First-Time Visitor’s Guide to Temecula Valley Wine Country

  • Travel
  • by DEVIN PARR
  • on MAY 14, 2024
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Travel

First-Time Visitor’s Guide to Temecula Valley Wine Country

By Devin Parr May 14, 2024

Located about an hour north of San Diego and two hours South of Los Angeles, there are few regions more accessible from city centers than Temecula Valley. This Tuscan-like wine region is within a one- to two-hour drive from most of Southern California’s major cities and airports, making it an ideal Wine Country getaway for SoCal natives, or those traveling to bigger cities like San Diego, Palm Springs, and Los Angeles.

Just 22 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, Temecula Valley is not just a great place to vacation; it’s home to the perfect Mediterranean climate in which to grow grapes. The region is bordered by coastal mountain ranges and inland valleys. As the sun warms the valleys east of Temecula, the warm air rises, forming a low-pressure area that pulls the cooler, much heavier air from the Pacific Ocean in through two breaks in the mountains—the Rainbow Gap and the Santa Margarita Gap. This cool air creates the pattern of warm sunny days, breezy afternoons, and cool nights, resulting in ideal conditions for the wine grapes to develop complex flavors and aromas, while retaining pleasant balance and freshness from desirable acidity levels.

Think about it: With virtually year-round sunshine, warm temperatures, cool nights, and relatively little rainfall, not to mention quality wines, unique wine-tasting experiences, and the relaxed vibe that is synonymous with Southern California, Temecula Valley should be added to your list of wine destinations to visit, whether you’re a wine enthusiast or just looking for a dream vacation.

Where to Stay

The Inn at Europa Village
Photo Courtesy of The Inn at Europa Village

Unlike most wine regions, Temecula Valley has lodging and dining on-site at several of the wineries themselves. This means you can spend a day wine tasting, fall into bed at your hotel, and then wake up to enjoy breakfast and the view from your private patio overlooking the vines. If you are planning on staying a few days to enjoy the region (pro tip: midweek is best!), book yourself at one of the hotels located right in the heart of Wine Country. South Coast Winery Resort and Spa, perched on 38 acres of rolling vineyards, is home to every amenity a traveler could ask for, from spacious suites with plush bathrobes and in-room gas fireplaces, to all-day dining and an attached winery producing world-class wines.

Photos courtesy of Carter Estate Winery and Resort

South Coast’s sister property, Carter Estate Winery and Resort also offers an amenity-rich experience with its 60 private bungalows and suites, daily in-room continental breakfast, and welcoming winery and tasting room specializing in Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines, as well as still wines. Those looking for a Wine Country bed and breakfast experience can book one of the suites at The Inn at Europa Village, or arrange to rent out the entire Wilson Creek Manor, a breathtaking property that sleeps 24, making it the perfect lodging for corporate retreats, wedding parties, or family getaways.

Those preferring to stay in town can opt for one of the many hotels throughout Temecula. For a dose of history and charm, check into The Hotel Temecula, built in 1891. The new Home2 Suites by Hilton is a great hotel option when traveling for business or pleasure, thanks to its central location close to freeways, businesses, Wine Country, and Old Town.

Where to Sip Wine

Temecula vineyards
Temecula vineyards, Photo courtesy of Visit Temecula Valley

Temecula Valley is known as Southern California Wine Country for a reason—the wine! Dotted with over 40 wineries located relatively close to one another, some small and rustic, some large and state-of-the-art, it would be tough to visit Temecula Valley without swinging by a tasting room or two.

If you like your wine like your breakfast—early—Ponte Winery opens at 10 am. Kick off your day of wine tasting with their sparkling Rosé or Moscato for a bubbly way to begin your sipping. If the early start has your stomach growling, head to their on-site, al fresco restaurant for an early lunch. Other boutique wineries worth visiting include Lorenzi Estate Vineyards, whose portfolio of award-winning, top-scoring wines are sure to impress, and the family-owned and operated Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery, specializing in full-bodied reds made from estate fruit. Palumbo is home to a few animals as well, including chickens, pigs and, of course, dogs, who are just as welcoming as owners Nick and Cindy Palumbo.

Oak Mountain Winery
Oak Mountain Winery, Photo courtesy of Visit Temecula Valley

If you’ve never sipped wine underground, you will want to visit Oak Mountain Winery, featuring Temecula Valley’s first subterranean wine cave. This stunning location is also a unique venue for special events and weddings. In normal times, you can stand on the glass floor (pants advised) at Monte de Oro Winery and sip one of their award-winning wines while you look down into the barrel room to see where all the magic happens. For now, outdoor tastings are held on the patio. Reserve a tasting at Danza del Sol Winery and hang with some of the friendliest tasting room staff around as they pour you sips of Petite Sirah, Vermentino, or any of the other dozen or so selections.

Wine not your thing?

