10 Amazing Places to RV in April 2024

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in April

April, dressed in all his trim, hath put a spirit of youth in everything.

—William Shakespeare

From time immemorial, spring’s awakening has signaled to humanity the promise of new beginnings. In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98, a love poem published in 1609, the prolific poet and playwright personifies the glorious month of April as the herald of youth, vitality, and hope. For the Bard, the coming of spring—the twittering birds, ambrosial flowers, and long-awaited sunny skies—brought with it all the delights of a fresh start.

We have made it to the fourth month of the year, the one we kick off by fooling acquaintances with sport. A warning to my readers: Watch out for tricksters in the RV travel realm.

April is a time of change. With the vernal equinox in the recent rearview mirror in the Northern Hemisphere, nature is slowly stirring from its months-long slumber preparing to soon be in full bloom. April also has outsized importance compared to other months: The ancient Romans tied the month to the goddess Venus because of its beautiful and life-affirming effects and for thousands of years the month was seen as the true beginning of the year.

Today, April is full of moments of mischief, reverence, and a budding excitement for the warmer times ahead. These six facts explore the history of the month and why it’s sometimes considered one of the best times of the year.

When it comes to the names of months, April is a bit of an outlier. Other months are either intimately tied to Roman history and culture—whether named after Roman gods (January, March, June, etc.), rituals (February), or leaders (July and August)—or are related to Latin numbers (September to December). April, however, is simply derived from the Latin aperire which means “to open.” This is likely a reference to the beginning of spring when flowers open as the weather warms.

Although April’s name isn’t etymologically tied to Roman culture, April (or Aprilis, as the Romans called it) was a month dedicated to the goddess Venus known as Aphrodite in the ancient Greek pantheon. On the first day of April, Romans celebrated a festival known as Veneralia in honor of the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. This has led some scholars to wonder if the month’s name was actually Aphrilis about the goddess.

One of the most important holidays in April (and occasionally March) is the celebration of Easter which marks the death and resurrection of Jesus. Much like Christmas, this holiday has pagan origins and its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon term for the month, Ēosturmōnaþ. That name literally meant Ēostre’s month, a reference to the West Germanic spring goddess of the same name.

The only known historical text mentioning Ēostre comes from the Venerable Bede, a Christian monk who lived in the eighth century and who mentions the goddess (and the festivals dedicated in her name) in his work The Reckoning of Time. Because so little evidence of Ēostre exists some wonder if the goddess was a complete invention of Bede’s and whether she was real or not. Ēostre remains the namesake of April’s holiest days for Christians.

One of the oddest annual traditions on the modern calendar falls on the first day of April otherwise known as April Fools’ Day. Once a day reserved for harmless pranks pulled on friends and family, April Fools’ Day now reaches into the furthest depths of the internet with multimillion-dollar brands and corporations getting in on the fun.

Although the tradition is certainly an oddity, it’s strange still that no one is exactly sure where April Fools’ Day comes from. Some historians think when France moved to the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, those who still celebrated the New Year in April (having not gotten the memo, wilfully or otherwise, about the calendar change) were labeled April fools.

Others have tied the tradition to an ancient Roman festival called Hilaria which took place in late March, along with many more theories. A more modern version of April Fools’ Day took root in 18th-century Britain before evolving into the mischief holiday we know today.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in February and March. Also, check out my recommendations from April 2023 and May 2023.

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Visit Yuma

As the weather warms up and the paloverde explodes into bloom, there’s no better time to visit Yuma, Arizona for a unique outdoor adventure. Soak up every minute in Yuma the way you’ve always wanted to—without regrets. Kick off an adventurous stay at full throttle with high-speed boating. Find solace in the sunset from a pontoon, a paddleboard, or one of Yuma’s three national wildlife refuges. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or just starting, add Yuma to your bucket list.

Yuma is home to a variety of unique attractions that you won’t find anywhere else. Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is a must-see destination for history buffs while Colorado River State Historic Park provides a glimpse into the military history of the area. The Yuma Art Center features rotating art exhibits and cultural events and you can find beautiful, colorful murals scattered all around town.

Visit one of the date farms and enjoy a date milkshake in the shade of a Medjool date palm tree then explore some of the more offbeat destinations such as Lauren Pratt’s Little Chapel, the McPhaul Suspension Bridge (also known as the Bridge to Nowhere), the Center of the World, or the Museum of History in Granite.

Here are some helpful resources:

Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. The Texas Hill Country

This year, all eyes are turned to the Texas Hill Country since it falls smack-dab in the path of totality for the 2024 solar eclipse on April 8. As the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, the day will turn to night. North America saw a total eclipse in 2017 but the last time the land now known as Texas experienced one was back in 1397.

Visibility will depend on two things: location (the Hill Country will get close to four and a half minutes of totality out of a possible seven and a half) and weather (Central Texas’s annual average of 300 sunny days bodes well).

