Temecula California is a tranquil valley noted for “sunshine through the mist,” by the Luiseno Native American Indians. Burgeoning vineyards have now morphed through the mist and dot the landscape of this once sleepy bedroom community of Los Angeles, drawing hundreds of past-time pleasure-seekers into its quaint two-lane main-street and beyond and even above the outlying areas as ballooning is one of the top tourist excursions that truly gives visitors a unique vantage point of Temecula’s gorgeous surroundings. Temecula has fast transpired into a-go to place for wine aficionados and culinarians seeking the perfect olive-oil, artisan spices, or world-class dining over-looking a vineyard. Distilleries, breweries, meaderies, and even a well-hidden speakeasy are emerging alongside the rolling miles of vineyards. A mere four-hour drive from the Las Vegas area, we found a very doable weekend getaway within our reach for those days when we want to leave the dusty desert landscape for a refreshing glass of rose in the fresh air and ambient sunshine.
With only a few days for discovery, we found that staying at Pechanga Resort and Casino is not a far stretch from our home environment. With over 1,000 rooms and plenty of gaming, no Las Vegan will feel left behind in their pursuit of the perfect weekend get-away.
Where to Stay: Pechanga Resort Casino, the largest casino in the Western United States is located in Temecula California, and surprise, NOT in Las Vegas Nevada. It is the recipient of the AAA’s Four Diamond Award every year since 2002. Offering luxurious rooms, world-class amenities, and vibrant entertainment from Broadway and the best in comedy, there is something for everyone within this thoroughly modern campus where well-maintained grounds highlight 274,500 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting spaces and gorgeous common spaces.
The new 25,000 square foot spa is a draw for brides to be, girlfriend getaways and anyone needing rejuvenating and relaxation. The signature spa treatments give a thoughtful nod to Native American traditions, soothing lotions, and integrative and innovative massage modalities.
What to do: Ballooning is big business in Temecula and we went up, up and away with Captain Dave Bradley of California Dreamin Balloon Adventures and Vindemia Vineyard & Winery. Weather is ALWAYS on the mind of the balloon navigator, and a customary courtesy phone call the night before gave us the good-to-go meeting time-a very early at 5 a.m. As the sliver of the new-moon shone brightly in the velvet black-blue twilight, we wove through the rolling countryside hoping the GPS would guide us to the obscure location. Once there we were guided in the darkness by the silhouetted outline of parking attendants holding glow –sticks indicating where to safely park our cars in the still inky darkness. Blankets were then handed out to the sleepy crowd as we huddled beneath several heat lamps waiting for the rising sun. Once day-light emerged, it proved to be a cloudless and seemingly windless day on the horizon. As our young driver called for our group to enter a long white van, I spied a large black helium balloon in the front seat along-side our driver. From the back of the van, someone quipped,” I thought the balloon was a bit bigger than that,” we all let out a collective laugh as we drove along to a spot where this mystery balloon showed its merit. The driver stopped, got out, releasing the balloon goes as a way to test the wind speed and direction.
Not happy with the result, Captain Dave decided to move our location more outside of town for a safer launch site. In his capable hands, with over decades of experience, we went forward with confidence and relief that this man takes his job seriously.
Watching the crew maneuver and inflate voluminous yards of colorful flowing canvas with the aid of a billowing flame, formed a sense of awe and spectacle as the once flat fabric grew and expanded into a colorful aerodynamic wonder. Fabric, a basket and a flame in the hands of a master, turns into one of the most remarkable ways to ascend into the heavens. Looking down from our basket perch, the morning sun hazily broke through the misty ground fog, as we were carried higher and higher through the stunning silence above the diminishing landscape. The silence is so pervasive that everyone falls beneath a spell of reverence for the moment, for the beauty, for the ability to rise like a bird above the retreating earthly elements.
Ballooning is often sought as a bucket list adventure but it really should be on everyone’s must-do regardless of time and space. Once on the ground, a delightful round of sparkling wine and orange juice awaited us our silence was broken with each sip and thrilled response to our safe landing. More was to await us in the Vineyard.
Where to Sip: Wine tasting is on the minds of most people traversing the 405 or the 15 into Temecula. With over 40 plus wineries and growing, Dave Bradley and his wife Gail alongside a hearty crew creatively combined winemaking and balloon navigation that brilliantly showcases the splendor of land and air at their Vindemia Vineyard & Winery. Once on the ground, we were introduced to a line-up of wines that were both delightful, aromatic with good structure and balance. The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was both refreshing with a more complex style as that of white Bordeaux.
