California Love: Your SoCal Getaway Guide | Wine Enthusiast
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California Love: Your SoCal Getaway Guide

For the more than 20 million people who live in and around Los Angeles and San Diego, it’s never been easier to slip away for an overnight adventure that combines good eats, great drinks and stylish settings. From the reinvigorated wine country of Temecula and the trend-setting desert landscape of Palm Springs to the hip craft-brew vibes of Ventura and Ojai, here’s your cheat sheet to make your brief SoCal getaway as indulgent as possible.

More Modern Than Mid-Century: Palm Springs

Though it’s an often scorching desert, Palm Springs is arguably SoCal’s capital of cool. The mid-century modern architecture doesn’t hurt—now officially celebrated at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s new and free Architecture and Design Center—but the scores of people that flock here from Los Angeles for escape fuel a hospitality ­renaissance.

The Ace Hotel & Swim Club, which opened in 2009, triggered a wave of pool-centric developments, including the highly anticipated ARRIVE north of downtown.

Go mellower at the Sparrows Lodge, where check-in at the bar comes with sangria, and dinner is served family-style at a long table by the Barn Kitchen.

The must-have cup of Stumptown joe is at Ernest Coffee, whose sleek silver, wood and orange design is an ode to Don the Beachcomber, the infamous Polynesian restaurant that once occupied the site. The adjacent Bootlegger Tiki serves rum, juice and love until 2 am nightly.

Ernest Coffee
Ernest Coffee / Photo by Meg Baggott

For lunch, stay in the Uptown Design District and opt for the stark white-and-fuchsia settings of Eight4Nine. Run by the same team that opened downtown’s ever-packed bistro Lulu, Eight4Nine’s indoor white onyx bar lights up at night, and the large patio is warmed by a wall of fire.

Soak in nature with a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, a rotating gondola that climbs to the top of the snowy San Jacinto Mountains. You can also hike Indian Canyons, where native palm trees provide shade against the desert sun.

The kids will enjoy The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, an intimately designed, conservation-minded hub of endangered plants and animals. The main exhibits ­highlight North America and Africa.

Dead or Alive
Dead or Alive / Photo by Meg Baggott

Native Comes Home: Christine Soto, Dead or Alive Bar

After more than a decade in Los Angeles, Christine Soto returned to her native Palm Springs. She quickly realized its lack of fine wine and beer offerings and opened Dead or Alive in December with her boyfriend, artist/designer Anthony Cioffi. The list is educational and exciting, from Sicilian Frappato and San Benito County Chenin Blanc, to Pigeonnelle Loirette Witbier and Coachella Valley Brewing Dreamsicle Cream Ale.

“I reverse engineer,” says Soto. “I drink a wine, I like it and I find out who distributes it.”

NoSo Vita Cafe in Ojai, CA.
NoSo Vita Cafe / Photo by Matt Harbicht

Craft-ster Fabulous: Ventura & Ojai

Long a quintessential beach town full of salty surfers, Ventura has fast become a beverage destination. Breweries, wineries and coffeehouses are popping up both downtown and in nondescript warehouses closer to Oxnard.

The Off Market Street Tasting Trail links roasters like Beacon Coffee and young brew houses like Poseidon Brewing Company and MadeWest to the five-year-old Surf Brewery. Surf serves a range of standard and seasonal ales, hosts food trucks nightly and runs a homebrew shop. Wineries on the trail include Plan B Wine Cellars, BlendZ, Panaro Brothers and Four Brix. The Cave tasting room offers tastes from multiple producers and serves a full menu.

There’s also stronger stuff: Ventura Spirits makes vodka from fermented Oxnard strawberries and flavors its gin with wild-harvested botanicals. Ventura Limoncello turns the county’s citrus bounty into excellent digestifs that also mix well in cocktails.

About 20 minutes into the mountains sits Ojai, a destination for New Age and back-to-the-land types. Now, its image is updated thanks to rustic yet chic lodging options like the Ojai Rancho Inn, where craft ciders and chilled Beaujolais go down easy at the Chief’s Peak bar.

