With a rich history, rolling hills covered with vineyards, championship golf courses, picturesque views, and plenty of unique shopping and recreation, Temecula makes for a perfect getaway from the city. Southern California’s wine country, located less than 60 miles north of San Diego and 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles, may not have the abundance of wineries as better known wine havens like Sonoma and Napa Valley, but many of its more than 30 wineries have consistently produced award-winning wines.
Made possible by a unique microclimate and well-drained granite soils, Temecula’s vibrant wine country spans 3,000 acres. While summer days can be hot in the Southland, Temecula Valley is perfectly situated at 1,500 feet elevation to offer cool summer nights and gentle afternoon breezes. The town’s name says it all – more than 300 years ago, the Luiseno tribe named it Temecula, or “Sun Shining Through the Sea Mist.”
Old Town Temecula
Located in the heart of Temecula, the Old Town district blends historic buildings with over 640 antique dealers, unique shopping, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms. Once you pass through the city’s arched welcome sign, it’s like strolling back in time to the nostalgia of the Wild West where novelty storefronts and signage beg you to leave the hustle bustle behind, walk a little slower, and breathe a little deeper.
Front Street is the main drag, from 1st Street to 6th Street. Walking from one end to the other takes no more than 10 minutes, so the best way to explore is by foot. Park the car (free street parking is available throughout Old Town and in the Civic Center parking garage on Mercedes Street), and wander. View a map here. Store owners are pleasant and happy to share their life story with anyone willing to just say, “Hello, how are you?” Many have impressive memories and intriguing tales to tell from decades past before Temecula became a wine-lover’s must-go destination.
Sweets, Spice, & Everything Nice
While exploring Old Town, try a caramel apple from the Sweet Shop or an old-fashioned, handmade Spicy Ginger Rootbeer ($2) from the Old Town Rootbeer Company. Next, stop at the Old Town Spice Merchants – a foodie’s dream come true – to choose from more than 350 fresh, high quality herbs, spices, and blends, as well as an assortment of loose leaf teas and cooking tools like grinders and mortar and pestles. Just the overwhelming aroma when you walk through the door is worth a visit! Suggestions to buy: Raspberry Cane Sugar ($2.29 per oz.) and Temecula Steak Rub ($3.49 per oz).
May “olive” your dreams come true…
The foodie in me came out with vigor in the Temecula Olive Oil Company, that boasts to make “olive your dreams come true,” which it absolutely did for me. I’d never been olive oil tasting before, so I assumed that we’d be dipping bread into the oils. Instead, you sip the oils and vinegars out of a little plastic cup so you get the authentic true richness of untainted flavor. Each oil has its own unique character, made from locally-grown olives and ingredients. As I couldn’t choose a favorite, I walked out with two sampler packs ($23.99 each) that included three oils (extra virgin, citrus, and garlic) and three vinegars (white balsamic with honey, pomegranate, and vanilla fig). Since returning home, all six have inspired dozens of new culinary creations that have delighted many friends and family. When my supply runs out, I’ll be returning to Temecula to restock!
Although Old Town features several tasting rooms (visit: Lorimar, Tesoro, and Villa di Calabro) the best places to experience the diverse vintages are the vineyards themselves. There’s nothing quite like tasting wines produced from vineyards just yards away, especially when you get the opportunity to speak directly with those who make it. Visit TemeculaWines.org for a complete list.
– Europa Village, which opened just under four months ago, gives you the opportunity to transport yourself to Spain, Italy, or France,
depending on the wine – they feature vintages inspired by all three countries in various tasting spaces, including the C’est La Vie Wine Chateau. Their unique tasting glasses – Ravenscroft Amplifier glasses – are an experience in and of themselves. With two indentions for the thumb and middle finger, the stem-less glasses are held like a bowling ball, which allows for the magnification and intensification of the tasting experience.
My personal favorites: a 2007 Grenache blend called “Libido” from Bolero Cellars ($25) and a limited-edition C’est La Vie Cabernet that will be released in September 2011 ($55 per bottle to members of the wine club only). A remodel of the bed and breakfast at the Vineyard is currently underway — the Inn at Europa Village is expected to be complete in late Fall 2011. Tip: make an appointment in advance for a private tasting with the sommelier-in-residence Stefano, who arrived just months ago from Piacenza, Italy, in the romantic wine cave. (33475 La Serena Way, Open Daily 10am to 5pm, $15 per person)
– Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery – Taste this: 2009 Rosato Secco Rose, which our server Matt called the “French fry wine” because of its versatility in food pairing with anything from salami and cheese to fries. (40150 Barksdale Circle, Open Friday – Tuesday 11 am to 5 pm, $10 per person)
Where to stay
The lovely Temecula Creek Inn is best known for its 27-hole championship golf course, where you can even play glow golf after dark. Each of their 130 guest rooms are furnished with rustic wine country décor, premium bedding, high-speed Internet access, flat-screen televisions, Bath & Body Works amenities, and views of the golf course or surrounding woods. The location is a peaceful departure from the lively nightlife in Old Town, but is just a five-minute drive away. Rates start at $129 per night.
Wine Country Entertainment & Nightlife
Old Town transforms by night from laid back tastings and strolls through antiques shops to a hopping social mecca where you can find everything from a dance club with deejays spinning the hottest grooves (Eleven After Dark at Bailey’s, aka Front Street Bar and Grill) to an outdoor barbeque with a Beatles cover band (Sweet Lumpy’s – if you go, enjoy the ambience and try the raspberry craft beer.)
If theatre and live music is more to your liking, the 361-seat state-of-the-art Old Town Community Theatre has a wide variety of options. The 48-seat Club at the Merc, which is home to a recently-acquired 1901 Steinberg piano, is the place to go for live blues and country music year-round.
The Pechanga Resort touts the largest casino in the western U.S. with 3,400 slots, 130 table games, and a 54-table poker room, with a casino floor larger than Las Vegas’ MGM Grand at 180,000 square feet.
NOTE: This trip was sponsored in part by Temecula Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau.
About the Author: Lindsay Taub is an award-winning journalist with over a decade of experience as a writer/editor/photographer covering travel, lifestyle, culture, arts, food, health, and all facets that make life a journey. Follow her on twitter @lindsaytaub58.