Wine Tasting at Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula

During our trip to Temecula, we knew we had to visit at least one local vineyard while we were there.  It is wine country after all!  After attending the Balloon and Wine Festival, taking a hot air balloon ride, and a generally action packed schedule we only had the energy to visit one winery on the last day of our vacation.

Wilson Creek Winery Almond Champagne

I really wish we could have visited more, but boy, did we pick a good one for our only wine tasting stop!

Wilson Creek Winery is known for their Almond Champagne, which we figured must be pretty popular when we saw their hot air balloon during the “Balloon Glow” at the Balloon and Wine Festival.

Obviously we had try it, and wow, it did not disappoint!  If you’re a fan of sparkling wine, you must try it!  It’s the perfect wine to drink during those hot summer days in Temecula!

Wine tastings are $15 per person on weekdays and $20 per person on weekends.  We did two tastings and shared both of them, which is what we usually do so we can try more.  Not sure if they changed their policy on that and if you can still share, as this was a couple of years ago, but it’s definitely worth a try!

Wine Tasting at Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula

We tried a variety of reds, whites, sparkling and ports, and loved everything!  They also serve food at their onsite restaurant, although we were there too early for lunch so we didn’t get to try anything.  Everything sounded really good though!  After our tastings, we spent most of our time exploring the grounds, which are absolutely gorgeous.  Take a look at these photos and I’m sure you’ll agree!

View of the Vineyard at Wilson Creek Winery

Michele at the Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula

Wilson Creek Winery Pond

Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula

Barrels of Wine at Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula

Wedding Gazebo at Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula

I’m sure you can tell from the photos that they do a lot of weddings here.  If you’re in the market for a fairytale wedding at a beautiful vineyard, be sure to check out their website for all the details!

Daniel and Michele at the Wilson Creek Winery in TemeculaIf you have the time to visit more vineyards, you should definitely do so – I doubt you’ll have a bad experience at any of them.  But if your schedule is too packed and you can only visit one like we did, I hope this post helped with your decision.  Remember to try the almond champagne, and then let me know how much you liked it in the comments section below!

And if you’re looking for more things to do in Temecula, be sure to check out my post!  You’ll find food suggestions, hotel recommendations, and lots more!

Hot Air Balloon Rides in Temecula, CA

If you’ve read my Things To Do in Temecula post, then you know that I surprised Daniel with a trip to Temecula for his birthday.  Specifically to attend the Balloon and Wine Festival, but also to give him a gift of a lifetime – a hot air balloon ride through Temecula wine country!

You may remember me mentioning that there are hot air balloon rides in Temecula, coordinated through the Balloon and Wine Festival, but that I decided to spoil my guy and take him on a private balloon ride for two!  Out of all the balloon companies in Temecula, A Grape Escape had the best reviews and the least expensive private rides.  A private ride will cost around $599-799 per couple.  For a more inexpensive option, you can choose rides where you’ll be in a basket with other people, which are around $126-156 per person.  If you take a flight coordinated through the Ballon and Wine Festival it will cost about $200 per person, and includes same day admission to the festival.

Birthday Hot Air Balloon Ride in Temecula

Whether you’re taking a private ride or a group ride, if it’s a special occasion, be sure to let them know.  They will have a banner for the occasion draped over your basket to make your experience even more special!  Daniel was happily surprised when he saw his birthday banner!

When you’re taking a hot air balloon ride at sunrise, be prepared to get there bright and early!  On the morning of, we were wishing we had thought more about that while we were having a little too much fun at the Balloon and Wine Festival.  They will give you an estimated call time when the date is getting closer, and then your actual call time a day or two before.

You’ll want to dress in layers, as it will be cold in the morning and very hot once the sun comes up.  When you’re in the air, it will also be hot because of the flame above your head, which is why I’d also recommend wearing a hat of some kind.  I’d also highly suggest wearing sunglasses, as the sun is pretty brutal.  Oh, and don’t forget your cameras!  You will not want to miss the opportunity to take a million photos!

