Temecula, CA is a popular weekend getaway from San Diego. Why? It’s got wine, hot air balloon rides, hiking, golf…and a mechanical bull. With so many fun things to do, Temecula is an excellent destination for a large group. Our 2-day itinerary includes 7 great things to do in Temecula CA, including flexible options for you to go off on your own and then come together as a family.
When your children leave the nest, coordinating family vacations becomes a challenge. First, you need to assemble everyone’s school and work schedules. Then you must pick an appealing destination for the group.
My strategy is to choose a spot that offers a buffet of activities and to accept that sometimes the family will be together and sometimes the unit will split up. I discovered a gem in Temecula CA and encourage you to consider it if you’re planning a family vacation with grown children or a trip with friends.
Temecula, CA: Weekend Getaway from San Diego
If you’re asking yourself, “Where the heck is Temecula?” you’re not alone. I was considering Las Vegas, Palm Springs and San Diego as destinations for our family vacay, when TravelingMom Managing Director Kim Orlando suggested Temecula. She explored it along with other Southern California mini vacation destinations and had a great time. Temecula is located about an hour drive from either of the airports in Orange County or San Diego in a region called the Inland Empire. Think of the Empire as a bridge between SoCal’s beaches and its desert.
The primary draw to Temecula for visitors is the area wineries. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018, the Temecula Wine Growers Association represents over 30 wineries with nearly 2500 cultivated acres. That’s a lot of grapes.
Where to Stay in Temecula
We chose the Ponte Vineyard Inn as our family vacation headquarters and it was the perfect setting for us. Constructed in traditional California mission-style, the Inn features a central lobby/restaurant building with two wings of rooms. Think of it as a “U” that flanks a stunning courtyard overlooking the vineyards.
We split up into two different room styles: double queens and king rooms. Both were large, with attractive furnishings and roomy walk-in showers. I adored the terrace outside our room; it was shaded with a vine-covered pergola. But the best part of the room was the bed. It managed to be firm and soft at the same time and the sheets were the yummiest. I asked Sarah Martinez, the hotel manager, for the brand name. They’re from a company called Comphy. When it’s time for new sheets at home, I know what I’m buying!
7 Great Things to Do in Temecula CA
- Take a hot air balloon ride.
- Go for a hike in the Santa Rose Plateau Ecological Reserve.
- Visit a vineyard for a wine tasting.
- Try your luck at the Pechanga Casino.
- Play a round of golf at The Legends Golf Club.
- Stroll Old Town Temecula.
- Learn how to line dance at the Temecula Stampede.
Our time in Temecula was brief, but we managed to pack in a ton of fun. Based on our adventure, I’d suggest the following 2 day itinerary if you plan a weekend getaway from the San Diego area to Temecula.
Friday afternoon arrival:
Check into your Temecula hotel, do the dirty deed of unpacking and start your unwinding. If you’re staying at a winery property, enjoy a glass of their house wine while you handle these logistics. Ponte Winery gave us glasses of their Moscato. Sparkling wine makes even the dullest of chores seem like a party!
One of the elements of traveling with adult children or large parties is that you don’t necessarily arrive all together. Staying close to the hotel on day 1 means that everyone can be welcomed as they roll in. Including your son who somehow misinterpreted his flight itinerary and arrived at 10 p.m. instead of 10 a.m.!
Explore the property. Quiz the front desk about things to do. And, when the tummy rumbles start, move the family herd to the hotel restaurant. It’s easier than trying to convince everyone to get back into cars, I’ve found. We chose The Cellar, Ponte’s lounge-style eatery. It was humming with large, boisterous groups, so we fit right in.
After dinner, take a bottle of wine outside and enjoy some laughs and talk about your plans for the weekend. California nights are always a bit chilly; dress warmly or snuggle up to a fire pit if there’s one outside.
Saturday early morning:
Get up at sunrise even though you’re on vacation. Say what? Temecula’s climate is perfect for growing grapes and for ballooning. You won’t want to miss the sight of colorful hot air balloons floating above the vineyards.
If your group is splitting up for activities, make time to have brunch together first. One of the things I always ask the front desk in a new place is “Where do we go for a local, hearty breakfast?”
