A historic town square surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills, with mountains rising in the distance: The Temecula Valley showcases some of California’s most spectacular features. The location of this Inland Empire gem, about an hour from San Diego and 90 minutes from Los Angeles, makes for an easy visit. Indeed, people go there for hyper-local cuisine (made, for instance, with Temecula Olive Oil), as well as for hiking, biking, and hot-air ballooning. They also go for the Mediterranean-like climate—temperatures range from the 80s–90s in summer to the 60s–70s in winter.
Where to Dine
The Inland Empire town offers fresh local fare, from Wine country cuisine to Mexican. All the tenets of California cuisine—local, fresh, farm-to-table—are on full display in Temecula, which has easy access to local olives (and the resulting olive oil), dairy, and, of course, wine grapes.
Any dining exploration should begin in the atmospheric Old Town. Sit under the pressed-tin ceiling or out on the patio of The Goat & Vine, where pizza is a specialty. Fresh ingredients come together in a delicious variety of pies, like the jalapeño-lime-carnitas or the steak-gorgonzola, baked in a stone-hearth oven.
At nearby E.A.T. Marketplace, you can start your day with a pour-over coffee and a pumpkin-pie smoothie, then return for each thoughtfully prepared meal, finishing the day with a vegan casserole and paleo brownie or maximize the vineyard scenery at The Pinnacle Restaurant at Falkner Winery. Set on a hilltop, the restaurant features panoramic views along with dishes like pesto salmon and Mediterranean chicken—and, of course, delicious accompaniments from the winery.
Where to Stay
Stay in a historic Inn, a Wine country resort or a boutique hotel. From large resorts to intimate inns, Temecula offers a wide range of hotels—and price ranges—for everyone. History buffs can soak up the atmosphere at The Hotel Temecula in Old Town—the city’s first hotel, built in the late 1800s. The lobby and second-floor rooms (with bathrooms down the hallway) still maintain their Old West feel, complete with period furniture and portraits.
To immerse yourself in the local wine country, stay among the vines at the Ponte Vineyard Inn, a 90-room boutique hotel built in the style of a Spanish mission, but with a luxuriously modern interior. Oversized rooms—many with balconies—offer views over the inn’s own 310-acre vineyard. Wine is also the focus at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, a 63-acre property set among the peaceful vineyards east of town.
The AAA Four Diamond Pechanga Resort Casino features 1,090 accommodation choices: rooms and suites with custom-made Italian furniture, plus floor-to-ceiling windows serving up mountain, valley, or golf-course views. And there’s plenty to do beyond gaming—including 13 restaurants, a concert venue, and Journey at Pechanga, the par-72, links-style golf course.
Where to Hike
Check out Wildlife, Waterfall and lots of Scenery! Exploring the Temecula Valley by foot offers the best of two worlds: mountain scenery and warm Southern California sunshine.
Some 20 miles outside Temecula is the 9,000-acre Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. Walk through the park’s varied ecosystems, keeping an eye out for the mule deer, badgers, and turtles that make their home here. Or set off for the Moreno and Machado Adobes—former cowboy bunkhouses that date to the mid-1800s. (Insider tip: Bring a picnic.) A little south of Santa Rosa’s visitor’s center is the Cleveland National Forest and the trailhead to Tenaja Falls. It’s a 1.5-mile out-and-back hike to the 150-foot tiered waterfall.
Birdwatching is the focus at Lake Skinner Recreation Area, located 10 miles east of Temecula. Walk the park’s 1.5-mile path and look for heron, owls, and hawks as you take in the water views.
About 13 miles southwest of Old Town lies 221-acre Santa Margarita County Preserve. Here, hike the scenic River Trail, an out-and-back stroll of just over 5 miles that follows a peaceful river past boulders and through woodlands. You might see hawks or other raptors overhead, plus deer ambling by. Dripping Springs Trail, also in the Cleveland National Forest, is a more challenging trail, but it’s worth the work: Spectacular mountain vistas appear a couple of miles in. The entire trail, which takes you from desert terrain into lush forest, is about 13 miles, but it’s an out-and-back, so you can walk as much of it as you like before turning around.
Take the unconventional Wine Tours
Colourful hot-air balloons are a common sight over the vineyards of Temecula Valley, and nothing compares to the bird’s-eye view you get while flying high in a basket. Year-round, balloons lift off at sunrise, usually for an hour of flying time. Go with Magical Adventure Balloon Rides and you can enjoy a champagne toast and appetizers after you land; a trip with A Grape Escape ends with champagne and a light breakfast in the gardens of one of the wineries.
Of course, you don’t need to fly to reach the vineyards—a variety of vehicles can whisk you to them. Board a deluxe mini-coach for four hours of wine tasting at three vineyards with Grapeline Wine Tours, or take the company’s Vineyard Picnic Tour for visits to four wineries plus a catered picnic lunch. For a fully guided tour, complete with an introduction to the staff at each of the wineries, go with Destination Temecula Wine Tours; you’ll also enjoy lunch at one of the wineries. Feeling ambitious? Winery Hopper offers a hop-on-hop-off service between 12 area wineries.
If you’re craving adventure, get in a Jeep with Sunrider and rumble your way to three wineries. Or make it a romantic afternoon for two; Temecula Carriage Company offers tours in a horse-drawn carriage, complete with a wicker-basket picnic. Or try another unique option, Antique Pink Cadillac, which takes you vineyard exploring in the backseat of a colourful classic car.
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