California sunshine. Rolling green hills. Vineyards as far as the eye can see.
Napa Valley? Sonoma? Paso Robles? Guess again.
Temecula is Southern California’s version of wine country, giving travelers the chance to enjoy breathtaking views, a relaxing ambiance and plenty of spots for wine tasting. In addition to the endless rows of grapevines, Temecula is also home to an adorable Old Town region that flawlessly blends modern restaurants with historical landmarks and whimsical shops along old-fashioned wooden sidewalks.
Stroll and Shop
Old Town Temecula has something to offer those of any age group, making it a great spot for multi-generational travel. Our group wandered around, soaking up the sun as we popped in and out of local shops. My personal favorite was King Barrel, an artsy shop filled with home and garden décor crafted out of both wine and whiskey barrels. Filled with everything from sinks to dog beds, this shop and its unique designs are certainly worth checking out.
Across the street, metal sculptures by local artist Ricardo Breceda captivated our whole group. The designs, mostly in the shape of animals, range from medium- to life-sized—copper-colored butterflies, octopi and dinosaurs stand side-by-side with tentacles and wings that look as though they’ve been paused mid-movement. Another nearby shop, The Painted Garden, is filled with colorful flowers, succulents and garden décor.
If you’re looking for something fun to do as a group, stop by the Temecula Olive Oil Company, a large shop with a covered wooden porch where you can sit and watch the passersby. Verdant ivy wraps around the overhang and a hodgepodge of plants sit in wooden barrels along the sidewalk. The tasting room is a great spot for families and groups to try a variety of olive oils and balsamic vinegars—and grab a couple bottles to take home too.
When you travel with extended family, consider their specific interests. Got music-loving teens in tow? Stop by Old Town Records to peruse the music (or check out the discount bins on the table out front!). If the grandparents are tagging along, pay a visit to Old Town Antique Faire for classic collectibles, antique jewelry, furniture and other old-time goodies. It may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but you’ll be surprised at what you might find.
Before heading out to the vineyards, you’ll want to make sure you have some local grub in your bellies. Gastropubs have become increasingly popular and it’s no surprise—with high-quality food, craft beers and fancy cocktails, they’re a great spot to gather with friends or family.
Public House in Old Town Temecula is located in a refurbished house from the 1950s, which explains how this funky restaurant got its name. A round stone table on the back patio will fit even the largest of groups. Soak up the sun during the day or keep warm in the evening with the combination fountain and fire pit in the center of the table.
The cuisine at Public House is pretty luxurious given the more casual setting. I tried the Whimm Mac ‘N’ Cheese, a cheesy dish served in a personal skillet topped with toasted panko, opal basil and garlic. Quite a few members of the group ordered the Reuben 3.0, filled with corned beef cooked in red wine, while still others ordered the Duck Stuffed Pork drizzled with a sherry reduction.
One special touch that I especially loved? Planters placed on the walls outside are filled with fresh tomatoes and herbs that are then used in the restaurant’s meals.
Top It Off
The highlight of our trip to Temecula was definitely our visit to wine country. Group travel can be enhanced through flavor, beauty and laughter—all of which is found in this spot. It’s the perfect place for a girlfriend weekend getaway, but don’t hesitate to also plan a trip with your parents or grandparents. Since the tastes are small, you can have as much or as little you want, making it a great activity for those who aren’t super fond of drinking but still want to tag along.
Our group visited two different wineries that featured different atmospheres and experiences for each of us.
First, we stopped at Monte De Oro, a large winery with a massive tasting room filled with natural light. Two beautiful mahogany bars lined the walls on opposite sides of the room. A large window between them provided sweeping views of the vineyard outside. The high-class atmosphere made for a pleasant experience as we tasted both white and red wines. I thoroughly enjoyed their fruity 2014 Muscat Canelli, made with honeysuckle, pears and pineapple.
We also took a tour of their underground barrel room where our tour guide filled us in on the winemaking (and aging) process before giving us all a taste of wine straight out of the barrel—a first for me and a really spectacular (and delicious) experience!
Our group also took a trip to Bel Vino, a local winery with a sprawling lawn on a plateau overlooking rows of grapevines below. With vast grassy expanses, small tables and a stage for live music and events, it’s the perfect place to relax outside and enjoy a snack with friends before or after a tasting.
Inside, the dim lighting set the mood for a calm and relaxing afternoon. We sat along a long bar where Bel Vino sommeliers Matt and Doug offered us their knowledge, advice and plenty of laughs. Their red wines were a specialty, especially a delicious merlot aged in French oak barrels. Bel Vino also had a rack of discount wines available as well as a cute gift shop.
Sipping a glass of wine while the golden sun dips below the gentle curves of the hills is not just a spectacular sight, but also an unbeatable feeling. While I haven’t had the pleasure of exploring Napa Valley, I’m content knowing that this awe-inspiring area lies just a few hours away from home.