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Spotlight: Temecula Valley

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A historic town square surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills, with mountains rising in the distance: The city of Temecula 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 come here for hyper-local cuisine (made, for instance, with Temecula Olive Oil), as well as for hiking, biking, and hot-air ballooning. They also come for the Mediterranean-like climate—temperatures range from the 80s–90s in summer to the 60s–70s in winter.

Perhaps most of all, however, they come to visit the 30-plus wineries that dot the Temecula Valley. Italian, Spanish, and French grapes sprout from the area’s soil and mature in this unique atmosphere, resulting in small-batch vintages. And with many distributed only locally, these award-winning wines are ripe for discovery.

That exploration will likely begin in the heart of the city, a charming area called Old Town. Here, modern California staples like farm-to-table restaurants and craft breweries are set among wooden boardwalks and rustic buildings that bring to mind Temecula’s 19th-century roots. You can even stay in the city’s first inn, the Hotel Temecula, which dates to the late 1800s.

Today, of course, accommodations of all kinds abound. Stay in a familiar chain close to Old Town, or choose a luxury hotel with a room looking out over rows of vines.  Read on for tips on how to build your trip to this gem that’s hidden in plain sight.

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Ron Thomas/Getty Images

Old Town Temecula

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Old Town Temecula
See the quaint town that sprang up around the railroad

The History: A horseshoe-shaped town square anchors Old Town Temecula, where you’ll find plenty of historic action. Not surprisingly, many of the buildings went up around 1883, the year the Southern California Railroad brought travellers and commerce to the Temecula Valley. One of those structures, the Hotel Temecula, had to be rebuilt in 1891—but that structure still stands (and you can stay there). You can also still see the town’s first church building, St. Catherine’s—though the 1917-era structure was moved to Sam Hicks Monument Park, at the northern end of Old Town. Other original buildings have been refurbished and given new missions: The 1890 Mercantile building is now the entryway to the Temecula Community Theatre; and the 1st National Bank, built in 1914, is now a Mexican restaurant.

Where to Play: The Hotel Temecula hasn’t always been open to guests, but it is now. Start your day with sustainable coffee at E.A.T. Marketplace, or duck in anytime for locally sourced dishes. Pop in for a pizza with innovative combinations of fresh toppings at The Goat and Vine. Head to Old Town’s original bank, which is now a Mexican restaurant called, fittingly, The Bank. Or try the namesake burger at 1909, in an original building that has also been home to a trading post, a livery, and an auto shop. Browse for antiques at Serendipity Antiques and relax in the outdoor garden. If the kids need a break from all this history, bring ’em to Pennypickle’s Workshop, Temecula’s children’s museum. And if you want a break from the kids, experience the country-music scene—complete with line dancing and mechanical bull–riding—at the Temecula Stampede. Or check out what’s on at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater.

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Kodiak Greenwood

Temecula Valley Wine Country

Temecula Valley Wine Country
Taste your way through Southern California's leading wine region

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards so close to the California desert. But the Temecula area has been producing top wines since the late 1960s. And like the best vintages, this wine country just gets better with age.

It’s a diverse growing region, home to everything from cooler-climate grapes like Chardonnay to such warm-weather varieties as Syrah and Grenache. How does wine grow so close to the desert? It begins with a rich, granite-based soil that plays host to the vines. Then it continues with a unique microclimate in which the grapes thrive: crisp mornings coated in mist, a warm daytime sun, and cool ocean breezes that welcome the clear night sky.

More than 30 wineries take advantage of these conditions, and the result has been lots of award-winners—which, of course, you can sample. One of the oldest wineries in the region, Callaway Vineyard & Winery (first launched by the golf-gear family) dates back to 1969, and it offers both a big tasting room and cellar tours where you can taste from the barrels. Go to Europa Village and sit on the patio to savour the Cinsaut, made from a grape usually found in the South of France; the winery is also home to a 10-room B&B with themed rooms like Syrah and Pinot Grigio. Head to the Leoness Cellars—located along a rural stretch known as the Deportola Wine Trail—and take one of the vineyard tours, then enjoy some Mélange de Blanc or Grenache by the patio’s outdoor fireplace.

Plenty of the wineries are sights in themselves. At Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards, sample the signature almond sparkling wine and stroll the grounds to see the thousands of roses and other flowers—or book the onsite manor, which sleeps 24, for a wedding or reunion. For tasting plus dinner theatre, Longshadow Ranch Vineyard & Winery does a Wild West show in its ranch-style winery on Friday nights.

Briar Rose Winery, meanwhile, houses its tasting room in a replica of the seven dwarfs’ cottage from Snow White. The wines here are unique too—like the Talking Frog bubbly, a blend of Viognier and lager beer.

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Tom Fowlks

Temecula Olive Oil Company

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Temecula Olive Oil Company
Taste at one of four locations or get a behind-the-scenes tour at the company’s sustainable ranch

Launched in 2001,Temecula Olive Oil Company was founded by two friends, Catherine Pepe and Nancy Curry, who went into business together after Nancy’s husband, Thom, had the idea to start making olive oil. Thom now manages production for the company, which grows a mind-boggling 48 varieties of olives at its estate near Temecula and other Southern California sites.

Temecula Olive Oil Company has tasting rooms in Old Town San Diego, Seal Beach, and Solana Beach, along with its original location in Old Town Temecula; the newest location will be opening in spring 2018 in Laguna Beach. Stroll in for free samples of the company’s extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars; there’s also a terrific selection of olives, flavoured oils, spreads, and salts.

The second and fourth Saturday of each month, you can get a behind-the-scenes tour at the company’s ranch, located 25 minutes from Old Town. You’ll start with a guided walk through scenic olive groves to learn about Temecula Olive Oil Company’s sustainable growing practices and olive oil production, then taste your way through the company’s offerings. In addition to its extra virgin oils, it makes a variety of flavoured olive oils. You can even buy your own olive tree to take home.

For a VIP experience, parties of 10 or more can book a day at the ranch, complete with a tour led by one of the company founders. The package also includes a guided olive oil tasting and a specially prepared lunch that showcases Temecula Olive Oil Company products.