From sprawling vineyards, and tasty taprooms to hot air ballooning over a lush valley teaming with vineyards — Southern California’s wine country has so much to offer!
When you think about California wine, visions of rolling hills in Northern California’s Napa Valley, or Santa Barbera’s coastal estates in Central California might come to mind. And while Southern California, with its palm lined coasts, and endless summer climate may not immediately make you think of wine country — a trip to Temecula, California will change your perspective.
Located just an hour and a half drive from San Diego, and an hour from Los Angeles, Temecula is Southern California’s most up and coming wine region, featuring almost 3 dozen small hillside vineyards and posh golf courses. While many people come here to taste the region’s impressive wines, there are plenty of breweries and restaurants to keep you busy as well.
Even though I was born and raised in San Diego, it has been around 10 years since I made it out to Temecula, and I can’t believe how much it has changed there! Whether you’re after a romantic getaway or a lighthearted, wine-fuelled trip with friends, I definitely recommend spending a few nights to enjoy all the wine and culinary experiences that Temecula has to offer. Here’s how we spent a weekend in Temecula Wine Country.
We started our trip in Temecula at Falkner Winery for lunch. They feature high-quality wines and always have a unique offering of seasonal specialties. This location also has a great ambiance and a view that overlooks much of Temecula. While taking in the luscious green hillside scenery, we loved sipping on their Super Tuscan (the owner’s choice wine) and snacking on an assortment of their veggies. Now, we know what you’re thinking—vegetables aren’t usually something to rant and rave about, but if you ever have the pleasure of visiting Falkner Winery, be sure to order the brussel sprouts and roasted carrots. Just trust us on this!
Just down the street from Falkner is Peltzer Winery, which is one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever seen! It’s no shock that this winery’s scenic grounds is a popular spot for weddings and photoshoots. The rosé was my favorite out of the wines we sampled...yet the best part was - they also serve a bread pairing with the wine! This winery’s vintage feel and quaint farm atmosphere is fun and relaxing to pass an hour or two sipping wines or taking a lap around their skating rink (which is up during the holidays). Just don’t be surprised if you encounter one of their two adorable barn dogs that roam the grounds greeting guests with wagging tails.
After Falkner and Peltzer we arrived at our next stop, Avensole Winery, right around sunset. The shining highlight of our visit to Avensole was perhaps the charcuterie plate, although the wines were delicious as well. This plate of meats, cheese and dips was one of the best ones I’ve ever seen, and that says a lot considering that we live in Europe where the best cheeses are at our fingertips. This plate had such a wide range of cheeses, spiced nuts, meats, honey, and other bites and nibbles. For the best effect, pair the plate with one of Avensoles many award-winning wines, or order a tasting, like we did :)
South Coast Winery
Next, we stopped for dinner at Vineyard Rose, a restaurant at South Coast Winery, and the sister property of Carter Estate, the hotel we called home for our trip. This is a classic restaurant that will fulfill those meat cravings you might get, yet in a very refined way. When you crack open the Vineyard Rose’s menu, expect mouthwatering dishes like seared dayboat scallops with potato corn puree, marinated fennel salad, citrus crunch and wild rocket. For heartier options, the Vineyard Rose offers Berkshire pork chop with gruyere delmonico potatoes, green bean almondine and house-made chardonnay apple sauce. During our visit, we had a chance to chat with the restaurant’s new chef, Loren Lawe. Chef Lawe shared with us his vision for the restaurant’s menu, to capitalize on the classics and add his own refinement and expertise. I cannot wait to come back and try it!
Karl Strauss Brewing
The next day, we hit up Karl Strauss Brewing for lunch and a guided beer tour. Did you know that every member of the wait staff at Karl Strauss is a certified brewer? Yeah, we didn't either! Our server was so knowledgeable about the beer scene and the one-of-a-kind specialties crafted at their Temecula location. These beers aren't sold anywhere else, so the brewery is definitely worth a visit. The brewery tour is also well worth it. Though the brewing area itself is small, the guide's knowledge and explanations on the brewing process are incredibly fascinating and very informative.
Lobby Bar at Pechanga
For dinner we hopped on over to Lobby Bar at Pechanga, which was more of a relaxed lounge, located inside Pechanga Casino. Though the casino is just a bit outside of the Temecula Wine Country, it was close enough to warrant a visit. Although neither one of us are gamblers, we were drawn to the casinos culinary scene. Lobby Bar is a casual establishment with some solid American-style staples like tuna poke and roasted chicken.
Hot Air Ballooning over Wine Country
One of the highlights of our Temecula trip (and a must for anyone wanting to fully experience Temecula Wine Country) is a hot air balloon ride with A Grape Escape. Even if you’re afraid of heights, riding in the balloon is so smooth and secure that you won’t even know you’re sailing in the sky. Plus, it’s the best way to see Temecula’s gorgeous, rolling hillside vineyards from the top down. All tours run at sunrise, which might have you whining a bit at first, but you’ll be glad you did it. From the region’s citrus groves to breathtaking snow-capped mountains, what you see will take your breath away and dazzle you…oh and when you’re done, you’re greeted with a sparkling wine toast!
Where to Stay: Carter Estate Winery & RESORT
During our adventure in Temecula we stayed at Carter Estate Winery & Resort — a place that is part winery and part hotel — always a great combination! The resort was absolutely charming, and ideally located right in the middle of Temecula Wine Country, making it pretty easy to visit other wineries. For us, this was an incredibly romantic getaway and the property itself felt like a well-manicured neighborhood. When we entered, we drove right up to our own driveway of our little, intimate bungalow. The room had a perfect balance of feeling private and cozy, but also spacious and airy. In fact, it’s design was more reminiscent of a townhouse, and even included a living area, fireplace and huge bathroom! For us, nothing was better than waking up each morning and stepping out onto our patio to sip our coffee, enjoy the view, and take in all that Temecula has to offer.