If you’re thinking about a getaway to wine country, it’s only natural that you think about heading north. But all the fun of a trip to the vineyards can be had right here in Southern California in nearby Temecula. In fact, Temecula is so close that you can plan a visit as a day trip if you like.
It might surprise you that there are more than 30 wineries in the Temecula area. Many of the wineries offer tours where you can learn about the wine making process, see the cellars where the wine is kept in barrels while it ages and even see wine being bottled and labeled. Some of the wineries, like Thornton Winery (thorntonwine.com), are geared towards having you stay all day.
After you’ve experienced the joys of Thornton’s tasting room (don’t miss the Thorny’s Coat Red), you can pick out a bottle or two to enjoy as is or take with you to dinner at the venue’s Café Champagne. Thornton’s also hosts an ongoing series of smooth jazz concerts featuring big names like Chris Botti, Candy Dulfer and the Rippingtons, so if you visit on a show day you truly can make a day of it.
If you’d rather hop and bop from winery to winery, just grab one of the maps that are widely available all over town and head out. If you do that, it’s a good idea to bring along a designated driver, or better yet, let a local professional cart you around. The drivers at A Vineyard Tour of Temecula will transport you safely through wine country, and they also know important things like which tasting rooms offer the best value for the money (avtotlimo.com).
No matter how you get around, alas, man does not live by wine alone. Fortunately Temecula also has lots to do when you’re not busy pursuing the delicious nectar.
Old Town Temecula, located just minutes away from the vineyards, is small enough to be easily navigated on foot yet big enough to have a little something for everyone. Front Street is Old Town’s main drag, and here you’ll find two of the city’s most fun shops; the Old Town Root Beer Company and the Old Town Sweet Shop.
If you have a favorite regional root beer that’s not that easy to find, chances are you can find it at the Root Beer Company where they have over a hundred root beers and nostalgic sodas. The shop has a display of collectible pop bottles (not for sale), a full ice cream bar in case you want a float and a wall full of bottles of really offbeat brands. Have you ever tried Lurch Birch, Black Lemonade, Unknown Dred or Flathead Lake Gourmet Huckleberry Soda?
A couple of doors away at Old Town Sweet Shop, grab a slice of chocolate covered bacon to munch while you peruse their huge selection of retro candy brands like Abba Zaba and Cherry Mash. Old Town is also home to the Temecula Valley Cheese Shop, an artisan cheese shop that carries hard-to-find varieties that you can sample and pair up with that wine you’re taking home.
More than a dozen sites around Old Town are historic sites including the old Temecula Jail where, if you peer inside, you’ll see a couple of fellows who never got out. The Palomar Hotel is not only a historic site but a good place to stay; rooms start at around $50 during the week and $80 on the weekend. Whether you stay at the Palomar or not, stop in and ask to see “the video.” They’ll know what you mean; the hotel was featured in an episode of the sci-fi television series "The Invaders" back in the ’60s, and the clip shows how little the hotel has changed over the years while the city grew around it.
To really take your Temecula visit to new heights, take a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards with California Dreamin’ (californiadreamin.com). You’ll get a spectacular view of all the vineyards and on a clear day you can see the Pacific Ocean. And as is tradition, when you land, you’ll enjoy a glass of champagne – a perfect opportunity to raise a glass and toast Temecula.
For more information, visit visittemecula.org.