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California may be famous for cities like San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, but it’s got plenty of charming small towns too. Temecula, located at the southeast tip of the Inland Empire about a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles, is not only picturesque, but it also offers a wealth of things to do from antique shopping to wine tasting, hiking, hot air balloon rides and more. While you’re there, these are some of the top options for fun.
Temecula is located in the heart of prime wine-making country, making it especially popular for tasting and touring. Beautiful vineyards cover the landscape and there are more than 40 wineries producing a half-million cases annually. Many are open to the public for tours if you want to know more about how wine is made and grapes harvested. And, of course, enjoy a few samples along the way. Some of the best include Baily Vineyard & Winery, specializing in wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and other traditional Bordeaux varieties, and Doffo Winery, a boutique winery producing small-lot, hand-crafted wines like zinfandel. Wine tours are available through several different outfitters including Destination Temecula Wine Tours and Experiences. It also offers sunset winemaker dinners – the Sunset Winery Dinner Excursion includes tours of three area wineries. Dinner at a winery follows afterward, complete with your own personal sommelier.
A hot air balloon ride provides a stunning bird’s-eye view over Temecula and the entire valley. Excursions can be booked through A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure, with balloons taking off at sunrise. Along the way, the pilot acts as a tour guide to point out areas of interest and answer questions. Once back on the ground you’ll be served a picnic-style continental breakfast complete with champagne and orange juice at the Europa Village winery. There are special packages for celebrations like birthdays and anniversaries too, including romance packages.
Old Town Temecula offers the chance to glimpse the town as it once was while popping into countless antique stores, checking out specialty food retailers, boutiques and galleries. It’s been around since 1882, an important place of cultural significance on the pioneer trail during the Gold Rush. Old Town is anchored by a large stretch of Old Town Front Street which is lined with a collection of historic 19th-century buildings. It’s a popular spot for antique shoppers and those seeking old fashioned memorabilia, as well as being an ideal place to pick up a souvenir.
Vail Lake played an important role in the region’s history when it was used as a stopover on the Butterfield Overland Stage Coach Line. It was created from the Vail Lake Dam in the 1940s and now spans more than 1,000 acres. It’s a great spot to fish for bass and there are several campgrounds along the shoreline as well. Some of the other activities here include mountain biking and hiking, with miles and miles of trails throughout the area. The 7.2-mile Vail Lake Loop trail is popular for its fantastic lake views, offering hiking, trail running and mountain biking all year round.
You can’t visit Temecula without catching a show at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater. Accessed on Main Street through the historic landmark Mercantile Building, it’s split into two venues, one is a smaller club with a capacity for just 48 audience members providing a more intimate feel and especially outstanding acoustics, while the other is the proscenium theater, seating more than 350 spectators. No matter which you attend, the schedule includes a wide range of shows from musicals to dramas. Its country music shows feature the house band which backs up the region’s up and coming artists, and it also presents Shakespeare plays as well as frequent jazz and orchestra events.
Sugarplum Zoo and Chocolates claims to be the very first chocolate shop/petting zoo in the world. We don’t know of any others, but who doesn’t love chocolate and animals? The artisan chocolate company provides chocolate amenities to some of the world’s top five-star hotels and its store sells handmade chocolates along with farm products which include farm-fresh eggs, honey, homemade jams, handmade soaps and more. It will soon include an education center and farm edible landscape nursery. The zoo is a therapy zoo providing therapy to special needs groups. It features exotic animals that everyone can enjoy close encounters with like a zebra, camel, and water buffalo. Daisy the pig tour guide will even show visitors around.
For families visiting with children, one of the best attractions in Temecula is Pennypickle’s Workshop. It offers the chances for younger visitors to learn about the natural world and science in a hands-on way through a wide range of exhibits. There are various play zones that reflect different aspects of science along with places from across the globe. The professor’s little shop is filled with all sorts of unique items for purchase, like science kits, magnets, optics, light sources and unusual clocks. Little ones will have lots of fun testing out the professor’s inventions too.
Temecula is home to multiple spas, ideal for an hour or a day of pampering. The town’s most highly rated option is the Ethereal Spa which offers a wide range of men’s and women’s spa treatments and massages, including Kanjana Thai massages which include walking on your back, legs and hamstrings as well as stretching the body, combined with Swedish and deep-tissue massage techniques. Facials, back treatments, threading, waxing and microdermabrasion are all available to help you look your best too.