The best way to see Temecula wine country? Try a balloon ride

Photograph of a hot-air balloon floating over the Temecula Valley with illustrated lines.
California Dreamin’ offers hot-air balloon rides over the Temecula Valley.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, fellow Escapists. Summer is almost here, and with it come lots of opportunities to heat up, cool down and explore California.

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find quintessential Golden State activities, including a hot-air balloon ride and reader-submitted ideas for the best places to find redwoods, as well as a hack for enjoying hotel pools on a budget. Dog parents, keep reading for a list of the best pup-friendly hikes in L.A.

Have you discovered any gems? As always, keep your travel recommendations coming — send me an email if you’d like me to feature your suggestion in an edition of Escapes.

🎈 Soar across Temecula Valley wine country

One item I’m hoping to scratch off my summer bucket list: a hot-air balloon ride across Temecula Valley.

Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds included this classic Southern California experience on his list of the 40 best outdoor experiences in the state. “You could stay on the ground and enjoy the restaurants and tasting rooms of the Temecula Valley’s wine-country scene,” Reynolds writes. “But you could also rise before dawn, climb into a basket under a big balloon, then drift skyward and float over the hills and vineyards.”

If you go, be prepared to wake up early for your flight. As Reynolds explains, the wind calms down in the early morning, plus it’s a great time for photos. Rides typically last 60 to 75 minutes and start at about $200 per person. California Dreamin’, A Grape Escape and Magical Adventure offer balloon rides.

Temecula Valley balloon ride with California Dreamin'
Get a birds-eye-view of Temecula Valley wine country with a hot air balloon ride at dawn.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🌲 Redwoods, redwoods and more redwoods

Speaking of our list of the 40 best outdoor experiences in California, Reynolds also asked readers to let us know what beloved spots we should’ve included in the roundup.

Among the many responses, he received lots of emails about redwoods. “In fact, my Southern California friends, we are suffering from redwood envy,” he writes. “Redwoods and redwood country got more support than any other corner of California.”

Reader Keith Breslin of Toluca Lake told Reynolds he considers the absence of Muir Woods “a glaring omission,” while Gilroy Hain of Paso Robles pointed to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden as “only place in Southern California where you can take a walk in a little redwood forest.” Other favorite spots to revel in redwoods? Readers mentioned Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Crescent City and its surrounding redwoods, the Rockefeller Forest in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Photo of a visitor and redwood trees in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.
Visitors to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden can take a stroll through a redwood forest.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🏊 Spend a day at these 10 hotel pools in Southern California

If you’re craving pool time this summer, you don’t need to drop hundreds on a resort room — just buy a day pass to one of Southern California’s best hotel pools.

Times contributor Rosemary McClure recently reported on great day pass deals at luxe hotels in Orange and San Diego counties. Here are some of her recommendations:

  • Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa: For $25, you’ll get a lounge chair at the Harbor Pointe pool, overlooking the Pacific — ideal for those who want to kick back and read a book.
  • Hyatt Regency Newport Beach: McClure recommends this option, which features slides and water play fountains, for families with kids. Day passes cost $25 per person for a day, or you can spring for a cabana for $175.
  • Paséa Hotel & Spa in Huntington Beach: This option is ideal for a girlfriend getaway, McClure writes. A day pass to this lively pool costs $50; if you’re with a group, it may make sense to drop $500 on a cabana, split among friends or family members.
Illustration of poolside
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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🐕 The best pup-approved trails in L.A.

Is your four-legged pal itching for adventure too? You’re in luck — Times contributor Matt Pawlik recently compiled a list of the 12 best urban trails for dogs in L.A.


His recommendations include Millard Canyon, an easy 1½-mile out-and-back trail to a waterfall that’s ideal for any dog that loves a splash, as well as the ultra-popular spot Runyon Canyon.

Pawlik included plenty of easy jaunts for humans and fur babies alike, but he also added a suggestion for those who gravitate toward Type 2 Fun. He explained that the strenuous Vital Link Trail in Wildwood Canyon Park in Burbank will “strengthen your human/canine relationship ... and your legs.” Pack lots of water for your pup and treat yourself at the nearby Brewyard Beer Co., which is dog-friendly — of course.

Photo of hikers enjoying Runyon Canyon Park on Mulholland Drive.
Hikers and their dogs enjoy Runyon Canyon Park on Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • After decades of rocky seas in Long Beach, the Queen Mary is in danger of sinking. “Can it be saved?” asks Times staff writer Hayley Smith.
  • Oceanside’s transformation from a military town to a tourist draw is complete, Pam Kragen writes in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
  • Redwood National and State Parks has a secret “superbloom.” “Don’t ruin it,” warns Ashley Harrell in SFGATE.
  • “Ghana’s Outstretched Hand”: Heather Greenwood Davis recalls memories of a long-ago trip to Ghana in AFAR.
  • Every year, shepherds in Georgia take their flocks to pasture in the Caucasus Mountains, keeping an ancient tradition alive. Giorgi Gogua covers their travels in National Geographic.
Illustration of flowers popping up
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

💻 Can’t adventure IRL? Here’s one way to expand your horizons

Take a virtual trip to Australia with Storyspheres, which offers an in-depth 360 tour of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The park is more than a beautiful destination filled with flora and fauna; the virtual experience highlights the rock formations’ deep significance for Australia’s Anangu people.

Have you discovered virtual experiences you’d like to pass along to others? Let me know if you have recommendations.

📸 Photo of the week

A photo of the Chandelier Tree along the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt County.
For more than 80 years, giddy Californians have been steering their vehicles through the Chandelier drive-through tree in sleepy little Leggett.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

“Drivin’ fast with the windows down, 40 miles outside of town.”

Hope your weekend is filled with refreshing drives and good tunes, like this song by Miki Ratsula. Until next week!

Truck driving through Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
Get lost on your next drive along to the soothing sounds of this one by Miki Ratsula.
(Photograph and illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)