Plan your next trip in the Texas Hill Country with these resources:

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Forget Napa, Temecula is the underrated wine region to visit in 2024

For as great as they are, Napa and Sonoma wine regions are missing a rustic, casual wine-tasting trip with some great juice in its own right—Temecula wine country is the underrated wine region to visit this year.

There have only been commercial wineries in the Temecula Valley since the mid-’60s but in the intervening 55 years the industry has grown immensely and there are now almost 50 active wineries. It’s an officially recognized AVA with hot afternoons and cooler nights thanks to the breeze off of the Pacific Ocean which gives the area the right growing conditions for lots of different grapes, particularly Mediterranean varieties.

With all those wineries to explore (and lots of other things to do in Temecula), it makes a fantastic day trip from most anywhere in Southern California.

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Appalachia’s spectacular mountain road 

Discover the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains as you wind your way along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This 469-mile-long route passes through charming towns, dense forests, and stunning mountain vistas. With ample opportunities for hiking, picnicking, camping, and wildlife spotting, it’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The parkway’s famous Linn Cove Viaduct is a must-see engineering marvel. Rest up at cozy lodges like Peaks of Otter Lodge or Pisgah Inn for a true mountain getaway experience. 

Check this out to learn more: Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Springtime in the Smokies

This stunning national park is a great spot to visit any time of the year—which is probably why it’s the most popular one in America.

But come springtime, the Smokies are extra special: all covered over in a flood of newly-bloomed wildflowers from rhododendrons to black-eyed Susans and lots of others in between. In fact, over 1,500 types of flowering plants call the park their home, which naturalists celebrate by hosting the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage at the end of April and beginning of May (74th annual; May 1-4, 2024). Just make sure you reserve your campsite early! As with all national parks, sites have a tendency to fill up fast when the weather’s lovely.

Here are some helpful resources:

6. Festival International de Louisiane

For the Festival International de Louisiane (April 24-28, 2024), downtown Lafayette is turned into an international music hub, complete with live performances, street musicians, arts and crafts boutiques and more. Multiple countries are represented at this fest, making Festival International one of Louisiana’s premier multicultural events. All of the events, including cultural workshops, are free.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Triassic World

Who knew petrified wood could be so beautiful? While you might think the Grand Canyon is the only stunning place in Arizona, this spot will prove you wrong. Petrified Forest National Park is a unique preserve where you can enjoy several breathtaking views. The park is full of colorful badlands and is a great place to go backpacking or simply enjoy a day hike.

Anything rock is found here. You can see trees dating more than 200 million years—turned to stone. And flora and fauna fossils as well as petroglyphs! Start at the Painted Desert Visitor Center and learn about all the stops and sights that are RV-friendly around the park. You can easily spot petrified wood near some of the parking areas and lots of wildlife.

Here are some articles to help:

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. The amazing Badlands

There are not too many hills and curves in this part of South Dakota and its big-rig friendly too, so the Badlands can make nice spring RV trips. Spring makes for a cool drive through the paint-colored hills. You can see bighorn sheep, buffalo, and prairie dogs that haven’t been scared off by crowds. There are several designated areas where you can pull over and enjoy the rock formations, or take a hike.

The park is very RV-friendly. You can park along the roadways and most of the roads are paved. If you have time, check out Mount Rushmore and the famous Black Hills. Finding open RV parks this time of year is a little challenging. Basic hookups are at the nearby 24 Express RV Campground. Or, if you book now, the national park’s Cedar Pass Campground is open on April 19.

Here are some helpful resources:

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Jekyll Island

Part of the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island provides a plethora of biking trails, beach access, wooded exploration, and a fun water park. Quiet and spacious, this island is big on downtime and memory-making. For even more island time, spend a day at the neighboring St. Simons Island. This chain of islands provides one of the most unique spring destinations.

Jekyll Island Campground provides everything you need for a great vacation.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Bryce Canyon National Park moving to spring schedule

The possibility of a snowstorm after April 1 can’t be ruled out at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah but the park just the same will be transitioning to its spring season schedule on April 5.

No reservations are required to enter Bryce Canyon but planning ahead will help park visitors to enjoy a predictable visit even on the busiest days. 

Starting April 5, the Bryce Canyon Shuttle will be available to help ease traffic congestion at popular viewpoints and trailheads. Unlimited use of the shuttle is included with your park admission. Shuttle service will run until October 20 and begin every day at 8 a.m. In spring and fall, the last bus will depart the park at 6:15 p.m. Final bus times will extend to 8:10 p.m. from May 10 to September 22.  

Visitors riding the shuttle are encouraged to take advantage of free parking at the shuttle station in Bryce Canyon City. As in years past, vehicles 23 feet and longer are restricted from parking at Bryce Amphitheater viewpoints during shuttle operating hours. 

North Campground remains open all winter for first-come, first-served camping and will transition to reservation-based camping from May 18 through October 7. Reservations are available on a 6-month rolling basis. 

