Travelers love California for its amazing wine and golf offerings, but there are even more reasons to visit some of the state’s lesser known cities. About an hour outside of San Diego, Temecula appeals with a laid-back artisan culture and a focus on the natural landscape. A rental car is really all you need to explore -- and here are five reasons why you should.
1. Wine Country
The Mediterranean climate of the region is perfect for growing high-quality wine grapes -- mainly Italian and Spanish varietals like Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Pinot Grigio, and Barbera. An easy way to explore the area’s 40 wineries is through a coach bus excursion with Grapeline Tours, where you’ll learn about the history and culture of the region. For a complete experience, try Vineyard Picnic Tour, which includes four winery visits, lunch, and discounts on future tastings.
Whether or not you opt for a tour, there are a few wineries not to miss. Cougar Vineyard & Winery serves “ground to glass” wine made from Italian varietals -- some not easily found anywhere else in North America, like Lambrusco. Pair your wine with a sandwich or salad from the deli counter and head outside to lounge on the giant Adirondack chairs and take in valley views. Lorimar Vineyards & Winery has an art gallery in the barrel room, jazz and big band music in the tasting room, and live performances on weekends.
2. Artisan Culture
Immerse yourself in local culture in Temecula’s Old Town, where you’ll find a slew of artisan shops to browse and taste. Foodies will appreciate the Temecula Olive Oil Company's sustainable practices on its nearby olive ranch -- not to mention the tasting room filled with olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Try the roasted garlic olive oil mixed with a spicy 911 Hatch chili balsamic. There’s also a Fajita Frenzy olive oil featuring whole crushed limes and matched with a sweet honey balsamic.
More freebies can be sampled at the Temecula Valley Cheese Company, where you’ll find everything from a double-layered Huntsman featuring Double Gloucester and Stilton Blue cheese to a sweet and savory White Stilton with mango and ginger. Another worthwhile stop is the Temecula Lavender Company, which sells small batch, all-natural products like soap, essential oil, bath salts, and lotions. During harvest season, you can also tour the farm and see the beautiful flowers in person.
3. Sweet Tooth Offerings
Temecula is home to an array of sugary experiences. Check out the Old Town Sweet Shop, a family-owned ice cream and candy store since 1999. Inside, you’ll find retro stuff like Razzles, Look! Bars, and Sugar Daddies alongside a large assortment of truffles, homemade fudge, jelly beans, and quirky items like pickle mints. The ice cream parlor features tin signs and whimsical cartoon murals, as well as decadent treats like banana splits, root beer floats, salted caramel sundaes, and chocolate-covered strawberry milkshakes. For the adults, Thornton Winery serves chocolate dessert wines as a unique way to end a meal.
4. The Holistic Experience
Locals are passionate about making use of the area’s natural landscape, whether it be for food, recreation, or relaxation. The South Coast Winery & Resorts Grapeseed Spa, for example, offers wine-inspired body treatments and a variety of massages, facials, and body rituals that are enjoyed with Mount Palomar views and a complimentary glass of (antioxidant-filled) wine. To take advantage of all the nature by way of getting active, the possibilities are virtually endless. Being active while vacationing in Temecula is an easy feat. Embark on horseback riding through the Temecula Valley Wine Country trails, explore the paths of the nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, play a round of golf at more than 30 courses within a half hour -- or head to Lake Skinner for some fishing, sailing, and hiking. About an hour away, you can also access beautiful stretches of coast like San Onofre State Beach and San Clemente State Beach. Top off your wellness experience with a Superfood Smoothie from the Organic Roots Natural Food Store. We love the Wow Cacao featuring coconut water, coconut oil, cacao, spirulina, bananas and almond butter.
5. Farm-To-Table Cuisine
The Valley is blessed with abundant produce, and local chefs are always quick to incorporate it into their menus. Start by exploring the Old Town Temecula Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 6th & Front Street. And don’t miss the E.A.T Marketplace and Eatery, whose founder and executive chef Leah DiBernardo is a co-leader of Slow Food Temecula Valley. A seasonal menu features dishes crafted with local ingredients, like an organic egg frittata, sandwiches stuffed with roasted local pork belly, and a Skuna Bay salmon filet atop herb-infused tomato rice with organic carrots. This is also a great place for purchasing local gifts and products, as well as taking classes on topics like gluten-free baking, organic wines, and raw cooking.
Where to Stay: Temecula Creek Inn
Sitting right at the edge of wine country and less than a 10-minute drive from Old Town, the Temecula Creek Inn is perfectly located for exploring what the destination has to offer. There’s also plenty to do on the property’s 300 acres. The hotel has a 27-hole championship golf course, and all 130 rooms and three suites feature patios and balconies overlooking the expansive green. An outdoor swimming pool and steamy hot tub offer recreation and relaxation, while an old bunk house built by quarry men delivers a fun trip back in time to the 1800s. Hungry travelers should have a meal at the onsite CORK | FIRE KITCHEN, where Executive Chef Tim Prezio whips up, among other meals, delicious country breakfasts (think: croissant French toast stuffed with honey ricotta and topped with raw honeycomb, fresh local berries and gooey maple syrup, or a “Yuma Express” omelet that pays homage to the local Mexican influence with a fontina-stuffed chile relleno on top). The restaurant’s mascot, Porter the Pig, is an adorable swine you’ll find throughout the venue’s decor along with farm elements like a chandelier made of cow bells and a compass rose. Rates start at $189 per night.