The Temecula Valley is a popular day trip or weekend getaway from San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County, California. Why? It’s close — and there are so many fun things to do! You’ll find Temecula wineries, hot air balloon rides, hiking, live music, golf and…a mechanical bull. Here’s how to spend 2 days in Temecula with 7 great things to do. Pick one or two for a fun day trip in Southern California.
When your children are young adults, 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.
But the upside of traveling with adult children is you can visit wineries. And casinos. And bars.
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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 Southern California. The Temecula Valley was just the right spot for a family vacation with my now-grown children.
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Here is the statement from the Temecula Valley Wine Growers Association regarding Covid-19 changes: “Our wineries continue to remain open for wine tasting, wine by the glass and wine bottle sales, as long as they are consumed outdoors. Wine bottle purchases to be consumed outdoors or elsewhere, wine club pick-ups and retail will still be allowed in the tasting room. This also applies to our winery restaurants; they may remain open as long as any food and wine is consumed outdoors.
TravelingMom Tip: Opening days and times, and rules for visiting (masks, crowd limits, etc.) are subject to change without warning. Always call or check the website before heading out for the day.
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, San Diego and Orange County as destinations for our family vacation, but TravelingMom founder 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 and it’s just 60 miles north of San Diego and 90 miles south of Los Angeles in a region called the Inland Empire. Think of the Empire as a bridge between SoCal’s beaches and its desert.
The rolling hills of Temecula will definitely put you in a Mediterranean frame of mind. Many times during our trip, I forgot that I was just a little over an hour from San Diego.
The primary draw to Temecula for visitors is the area wineries. The Temecula Wine Growers Association celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018 and represents more than 30 Temecula wineries with nearly 2,500 cultivated acres.
That’s a lot of grapes.
Exploring Temecula Wine Country
California is the leading wine producing state in the United States. It makes nearly 90 percent of all American wine, according to winecountry.com.
So it should come as a surprise that choosing a Temecula winery to visit is a challenge. I got a little overwhelmed, driving along the Rancho California Road, the primary artery in Temecula. So many wines. So little time.
Check the winery websites to find a match for you and your group. If you want live music, Lorimar Vineyards and Winery is known for its tasting room concerts. Maybe you’d like to learn more about wine and food pairing? The Restaurant at Leoness Cellars is well known for its cuisine. Want to make the most out of your tasting experience? The Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery offers a mini-tour and tasting combo.
Additional Temecula Winery suggestions:
- You can visit the oldest operating one in the area, the Callaway Vineyard & Winery. Like many of the wineries, Callaway has a wine club. It’s a great way to bring the taste of Temecula wines home with you.
- If you’d like to try something new, the BOTTAIA winery offers a 21+ restricted experience. Instead of the Mediterranean look popular at other Temecula wineries and resorts, BOTTAIA features a modern farmhouse design. Besides the wine, the draw here is a pool club set in the vineyard.
- Other popular wineries in Temecula are Falkner Winery, Miramonte Winery, Avensole Winery, Baily Vineyard & Winery., the Carter Estate Winery and South Coast Winery.
If you’re going to hit more than one of the Temecula wine region, and you don’t have a designated driver, I definitely suggest using one of the area’s wine country tour companies. Not only will you have a designated driver, but you’ll have an expert’s advice on where to sample the best zinfandel, syrah or cabernet sauvignon.
Where to Stay in Temecula
We chose the Ponte Vineyard Inn as our family vacation headquarters. I’d originally tried to book the South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, but it was sold out during the busy Christmas season. The Ponte Winery proved to be an ideal 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.
Fun Things to Do in Temecula CA
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.
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 the house wine while you handle these logistics. Ponte Winery gave us glasses of Moscato. Sparkling wine makes even the dullest of chores seem like a party!
One of the elements of traveling with adult children 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 — even 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.
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 $63.
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 1800s and are the oldest standing buildings in Riverside County.
Time for a winery tour. By choosing Ponte Winery as our base of operations near Temecula wine country, we could walk to 3 different Temecula 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. I find it’s the best way to explore wine regions like New York’s Finger Lakes or Stellenbosch in South Africa. 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 Temecula wineries are beautiful to photograph so it really is one of the best things to do in southern California.
We enjoyed the walk and drink approach, but 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. If we were to do this again, we’d pack a picnic to snack on while wine tasting. Our favorite? I’m not embarrassed to admit that the group unanimously enjoyed an inexpensive South Coast varietal 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, Old Town 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. The restaurant does 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?