Temecula, California, is fast becoming a highly sought-after region to enjoy a world-class resort along with boutique wine, craft beer, and more.
Temecula, California is a tranquil valley noted for “sunshine through the mist” by the Luiseno Native American Indians. Burgeoning vineyards dot the landscape of this once sleepy bedroom community of Los Angeles. Past-time pleasure-seekers descend onto 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 beckons wine enthusiasts 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 wanted 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 pursuing the perfect weekend getaway.
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 has been 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. Manicured grounds highlight 274,500 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting spaces and gorgeous common spaces. The new 25,000 square- foot signature spa offers treatments that give a thoughtful nod to Native American traditions, soothing lotions, and integrative and innovative massage modalities.
What to do: Ballooning is a big business in Temecula. We went 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, 5 am. 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, in the darkness, the silhouetted outline of parking attendants holding glow –sticks showed us into the parking area. 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 giant black helium balloon in the front seat alongside our driver. From the back of the truck, 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 and released the balloon to test the wind speed and direction.
Not happy with the result, Captain Dave decided to move our location outside of town for a safer launch site. With over decades of experience in his capable hands, 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 a billowing flame formed a sense of awe and spectacle as the once flat fabric grew and expanded into a bright aerodynamic wonder. 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.
Once on the ground, a delightful round of sparkling wine and orange juice awaited us; each sip was a thrilling response to our safe landing. More was to await us in the Vineyard.
Where to Sip: Wine tasting is on most people’s minds 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. A line-up of delightful, aromatic wines with good structure and balance on the ground. The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was refreshing with a more complex style than that of white Bordeaux.
Although half our day had us flying high above the Vineyard and tasting the fruit of the earth on the ground, we still had one more winery to check out: at nearby Doffo winery. From Italian ancestors who immigrated to Argentina in the 1800s, a young Marcelo Doffo developed a genuine connection to terrior and farming at a young age. Eventually, coming to the United States, he took his family’s winemaking heritage and began planting vines on his cattle ranch located in the Temecula Valley as a hobby. “Since the property is adjacent to the main highway, people would stop by the property to try the wines thinking it already was a winery before one opened,” said their affable tasting room manager. Today the family is all in on running and producing world-class wines and enjoying a racer lifestyle in the motorcycle world. Marcelo and his brother Jorge took their passion for motorcycles. They began an auto body shop in their early years. Today, the family showcases over 200 motorcycles and scooters worldwide on the Vineyard property and participates in significant motorcycle competitions. Their Malbec-forward red blend is a crowd favorite at the Moto Doffo Barrel Room, where wine and motorcycle enthusiasts can sip and swirl while gawking at the extensive vintage motorcycle collection.
A lunch at Leoness Cellars is a stellar way to recharge with one of the seasonal selections from their exceptional men. Each dish showcases the freshness and flavor profiles of California cuisine.
Noted as #1 Winery Restaurant by USA Today’s Best Reader’s Choice and Best Restaurant of The IE for four consecutive years, we were eager, to begin with crispy truffle fries that undergo a 3-day process for perfection. An assortment of fresh oysters proved a refreshing briny bite is resetting our palates for the well-seasoned scallops that melded with their 2019 Viognier.
Satiated, satisfied, and now sleepy from our 4 am wake-up, we drove back to our spa appointments at the world-class Pechanga Spa. The Pechanga Resort and Casino offers 17 innovative and rejuvenating treatments, a full hair and nail salon, steam room, dry sauna, and a state-of-the-art fitness center with group classes available to guests, open from 7:30-8 pm daily.
Temecula is a bustling 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, a growing number of breweries are popping up all over the region. Intrigued, we stopped at 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 mist 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 brew master in the US and Europe. With excellent knowledge has come fabulous beers, but with Kucera’s engineering background- he 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 holds conversational seating, a pool table, and plenty of bar space to sit and have a brew or two.
Down the road is Batch Meade for those who want to try an ancient beverage with surprising benefits. “There are some excellent properties in Meade 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 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 Devilicious Eatery, and Tap Room has a deliriously good menu. As we did, you may feel a bit sleepy after consuming a half pound of specialty Diablo burger or the signature Devilicious burger. Still, we didn’t forget to ask for the unique password for entrance into the hidden speakeasy for an old-school cocktail made by an engaging mixologist who served up a Sazerac with style and flair.
Where to Shop: For those seeking artisanal foodstuffs, learn how to sniff, swirl and taste premium quality olive oil with an educational class at Temecula Olive Oil. Find the perfect spice blend for the experimental and exacting chef at the Old Town Spice & Tea Company. 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. The love of scientific experiments ignites the imagination in a playful and engaging center for all ages.
As first-timers to Temecula, we were impressed with its diversity in accommodations, dining, and a plethora of activities to enjoy. We will surely return through the mist or sunshine to explore much more of this up-and-coming area as a few days isn’t long enough.