Thompson & Twain | Jimmy Fu Photography
Thompson & Twain, Photo Courtesy of Jimmy Fu Photography

Fortunately, there are plenty of other drink options in Temecula Valley. If you love a good craft cocktail, check out 1909 in Old Town Temecula. Not only do they have a pet-friendly patio (and menu!) and a calendar of regularly scheduled events, they mix up some pretty mean tipples with fresh ingredients and creative flair. If you’re more the mysterious type, grab an artisanal cocktail to-go from Thompson & Twain Prospecting Co., the old west-themed speakeasy hidden in the Crush & Brew restaurant in Old Town. Leave your revolver at the door.

Black Market Brewing Co.
Photo courtesy of Black Market Brewing Co.

Temecula is also known for great breweries. Black Market Brewing Co. specializes in both limited-release experimental beers, award-winning IPAs, and classic favorites. Pair your brews with one of their homemade pizzas or salads if you feel hunger starting to creep in. Just down the road, Ironfire Brewing has been perfecting its refreshing lagers since 2011 and is another good option for beer fans.

Ever tasted mead? This unique, gluten-free beverage, made from honey, water, and yeast, is sort of like a hybrid of beer and wine, and is what’s on tap at the family-owned Batch Mead. For a much-needed dose of caffeine after all of that imbibing, head over to Temecula Grind Coffee House. Their selection of hot, iced, and blended espresso and tea drinks, as well as snacks, are sure to revive you.

Where to Eat

Mama Rosa's Trattoria | Robert Renzoni
Pizza at Mama Rosa's Trattoria, Photo Courtesy of Robert Renzoni

After all those beverages you will probably want to put some food in your belly. Thankfully, Temecula Valley is emerging as a noteworthy culinary destination. Start your day at Le Coffee Shop in Old Town to fuel up on coffee and delicious house-made French pastries and baguettes with butter. Need something a little heartier to kick off a day in Wine Country? Head to E.A.T. Marketplace, also in Old Town. “E.A.T.” stands for “Extraordinary Artisan Table,” for good reason—the restaurant specializes in clean, sustainable, and locally-sourced foods that are both delicious and healthy. They also offer plenty of vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and gluten-free options.

If you are looking to dine among the vines, grab a patio table overlooking the vineyards at Mama Rosa’s Trattoria located at Robert Renzoni Vineyards for brick-oven pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and pastas, not to mention healthy pours of their top-scoring wines, mostly made from the Italian grape varieties that thrive in Temecula Valley.

Leoness Cellars
Photo courtesy of Restaurant at Leoness Cellars

For upscale vineyard dining, book a table at the award-winning Restaurant at Leoness Cellars. Sip a glass of bubbly while nibbling on hand-cut, duck fat fries and taking in the action in their open kitchen. Or, enjoy modern takes on classic dishes in an unbelievable setting at Meritage, located at Callaway Winery.

What to Do

Temecula Creek Golf Club
Photo Courtesy of Temecula Creek Golf Club

Thankfully for your waistline, there’s lots more to do in Temecula than just eat and drink. The region offers plenty of activities for adventurous types. Hit the links at Temecula Creek Golf Club, surrounded by 300 acres of mountain and valley beauty. Saddle up at Wine Country Trails by Horseback for a one-of-a-kind scenic tour through Temecula Valley vineyards on—you guessed it—horseback. Or, take in the view of all of Wine Country from 1,500 feet in a hot air balloon. Both California Dreamin’ and A Grape Escape offer daily hot air balloon rides, complete with sparkling wine and mimosas, weather permitting.

If you prefer to move at a slower pace, luxuriate at one of Temecula Valley’s many spas. Stroll the tranquility path through the vineyards, join a morning yoga class, swim in the heated saltwater pool, or enjoy a massage at Grapeseed Spa, South Coast Winery Resort and Spa’s on-site facility. Pechanga Resort Casino also features a state-of-the-art spa. Unwind with one of their signature treatments before checking out the Casino floor for some blackjack and roulette, or taking in some of the top-tier live entertainment that hits the Pechanga stage.

Temecula Olive Oil Company
Photo Courtesy of Temecula Olive Oil Company

Love to shop? Temecula Valley offers an array of spots to pick up gifts or treat yourself. Explore the many local and handmade products in Old Town’s beloved boutiques, like Temecula Lavender Co., Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants, and Temecula Olive Oil Company. Browse clothing, housewares, soaps, jewelry, and more at The Gardener’s Cottage or hit up some of your favorite well-known store brands at Temecula’s main mall, Promenade Temecula.

Conclusion

It’s clear that Temecula Valley Wine Country has so much more to offer than simply sips and tastings. Luxuriate at the spa, eat your way through countless restaurants, or swap your wine with a craft brew or mead. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll be surprised at how well Temecula holds its own on the world stage of wine getaways.