Sunset Campground is closed each winter and will open for first-come, first-served camping April 15 through May 17. Reservation-based camping on a 14-day rolling basis is available May 18 through October 14. Sunset Campground returns to first-come, first-served camping on October 15 before closing for the winter season on November 1. 

By the way, I have a series of posts on Bryce Canyon:

Worth Pondering…

Spring is the time of the year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2024

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in February

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

—Eden Phillpotts

English author and poet Eden Phillpotts was known for his prolific output of novels, plays, poetry, and short stories. In 1918 he published A Shadow Passes, a collection of reflections and poetry that capture the author’s keen observations about the world around him. In his contemplation of the buckbean plant (aka Menyanthes), Phillpotts marvels at the beauty of its “ragged petals finer than lace.”

This attention to detail serves as a broader contemplation of the natural world emphasizing the innumerable potential wonders that remain unnoticed and unappreciated until our understanding and awareness deepen. Beauty and magic are always present; we need only to keep our minds and hearts open to the possibilities that lie in wait all around us.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January. Also check out my recommendations from February 2023 and March 2023.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. A history of cowboys, shootouts, and outlaws in the southwest

The rich and illustrious history of Tombstone is well-known by many Western film buffs but few places are as prepared to tell its story as the Tombstone Courthouse. This Arizona State Historic Park is a wealth of knowledge on everything from the founding of the city of Tombstone to the first-hand accounts of those present at the gunfight at O.K. Corral.

Tombstone as a city was established in 1877 when Edward Schieffelin discovered silver mines in the area. Tombstone Courthouse was the center of Cochise Country from 1882 to 1931 when the city seat was moved to Bisbee.

The courthouse was built in the shape of a Roman cross and is 12,000 square feet. The Tombstone Courthouse is the oldest courthouse still standing in Arizona. During its tenure as the county courthouse seven men were sentenced to hang for various crimes—five of which were hung together after a botched robbery left at least four others dead.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Best national park to visit in February: Saguaro National Park

Located in southern Arizona, Saguaro National Park is one of the warmest parks to visit in February. Temperatures in the park soar from late spring through early fall making the winter months the best time to visit Saguaro. With an average high of 70°F and a very low chance of rain, this is a great park to visit in February.

Saguaro National Park is named for the Saguaro Cactus which only grows in the Sonoran Desert.

This park is split into two different sections, the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. You can visit both in one very busy day but you’re best to spread them out over two separate days.

Plan your visit:

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Temecula Valley wine region

Nearly 50 wineries populate the Temecula Valley and the rolling-hills region: known for award-winning Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir. Think of Temecula as the Napa Valley of southern California being only an hour drive from San Diego and a couple hours from LA.

Just west of the valley wine region, Old Town Temecula is a fantastic place to eat and people watch. However, getting through Old Town involved ten stop signs and ample opportunity for street café onlookers to witness my first gear stall.

Plan your visit:

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. West Texas is mostly flat and desolate, right? Not Quite! 

Big Bend National Park is an exception to people’s commonly-percieved notions that West Texas is flat and desolate. Big Bend National Park is the quintessential hidden gem of the state. At 801,000-plus acres, it’s one of the largest national parks in the United States yet it’s also one of the least-visited parks. The low-visit rate might be because the park is nowhere close to a populated city center.

Big Bend National Park is perhaps most appealing in winter when temperatures stay in the 60s during the daytime. This weather is perfect for hiking and biking the 200 miles of trails that the park offers. Big Bend offers the best of both mountain and desert terrain and with the Rio Grande River bordering the park, you can also take part in water activities.

Plan your visit:

Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. I still dream of Galveston

This exciting old city is located on a barrier island off the Gulf Coast via Highway 45. It’s just 50 miles south of Houston but it leaves the hustle and bustle of the big city behind and slows the pace down to a barefoot beach town.

The Gulf of Mexico laps the sandy beaches that stretch the full length of the island. You can enjoy the relaxing beachfront atmosphere, take a dip in the warm gulf waters, walk along the seawall, or go through the shops in the historic downtown area where cruise ship passengers disembark to get a taste of this historic city that was established in the early 1800s when it was still part of Mexico.

The Spanish influence is evident in much of the old-town architecture. Check out the Bishop’s Palace, historic churches, and the Moody Mansion for examples.

Read more:

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. A place apart

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself a place apart. Just 51 miles away from the one-of-a-kind hub that is New Orleans, Bay St. Louis couldn’t feel further from the hustle and bustle. The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. In fact, this strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi’s Secret Coast.

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries.

Plan your trip to be in town on the second Saturday of each month when Old Town puts on a giant art walk complete with live music, local merchants, and other special events.

Check this out to learn more: Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mardi Gras

Mark Twain once wrote that a traveler “… has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, drink—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy.

The biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans but nearly every community in the state has its own version of the annual party. Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you including tons of family-friendly celebrations.

Mardi Gras is here and there are so many parades and activities for every member of your family. You’ll find the perfect revelry for every age.

