Thursday, July 23, 2009


Jeff and I didn’t know much about Temecula when we received a gift certificate for a hot air balloon ride over Temecula as a wedding gift. So we headed down to southwestern California this weekend to check it out.

Temecula is only 2.5 hours from Edwards, allowing a leisurely Friday night at home. Waking up early Saturday morning we hit the road with bagels in hand. We had plans to meet some friends at South Coast Winery to begin our Temecula wine tasting experience. South Coast Winery is stunning. Like many of the vineyards in Temecula South Coast is not only a winery, but also a resort, spa and restaurant. Temecula has a strange zoning law that requires tasting rooms to have a method of counting the tastings. As a result you pay for the tastings in one room, receive your counting device - which at South Coast were little tear off pieces of paper with numbers on them- and then head into the tasting room. At 10am the tasting room had just opened and we were the first at the counter – good thing, because by 10:30 the place was packed. Another difference between the wineries in Napa and the wineries in Temecula was the sheer amount of wines these vineyards produce. In Napa, we found most places to have six to eight wines they have available for tasting. In Temecula each vineyard had a full menu with a host of different varietals.

We spent over an hour at South Coast. The wines were good and they had something for everyone. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable about the wine and the area. Our hostess explained that South Coast also has quite a range of evening programs available – everything from comedy to Kenny G. After enjoying the wine, we decided to step outside and look at the grounds. We were particularly curious because our traveling companions will be returning for a friend’s wedding in the fall and wanted to get a lay of the land. South Coast’s grounds are well manicured and always look as if they are ready to host a party. South Coast was the perfect start to our day.

From South Coast we ventured up the main road to Falkner Vineyards. In planning our Temecula trip we found a coupon for a two-for-one tasting at Falkner and we couldn’t pass it up. Everyone was getting a bit hungry and we read online that Falkner had picnic grounds. Unfortunately, upon arriving we were told that we couldn’t bring outside food into the picnic grounds even if we purchased a bottle of wine. We decided to do the tasting anyway. We took our poker chips (what we were given to count our tastings) and found a place at the bar. Falkner’s indoor tasting room felt a bit like a singles bar, it has an elegant design, but had techno music playing softly in the background. After a few indoor tastings we moved outside to finish the tasting. I found Falkner’s red wines to be much better than the their whites, but that is just one girls opinion.

We left Falkner to seek picnic grounds, which we found almost right across the street. After a lovely lunch of bread, cheese, watermelon and whatever else I put in our picnic basket, we were back on the wine tasting trail.

For dinner we headed into Old Town Temecula, which also happened to be hosting a Jazz Festival. There are not enough nice things to say about Old Town Temecula. The town is quaint and with jazz music playing in every empty it was almost magical. Unfortunately our dinner experience was not quite as magical. We are going to chalk it up to the town not being used to the crowds, but dinner service was slow. The food was good, but the service was so very slow. After dinner we took another stroll up and down the streets, stopping occasionally to listen to jazz music, until the light started to fade and our friends had to head back home. We took this as a cue to head to our B&B for the night.

The B&B sent us to South Coast Winery for breakfast. Yet again we were the first ones in the restaurant for breakfast, but it began to get crowded once we got our food. Once again South Coast did not disappoint. Jeff had an egg sandwich, which looked divine, and I had the pancakes, which were some of the best I have ever had. We sat outside overlooking the grounds we were so taken with the day before. It is not surprising South Coast has won so many awards, everything about the place seems well thought out, yet it is not pretensions.

From South Coast we headed a bit more south to San Diego’s Wild Animal Park. We arrived just as the park was opening and got our tickets and were in the park in no time. Military is free at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and they get 10% off all additional tickets. The free ticket is the “Best Value Ticket” which included the African safari, the Conservation Carousel and the Dinosaur exhibit. Following the advice we received we headed straight to the African Safari. Going to the safari first avoids the lines, but also allows for more animal viewing since the animals are more active in the morning before the heat really sets in. The Safari was excellent – all the animal were active – finding their shade for the day – they came right up to the vehicle to see what was going on.

While we loved the safari the rest of the Wild Animal Park was a bit of a let down. It was more “zoo” like then we had expected. By noon the temperature was over 100 degrees, and like the animals we wanted to seek shade and limit our activity. We wandered around the park a bit longer, finding a spot to sit at the elephant enclosure for a while. Something that amazed us about the Wild Animal park was the sheer number of baby animals.

Ducking into every gift shop we could find just for the AC, we knew we were done for the day. We called up a friend who lives just north of San Diego to see if she wanted to meet for a drink in Oceanside. By 3pm we were at a bar on the beach enjoying the cooler temperatures and The Key lime Martini’s that tasted like a pie in the glass. After an hour of catching up and chit-chat we parted ways – our friend is in nursing school and had to get back to studying- and we had to make our way back home to the desert.

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