A So Fun SoCal Family Tour in Temecula
Temecula is in southwest Riverside County, California, off the 15 Freeway, one hour from Orange County and Palm Springs and one-and-a-half hours from Los Angeles. Twenty-two miles and the Santa Rosa coastal mountain range separate the beautiful Pacific Ocean with this growing, 32-square-mile community. With daytime temperatures ranging from 68 degrees in the winter to 88 degrees in the summer, and evening temperatures from 41 to 60 degrees, Temecula offers residents and visitors warm summer days and cool summer nights, perfect for play and exploration. From shopping to activities, dining to the arts, visitors to Temecula can stay busy for days in this unexpected and practically undiscovered Southern California wine country.
Temecula’s Old Town, which was recently revitalized, now spans a 12-city-block area and seems the hub of dining, arts, and entertainment. When we visited, the town was celebrating Western Days, a tribute to its dusty roots, with the cast from the Temecula Gunfighters, numerous visiting gun fighting clubs, and other Old West costumed characters who performed humorous skits at the High Noon Shoot Out and Robbery at the Bank. The events included Western exhibits, Western music trick ropers, a calf roping demonstration, and even a chili cook-off. As we walked around the wooden boardwalks, Old Town reflected the juxtaposition of old and new. Many historical buildings cozied up to newer buildings meant to look old. Lovely stores and restaurants reflect the style of the Old West with the charm of a wine country town.
Although we could only spend a day in this area we meandered through the quaint shops of Old Town, including the Temecula Olive Oil Company where we sampled olive oils and vinegars featuring ingredients indigenous to the area. One could smell the Temecula Lavender Company from stores away, its immense product repertoire improving bath, body, and home—and draining the wallets of my fellow travelers.
As wine tasting appeals to the mature crowd, I was sweet on the Old Town Root Beer Company, where 300 or so mostly bottled sodas and root beers were available for purchase and many were available for tasting. The venue even brews its own root beer and has several varieties on tap. We also stopped by the Farmer’s Wife boutique before enjoying the Old Town Spice Merchants and the Old Town Sweet Shop.
As far as dining goes, Old Town hosts 19 restaurants and coffee houses. Our first dining adventure took us to The Gambling Cowboy Chophouse and Saloon. For starters, we shared raspberry chipotle Brie packets and a spicy ahi tuna stack. Along with the soft bread and rich butter, I enjoyed the signature filet mignon salad, an 8-ounce, hand-cut filet served over crisp romaine, tossed with homemade bleu cheese dressing, and topped with bleu cheese crumbles, baby heirloom tomatoes, and crispy onion straws. Others had rib eye, heirloom tomato Caprese, trout Amandine, and braised short ribs, and the table shared lobster Mac ’n’ cheese, a creamy, spicy blend of cheeses and tender rigatoni pasta with fresh asparagus on the side and a panko pancetta crust topped with sautéed lobster. With rustic yet elegant décor, a granite bar, and deep mahogany woodwork with brass accents, this third-floor restaurant and bar offers guests a high quality, authentic-feeling Old West dining experience.
We ate lunch the next day at Mad Madeline’s Grill. Grinding meat and cutting potatoes fresh daily are the norm at this burger joint in Old Town. The regular burgers are topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mayo, and mustard on a toasted bun, but guests can choose between beef, lamb, fish, veggie, or buffalo meat. The endless combinations of toppings (chili, cheese, avocado, bacon, salsa, or mushrooms) would confuse even the most sophisticated burger connoisseurs, and the selection of a side of fries, chili cheese fries, onion rings, fried zucchini, battered green beans, mozzarella sticks, sweet potato fries, and deep fried pickles equates to one serious meal decision making opportunity. I was lucky because, between the eight of us, I was fortunate enough to try almost all the sides during one lunch. If burgers are not your thing, you can select a sandwich, fish and chips, a hot dog, or even one of the grill’s homemade shakes, malts, or iced mug root beer floats.
Pennypickle’s Workshop, Temecula’s award winning kids’ museum, was our next stop. Adults and children of all ages explore the home of Professor Phineas T. Pennypickle, Ph.D., a scientist, time traveler, and inventor of wacky and wonderful contraptions that amaze, delight, and educate. Between secret passageways, puzzles, machines, gadgets, gizmos, and science experiments, families can spend hours wandering the rooms, including the library, the bathroom, the kitchen, and the glow maze. This was by far my favorite children’s museum—and because we have four daughters I have been to MANY!
A Grape Escape, launching from Europa Village winery, hosted us in a huge, nine-person hot air balloon, which flew high above the Temecula Valley and wine country. The peace and serenity overwhelmed me as I watched the sun rise over the mountains and the wildlife down on the ground. Lakes, wineries, and estate homes passed below as we flew above the vanishing cloud level. My favorite part of the ride was following our balloon shadow over the vines, trees, and homes. Ballooning, because of the price, is not something many can do often, but if you can, floating above Southern California’s wine country should not be missed.
Between Butterfield Stage Road and Glen Oaks Road, there are more than 30 wineries in the Temecula area. Several of the wineries have inns and some have restaurants. With 1,500 square acres planted, vintners attribute the favorable growing conditions to the Rainbow Gap, a smooth, cool breeze from the ocean that decreases the temperature significantly every afternoon. Several of the wineries in the area are kid-friendly (and canine-friendly), offering playgrounds and activities so children can have fun while their parents are tasting and exploring. The area is also famous for the Pechanga Resort & Casino, farm tours, theaters, a raceway, a zoo, museums, golf courses, camping resorts, blueberry picking, and spas.
How could I have missed Temecula during our adventures traveling the state of California? When I return, it will be with my family and a huge list of activities to share with them. Who knows what we will do first, but I imagine we will stay for a few days and enjoy the rich history, great food, culture, and hospitality Temecula has to offer.
Go “Behind the Insider’s Lens” to view footage from Chef Dawn’s trip to Temecula, as well as her visits to Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Palm Springs: