Fantastic wine, food and outdoor fun await in Temecula, Southern California’s wine country
Temecula, known as Southern California’s wine country, occupies a scenic, sun-drenched valley amid rolling hills in Riverside County. The historic city and its rustic surrounds are approximately 60 miles north of San Diego, 85 miles from Los Angeles and 22 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This makes Temecula an ideal weekend destination for SoCal locals who want a wine country experience without venturing far from home. Its location also fits easily into any LA, San Diego or Orange County vacation.
While it’s not quite as famous as Napa, the 40-plus wineries and other highlights of Temecula are certainly no secret! Approximately 3 million visitors a year enjoy Temecula’s wine tastings and tours, hot-air balloon rides, championship golf courses, day spas, farm-to-table cuisine and Old Town. Other major attractions include hiking at Santa Rosa Plateau’s Ecological Reserve, the vast entertainment options at Pechanga Resort and Casino, and some 170 shops at Promenade Temecula.
Temecula offers ample accommodation options from B&Bs and budget-friendly hotels to full-service luxury resorts in urban and rural settings. Unlike most wine regions in California, Temecula has a variety of hotels and restaurants at wineries. (We recommend South Coast Winery, Resort and Spa. Please click here to read our review!). These are a great choice if you like the idea of wine tasting, dining, swimming, spa-ing and sleeping all in one location – but do get out and explore Temecula too. Don’t miss the following venues, attractions and experiences that represent the top things to do in Temecula.
Note: At the time of publication, the following places are open in some capacity, with restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These might affect opening hours and visitor options. Please check the websites of the individual venues for up-to-date information.
Old Town Temecula
Temecula was founded in 1859, and its charming, 12-block Old Town pays homage to that era with wood-plank sidewalks and old west-inspired storefronts. It’s a delightful place to stroll, lined with antique stores, brewpubs, restaurants, art galleries and artisan boutiques. Look for live entertainment and a farmers’ market on weekends. Some notable attractions are the Temecula Valley Museum, which is dedicated to town’s rich history; the Temecula Stampede, the west coast’s largest country and western venue; and the Temecula Children’s Museum.
One of the hippest lunch spots in Old Town Temecula is Devilicious Eatery, which promises “food so good, it’s bad.” The family-friendly gastropub specializes in exuberant comfort food from scratch – think classics like burgers, sandwiches and fries transformed by unexpected ingredient combinations and a maximalist approach.
The all-day menu features a wide range of shareables, among them chorizo avocado egg rolls, a pub pretzel with beer cheese sauce, an array of wings, and trays of fries loaded up with a choice of BBQ pulled pork, cheesesteak, bacon-parmesan-garlic or truffle-parmesan toppings. There are eight towering burgers on the menu, but we heartily recommend the short rib melt as an alternative. It’s a ciabatta bun spread with garlic aioli and onion jam, filled with red wine-braised short rib, melty cheese curds and the fresh crunch of shaved fennel. Also consider the signature duck confit grilled cheese with a honey-port reduction. Adding to the options are local wines, 47 craft beers on tap, and premium drink options inside the attached speakeasy-style Apparition Room.
Devilicious Eatery started as a food truck (which is still making the rounds) and has been featured on Food Network and The Cooking Channel. The bricks-and-mortar venue on Old Town Front Street offers expanded outdoor seating on the patio with great views and prime people-watching. Closed on Mondays; currently open for outdoor dining and take-out only.
Toast is one of Temecula’s most popular eateries, with regulars more than willing to wait a while for a coveted weekend brunch table (tip: join the waitlist on Yelp). The casual, family-owned restaurant fully embraces the concept of brunch, packing its menu with arrays of sweet and savory breakfast- and lunch-leaning classics plus some standout original creations.
Start with the drinks menu, which is as eclectic and diverse as the food offerings. There are varied barista drinks including taro lattes, Vietnamese coffee and a cold brew affogato. Boozy options include regular and giant mimosas, cocktails, “sangreezies,” and bloody Marys ranging from classic to “The Farm.” That meal-in-a-drink comes garnished with beef bacon, a meatball, deep-fried blue cheese olive, pickled asparagus and more.
Toast’s trio of Benedicts are certain crowd-pleasers, all original takes on the classic. There’s a Reuben Benedict, a smoked veggie version and a crab cake Benedict, which stars two house-made crab and shrimp cakes fried golden and served over baguettes with capers and Hollandaise. The crispy pecorino potato side dish is incredible! Diners with a sweet tooth might opt for lemon berry or red velvet pancakes, tiramisu French toast or cocoa-almond crepes.
