Temecula is giving northern California wine country competition — even being dubbed by some as the “New Napa.” About an hour drive north of San Diego, you will find that Temecula, California offers more than 40 wineries, picturesque views, and remarkable restaurants.
To be honest, until a few months ago, I had never heard of Temecula! My fiancé suggested we check it out for our destination wedding this year. I first visited in January 2017, and it was love at first sight. The rolling hills, historic downtown, and down-to-earth people make Temecula a fantastic place to unwind.
In March, my fiancé and I returned to Temecula to plan our wedding, and we saved part of our time there for a couples getaway. Since Temecula is in between Los Angeles and San Diego, our friends from those cities drove to hang out with us for a weekend. The six of us had a blast!
Above: Ponte Winery
Within the last five years, Temecula has gained recognition for its quality varietals and proprietary blended wines. Temecula’s South Coast Winery was even named Best California State Winery of the Year in 2016. The wineries are pretty close together which makes it easy to hop from one place to the next. They are mostly clustered along two roads: Rancho California Road and De Portola Road.
After visiting more than 10 Temecula wineries (not in the same day!) and asking the locals for their recommendations, I came up with the top seven wineries I suggest for visitors.
On Rancho California Road
- Ponte Winery
- Wilson Creek Winery
- Monte Del Oro Winery
On De Portola Road
- Robert Renzoni Vineyard and Winery
- Fazeli (walking distance to Robert Renzoni)
- Oak Mountain Winery (dog friendly)
- Leoness Cellars
Many of the wineries in Temecula offer food as well, so our group started the day with a delicious lunch at 11:30 at Wilson Creek Winery. The winery is known for its almond champagne which pairs great with desserts. We also loved the brut and were shocked it was less than $20 a bottle! Wilson Creek is a popular place with beautiful grounds, a large restaurant (that is gluten-free friendly), and bocce ball.
After making a stop along Rancho California Road to sample more wines (and a bloody!) we stopped by our rental home to pick up my friends’ dog Dewey. Then we headed to Oak Mountain Winery off De Portola Road. The scenery was beautiful and it was fun to have the pooch with us.
Wine Tasting Advice:
- Start the day with a good meal at either The Restaurant at Ponte or Wilson Creek Winery.
- Steer clear of the Chardonnay. A staff member at one of the wineries told us the climate in Temecula isn’t good for Chardonnay, and our taste buds agree.
- Hire a driver or use Uber to get around if you do not have a designated driver. The cops are out to bust drunk drivers.
I was pleasantly surprised with Temecula’s up-and-coming downtown area known as Old Town. The pedestrian-friendly, 12-block neighborhood blends history with casual, contemporary style. It offers hip restaurants such as the popular pizza place, The Goat and Vine (their wood fired pizza can be made gluten-free), and 1909, which boasts a huge outdoor patio that was packed for Sunday brunch during our visit. There is also a lively nightlife, tasting rooms, and boutique shops, all with the beautiful backdrop of rolling hills.
Where to Eat
- The Goat and Vine (Old Town)
- 1909 (Old Town)
- Mantra Indian Cuisine (North of Old Town)
- Aiyara Thai Cuisine (Near Promenade Temecula)
- The restaurant at Ponte Winery (Rancho California Rd)
- The Vineyard Rose at South Coast Winery (Rancho California Rd)
- Cork Fire Kitchen at Temecula Creek Inn (South of Old Town)
More Things to Do
- Sunrise hot air balloon ride
- Relax at GrapeSeed Spa
- Hike at Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
- Go horseback riding through the vineyards at sunset
Where to Stay
- Embassy Suites – renovated in 2017, close to Old Town.
- South Coast Resort and Spa – one of the nicest hotels in the area, on Rancho California Rd.
- Rental Home – there are beautiful homes to rent and many have private pools and gorgeous views. Check out AirBnB and HomeAway to book one.
How to Get Here:
Temecula is roughly halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. There are several major airports nearby.
- John Wayne Airport (SNA), Orange County, about 45 minute drive.
- San Diego International Airport (SAN), about a 1-hour drive.
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), about a 1 1/2-hour drive.
- LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT), about a 45-minute drive.
- Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), about a 1-hour drive.
You will likely want to rent a car. Try to start the drive to Temecula before 2:30pm or after 7:30pm. Traffic can get bad during rush hour, especially coming from SAN or LAX on the weekend.
Above: Colleen (who I met in high school) and her wonderful fiancé, Oisin.
Have you ever visited Temecula? I’d love to hear your suggestions!