#TravelTuesday: California Dreamin’. . . of a Wine Country Christmas

by Brian & Dana Maass on January 25, 2022 in Travels,

Slowing down in the picturesque setting of the Temecula Valley may be the best gift not found underneath the Christmas tree. But don’t wait for the year-end holidays, as this Southern California wine country hidden gem is worth visiting year-round.

Situated inside 90 minutes from LA, San Diego and Palm Springs, the serene Temecula Valley beckons lovers of award-winning wines to leave their worries behind. Imagine sipping on a beautiful glass of tempranillo, while gazing upon panoramic views of snow-capped Mount San Jacinto and Paloma Mountain.

Photo courtesy Southcoast Winery Resort & Spa

With December temperatures typically between the 40s and 60s, Temecula offers the perfect Christmas climate for evening sweaters, cozy fires, and glasses of cabernet. This 2019 Wine Enthusiast top-ten Wine Travel Destination is Southern California’s largest wine producing region by volume. Quite manageable to navigate by size, the unpretentious Temecula Valley’s nearly 50 wineries invite guests to pull up a chair, uncork a bottle, and prepare for a genuinely warm welcome. 

Photo courtesy Visit Temecula Valley

Historical Charm 

Home to the area’s largest, Native American ancestral village, Temecula is said to have originally meant “place of the sun,” long before grapevines were ever planted. From the 1700s to the early 1800s, Spanish explorers and Franciscan missionaries traveled the region, and an Old West-style town centered around cattle and cowboys soon evolved. When the first Southern California wine country pioneers of the late 1960s recognized the valley’s ideal conditions for growing grapes, Old Town Temecula was already well-established. You can still step back in time through Old Town’s 12 walkable blocks of wooden boardwalks leading you into 1880s western buildings, local dining spots, antique shops, and even a few craft breweries. On Saturday mornings, stroll through the farmers market to sample fresh local fare and patronize local artisans.

You can still step back in time through Old Town’s 12 walkable blocks of wooden boardwalks leading you into 1880s western buildings, local dining spots, antique shops, and even a few craft breweries. Photo courtesy Visit Temecula Valley

Temecula Chilled 

With the appropriate tag line, “A Season to Live Glass Full,” Temecula Chilled is the city’s annual series of holiday celebrations throughout the month of December. Area wineries and restaurants feature special “Chilled” culinary and beverage treats, live music events fill the air, three ice skating rinks welcome you to take a spin, and Christmas markets echo a European holiday wonderland. Christmas trees and lights adorn every corner, and Santa makes appearances all over town through the twenty-fifth. The New Year’s Eve Grape Drop (Move over, crystal ball) in Old Town has countdowns at both 9 pm and midnight, while special dinners and events can be booked to ring in the New Year. 

Of course, there’s also a great line-up of events throughout the rest of the year!

Temecula Chilled is a celebration of Christmas which spans the three distinct neighborhoods in Temecula, Wine Country, Old Town, and the Pechanga Resort Casino. Celebrate the season with live performances, special events and activities, and holiday feasts. Photo courtesy Visit Temecula Valley

Vineyard Views

A favorite activity in Temecula is floating in a hot air balloon over the vineyards at sunrise and taking in 360 degree views. With at least three local companies offering this service, Temecula morning skies are typically dotted with colorful balloons when weather permits. Those who choose to stay grounded can enjoy a cup of coffee while taking in the scenery above. In the summer (June), consider attending the annual Balloon & Wine Festival for a special treat. In the spirit of Temecula’s cowboy roots, popular equestrian experiences offer breathtaking views of the wine country via horseback. Consider a trail ride around Vail Lake, or opt for an even more romantic winery tour led by a horse-drawn carriage. 

