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The most common request we get from California-bound travel clients? To help them experience California like a local and Temecula is a destination that fits the bill. Californians have long traveled to Temecula because it’s ideal for food-focused travelers seeking a unique culinary experience. But it’s a hidden gem as it’s largely unknown by out-of-state visitors.
Where Is Temecula?
Nestled in Southern California’s Riverside County, Temecula is an hour’s drive from San Diego, Orange County, and Palm Springs and about 90 minutes from Los Angeles. The city of Temecula is in the heart of the Inland Empire and is home to the burgeoning Temecula Wine Country and the historic streets of Old Town Temecula.
With its idyllic Mediterranean climate and beautiful landscapes, this charming SoCal destination has numerous activities for food lovers. From a thriving wine industry and an up-and-coming craft beer movement to vibrant farms and farmer’s markets, people travel there for farm-to-table local cuisine, wine tasting, and hot-air ballooning.
What Is Temecula Known For?
Temecula means “Place of the Sun” in the native Luiseño language, and the Pechanga believe that life on Earth began in the Temecula Valley. The indigenous Temecula Indians (comprised of the seven bands of the Pechanga, La Jolla, Soboba, Paala, Rincon, Pauma, and San Luis Rey) inhabited the valley for thousands of years before contact with the Spanish missionaries.
The area’s rich agricultural heritage began in earnest in the 1820s when it acted as a ranching hub for the San Luis Rey Mission, and it got even more known when it became a stagecoach stop in the 1850s. Thanks to the historic facades that line Old Town, the city still has wild west vibes, and the population is now more than 100,000 full-time residents.
What Crops Are Grown In Temecula?
The most widely planted crop in Temecula is wine grapes, but the area has a history of everything from ranching to cultivating specialty crops like lavender, avocados, and olives. Temecula’s quality soil and moderate climate make it ideal for cultivating diverse crops. Today the primary agricultural products of the region are nursery plants and flowers (horticulture), milk, wine grapes and table grapes, and dates.
We’ve gone over what is grown in California before, and, to put it in perspective, Riverside County ranked 14th in agriculture production value last year among all California counties. That’s just behind nearby San Diego County, where the top crops are horticulture, avocados, oranges, and lemons.
Food Lovers Temecula Itinerary
On a recent trip with our friends at California Grown, we learned more about what is grown in Temecula Valley, visited a few farms, and saw it firsthand. Here are the must-do activities for your next food adventure in Temecula.
The local wine scene dates back to the late 1960s when the Cilurzo planted the first commercial vineyards, and the area was designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1984. According to the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, there are now over 47 wineries, and 33,000 acres are planted to grapes scattered throughout the rolling hills.
Whether you prefer robust reds or crisp whites, Temecula Valley Wine Country offers a delightful array of wines to please every palate. The easiest way to dive into the local wine scene is to explore one of the three main wine trails: Rancho California, Calle Contento, and De Portola. A few wineries of note include Cougar Winery, Raúl Ramirez, and Halter Ranch.
Many of the commercial avocado orchards in California are between San Diego and Riverside counties. In fact, San Diego County is considered the nation’s avocado capital because it produces 60% of all California avocados.
We visited family-owned Fairfield Farms in San Diego’s Pauma Valley, where citrus and avocados reign supreme. The folks at Fairfield Farms specialize in blueberries and avocados and are highly committed to sustainability.
We got to pick their plump, juicy blueberries straight from the bushes, connecting us with nature while enjoying the freshest berries imaginable. As far as their avocados go, they have many types across the property, but the vast majority are of the Haas and Pinkerton variety. While you can’t visit Fairfield Farms IRL, you can look for their produce in local farmers markets and grocery stores.
For those seeking a fragrant and serene experience, dive into Temecula lavender. This part of Southern California boasts several lavender farms that burst into vibrant purple blooms during summer. Head to Temecula Lavender Company in Old Town, where owner Jan Schneider creates lavender-infused products, such as essential oils, soaps, and culinary delights.
In addition to lavender, Temecula is also home to captivating flower farms. Immerse yourself in a kaleidoscope of colors as you explore fields of sunflowers, wildflowers, proteas, and other blossoms.
One of the best-known operations in the area is the family-owned Resendiz Brothers, which started in 1993 and grows mostly (over 80%) protea flowers. They pride themselves on growing California flowers because the vast majority of California flowers are organic, while imported flowers have to be sprayed to make it through the border. You can find their flowers at markets or order directly from their online store.
No trip to Temecula would be complete without exploring the region’s thriving olive oil industry. Temecula’s Mediterranean-like climate and fertile soil create optimal conditions for growing olive trees. From robust and peppery to smooth and buttery, the range of flavors will entice your taste buds and inspire culinary creations. Head to Temecula Olive Oil Company at Olive View Ranch where you can do a ranch tour and tasting.
To immerse yourself in the local food scene and discover the freshest produce, be sure to visit one of Temecula’s vibrant farmer’s markets. There, you can peruse an array of locally grown fruits, vegetables, artisanal cheeses, baked goods, and much more. Engage in conversations with local farmers, artisans, and chefs, gaining insights into their craft and the passion for creating these exceptional products.
According to Visit Temecula, there are three weekly farmers’ markets. The latest, the Old Town Market, happens every Saturday, while the Vail HQ Farmers Market is on Tuesdays, and the Promenade Temecula Farmers Market is held on Wednesdays.
Eat And Drink Local
Beyond the wine scene are craft breweries (more than 17 breweries and counting), distilleries like Galway Spirits Distillery, and even Batch Meadery, a gluten-free cidery. There is also loads of fresh local farm food to discover.
Lunch on farm-fresh sandwiches at E.A.T Marketplace (EAT stands for “Extraordinary Artisan Table”), and be sure to save room for turtle cheesecake. The Goat and Vine is another popular establishment renowned for its delectable burgers and sandwiches with locally sourced ingredients. Additionally, The Bank Mexican Restaurant and Bar offers a delightful blend of traditional and contemporary Mexican dishes, complemented by a selection of handcrafted cocktails.
Hot Air Balloon
Temecula’s hot air balloon rides are a must-try if you’re searching for an exhilarating adventure and panoramic views. Soar above the picturesque landscape of vineyards and rolling hills as the morning sun paints the sky with hues of gold and pink. Upon landing, some tours, like A Grape Escape Hot Air Balloon Adventure, even end the tour with Mimosas.
Temecula, California, is a hidden gem for food-focused travelers, offering a captivating blend of wine tasting, lavender farms, flower farms, blueberry picking, hot air balloon rides, olive oil tastings, and vibrant farmer’s markets. With its bountiful harvests, charming countryside, and warm hospitality, Temecula provides an unforgettable journey for those seeking to savor the flavors and experiences that make this region truly unique.
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Photo Credit: Photos by Paprika Studios for California Grown