Nothing gets Louisianans together like a good party. And when it comes to Mardi Gras season, you’ll find plenty of ways to celebrate with the kids and grown-ups alike all the way up until Fat Tuesday (February 13, 2024).

Read more:

Mardi Gras King Cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Birthplace of Mardi Gras

When you think of Mardi Gras you likely think of New Orleans, beads, and the rowdiness of the French Quarter. The Big Easy has a long and illustrious history with Fat Tuesday, but, believe it or not, it’s not the birthplace of the celebration in America. For that, you have to go about 150 miles east to Mobile, Alabama.

On Mardi Gras, clusters of costumed people travel from the banks of Mobile Bay on Government Street, up old and tightly crowded Dauphin Street, and into the center of the city.

The secret societies that dominate the celebration organize themselves on floats just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did before them. Crowds along the street cheer them on and marvel at the costumes catching trinkets and MoonPies thrown from above.

Read more:

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. A dose of southern hospality

Savannah, Georgia, is a charming historic Southern town on the Atlantic coast, just across the Savannah River from South Carolina. The city is known for its beautiful municipal parks, historical features such as antebellum homes, and the horse-drawn carriages that ferry passengers around the cobblestoned streets of the historic district.

Stroll the ancient oak-lined paths of Forsyth Park and then take a walk through the Juliette Gordon Low Historic District followed by comfort food at a Southern cafe and you’ll never want to leave Savannah. February is the end of Savannah’s low season and a great time to beat the crowds as long as you are willing to don a jacket.

Worth Pondering…

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

―Charles M. Schulz

National Drink Wine Day: February 18

Use this National Drink Wine Day to try a new bottle and relax with the knowledge that you’re celebrating a long, long human tradition

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

Does anybody really need an excuse to open a bottle of their favorite red (or white)? Absolutely not! Still, that shouldn’t stand in the way of celebrating National Drink Wine Day.

Moon Curser Vineyard, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Drink Wine Day is held each year on February 18, so get ready to unwind with a glass or two of your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Wine has been a staple in human culture since its invention in 7000 BC. Some ancient societies enjoyed their wine so much they even worshiped it! These days, hundreds of types of wine are produced all over the world so there’s an endless variety to choose from.

It’s also suggested that a glass a day keeps the cardiologist away. From connoisseurs of wines from around the globe to casual fans that enjoy the odd glass at the restaurant or on an evening spent with friends, National Drink Wine Day is an undoubted highlight in the calendar.

Cheers!

Cooper Vineyards, Shenandoah Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unsurprisingly, National Drink Wine Day is a day to celebrate wine which includes drinking a glass (OK, bottle) of wine. However, its purpose isn’t to result in millions of people staggering around bars after losing self-control or to leave participants facing the mother of all hangovers on National Drink Wine Day +1. Wine should be enjoyed responsibly on this day more than any other.

The annual event is a time to reflect on the many benefits of wine as well as the role it has played in human history and society. The social aspects are particularly pertinent on this day which should be enjoyed with friends and family. After all, there’s nothing quite like sipping a glass of the good stuff while sharing fun and entertainment with the people that matter most.

Wine is one of life’s little luxuries that should be enjoyed far more regularly than once per year. Nonetheless, National Drink Wine Day is that special moment where millions can raise a glass to the benefits it brings while also paying homage to the winemakers of previous generations.

Bella Piazza Winery, Shenandoah Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of National Drink Wine Day

While we know humans have been making wine for thousands of years, no one is certain who was the first to ferment grapes into the beverage we now call wine. Evidence of ancient wine production has been found in China, the Middle East, and Greece so it appears many different cultures discovered the process at nearly the same time.

The oldest known winery was found in a cave in Armenia and is over 4,000 years old—the vinters there were using a grape still used to make wine today. Barrels of wine have been found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs and the Ancient Greeks used wine in religious ceremonies.

Although wine has taken all sorts of different forms throughout the ages the process has changed very little in the thousands of years since its invention. Grapes are crushed, pressed, and fermented and the mixture is sealed into barrels. The mixture is aged and then bottled. Using these simple steps an infinite variety of wines can be created and different regions of the world are known for the distinctive vintages they produce.

Ironside Vineyards, Calaveras County, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soil, temperature, and weather all affect the way wine grapes grow and make each batch unique. Two bottles of the same wine from the same vineyard might taste totally different depending on the year they were produced and some vintages become highly sought after as a result.

The history of wine itself can be dated back over 8,000 years to winemakers in the Eurasian region that is now Georgia. Alcoholic beverage has played a major part in society ever since and has been drunk in all four corners of the globe for many generations. Iranians, Italians, and Europeans in the Balkans all have rich histories of wine production that date back to ancient times while China created very similar alcoholic beverages as early as 7000 BC.