Hot Air Balloon Rides in TemeculaIn the morning, you’ll meet up with everyone else that’s taking a hot air balloon ride that morning.  There may be other balloon companies there as well, so make sure you know which one you should be looking for.  One note about that:  apparently a lot of the companies in the area work together on flights.  If for some reason the company you booked with had a change in schedule or over booked, they may pass you off to another company.  This actually happened to us, and since I’m the type of customer that likes everything upfront before I pay, I was a little irked when I found out.  In the end every thing worked out just fine, and the company we flew with was great.  But since I would have personally liked knowing prior to booking, I thought I’d give you all a heads up!

Once everyone is checked in, you’re then shuttled to the actual takeoff area.  If I’m remembering correctly, I believe it was about a 30-45 minute drive – you can try to grab a little more shut eye on the way!

After arriving it’s another 30-45 minute wait while they fill the balloons with air.  This is a great photo opportunity as well.  It’s pretty incredible to see the balloons so up close!  Some balloons are already in the air too, which is also an amazing sight to see.  Take a look at some of our pre-flight photos!

Hot Air Balloon Flying over Temecula Wine Country
Inflating a Hot Air Balloon in Temecula
Daniel and Michele Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride in Temecula
Setting Up the Hot Air Balloon in Temecula

After enough air has been pumped into the massive balloon you’re ready for takeoff, it’s a bit of a mad dash to get into the basket while they hold it down (so it doesn’t float away before you’re in it!).  Tip:  Don’t wear a skirt!  Unless you want to flash everyone while you’re haphazardly trying to get into the basket.

Taking a hot air balloon ride was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.  My favorite moment was taking off, it felt exactly how you’d think floating away in a balloon would feel like.  It’s a feeling you really can’t describe properly and simply must experience yourself.  And that was just the takeoff!  When you’re actually in the air it is completely breathtaking and exhilarating.  Being able to see the balloons on the ground still being filled with air, other balloons taking off, the view of wine country, and the other hot air balloons in the air…  It was incredible!

Here are some of my favorite pictures.

View of Hot Air Balloons During Takeoff
View During a Hot Air Balloon Ride in Temecula Wine Country
Rolling Fog Over Temecula California
Hot Air Balloon Rides in Temecula
View of Temecula Wine Country from a Hot Air Balloon
Packing Up the Hot Air Balloon

I can’t remember exactly how long we were in the air for, but it may have been as much as 60-90 minutes.  When it’s time to come down, I have a few words of advice:  hold on tight.  Like, really really tight.  Landing a hot air balloon isn’t exact science, and wind is a huge factor.  Be prepared that it may be very bumpy, and you may end up in a bush.  I thought I was holding on tight, but when we crashed (I mean, landed) I almost flew out of the basket.  Luckily, my boyfriend caught me just in time!

After your adventurous landing, you’ll have the chance to see them pack up the balloon.  Then you’ll be shuttled to a picnic area for a complimentary breakfast (champagne included!).  Don’t expect anything too fancy, it’s basically just plastic wrapped snack cakes, but it was still a really nice and appreciated touch to end an overall amazing experience.

Daniel's Birthday Hot Air Balloon Ride

Taking a hot air balloon ride in Temecula was a once in a lifetime experience (although, I hope I get to do it again soon!), and I was so happy I could give and share the experience with Daniel.

If you ever have the opportunity take a hot air balloon ride, TAKE IT TAKE IT TAKE IT!  It will be the most amazing adventure that you will never forget!

Balloon and Wine Festival in Temecula, CA

Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival

As you may have read in my Things To Do in Temecula post, a few years ago I decided to surprise Daniel with a big birthday trip to Temecula.  Specifically, to attend the Balloon and Wine Festival!  Daniel has always surprised me with weekend getaways for my birthday, and that particular year I was finally not a starving artist and could reciprocate!  I had many different travel ideas and options, but the Balloon and Wine Festival stood out amongst them all.  Mostly because Daniel and I love to go wine tasting, and the prospect of taking a hot air balloon ride was too amazing to pass up (hello, bucket list)!  It was a clear winner!