Just a trail walk away is The Ojai Vineyard’s tasting room, where soft-spoken winemaking veteran Adam Tolmach oversees a collection that goes back 30 years. More than 350 selections are for sale, and a handful are opened each weekend.

The Cal-Mediterranean tapas restaurant Azu is the only place to try and buy wines from Ojai Alisal Vineyard, and it’s planning to open a brewpub soon. Down the road, Topa Mountain Winery has recently opened and definitely deserves a visit.

Have dinner at the new Nocciola. Its $60 tasting menu might feature seared yellowtail on buffalo mozzarella, rabbit ragu, lamb carpaccio and a dessert trio.

In the morning, get your heart pumping with an exhilaratingly steep sunrise hike up Fox Canyon Trail in the Valley View Preserve.

Just down Signal Street from there, hit NoSo Vita café for macchiato and breakfast tacos, and then peruse the sunny racks at Bart’s Books, considered the largest independent outdoor bookstore in the U.S.

Four Brix Winery
Four Brix Winery / Photo by Matt Harbicht

Betting on Ojai Grapes: Gary Stewart, Four Brix Winery

Gary Stewart enjoys a loyal following at his industrial Off Market Street tasting room. He sources Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Riesling and Bordeaux varieties from Ojai’s small but promising Cani Amante Vineyard.

“We’re trying to take the snooty part out of it,” says Stewart. “We’re not making anything more than a beverage, so we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

For dinner, Stewart heads to midtown Ventura’s Cafe Zack, run by a team of former dishwashers who took over 16 years ago, where he orders the lobster and sweet corn appetizer. When he needs to expand his palate, Stewart heads downtown to Main Street, where Spice-Topia sells a range of flavors from throughout the world.

Leoness Cellars
Photo courtesy Leoness Cellars

Wine Country Gets Serious: Temecula Valley

Unruly tourists and almond sparkling wine have tainted Temecula’s wine country reputation in recent years, but there’s a reinvigorated crop of winemakers focused on improving the region’s quality. Some can be found on the De Portola Wine Trail, including Leoness Cellars, which has incubated similarly minded projects, as well as the extended aged goodness of Gershon Bachus Vintners.

Lunch is commonly sold at tasting rooms, including the Italian-influenced menu at Robert Renzoni Vineyards, and the gourmet-with-a-view setting at Falkner Winery.

Those who seek a sensory history lesson should dive into a library vertical tasting at Baily Winery, or spend some time with Nicholas Palumbo at his family estate, Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery.

“I believe in the area,” says Palumbo. “The people who I’m making wines for are finding me.”

It’s not all wine, though. Hot-air balloon rides take off every morning, a handful of golf courses provide more outdoor fun and there’s a steady stream of live entertainment (and gambling) at the nearby Pechanga Resort & Casino. The Temecula Creek Inn offers rooms with views of the golf course and solid farm-to-table dining at the Cork Fire Kitchen (try the lamb schnitzel). Old Town Temecula is jammed with bars and restaurants. Indulge in the cedar-smoked old-fashioned at 1909 Temecula, or sample the hometown brews over chicken and waffles at Crush & Brew.

E.A.T. Marketplace
Photo courtesy E.A.T Marketplace

Portlandia in High Desert: Leah di Bernardo, E.A.T Marketplace

The shiniest spot for farm-to-table dining in Old Town Temecula is E.A.T Marketplace, a combination coffeehouse, restaurant and artisanal food shop. It buzzes day and night, much like owner Leah di Bernardo. Raised on a farm in Oregon, di Bernardo went to New York City to make documentaries before she found a career in food.

“I always wanted to tell the stories of people who couldn’t get their own stories out,” says di Bernardo, who does that by using ingredients from nearby farms, selling goods from local purveyors and promoting places like the Temecula Lavender Company.

Di Bernardo even makes her own almond and coconut milks.

“People need an inspiring place to work,” she says. “Sometimes we feel very Portlandia here.”

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