Just one hour north of San Diego is Temecula Valley, the laid-back wine region that boasts more than 40 wineries. Its rolling hills and Mission-style architecture—not to mention loads of wine tasting opportunities—make for an amazing day trip from San Diego or L.A. I was grateful to be there for a few days for a freelance assignment, and in our 2.5 days, we fell in love with this slice of SoCal country.
Here are a few places you need to visit:
We stayed at the gorgeous Ponte Vineyard Inn, the hotel component of Ponte Family Estate & Winery, one of the most famous operations in town. Our stay had a lot of layers—touring the vineyards and trying a private wine and cheese pairing, eating at Bouquet, the fine dining restaurant with an epic patio overlooking the vines, and spending time on the grassy lawn with Teddy. Yes, dogs are allowed! So rad!
Ponte’s motto is “a day in the country”, and with the expansive views of rolling hills and Mission-meets-Mediterranean style architecture, it’s an understatement to call the area photogenic. It’s one of the most beautiful properties I’ve visited, and bonus points for that rock candy pop in lieu of regular sugar with my coffee.Walking onto the lush grounds of Briar Rose Winery feels like you’ve stepped into a fairytale. That’s because the architect, Belden Fields, was a Disneyland architect and designed his home in the style of Snow White cottages. A family then bought the property in the 90s and turned it into a winery. Situated among homes on a residential street, it’s a great off-the-beaten path choice. And though I forgot to snap a picture, Vindemia is another unique option. The winery has an open-air tasting room that feels more like a wine stand. It’s wonderfully low-key.Old Town Temecula, a pedestrian-friendly area about five miles west of wine country, is made up of 12 blocks of shops, restaurants, and bars. On Saturdays, it plays host to a bustling farmers market.How do I love thee E.A.T. (Extraordinary Artisan Table) Marketplace? Let me count the ways. The dedication to farm-to-table before farm-to-table was trendy. The breakfast “Scottie” sandwiches made with Fontina cheese. The Euphoria smoothie, a blend of almond milk, coconut water, dates, bananas, chia, maca, and seasonal berries. The berry galette. The organic, sustainably sourced coffee. The homemade coconut milk. I could go on, but just go to this spot just outside Old Town Temecula.Despite its moniker, Blackbird Tavern is a bright and airy dog-friendly restaurant with a great backyard space that feels like a more hipster Palm Springs. The burger was dynamite, and it seems to be a lively spot for an evening beer or five.Across the street from Blackbird is The Goat & Vine, a cozy and charming restaurant that specializes in stone-hearth pizza made with uber-fresh ingredients, like San Marzano tomatoes and homemade dough.As if we didn’t have enough to be wowed by, sunrise is worth getting up for in the Valley. Hot air balloons rise at the crack of dawn for a journey over the hills. and even if you don’t take flight, there’s plenty to enjoy from sea level. From Ponte’s lawn (and other spots, I’m sure), you can see a handful of balloons dotting the air. Paired with the colors of the sunrise—that’s the sunlight bathed against my face, not saturation filters!—the silhouette of the hills, and the peaceful silence in the air, it makes for the best kind of wake-up call.
Disclaimer: Since I was on a work assignment, all expenses were covered. As always, all opinions are my own.
Outdoor jazz concerts, opening day at the Del Mar races, boozy popsicles, dog-friendly happy hours at the Hotel Del, and more—I rounded up a summer-tastic lineup of food, drinks, and events for the new issue of San Diego Magazine. You can read the full story here. (The concert finder is my fave.)
Birthdays, weddings, barbecues—’tis the season for a party, and shopping at local boutiques has become my new favorite outlet for gifts that are equal parts thoughtful, unique, and often locally made. Here are my eight favorite spots in San Diego for something special: read more
While doing research for our vacation, I realized that even though we wanted to go to Cabo—it was the most affordable, logistically-sound beach destination to fly from San Diego—we did not want to go to Cabo. Let me explain.
What I had found in Cabo were tequila-shot-chugging parties, massive/generic hotel chains, wildly expensive luxury resorts, and more often than not, a lack of availability given our last-minute planning. (I’m sure there are wonderful off-the-beaten path finds, like this restaurant I want to visit some day, but I couldn’t find many. I wanted to get really off-the-beaten-path.) I wanted something quiet, on the beach, and for $100-200/night. I was told that would be impossible.
But I prevailed! In a last-ditch effort, I looked up ideas on one more site, and on a map of hotels, I saw a star indicating a hotel on Cabo’s East Cape. As it turned out, it was the dreamy hotel Villa Del Farro, and this is where we spent a glorious 4.5 days last week.
Villa Del Farro is located on 12 acres in Baja’s East Cape—a sprawling mansion split up into individual accommodations with a breakfast room, pool, and the great outdoors to share. Owned by an extended family of siblings and their spouses, VDF has seven different casitas, each with its own decor scheme. The grounds of the property are lush like a rain forest, with the desert on one side and the beach on the other. Because getting there requires an hour’s drive on a dirt road—we rented a car for $4/day—and there’s almost no other sign of life in the area minus a few homes, it’s incredibly, wonderfully secluded. That means it’s also very much an eco-hotel and suited to a certain type of traveler. There are no power lines, water heaters (solar panels instead), or air conditioning (you’ve been warned!), and drinking water is trucked in from a local ranch. With the area’s iffy plumbing network, guests also can’t flush toilet paper down the commode.
That said, as long as you’re willing to handle a few glamping scenarios, the payoff is 100 percent worth it. Nay, 200 percent. The owners have paid such amazing attention to decor details, the breakfast (included in the rate) is huge and delicious, and most importantly, the area is so quiet and the stars shine so bright, that it was just the recharge we needed. The world is so big that I rarely say I’ll revisit somewhere so soon, but I can absolutely see us making this an annual trip. It’s a special place.
I appreciate my hole-in-the-walls and fun-for-free beach excursions, but SoCal isn’t SoCal without some floss, no? With that in mind, I had been itching to check out Rancho Valencia ever since I moved to San Diego and got wind of this sprawling, glossy property located in one of America’s wealthiest neighborhoods, Rancho Santa Fe.
The award-winning hotel is comprised of suites, villas, a luxury spa, fine dining restaurant, croquet lawn, and equestrian-themed bar, all of which together has earned it the number one spot on U.S. News & World Report’s list of best hotels in America. When you pull up to its Veladora restaurant, you can’t even see where all the cushy accommodations are. That’s how wide this place stretches.
Lofty title aside, would you just look at that design? Spanish-style architecture, bougainvillea to the left and right, and a perfectly pristine attention to detail. And that’s just the space allocated to the resort’s restaurant.