The Balloon and Wine Festival is held every year in Temecula, CA, which is about 2-3 hours away from Los Angeles.  Tickets vary based on what you want to see and do, packages, etc.  I bought general admission tickets online for Friday, which were $22 each.  I also bought parking for $5.  The festival typically lasts three days, and offers a variety of entertainment each day.

Commemorative Wine Glasses at the Balloon and Wine Festival Obviously, one of the main attractions is the wine.  There are a plethora of local wineries and vendors situated throughout the entire festival.  You’ll need to buy beverage tickets when you arrive – we chose to buy a package that came with commemorative wine glasses ($15 each).  If you like physical mementos, I highly suggest doing the same.  We use the glasses all the time, and they invoke wonderful memories every single time.  Tip:  When we were talking to the woman selling us drink tickets, we mentioned it was our first time attending and she threw in a bunch of tickets for free!  Not saying this will happen to everyone, but worth mentioning just in case, right?!

If I’m remembering correctly, I believe 1 tasting cost 2 tickets and a full glass cost 4 tickets.  Another Tip:  We found a few vendors that gave us full glasses for only 2 tickets.  We chose to mainly go there to get our buzz on, and then dispersed our remaining tickets for the wines and champagnes we were really interested in trying.  Sooo, if you want to get tipsy, be sure to scope out all the booths before you use too many tickets!

They also serve beer if you’re with someone that doesn’t drink wine, and there’s also a bunch of food vendors serving up typical festival fare so you’re not drinking on an empty stomach.  Here are a few of our favorite things we tried:

Grilled sausage with peppers

Grilled Sausage and Peppers at the Wine and Balloon Festival

These fried pickles were AMAZING!

Fried Pickles at the Wine and Balloon Festival

This was an “Indian taco” – the photos don’t do this justice.  It was incredible!

Indian Taco at the Wine and Balloon Festival

Other than wine, there is also musical entertainment on Friday and Saturday.  Usually it’s either country or popular 90s bands.  It’s a serious flashback if you grew up during that time!

Hot Air Balloon Ride in TemeculaThe 2nd big attraction at the festival is the hot air balloons.  The festival coordinates hot air ballon rides in the morning on Saturday and Sunday.  If you read my Hot Air Balloon ride post, then you know that I chose to schedule a private ride for Daniel since it was his birthday.  But the festival rides would be a great option for anyone on a budget, and/or wants one stop shopping.  Tips:  1. Be aware that you will need to be there SUPER early in the morning, balloons have to take off as soon as the sun comes up and they have to get everyone checked in well before that.  2. Dress in layers!  It will start out cold and then become incredibly hot, also bring a hat because the fire overhead will be intense.  3. I also suggest bringing sunglasses, as the sun gets pretty brutal.  4. Lastly, hold on tight and be prepared that it could be a bumpy landing!

General tips:  Even if you’re not taking a balloon ride, be sure to dress in layers for the festival regardless.  It will most likely be very hot during the day and cool off considerably at night.  Bring lots of sunscreen, and something to cover up with – there was practically no shade when we went.

Another main attraction, and what Daniel and I were most looking forward to (besides the wine), was the “Balloon Glow.”  On Friday and Saturday night, local companies bring in their finest hot air balloons to delight festival goers with a spectacular show of light and music.  I’d highly suggest going on Friday or Saturday just so you can see this.  Trust me, you really don’t want to miss it.  Check out some photos below!

Setting Up the Balloon Glow at the Balloon and Wine Festival

Once the sun goes down, you’ll see the balloons start to inflate.  It was pretty amazing to see up close!

Daniel and Michele Watching the Balloon Glow

Once it’s fully dark, the Balloon Glow will begin.

Glowing Balloons at the Balloon and Wine Festival

Hot Air Balloon During the Balloon Glow in Temecula

Fired Up Hot Air Balloon During the Balloon Glow

Balloon Glow at the Balloon and Wine Festival

This champagne shaped hot air balloon was one of the few that was promoting their winery, instead of their sponsor.  We checked out Wilson Creek Winery the next day, which you can read about here.