In today’s world, nearly 20 million acres of the earth’s surface are dedicated to grape farming for wine fermentation. There are literally thousands of brands and variants covering red wines, white wines, sparkling wines, and rose wines while mead, fruit wine, and ice wine is readily available to millions. Moreover, the experience of enjoying wine is closely linked to human history. For example, tapping glasses to say cheers harks back to the Ancient Romans.

Twisted Oak Winery, Murphys, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Drink Wine Day is a far more contemporary addition but is now in its second decade. Awareness of the event has increased at a fairly rapid rate with the annual event reaching new locations and a greater variety of demographics by the year. In truth, it’s only natural given the universal appeal of the beverage.

Whether red or white, National Drink Wine Day is not an event to be missed.

Ernest Hemingway said: “wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection and it offers a greater range of enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

Black Hills Winery, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Drink Wine Day activities

Drink wine: Get some friends together and uncork your favorite bottle of wine. Or simply enjoy it while watching a movie on the couch.

Try a new wine: Splurge a little on that bottle of wine that’s slightly above your budget but that you’ve always wanted to buy for yourself. Enjoy a glass or two and then save the rest for a special occasion.

Sip it in an unusual place: In the bath, at sunset on a mountain, or on a picnic blanket in your garden. Create a new wine-drinking experience for yourself.

Methven Cellars, Willamette Wine Country, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go for a wine tasting: A wine tasting is a great way to sample different varieties of wine all while receiving instruction from a certified sommelier. This will help you develop your palate and your appreciation for wine.

Take a winery tour: Many wineries run tours of their vineyards and cellars. Seeing where and how they make your favorite wine is an excellent way to learn more about the art of winemaking.

Head out to a wine bar: Spending time at a wine bar is a great way to hang out with friends and family and sip some amazing wine to boot. Additionally, most wine bars serve local wines, so you can get a taste of what’s happening in your area’s wine scene.

Fazeli Cellars, Temecula Wine Country, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Wine Trails less traveled

A true oenophile doesn’t need a special day to enjoy a glass of their favorite vino. And a true oenophile also knows that there is more to wine country than California’s popular Napa and Sonoma Valley. Let’s take a look at other regions to enjoy fine wines and beautiful vineyards.

Willamette Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willamette Valley, Oregon

If you enjoy a good pinot noir, head to Oregon’s Willamette Valley which is known for producing world-class pinot noir wines. The oldest winery here is Tualatin Estate Vineyard dating to 1973 and newer ones like Sidereus Vineyards which opened their tasting house in 2022 and was promptly named one of the Top Ten New Wineries by USA Today. For a map of the wineries in the area, visit willamettewines.com which also has all kinds of options for tours. Red Barn Rides offers e-bike and bicycle rentals for those who choose to tour the area on two wheels while the Tesla Custom Winery Tour offers small tours in a private Tesla.

Helwig Winery, Shenandoah Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley, California

The most concentrated Gold Country wine-touring area lies in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley east of Plymouth in Amador County. Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil, and warm temperatures that give the wines their distinctive flavor. Zinfandel is the primary grape grown here but area vineyards produce many other varietals from Rhônes like Syrah and Mourvèdre to Italian Barberas and Sangiovese. Most wineries are open for tastings at least on Fridays and weekends and many of the top ones are open daily and some welcome picnickers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah Valley Wine Country

Hester Creek Vineyard, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination. The Okanagan has a rare combination of growing conditions; desert climate (hot days, cool nights), low humidity, tolerable winters from its moderating lakes, young soils lain over glacial till, and all of this occurs at a high latitude (along the 49th parallel but vine growth is typically only possible in higher-temperature climates between the 30th and 50th parallels). These are the qualities that the entire global wine industry desires to define itself as. The fact that from north to south there are so many pockets with so much potential for certain grape varieties makes the valley unique as there are very few wine regions like it in the world.

>> Get more tips for visiting Okanagan Wine Country

Robert Renzoni Winery, Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley, California

The Temecula area has been producing top wines since the late 1960s. For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast named Temecula Valley one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019 shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality. This Tuscan-like wine region now boasts over 40 licensed wineries producing over 500,000 cases annually.

>> Get more tips for visiting Temecula Valley Wine Country

Pillsbury Wine Company, Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

Verde Valley Wine Country has a long history of winemaking. When the Spanish conquistadors came through the area in the late 1500s, a Conquistador named Antonio de Espejo called it the Valley of the Grapes because wild grapes were growing along the river beds. This small, bitter local variety termed Vitus Arizonica was used with not much success to make wine. Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

>> Get more tips for visiting Verde Valley Wine Country

Worth Pondering…

Anyone who tries to make you believe that he knows all about wines is obviously a fake.

―Leon D. Adams, The Commonsense Book of Wine

The 10 Best Day Trips in Southern California

Did your favorite Southern California experience make the list?

Home to so many large urban centers, Southern California is also incredibly rich in diverse ecosystems that range from deserts to mountaintops. Small charming towns provide a wonderful, relaxing destination in their own right while national and state parks offer active recreation but also an opportunity to get close to the natural world.