During your stay in the Temecula Valley, take a morning ride in a hot air balloon, and look out over acres of vines. Photo courtesy Carter of Estate Winery and Resort

Outdoor Enthusiasts 

For those seeking more of a calorie burn, mountain biking is available across 25 acres of gorgeous groomed wine country trails at Vail Lake or nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve (20 minutes from town). Hikers are equally drawn to the Preserve’s scenic 9,000-acre network of trails at 2,000 feet elevation and just twenty miles from the Pacific Ocean. (Fun Fact: the preserve is home to a species of fairy shrimp that can be found nowhere else on Earth.) 

With so many sunny days (even in winter), golfers gravitate toward one of six area courses including the championship 27-hole course at Temecula Creek Golf Club. The adjoining Temecula Creek Inn has been rated by Golf Digest as a “Four-Star Place to Stay.”

For outdoor enthusiasts, Temecula Creek Inn is tucked away below the Santa Margarita Mountains. The property offers over 300 wooded and landscaped acres and an award-winning 27-hole golf course. Courtesy photo

Valley Lodging

Two excellent choices for winery lodging in the same family include sister properties Carter Estate Winery and Resort and Southcoast Winery Resort & Spa. Both located in the heart of Temecula’s wine trails, these inns are part of the family-owned Carter Hospitality Group. Vintner and founder Jim Carter is deeply rooted in the valley, and his talented team of winemakers and industry leaders reflect the Carter family’s values. Years of hard work, dedication, and excellence were first poured into South Coast Winery Resort & Spa (founded 1995), followed by the opening of Carter Estate Winery & Resort in 2015. 

Carter Estate Winery and Resort 

Set among rolling hills and mountain vista backdrops, this valley gem has 60 luxurious private bungalows and suites facing either the east or west for stunning sunrises and sunsets. When temperatures drop on colder winter nights, warm up to the electric fireplace in each Mediterranean-style bungalow with the mere push of a button. At check-in, guests receive both tasting room tickets (when booking directly) and a complimentary bottle of wine.


Enjoy a wine tasting or wine blending experience at Carter Estate Winery and Resort. Vintner and founder Jim Carter is deeply rooted in the valley, and his talented team of winemakers and industry leaders reflect the Carter family’s values. Courtesy photo

Wake up to vineyard views over 109 acres, and order a complimentary continental breakfast delivered directly to your door. Even on cooler days, the property’s heated outdoor pool welcomes guests to take a dip or casually dine at the poolside restaurant. Lush surroundings provide the perfect backdrop for a refreshing morning walk or jog around the dog-friendly resort. Carter Estates guests may fully access South Coast’s spa services (including in-room or poolside) and a wide array of other amenities at the sister facility. 

On-Site Tasting

After checking in at Carter Estates, head no farther than the on-site tasting room for flights of award-winning reds, whites, and samples of locally-harvested olive oil. Not only known for their robust red varietals, Carter Estate makes excellent crisp chardonnay and viognier varietals. This top Temecula winery is additionally positioned to become one of California’s preeminent methode champenoise sparkling wine producers. For added convenience and safety, a complimentary shuttle will take you from Carter Estate over to South Coast winery for your next stop. Follow up with an exquisite multi-course meal of fine dining with wine pairings at the spacious yet intimate Vineyard Rose Restaurant. 

If you are looking for a way to wind down, and experience another level of relaxation, South Coast Winery’s GrapeSeed Spa has a therapy package for everyone. Courtesy photo

Rated a “Top 19 Hotel in Southern California” in the Readers’ Choice Awards of Conde Nast Traveler in 2019, Carter Estate Winery and Resort has quickly earned a reputation as a premier choice for Temecula Valley lodging. Whether you choose to take in the magic of the holiday season, or any other time of year, experiencing this heavenly slice of southern California’s wine country will no doubt leave a blissful taste of Temecula on your palate and a craving to return for another round. 

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Cover photo courtesy Brian Maass

Brian and Dana Maass are married and live with their dog Chester in Round Rock, Texas. When not working their day jobs, they can be found traveling, writing, capturing scenic photos, exploring the Hill Country, and serving the community. Follow them on Instagram at @Dana_Maass_Adventures and @Brian_Maass_Adventures.