Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride, Tour Wineries by Sidecar, and Shop One-of-a-kind Boutiques in This Underrated California City

Temecula offers wineries with picturesque views, farm-to-table restaurants, and relaxing boutique resorts.

During the harvest season, vineyards are bursting with the excitement and anticipation of collecting this year's crop of perfectly ripened grapes. In Southern California's Temecula Valley, select wineries celebrate the fall harvest with the time-honored grape stomping tradition, and they spice it up with a bit of competition.

Aerial view of Temecula Valley
Courtesy of Giovanna Caravetta

Not one to shy away from some lighthearted competition, I was one of those who participated in this tradition at South Coast Winery. My competition partner collected the juice into our wine bottle as I crushed the slippery grapes, and much to our surprise, the referee declared us the winners! Of course, I'm convinced that my Italian roots must have had something to do with our resounding success. And what better way to celebrate sweet victory than with our winning prize, a bottle of South Coast Winery's special 20th Anniversary red wine blend?

Temecula Valley, a Southern California wine destination inland between Los Angeles and San Diego, is home to miles of vineyards, a charming old town area with lively eateries, shops, and bars, and relaxing resorts with impeccable views. Here are some of those must-see stops for your next trip to Temecula.

Outdoor seating at Small Barn
Courtesy of Visit Temecula Valley

Where to Eat

Small Barn

For a cozy yet elegant dining experience, stop by Small Barn, a burgeoning new addition to Old Town Temecula with a welcoming wraparound porch and outdoor fireplace. This modern bistro has a rustic menu crafted with dishes that feature locally sourced foods. The menu is designed to be shared, making this a great spot for larger parties. Be sure to try their signature cocktails paired with their organic roast beet salad, along with the pan-roasted chicken with a pistachio basil pesto.

Cork Fire Kitchen

Mastering the art of farm-to-table, Cork Fire Kitchen highlights the charm of Temecula Valley in an inventive menu featuring seasonal produce paired with locally sourced meats. The expansive dining area views from Temecula Creek Inn's on-site restaurant add to its overall sophisticated yet inviting ambiance. Chef Matthew Steffen uniquely incorporates some of the foods and herbs grown in his garden, located on the neighboring golf course green. Dine here for brunch to try the churro waffle or the crab grilled cheese with havarti and bacon. A must-try dinner dish is the crispy-skinned mallard duck with grilled leeks, toasted pistachio polenta, and caramelized fennel pesto.

Seating at Cork Fire Kitchen
Courtesy of Visit Temecula Valley

EAT Marketplace

EAT, which aptly stands for Extraordinary Artisan Table, is a Temecula eatery and marketplace known for using locally grown foods in its dishes, as well as for crafting meals that serve all types of eaters. Stop by for some gluten-free, vegan donuts with creative and delectable seasonal flavors, including orange cardamom, lemon poppy seed, and rocky road, to name a few. If you come for lunch, opt for a classic but delicious roasted turkey sandwich on ciabatta or build your own bowl.

The Goat & Vine

A stone hearth kitchen with a stylized, relaxed atmosphere, The Goat & Vine specializes in masterfully creating pizzas and sandwiches with their made-from-scratch bread. Some must-try dishes include their pizza with housemade fennel sausage, roasted mushrooms, and house marinara, as well as the hatch chile honey chicken sandwich. Save room for some decadent cappuccino ice cream cake topped with housemade Bailey's whipped cream for dessert.

Soro's Mediterranean Grill

Located in Old Town Temecula, Soro's Mediterranean Grill is a family-run restaurant serving fresh, authentic cuisine, and their wine list features some of the best bottles from local Temecula wineries. Try the cauliflower wings (made with harissa for a bit of a kick) served on a bed of couscous and the chicken kabob plate with garlic sauce and grilled vegetables for some delicious Mediterranean fare.

setting up Hot Air Balloons in Temecula Valley
Courtesy of Visit Temecula Valley

Things to Do

A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure

For those seeking an awe-inspiring experience, be sure to schedule a hot air balloon flight above the vineyards with A Grape Escape. Drift over Temecula Wine Country at sunrise and soak up the picturesque aerial views of wineries and seemingly endless rows of vines. The flight is about 60 to 75 minutes long and ends with a sparkling wine toast.

So-Cal Sidecars

Experience a ride unlike any other and travel among the vines on a sidecar tour throughout wine country. Ride in style with So-Cal Sidecars on their vintage sidecars to sightsee and enjoy wine tastings at three local wineries. Their vintage sidecars have been modified to accommodate two people and make for the perfect date night adventure or family fun afternoon.

Doffo Winery during sunset
Jimmy Fu/Courtesy of Doffo Winery

Doffo Winery

Founded in 1997, Doffo Winery is a family-owned and -operated winery known for its award-winning zinfandel and Malbec wines, as well as its unique red wine blends. Enjoy a tasting of Doffo Winery's small batch wines while admiring founder Marcello Doffo's MotoDoffo vintage motorcycle collection, which comprises over 100 motorcycles and scooters from around the world. MotoDoffo has also expanded to include a wine collection with exclusive wines produced each year.

Old Town Temecula

In addition to its tasty eateries, Old Town Temecula is home to a variety of bars and unique shops. Stop by Stone Church Brewing for a beer tasting flight, or travel a short drive from the old town area to Refuge Brewery for Belgian-style ales. For a modern-day speakeasy, reserve a spot at Apparition Room, and choose an artful concoction from their menu of exciting cocktails (or you can ask the bartender to fix you an off-menu drink). Make your way to Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants for unique loose leaf teas and spice blends, and check out Temecula Lavender Co. for specialty handcrafted lavender products.

Interior of a room at Carter Estate Winery and Resort
Courtesy of Visit Temecula Valley

Where to Stay

Carter Estate Winery and Resort

For a serene getaway in your own secluded bungalow, book your stay at Carter Estate Winery and Resort. Though this winery is mostly known for its effervescent méthode champenoise wines, its resort landscape and accommodations are unrivaled in the area. Take in the surrounding views of the vineyards from your private patio as you sip your morning coffee or watch the sunset after a day of wine tasting. Book your stay directly for a bottle of wine upon check-in.

Temecula Creek Inn from across their golf course
Courtesy of Visit Temecula Valley

Temecula Creek Inn

Tucked away from the heart of wine country under the shade of large oak trees, Temecula Creek Inn is the perfect escape for anyone in need of deep relaxation and a renewed sense of wonder. Its rooms and suites offer private balconies with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the adjacent 27-hole golf course, which makes this the picture-perfect setting. With on-site dining options, as well as a choice to order to your room, this luxury inn will surely be a highlight of your time in Temecula.

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