Palm Springs

Located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Palm Springs is known for its healing hot springs, luxury hotels, world-class golf courses, and pampering spas. Palm Springs has a number of great mid-century modern architecture examples especially in its downtown shopping district on Palm Canyon Drive.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside the city is Coachella Valley with excellent trails for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto Peak for spectacular views of the city. Visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens to see what thrives in the sparse desert ecosystem. Enjoy the 1938 Palm Springs Art Museum to learn about regional art, performing arts, and natural science.

Julian

Julian is a charming historic town and a popular mountain getaway in the scenic Cuyamaca Mountains. Julian was in the heart of the only San Diego gold rush when gold was found in a local creek in early 1870. The gold rush did not last long but many miners stayed to farm the rich land. Many remnants from the gold rush era are still standing and visitors can travel back in time by visiting the historic 1870 buildings.

Related: Out and About In Southern California

Mom’s Pie House, Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold made Julian, but apples made Julian famous. Its legendary crop won first prize at two World’s Fairs and is still the reason many visitors flock to this mountain town. No trip to Julian would be complete without digging into a slice of the town’s famed apple pie.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Town Temecula

Located in the heart of Temecula, the Old Town district is a unique blend of historic buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, hotels, weekly farmers’ markets, and special events in one walkable area. History buffs can wander the streets viewing rustic buildings, sidewalks, and storefronts reminiscent of the historic golden west in the 1880s. Take a step back in time and stroll along the wooden boardwalks past rustic western-era buildings, antique shops, and specialty boutiques.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a house museum in Desert Hot Springs. A large, Hopi-style pueblo was built in the Pueblo revival style by homesteader and adventurer Cabot Abram Yerxa in the early 20th century. The four-story 5,000-square-foot house was entirely hand-made from found and reclaimed objects and has 35 rooms, 65 doors, and 150 windows.

The house museum is a fascinating portrait of the life adventures of Cabot Yerxa and his family. It includes many household artifacts collected during their adventures through the Dakota Territory, Mexico, Alaska, Cuba, France, California, and the Southwest. There are also many artworks from Alaska Native and Native American cultures as well as curious memorabilia of desert homesteaders’ life.

Related: California’s Timeless Getaway: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park has two distinct desert ecosystems, the high Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. It is home to an incredible diversity of plants and is characterized by stark, empty desert landscapes and rugged and colorful rock formations.

The park got its name for one of the most common trees in the region: The twisted, strange-looking, bristly Joshua tree. The incredible beauty and strange energy of the place have long attracted painters, musicians, and other artistic types.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the park offers all kinds of adventures, from exploring the Indian Cove Nature Trail to rock climbing at Echo Cove or any of over 8,000 climbs and 400 rock formations to strolling through the magical Cholla Cactus Garden.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert, the largest state park in California, and was established in 1933 to protect unique and fragile desert ecosystems. The park is framed by rugged ranges of the Bucksnorts, the Santa Rosas, the Jacumba Mountains, the Vallecito Mountains, the Pinyon Mountains, the Anza-Borrego Mountains, and the Carrizo Badlands.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 500 miles of roads run through the park, over rocky hills, deep sands, cool streams, and steep hills, some requiring an off-road vehicle. The park includes some of the warmest temperatures in the country as well as rich 6,000-year-old archaeological findings. Visiting the park in the spring will award visitors with a spectacular mosaic of wildflowers. The park is home to many animals including mountain lions, coyotes, and bighorn sheep.

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

As a US congressman from California, Sonny Bono fought for funding to save the Salton Sea which suffers from water depletion, pollution, and too much salinity. The refuge was established in 1930 as a breeding ground for birds and wild animals and was renamed to honor Bono after he died in a skiing accident in 1998. 

Related: Spotlight on California: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Over 400 bird species, 41 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles, four species of amphibians, and 15 species of fish have been recorded on the refuge. The refuge features a visitor center, an observation tower, and a trail that climbs to the top of a small inactive volcano—two miles out and back.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley Wine Country

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people just don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards in Southern California. But the Temecula Valley has been producing top wines since the 1970s. And like the best vintages, this wine country just gets better with age.

It’s a diverse growing region, home to everything from cooler climate grapes like Chardonnay to such warm-weather loving varieties as Syrah and Grenache. The tasting experience is varied, too. Visit posh wineries with lavish restaurants overlooking the vines and summer concerts featuring top performers.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coachella Valley Preserve

One of the most unique places in the Coachella Valley is the Coachella Valley Preserve. The 17,000-acre site has 25 miles of hiking trails and is home to the spectacular Thousand Palm Oasis which is fed by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault.

There are also several other palm oases including the Willis, Hidden Horseshoe, and Indian Palms. Located in the center is the Paul Wilhelm Grove which is also the location of the Preserve’s visitor’s center. The preserve has several hiking trails including the McCallum, Hidden Palms, Moon Country, Pushawalla Palms, and Willis Palms.

