Local, Yet Worlds Apart: Temecula Wine Country is a Nearby Escape

At several Temecula resorts, you can wake up among the vines in the hills of wine country.
(Ron and Patty Thomas/Getty Images)

How far do you have to drive to have a California wine weekend? Two hours? Four? All the way up to Napa? Or, is there another option - a purely Southern California destination, loaded with Mediterranean beauty, unique varietals - that’s a scant hour and a half (or less) away?

Among the state’s southernmost recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), the lush Temecula Valley produces delicious, California-classic Chardonnays and Merlots, and also uncommon varietals like Syrah and Pinot Gris. The valley benefits from multiple levels of cooling, coming both from ocean breezes slipping their way between the coastal hills to the west and air cascading downward in the evening from the towering interior mountains that surround the eastern boundary of the valley. This double dose of chilled air helps grow varietals that don’t typically flourish in California’s solely coastal-cooled climes.

Wine Country Destinations
While the science behind winemaking is fascinating, the real treat is the taste. Happily, Temecula Wine Country has no fewer than 40 different wineries spread over 33,000 acres, each ready to give you a sample of their best. Highlights include elevated Bottaia Winery, a modern, Italian inspired tasting with an outdoor patio boasting panoramic views, or Peltzer Family Cellars, with a rustically authentic farmhouse setting. Both, like all Temecula Valley wineries, offer extensive tastes and bottles for sale, including standout regional varietals.

One day is simply not enough to experience the maximum relaxation visitors can achieve in Temecula, but fear not: the valley and its surrounding wine country offer many stay-and-play options. From waking up among the vines on a winery-meets-resort to adorable bed and breakfasts, the region has something for every getaway.

The Vine House Bed and Breakfast, a charming, family-owned estate directly on the De Portola Wine Trail, features five stunning rooms that overlook the surrounding vineyards. Traveling with a large group or planning an event? You can book the entire home.

Europa Village, directly off of main Rancho California Road, offers a combination vineyard/ tasting room/resort experience with a twist - its architecture and general feel mimic the Southern European destinations that produce many famed wine varietals. In addition to tastings and villa-like accommodations, Europa Village features homestyle dining, olive oil samples, and charming Italian-style shops.

Local Eats
Dining in Temecula isn’t limited to getaway resorts. When wine tasting gives way to needed snacking, Old Town Temecula has many options to satiate “après vin.” The charming, walkable main street has no fewer than 20 eateries, from quaint gastropub-style fare to authentic fine dining, to satisfy any hunger. For a snack and a drink, try the Goat and Vine. Start with apps like homemade mother’s meatballs or breadsticks and house sauce, and pair with a signature cocktail like the Strawberry Smash, featuring Four Roses bourbon, strawberry cordial and a citrus and pepper twist.

For dinner, walk just blocks away, where the Gambling Cowboy combines sophisticated chophouse fare with a relaxed “weekend away” vibe. A surf and turf menu is offered on a third-floor deck with expansive valley views alongside classic cocktails. Roasted ribeye poblano and filet mignon stroganoff round out the signature dishes.

For an “only-in-Temecula” experience, grab a quick bite at the Swing Inn Cafe. Established almost 100 years ago in 1927, the ultra-casual breakfast/lunch spot offers classic American fare and fresh-baked goods (including a not-to-be-missed giant cinnamon roll), and labels itself the “Heart and Soul of Temecula.”

An All-inclusive Option
For a destination both perfectly in place in the valley and unique to the region, book a room at Pechanga Resort Casino. The expansive grounds, featuring the largest casino in the state of California, have world-class amenities all within striking distance of Temecula’s quaintness. Pechanga’s resort grounds feature pool experiences, fine dining, a full spa, a highly rated 18-hole golf course and copious gaming options, from slots to Vegas-style table games, all with AAA Four Diamond accommodations, from oversized single tower rooms to 800-square-foot-plus suites. The resort offers the feel of a Vegas getaway with the lush surroundings of the agricultural region within view. The fine-dining restaurant, Great Oak Steakhouse, even offers several local wines to complement its New American cuisine.

Whether you’ve been to the region many times or you’re a first-time visitor, Temecula offers a close-by, high-reward destination for the wine lover or anyone who desires a quick escape from busy Southern California. Given that everyone could use one weekend away (or more), it’s the perfect place to add to your list this fall.