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Once a sedate ranching town — Temecula didn’t get its first traffic light until 1984 — this inland city between Los Angeles and San Diego is now celebrated as Southern California’s wine country. The region’s granite soil, morning mists, warm days, and cool nights make it an ideal spot for cultivating wine grapes. Fifty wineries, many of them family-owned, call Temecula home. In the middle of it all is Temecula’s historic center, Old Town. Packed with Western charm, this shopping corridor lined with wooden sidewalks is home to several historic buildings such as a brick-fronted mercantile built in 1890 (now home to a community theater) and a circa-1914 bank building, now a restaurant. If wine tasting and shopping aren’t enough to satiate your needs, Temecula is also home to several world-class golf courses.
Ontario International Airport (ONT) in nearby Ontario is the closest at about an hour’s drive. John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County, Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and San Diego (SAN) are all within about 90 minutes’ drive. All have public transportation, rideshare, taxi, and rental car options. Temecula is served by Riverside Transit Agency buses as well as rideshares and taxis. Consider a rental car if you plan to tour local wineries or sightsee in Los Angeles and San Diego. If you’d prefer to be driven to wineries to more easily partake in the tastings, there are plenty of winery transportation options available, including mini-coaches, shuttles, limos, and even antique cars and horse-drawn carriages.
A great wine climate means dependably balmy weather year round. Summer is hot but not scorching, fall and winter are cool but rarely freezing, and spring is mild. Nights tend to be cool year round. You’re likely to find a festival to attend no matter what time of year you visit, but one of the biggest is the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival in June, during which close to 50 hot-air balloons rise and descend above the wine fields during a three-day fete.
Drink in some local history at this little museum in Old Town. Ranching and farming artifacts are on display next to exhibits chronicling the history of the stagecoach and railroad lines that once sliced through Temecula. One of its more unusual displays is a recreation of the office of mystery author Erle Stanley Gardner, who lived in Temecula from 1937 until his death in 1970.
Located on a dirt lot between two businesses on 6th Street in Old Town is a menagerie of metal creatures, including a serpentine dragon, a leaping ram, and an undulating octopus. These larger-than-life animals are the creations of the cowboy boot salesman turned sculptor. Fans have commissioned him to create massive installations, such as a 350-foot sea serpent on a privately owned estate in Borrego Springs. You can also schedule private viewings at the artist’s gallery in nearby Aguanga.
This observatory operated by the California Institute of Technology is housed within an Art Deco dome atop the Palomar Mountains. Located about an hour from Temecula, it’s worth the trip to get a look at the massive 200-inch Hale Telescope, one of the world’s largest. The observatory is open seasonally, and closes occasionally due to weather, so check ahead for open hours and to see if guided tours are being offered.