Related: Road-tripping on California’s Less-traveled Lanes

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monsters in the Desert

The desert landscape near Borrego Springs has been changed forever by the appearance of prehistoric creatures that pop up alongside the roadside. The original steel welded sculptors, the craft of artist/welder Ricardo Breceda, began arriving in April 2008 on Dennis Avery’s private parcel of land known as Galleta Meadows Estate.

There are now over 130 meticulously crafted metal sculptures sprinkled throughout the small town of Borrego Springs. Elephants, raptors, mammoths, sloths, and saber-toothed tigers prowl the desert off Borrego Springs Road north and south of the town proper. From ground-hugging desert tortoises to rearing horses, each rust-colored sculpture is filled with intricate detail–from the curling eyelashes of 10-foot high elephants to the shaved metal fur of the equally imposing sloths.

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no name, where the streets have no name …

Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

Forget Napa! It’s Always Wine O’clock in these 5 Underrated Wine Regions!

While I’m familiar with Napa, the throngs of tourists and the overpriced wines that accompany them have caused me to explore elsewhere

Napa Valley may be synonymous with wine country trips. The well-established region with 400 wineries consistently churns out award-winning labels. But there are many more wine trip destinations that shrug off the pretension and make damn good vino and also offer outdoor recreation to break up your wine tastings. While these regions have managed to quietly “sip” under the radar for years, they boast big flavor without touristy crowds or the tourist prices that typically go with them.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the remarkable pinot noirs in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to California’s Shenandoah Valley to Canada’s largely undiscovered wine region in the Okanagan Valley, these authentic spots are ripe for exploration.

Here are five alternatives to Napa for your next wine country escape. Get ready to indulge in these underrated wine regions because it’s always wine o’clock somewhere.

Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willamette Valley, Oregon

The Willamette Valley, Oregon’s leading wine region has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards and is home to nearly 700 wineries. It is recognized as one of the premier Pinot noirs–producing areas in the world. The Willamette Valley is a huge and varied appellation that includes nine nested appellations: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Laurelwood District, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Tualatin Hills, Van Duzer Corridor, and Yamhill-Carlton.

The Willamette Valley is protected by the Coast Range to the west, the Cascades to the east, and a series of hill chains to the north. Its namesake, the Willamette River, runs through its heart. The largest concentration of vineyards are located to the west of this river on the leeward slopes of the Coast Range or among the valleys created by the river’s tributaries.

Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the flagship Pinot noir grape, wineries also produce Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Melon, Gewürztraminer, sparkling wine, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah, and Gamay among other lesser-known varieties.

While wineries are the centerpiece of a wine tourist’s itinerary, there are also other things to see and do like visiting an art gallery, biking, hiking, or floating above wine country in a hot air balloon.

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley, California

The most concentrated Gold Country wine-touring area lies in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley east of Plymouth in Amador County. Zinfandel is the primary grape grown here but area vineyards produce many other varietals from Rhônes like Syrah and Mourvèdre to Italian Barberas and Sangioveses. Most wineries are open for tastings at least on Friday and weekends and many of the top ones are open daily and some welcome picnickers.

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil and warm temperatures that gives the wines their distinctive flavor.

Home to some of the oldest vines in California, the wines produced from the vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley are renowned for their intense fruit and deep color. Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise, and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination. The Okanagan has a rare combination of growing conditions; desert climate (hot days, cool nights), low humidity, tolerable winters from its moderating lakes, young soils lain over glacial till and all of this occurs at a high latitude (along the 49th parallel but vine growth is typically only possible in higher-temperature climates between the 30th and 50th parallels). These are the qualities that the entire global wine industry desires to define itself as being.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only 150 scenic miles stretch from the northern edge of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to its southern limit at the U.S. border but that short distance encompasses a world of wine. The north with its cool, forested hills and racy Rieslings evokes Alsace or the Mosel; the south comprises Canada’s only desert where intense summer heat produces powerful Bordeaux-style reds and lush Rhône-style whites. The fact that from north to south there are so many pockets with so much potential for certain grape varieties makes the valley unique as there are very few wine regions like it in the world.

So take our word when we say Canada is the next hot spot. Or don’t (…more wine for us).

Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley, California

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards so close to the California desert. But the Temecula area has been producing top wines since the late 1960s.

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality. This Tuscan-like wine region now boasts over 40 licensed wineries producing over 500,000 cases annually.

Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The De Portola Wine Trail is quickly becoming the new “Wine Row” of Temecula and this has a balanced combination of the picturesque valley and the nine unique wineries that nestle amid the rolling hills.

No matter which varietal of wine you’re looking for, you can probably find it here. Known for its diversity, wineries in the Temecula Valley grow and produce over 50 different varietals of wine from Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot to Mourvedre, Viognier to Chardonnay, and Syrah to Grenache.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. Cottonwood, a quick drive from the red rocks of Sedona, is located in the 200-square-mile Verde Valley. More than 20 vineyards form the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production.

