists on local staples. Every Saturday morning, Old Town Temecula’s Farmers Market draws food lovers from across the valley with international food vendors, flowers and local arts and craft merchants. One of the region’s most popular festivals, the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival is hosted at Lake Skinner early June and features hot-air balloon flights, wine and craft beer tasting, children’s activities and an array of food vendors. A full slate of entertainers keeps the party going into the evening. Stick around after dark for beautiful balloon glows.
Country and Casinos
A local institution, the Temecula Stampede in Old Town Temecula is the West Coast’s largest country western music venue, with dance lessons offered on the weekends and themed nights. Part of the Pechanga Resort and Casino, the Pechanga Theater is deemed a top live performance space in Southern California, with a year-round concert lineup ranging from Broadway shows to stand-up comedy and musicals. Pechanga’s casino boasts one of the largest gaming floor areas in the state, with over 4,000 state-of-the-art slot machines and 130 table games.
While the city of Temecula was only officially incorporated in 1989, the presence of the Temecula Indian’s ancestors dates to A.D. 900; Temecula is one of the places in California to still retain its original Indian name — derived from “Temecunga” or “Place of the Sun.” The first-known European arrived in 1797, a Franciscan padre by the name of Father Juan Norberto de Santiago. In 1858, the Butterfield Overland Stage route established Temecula as the area’s nerve center. The California Railroad was carved through the Temecula Valley in 1882, and Old Town Temecula began to develop along the train tracks. The wine industry was born in 1968 when vintner Vincenzo Cilurzo planted the first commercial vineyard. The Temecula Valley Museum explores Temecula’s seminal moments with permanent exhibits that display artifacts, photographs and old documents.
Fun for Film Buffs
In September, the Temecula Valley International Film and Music Festival is a major event on every film and music lover’s calendar. Attendees can enjoy a world-class lineup of film screenings across all genres along with in-depth workshops and seminars.
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