Last Updated on December 4, 2023

Tourists flock to California for its perfect weather, magnificent coastline, wine regions, and vibrant big cities. But there’s more to the Golden State than this. In its charming small towns, like Old Town Temecula, locally owned shops and restaurants provide a more intimate experience.

I planned a trip to Temecula, drawn to a wine tasting experience in a scenic countryside. When I arrived in Old Town to grab lunch, I was delighted and surprised by the liveliness of its bustling sidewalks. I parked on Old Town Front Street (the main drag) and strolled by historic buildings interspersed with modern structures.

The variety of shopping and dining options occupied a few hours until I could check into my hotel. During my two-day visit to Temecula, I was twice drawn back to downtown by the lively atmosphere and outstanding restaurants.

History of Old Town Temecula

Old Town Temecula is aptly named for its Old West appeal. Many preserved buildings date back to the 1880s with wooden siding and large, covered porches. A railroad station was built in the town center in 1882, giving passengers access to Temecula from San Diego and National City. Unfortunately, a series of floods caused the railroad to eventually be abandoned.

The Inland Highway was the first paved two-lane road in Temecula, running down Old Town Front Street from 1915 until 1949 bringing travelers to the restaurants and motels located there.

The historic area encompasses 12 blocks, mainly along Front Street. However, wandering off the main strip introduces visitors to more great places to dine and shop.

Shopping in Old Town Temecula

The Painted Garden on Old Town Front Street.
The Painted Garden on Old Town Front Street. Photo by Judy Karnia

Along Old Town Front Street and extending off for a block or so, boutique shops offer clothing, bath and home products, décor items, gifts and food treats. Shopkeepers are welcoming and attentive.

Old Town Sweet Shop was loaded with all types of brand-name candy as well as homemade fudge, dipped apples, and gourmet chocolate treats. I couldn’t pass up the dark chocolate sea salt selection. An ice cream parlor tempted me from an adjoining room.

I found a few treasures in Under the Willow, a delightful clothing store. I loved the rich colors and soft feel of their reasonably-priced goods. I left with a deep purple pullover and a comfortable periwinkle cardigan sweater. I would need to find room for these in my luggage, but I could not resist.

A salesperson was filling the shelves with small leather purses in many colors that had recently arrived. I can always make use of another purse and grabbed one that matched my cardigan.

The grounds of The Painted Garden caught my eye. Its path around an outdoor space was crowded with metal garden sculptures resembling flowers, plants, birds, and the sun. These garden shop offerings varied in size from a few inches to a few feet tall. Flowerpots and live plants filled in the gaps. I decided on a sculpture of a purple flowering plant with a bronze hummingbird sipping from it.

Temecula Lavender Co. grew out of a love for the aromatic plant and a desire to create and share healthy, soothing products. The family farm in Temecula Wine Country produces small batches of handcrafted, natural items for the bath, body, and home.

Temecula Spice and Tea Merchants carry more than 350 fascinating spices and blends and dozens of loose-leaf tea options. Many local restaurants use their high-quality products.

RELATED: Where to stay overnight in Temecula.

Old Town Temecula Dining

Relaxing Patio of Small Barn Restaurant.
Relaxing Patio of Small Barn Restaurant. Photo by Judy Karnia

During my wonderful dinner at Small Barn restaurant, I chatted with owners Cathy and Dan Gibson about the many sustainability-minded projects they have created. Their winery of the same name began in 2009, but limits production to around 1000 cases of boutique, high-quality, Rhône-style wine.

The Gibsons also established a greenhouse to grow fresh produce for their restaurant with inputs from their chef. The renovation of the Small Barn structure strove to maintain the character of this landmark homestead that once belonged to the Al Knott family, one of the earliest settlers and entrepreneurs of Temecula.

Small Barn featured a large patio wrapping around two sides of the building. The wooden fencing, lush greenery, and soft lighting gave a feel of hanging out on a friend’s back porch. I started with butternut squash soup, followed by steak frites with mint chimichurri and Manchego fries. The flavors were rich and distinct and paired well with the Small Barn Super Tuscan.

For dessert, warm gooey chocolate chip cookies were served with a juice glass filled with the restaurant’s house almond milk.

The drink master then brought out samples of his specialties of the day. As it was Easter, the libation contained carrot juice mixed with rum and agave. My friend and I were a bit skeptical at first, but found the drink refreshing and sweet.

When I first arrived in Temecula, I looked for a casual place to grab lunch. Old Town Pub and Grub fit the bill with a juicy Guacamole burger and perfectly crisped beer-battered fries. The front porch along Old Town Front Street had a counter and bar stools along the railing for hanging out and watching passersby. I relaxed with a pomegranate mojito on the spacious, lively side patio.

The Goat and Vine sits on the edge of Old Town, which works well for the many residents that frequent this popular eatery. The restaurant recently moved to a historic building that also houses Oak Grove Center Culinary Creations, a bakery providing disadvantaged teens with work experience. The unique décor of Goat and Vine sports goat head statues and lush greenery, fitting for its name taken from Aesop’s Fables.

The owners were living in Alaska when they decided to move someplace warmer. When they visited Temecula, they traveled from below-zero-degree temperatures to a hot, sunny California day. This and the wonderful local farmers market convinced them they’d found their new home. Bread is the foundation of their cuisine, including the 100-year-old sourdough starter they brought with them from Alaska. Early every morning, the staff crafts their bread, dough, sauces, and dressings from scratch.

My Goat and Vine Salad was mounded with strawberries and cherry tomatoes and finished with a light champagne vinaigrette. The Goat’s Garden gourmet pizza was piled with cremini mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and goat cheese. The wood-fired crust was perfectly cooked crisp on the outside while fluffy inside.

Woodfired pizza at The Goat & Vine.
Woodfired pizza at The Goat & Vine. Photo by Judy Karnia

Corbeaux Wine and Tea House celebrated its grand opening the week after my visit, but I was able to get a sneak peek. The Schneider family purchased a vineyard in 2004 and has been adding wines with their label to the array of products. Eldest daughter, Regan, became the vintner with dreams of opening a tasting room.

Corbeaux takes its name from the first Merlot the family bottled and combines Regan’s many interests that include wine, tea, and gourmet food pairings. The chef appeared excited to create unique dishes that included tea as a food ingredient. The shop also carries lavender from the family’s Temecula Lavender Co.

If you want to relax outdoors after filling up on amazing Old Town Temecula food, head to the Temecula Duck Pond and Veterans Memorial less than a mile from the north end of town. A bright red Torii gate and two concrete Japanese foxes mark the entrance to the path encircling the pond. Cement lanterns, flowering trees, boulders, and benches line the picturesque trail. And, of course, there were ducks. Lots of ducks.

If you are touring the wineries of Temecula, don’t miss spending some time in Old Town. Fun shopping and high-quality restaurants along with a deep sense of history await the visitor.

Author

  • Judy Karnia

    Judy grew up in Chicago and now lives in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona. She retired as a practicing feline veterinarian and is now a travel writer and certified nature therapy guide.