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Temecula Valley: Not Just for Wine Travel

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Lately, the Southern California region of Temecula Valley has been gaining ground as a wine-lover’s destination. But there is more to this area than vineyards and tastings. Ashleigh Whelan explores the local culture beyond the wineries.

Temecula is steadily gaining popularity as the go-to SoCal wine country, and for good reason: with cool, condensation-heavy mornings and hot, dry days, the climate in Temecula is perfect for growing grapes.  All thanks to the Rainbow Gap which allows cool breezes to blow in from the ocean, which get trapped in the valley by the coastal mountain range, creating the unique microclimate.

Many of the wineries are boutique, boasting estate-grown varietals that showcase the quality of grapes grown in the region. Each winery has its own unique style and charms, often complete with quirky characters happy to serve you tastings, while chatting about their own lives and telling stories about wine making.

And while the wine country is certainly not to be overlooked, this area has a lot more to offer. The main population is just about 100,000 residents, affording a small-town feel with big-city amenities.

Start in Old Town

For an overview of the area’s history, start at Old Town Temecula. The Old Town was established with the arrival of the California Southern Railroad around 1882, and for about 50 years following, Temecula was a central stop on the railroad line that stretched up the pacific coast. It was during this time that the majority of the buildings in Old Town were established.  A walking tour of Old Town shows off the mix of historic buildings and modern shopping. Family run stores offer an eclectic mix of options, such as locally grown and harvested lavender at the Temecula Lavender Company, or hand pressed organic olive oil at the Temecula Olive Oil Company.

The Old Town also offers entertainment with staged re-enactments old west shootouts and the town’s infamous bank robbery during its Western Days Festival, and you can enjoy old-time bluegrass music during the Bluegrass Festival. In addition, the Old Town Temecula Community Theater has tons of entertainment options, including dance performances, groove music, cabaret and big band shows, theater favorites, and classical concerts. The Theater works with public, private, and non-profit partners to put on shows almost every night of the week.

For the Kids:

Temecula also offers a good mix of kid-friendly attractions. Bring the youngsters to Pennypickle’s Workshop, where they can learn about science in an interactive and fun environment. The museum is actually the house of Professor Phineas T. Pennypickle, a renowned scientist, time traveler, and inventor, who has transformed his home into a maze of puzzles, machines, and secret passageways.

After learning about science, take the kids to Zoofari, a wildlife education facility with more than 150 rehabilitated animals from around the world.  With a mission to help displaced and abandoned wildlife, the center has partnered with Wild Wonders, to offer a hands-on learning experience that promotes awareness about environmental and wildlife issues.

For a Little Adventure

The Rainbow Gap that creates the right climate for grape growing also makes this area ideal for hot-air ballooning. Book a ride on a hot-air balloon for breathtaking views of the lush vineyards and chaparral landscape. There are several companies in town that offer tours, and the city even hosts an annual Balloon and Wine Festival. Horseback riding is another popular activity, and there are seven championship golf courses open year round.

For Foodies

Many of the restaurants in Temecula are locally owned and operated and also support the community by buying produce and meat from local farmers. And some, like locally grown eatery and marketplace, E.A.T. (Extraordinary Artisan Table) go a step further and participate in the Slow Food movement. Slow Food is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving the way we eat. The mission focuses on counteracting fast food (and fast life) by encouraging local food traditions through educating eaters on how and where their food is grown, and how eating choices affect the rest of the world. Slow Food also provides academic resources for organic gardens at over 20 participating local schools.  The students get hands-on learning and support in cultivating edible and organic produce, from conception, building, and maintaining the gardens. Many of the participating restaurants offer work study programs for students, and some even obtain employment with the skills learned through Slow Food. When visiting Temecula, take some time to volunteer, whether it be for a few hours or a few days, to learn more about the organization and how they positively impact the community.

Test Your Luck

You don’t have to drive all the way to Vegas to get your gambling fix. Temecula is also home Pechanga Resort and Casino, the largest resort/casino in the Western U.S. The casino has 10 restaurants,  golf course, and A-list entertainment; in addition to  200,000-square feet of gaming options. Pechanga also offers free (or $5) round trip shuttles from various places in southern California; the only hitch is that you have to become a Club member, but it is free, so you might as well take advantage of the transportation options, even if you aren’t a big gambler.

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By Ashleigh Whelan for PeterGreenberg.com

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