Wilson Creek Winery Hot Air Balloon at the Wine and Balloon Festival

It was one of the most amazing festivals I’ve ever attended, and an all around incredible experience in Temecula.  I truly hope we’ll be able to go back one day soon!  If I’ve piqued your interest and you’re thinking about attending the festival this year, or just taking a trip to Temecula, be sure to check out my Things To Do in Temecula post.  You’ll find lots of food recommendations, hotel suggestions, and so much more!

Things To Do in Temecula, CA

Hey guys, long time no see!  Sorry for the lack of posts lately, things have been pretty hectic around here, and I haven’t been able to get as many posts written as I’d like.  BUT I hope this next series of travel posts will make up for it a little!  I am super excited to share one of my favorite weekend getaways, and the most amazing festival I’ve attended to date!

Temecula Balloon and Wine FestivalA few years ago, I decided to surprise my boyfriend Daniel with a trip to Temecula, CA.  Daniel has always surprised me with weekend getaways for my birthday, and I was finally in a position where I could reciprocate.  Since I knew it would be a weekend trip, I was mainly looking for travel ideas in California (as we were still living in Los Angeles at the time).  During my research, I came across the Balloon and Wine Festival in Temecula, which you can read all about here.  I pretty much knew it was the winner as soon as I saw it – I mean… hot air balloons?  Wine?  Sold!

Hot Air Balloon Ride in TemeculaTemecula is about 2-3 hours away from Los Angeles, and is a great place to visit if you want to see some California wine country without traveling too far (if you’re in LA).  Now, obviously the festival was going to be an amazing activity, but we were only planning on attending one of the days.  And since we were staying for a 3-day weekend, I still needed other things to do in Temecula to make Daniel’s birthday extra special.  While I was searching for things to do, I knew we absolutely had to take a hot air balloon ride.  I went a little overboard, since I wasn’t sure if I’d get the opportunity to spoil my guy again next year.  I splurged on a private hot air balloon ride for two, and It. Was. INCREDIBLE!  Read all the details here!

Besides extravagant activities, you can also just explore Old Town, which is a very charming area of Temecula.  Everything looks like it’s out of an old Western movie, and there are a lot of great shops and places to eat.  Check out some photos below!

Old Town Temecula California

Old Town Temecula Sidewalk Art

Antiques Windmill in Old Town Temecula

Water Fountain in Old Town Temecula

The Old Town Rootbeer Company in TemeculaThe Old Town Rootbeer Company is a fun shop to explore while you’re in Old Town.  There was literally every flavor of soda you could possibly think of!

We bought a few bottles to enjoy at home, and it was a nice way to remember our vacation as were were instantly thrust back into the work week!

Soda at The Old Town Rootbeer Company

If you’ll be enjoying your soda in Temecula, be sure to add your bottle cap to the collection below!

Bottle Caps at The Old Town Rootbeer Company in Temecula

Sweet Lumpy's BBQ in TemeculaWhile we were walking around Old Town, we stopped to eat at Sweet Lumpy’s BBQ for lunch.  The food was delicious, and the restaurant had a good outdoor seating area for catching some sun.  I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the mood for a quiet, casual lunch with some amazing BBQ!

Duck Pond in Temecula CaliforniaAnother tasty lunch spot is Daniel’s Cafe.  Yes, we did go there because it had Daniel’s name in the title… Don’t judge though, because the food was fantastic! It looked like a cute place to dine-in at, but we actually took our food to go so we could it eat at a near by duck pond and park.  It was a lovely place to have a picnic, be sure to check it out during your stay!

If you’re looking for an amazing Italian restaurant for dinner, head on over to Palumbo’s Ristorante in Old Town.  The service and atmosphere was great, and the food was amazing.  Take a look!

Dinner at the Italian Restaurant Palumbo's Ristorante in Temecula

Italian Dinner at Palumbo's Ristorante in Temecula

Daniel and Michele at the Wilson Creek Winery in TemeculaAnother must do activity in Temecula is exploring a vineyard and going wine tasting.  It is wine country after all!  I wish we could have visited more wineries, but since we had a pretty full schedule we ended up just going to Wilson Creek Winery.  Luckily, we chose one of the most beautiful locations to be our one and only stop, read all about our visit here.