Some other interesting options include the signature beer and bacon flight, a healthy greens and granola combo, and avocado toast with quail eggs. Burgers and other lunch fare are just as tempting, especially the El Jefe Burger topped with an over-easy egg, beef bacon, avocado, grilled onion and oozy gruyere.
Toast is open seven days a week and currently has all-sidewalk seating with socially distant tables.
The Temecula Valley AVA was officially recognized in 1984, but wine grapes have been grown commercially in the valley since the 1960s. Today, more than 40 wineries operate in the region and many have tasting rooms open to the public. Along with wine tasting, visitors can take tours to learn about winemaking and also participate in winemaking workshops.
Temecula’s abundant sunshine, low rainfall and early morning mists make it favorable for Mediterranean varietals such as Sangiovese, Syrah, Pinos gris and Viognier. A wide range of mostly warm-weather varietals thrive in the valley too, and the AVA produces fantastic wines to suit all preferences. Novices and experts alike enjoy the wine country experience in Temecula, which “Wine Enthusiast” named one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations in 2019. The following are just a couple of the top wineries in the valley:
South Coast Winery planted its first vineyards in 1995 and has since expanded to four vineyards and a 100-percent estate grown, certified-sustainable operation. The winery has also become a full-service luxury resort with hotel and villa accommodations, a fine-dining restaurant and spa in addition to its winery and tasting room. South Coast Winery has won more than 3,000 awards, most notably winning the California State Fair Wine Competition’s prestigious “winery of the year” title a record-breaking four times.
Reservations are recommended for wine tasting on the veranda at South Coast Winery. Choose from a white, red, mixed, premium or sweet flight, or order wines by the glass. There’s also a menu of appetizers, shareables and desserts, including a charcuterie plate for two that pairs perfectly with any tasting. Due to the pandemic, the winery has initiated a new self-guided system. Guests are presented with a custom tower of wine glasses and printed guide, which after an initial discussion with your host allows for optimal social distancing.
Wilson Creek Winery runs an expansive outdoor operation on its spacious, park-like grounds, with a variety of wine tasting experiences available. Amid gnarly, decades-old grapevines are al fresco tasting “rooms” cooled in summer by misters. In the central courtyard are more tasting areas, a bar and grill offering bottle sales, snacks and wine slushies, and a full sit-down restaurant with outdoor seating. The grounds also include shady lawns next to a pond and playground where guests can sit, relax and take their time over a choice of drinks.
Wilson Creek Winery is a family-owned and run operation, and one of the largest wineries in Temecula. The tasting experience includes six tastings, a logo wine glass to keep, and a discount on bottle purchases. Fans of dessert wines find a lot to love at Wilson Creek Winery, including its signature almond sparkling wine. Other standouts include the best-selling VS Cabernet-Zinfandel, the super-dry Ecclesia and Tank 15.
Golf at Journey
Golfers have several top-notch courses to consider in Temecula. Top among them is Journey at Pechanga, part of the enormous Pechanga Resort and Casino complex. The par-72 championship course was designed by Arthur Hills and Steve Forrest, and is a scenic treasure. It features wide fairways, sweeping views over the valley and a natural, boulder-strewn stream winding around the course.
The sixth hole is perhaps the most spectacular, with a raised tee box offering views across the entire Temecula Valley and a 200-foot drop to the tee. Journey is in immaculate condition and offers high-end amenities and services including GPS-equipped carts. “Golfweek” called Journey “one of the best courses you can play.”
Sugarplum Zoo and Chocolates
Families and anyone who loves animals (and chocolate!) should be sure to visit Sugarplum Zoo and Chocolates. The facility houses rescued and rehomed farm and exotic animals including a dromedary camel, micro-mini horses, tropical birds and friendly goats who enjoy being hand-fed hay. A most extraordinary resident is a zonkey – the offspring off a zebra and donkey. Visitors are welcome to pet some of the smaller creatures like chickens and rabbits.
After meeting the zoo animals, head inside to sample some gourmet chocolates. Sugarplum’s line of artisan chocolates is served in many five-star hotels, and a gift box of the sweet treats makes an excellent souvenir from a Temecula vacation. There’s also a farm store on site offering honey, jams, hand-made soaps and more.
For more information about visiting Temecula, check out Visittemeculavalley.com, @visittemecula and #visittemecula.
Want to read more about socially distant wine tasting in California? Click the link to read “Sip, Savor and Stay Safe” by Jon Bogart.
Disclaimer: California News Press and its contributors received goods, services and/or other professional courtesies to facilitate this story. All opinions are those of the author.