Although half our day had been spent flying high above the vineyard and on the ground tasting the fruit of the earth, we still had one more winery to check out and that was at nearby Doffo winery. From Italian ancestors who immigrated to Argentina in the 1800’s, a young Marcelo Doffo developed a true connection to terrior and farming at a young age. Eventually coming to the United States, he took his family’s wine-making heritage and began planting vines on his cattle ranch property located in the Temecula Valley as a personal hobby. Once neighbors and other locals started tasting his wines, his wines were highly sought after eventually moving forward to a full-fledged winery and vineyard.
“Since the property is located adjacent to the main highway, people would stop by the property to try the wines thinking it already was a winery before one actually opened,” said their affable tasting room manager. Today the family is all in on running and producing world-class wines as well as enjoying a racer lifestyle in the motorcycle world.
Marcelo and his brother Jorge took their passion for motorcycles began an auto body shop in their early years where today the family showcases over 200 motorcycles and scooters from around the world on the Vineyard property as well as participate in major motorcycle competitions. Their Malbec-forward red blend is a crowd favorite that can be enjoyed at the Moto Doffo Barrel Room where wine and motorcycle enthusiasts can sip and swirl while gawking at the extensive vintage motorcycle collection.
Feeling a bit famished a lunch at Leoness Cellars was the stellar way to recharge with one of the seasonal selections from their exceptional menu that truly showcases the freshness and flavor profiles of California cuisine.
Satiated, satisfied, and now sleepy for our 4 am wake up we drove back to our spa appointments at the world-class Pechanga Spa. The Pechanga Resort and Casino’s offers 17 innovative and rejuvenating treatments, a full hair and nail salon, steam room, dry sauna, a state-of-the-art fitness center with group classes available to guests which are opened from 7:30-8 pm daily.
Temecula is a very busy tourist destination on the weekends, so off-season and weekdays are the prime time to come to enjoy a more relaxed pace. Along with the abundance of wine tasting rooms, there are a growing number of breweries popping up all over the region. Intrigued, we stopped into Refuge Brewery and met with owner Curt Kucera.
“We wanted this to be a place where someone could come to and have a sense of taking some time away from the world and refuge sounded like a great name and resonated with us,” said Curt. His journey has taken him from a vineyard to a brewery- his story had us mesmerized for the rest of the afternoon.
Kucera not only discovered his love of beer making but his entire family joined in with his son becoming a studied and credentialed brewmaster not only in the US but also in Europe. With great knowledge has come fabulous beers, but with Kucera’s engineering background- has built and manufactured unique beer making equipment that is now used widely in the industry.
His home-brewing kits are the most sought after in the business. The venue is large and cavernous filled with conversational seating, a pool table, and plenty of bar space to sit and have a brew or two.
Down the road is Batch Mead for those who want to try an ancient beverage that has surprising benefits that are not afforded with other alcoholic beverages. “There are some great properties in Mead with antioxidants and health benefits of the allergens from the honey, ” said owner Danielle Busch. Derek and Danielle Busch will give you the 411 on the flavors and nuances of how honey water and yeast come together as they that meld these ingredients together producing refreshing meads and ciders for those looking for something different in their thirst-quenching quest.A walk along Old Town is a must to take in the award-winning at Devilicious Eatery and Tap Room where a booming food truck business is now has a deliriously good menu at their sit-in restaurant that is indulgent and the perfect after a day of wine tasting.Devilcious in Temecula lives up to their name. Pro Hint: Don’t forget to ask for the secret password that will give you access to the hidden speakeasy while at Devilicious.
You may feel a bit sleepy after consuming a half pound of specialty Diablo burger or the signature Devilicious burger, as we did, but we didn’t forget to ask for the special password for entrance into the hidden speakeasy for an old school cocktail made by an engaging mixologist who knew exactly how to serve up a Sazerac with style and flair.
Where to Shop: For those seeking artisanal olive oil, learn how to sniff, swirl and taste premium quality olive oil with an educational class at Temecula Olive Oil company. Find the perfect spice blend for the chef who is both experimental and exacting at the Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants. Those that are young at heart or those with young children will love to meander through the interactive exhibits and the whimsical working of Pennypickle’s workshop. This is a place where imagination is ignited by the love of scientific experiments in a playful and engaging center for all ages
As first-timers to Temecula, we have to say we were quite impressed with its diversity in accommodations, dining, and a plethora of activities to enjoy. We are surely going to return through the mist or sunshine to explore much more of this up and coming area as a few days just isn’t long enough.