In Temecula, try Mo’s Egg House. Don’t go when you’re ravenous because you’ll have to wait for a table on weekends. It’s worth it. Our waitress, Laurie, must have been a standup comedian in another life. She served up jokes along with bottomless cups of coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice and bountiful platters of Benedicts (the hollandaise was perfect!), omelettes and more. Oh. And the biscuits. Order a side of biscuits and country gravy and pass it around the table. Then burp. You’ll feel better. Trust me.
Saturday during the Day:
After loading up on the fats and carbs, it’s time to get moving. We splintered at this point. Here are two options for Saturday morning in Temecula.
Golfers can check out The Legends Golf Club, one of Temecula’s many courses. Each hole is dedicated to one of the sport’s all-stars, including Nicklaus, Palmer and Snead. Weekend day rates, including cart, are $52. My son found the course to be challenging but not frustrating.
Getting outside and enjoying the beautiful California weather is a must do so some of us opted to hoof it. There are two large recreation areas excellent for hiking in and near Temecula. Lake Skinner offers waterfront trails; it’s a popular fishing spot, known for trout, catfish and largemouth bass. The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve has 9,000 acres to explore with a variety of trails. We hiked the Granite Loop trail, which featured large stone formations. I’d love to go back and head to the opposite side of the reserve. There are two adobes that date back to the mid 1800’s and are the oldest standing buildings in Riverside County.
Time for a winery tour. By choosing Ponte Vineyard as our base of operations, we could walk to 3 different wineries: Ponte, Wiens Family Cellars and South Coast, a destination resort and spa. This eliminated one of the problems with winery visits – choosing who gets stuck as the designated driver.
Of course you can always hire a driver. Several companies in the area arrange winery tours in Temecula via limo, antique cars and horse drawn trolleys! Even if you don’t drink, go! The wineries are beautiful to photograph so it really is one of the best things to do in Temecula CA.
We enjoyed the walk and drink approach, although we didn’t anticipate the tasting rooms to be as crowded as they were. And we thought we’d be able to get a light lunch. There were a limited number of packaged cheese and meat combos and crackers available at South Coast, but if we were to do this again, we’d pack a picnic to snack on while tasting our wines. Our favorite? I’m not embarrassed to admit that the group unanimously enjoyed an inexpensive South Coast blend called Big Red Sunshine!
After post-wine naps, the group again decided to divide and conquer. Here are two suggestions for food and fun during the evening in Temecula.
Try your Luck at the Pechanga Casino
If you enjoy gambling, check out the Pechanga Resort and Casino. We commandeered a blackjack table for our family. Unlike other casinos we’ve visited, the dealers and pit bosses were friendly and seemed genuinely interested in seeing us walk out of the place as winners. They cheered on our good luck streaks and consoled us during downturns. We made such a ruckus, a crowd gathered around our $5 a hand table as if we were high rollers betting the house limit!
We chose to stay at Pechanga for dinner. The food court was a drab, crowded affair so we headed to Kelsey’s, one of the resort restaurants. It was formerly a sports bar so it had massive television screens. We didn’t expect the food to be anything but passable, but we were pleasantly surprised. The menu features traditional pub offerings, complemented by bbq options. I highly recommend the smokehouse nachos – which featured roasted corn, black beans, cheese and smoked tri-tip steak.
Line Dancing at the Temecula Stampede
Alternatively, head to the Temecula Stampede in Old Town. When I suggested line dancing, I was met with raised eyebrows from the family. But we left the Stampede nodding in agreement that it was the highlight of our trip.
We paid our $5 cover charge and entered the cavernous space – it used to be a lumber yard. There are multiple fun zones: a big bar, mechanical bull corral, pool tables, dining banquettes and tables and a stage with a dance floor. On Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., the Stampede offers 1-hour dance lessons for $4. That’s right. $4. We paid our money down and ordered a round of Shiner Bocks.
After checking out of your hotel, head to Old Town Temecula. Restored to resemble its 1800s self, the downtown has a variety of shops and restaurants and you can stroll along sections of wooden sidewalks that resemble mini boardwalks.
Grab brunch at the PUBlic House before heading out of town, especially if the weather’s nice and you can sit on the backyard shaded terrace. They do things, food-wise, with jalapenos that will make your eyes water – in a good way.
The family headed out from Temecula, north to Pasadena for a few more days before leaving for our assorted homes. We took with us a few bottles of Ponte Vineyard Moscato and made sure we practiced the El Paso Cha Cha every time we heard a country tune.
Have you Discovered a Great Vacation Spot for a Perfect 2-Day Family Getaway?