And if you’re looking for an inexpensive hotel option, we stayed at the Old Town Ramada Inn.  It was very central to Old Town, vineyards, and the Balloon and Wine Festival.  Plus, it has a pool and spa, complimentary wifi, and a continental breakfast.  It’s the not fanciest hotel, but you don’t want to be stuck in a hotel room anyway!  It was quiet and clean, and just what we needed to grab some sleep before our next exciting activity.

As you can see, there are many wonderful things to do in Temecula, and we didn’t even scratch the surface!  If you’re looking for a unique and memorable vacation, definitely think about visiting Temecula.  You won’t regret it!


Zoo Lights at the Oregon Zoo

Zoo Lights at the Oregon Zoo

After visiting Peacock Lane in Portland, we found another fun Christmas lights attraction… Zoo Lights at the Oregon Zoo!

We had been to the Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago a few years back.   It was so magical to see, and a great opportunity to see nocturnal animals awake and active!  I was super excited to learn we had another opportunity to see Zoo Lights, and in our own city no less!

Daniel & Michele at the Zoo Lights in Oregon

As with Peacock Lane, we went to see the Zoo Lights after Christmas, so despite going on a Sunday it was fairly easy to find parking.

If you plan to go in 2014 and it’s before the holiday has passed, public transportation may be your best friend in getting there.  I’d imagine the parking lot would be somewhat of a nightmare.  You also get a discount on your tickets if you take the MAX!

It was still pretty crowded inside for us though, so it was a little hard to get decent pictures.  Here are a few that I managed to get!

Daniel & Michele at the Oregon Zoo Lights

Walkway at the Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo Lights

Christmas Lights Portrait

Dragon Zoo Lights

Christmas Train LightsWhile it was nowhere near as cold as it was in Chicago during the winter, we still found it to be uncomfortably chilly.  I would highly recommend bundling up when you go!

Luckily, anywhere you turn there is hot chocolate and other hot beverages being sold throughout the zoo.  Unluckily, there are impossibly long lines at each and every one of them!  I think next time we’ll bring a couple of thermoses with us and avoid the crowds!

Even though we went after Christmas, the zoo itself was very congested, which we were a little surprised at.  I can only imagine if you go before Christmas that it would be a lot worse.  I’d personally try to go during the week, since I’m sure the weekends are crazy.  Despite the crowds, we still had a great time seeing all the beautiful lights – here are a few more pictures!

Other than traditional Christmas lights, they also had an impressive array of displays that incorporated movement (not that you can tell from pictures).

Tree Frog Zoo Lights

Manatee Zoo Lights

This African river scene was particularly impressive, as just about everything moved.

Africa River Scene at the Oregon Zoo Lights

There were also a lot of displays with classic movie characters as well!

Wizard of Oz Zoo Lights

Alice in Wonderland Zoo Lights

My absolute favorite place at the zoo was The Kaleidoscope, which was basically a big tunnel of lights.  Check it out!

Daniel & Michele in the Kaleidoscope Tunnel

Kaleidoscope at the Oregon Zoo

Daniel & Michele in the Kaleidoscope

It was pretty congested at the entrance of the tunnel, because obviously it’s a great photo opportunity.  I don’t think people realized how big it was though, because if you just walked a few steps through, there was way more room to take pictures.  I’d recommended squeezing through the crowds as quickly as you can, to get to the middle of the tunnel.  Then you can take your time and take as many photos as you want, without people constantly walking in your shot!

Oregon Zoo LightsWhile the lights are the main attraction, another advantage of being at the zoo at night is seeing the nocturnal animals.  Two highlights for us were seeing the tigers up and about, and being able to spend time at the bat exhibit.

If you go during dinnertime, you can bring your own food in, but I would highly recommend eating at the Cascade Grill if you can.  The food is delicious and healthy, and they use a lot of local ingredients.  They also serve local beer and wine!

We had a great time at the Zoo Lights, and I can’t wait to go again!  I hope I’ve piqued your interest as well, but even if you can’t make it during the holiday season, the Oregon Zoo is a wonderful place to visit.  So if you’re planning a trip or in the area, definitely add it to your activity list while staying in Portland!