Verde Valley Wine Country has a long history of winemaking. When the Spanish conquistadors came through the area in the late 1500s, a Conquistador named Antonio de Espejo called it the “Valley of the Grapes” because wild grapes were growing along the river beds. This small, bitter local variety termed Vitus Arizonica was used with not much success to make wine.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

No visit would be complete without a stop at the Southwest Wine Center on the campus of Yavapai College in Clarkdale. Not only is it a place for students to learn winemaking and land jobs in the industry but visitors are welcome to visit the 13-acre vineyard and sample wines from the center’s own label.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

Wine Country and National Parks: A Perfect Summer Pairing

Combine spectacular national park scenery with a nearby wine country tasting experience

In an era of shrinking wilderness, it seems downright visionary that early U.S. presidents put pen to paper to protect diverse ecosystems for the public good. Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Valley Grant Act in 1864. Ulysses S. Grant created Yellowstone National Park in 1872. And, at the turn of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt earned the moniker “The Conservation President” for his amazing number of protections.

Ironside Vineyards in Calaveras County, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 252 distinct wine regions and even more grape varieties across the U.S. (There are about 10,000 varieties of wine grapes worldwide), wine lovers can savor their favorite wines and explore new ones on their way to and from great parks including Yosemite in the High Sierra south to Joshua Tree in the desert and east to Shenandoah in the Appalachians. Like the stewards of America’s unique national parks, winemakers and growers also feel a deep connection to the land―and making it easy for travelers to find the perfect wine to complement their journey.

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Yosemite National Park

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls but within its nearly 1,200 square miles you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area.

70 miles northwest is Murphys, one of California’s richest “diggins” during the California Gold Rush of the 1840s—hence its former name, Murphys New Diggings. The draw today isn’t gold though. It’s quaint, as you’ll see when strolling down the town’s idyllic little Main Street with its clapboard buildings and white picket fences. But where prospectors and gamblers once mingled in between gold-digging expeditions (fit in a visit to the Old Timers Museum if you can), now winemakers hold sway and there are upwards of two dozen wine-tasting rooms along Main Street and several vineyards in the vicinity. As the so-called Queen of the Sierra, Murphys has a small population of around 2,213 but plenty of homestyle restaurants and cozy country inns. One such is the Murphys Hotel whose illustrious guests have included Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico: White Sands National Park

Prefer a less crowded park experience? While four million people trek to Yosemite each year, White Sands National Park receives just 600,000 visitors across 275 square miles of desert. As its name implies, the park’s gypsum sand shimmers enough to mimic snowy dunes.

Rio Grande Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bright and dry days help vines flourish in nearby Mesilla Valley, New Mexico’s smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA). Straddling the Rio Grande River, the climate supports the production of rich reds from varieties like Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon plus a bit of Tempranillo. The town of Las Cruces serves as a jumping-off point to explore local wineries like Lescombes Winery, Rio Grande Winery (see photo above), La Viña Winery, and Luna Rossa Winery.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Pinnacles National Park

As throngs fight for reservations to Yosemite, in-the-know travelers go to Pinnacles National Park. Not only does it serve around 200,000 visitors a year, Pinnacles neighbors the beautiful coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Central Coast wine regions in Monterey County.

Vineyards near Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Much like the ancient soils that nurture nearby Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines, the park’s landscape was born of geological upheaval. More than 23 million years ago, volcanoes and shifting tectonic plates created the unique Talus caves and rock formations, or pinnacles. Hikers and cavers test their athleticism and nerve on challenging terrain though there are also easier hikes for the less ambitious. All highlight diverse wildlife from hummingbirds and condors to salamanders and mountain lions.

Wine lovers can tackle the 5.3-mile hike from Condor Gulch to High Peaks in the morning followed by lunchtime sips in the Santa Lucia Highlands. There’s a clutch of wineries along River Road with Hahn Family Wines near the south and Wrath Wines further north.

Pillsbury Wine Company tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is a showstopper of the American Southwest. With upwards of six million visitors each year, reservations for the vast gorge’s lodges and campgrounds are often booked up to a year in advance. However, a photo of the winding Colorado River from the South Rim is far easier to land. Lookout points at Navajo Point and Desert View Drive swell with crowds but for good reason. The two-billion-year-old layered red sedimentary rock is peppered with pines, spruces, and firs. It’s peerless in its beauty.

Wine tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two hours south, near Sedona, another hiking haven amidst sublime scenery sits Verde Valley. Winemaking dates to the 1800s but the modern industry was resurrected in the 1980s. Vineyards offer mostly red grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Mourvèdre. Taste along the Verde Valley trail or at the numerous tasting rooms in Cottonwood and Jerome.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah which teems with vistas, wildlife, and waterfalls attracts around 1.5 million visitors a year. About 75 miles from Washington D.C., the centerpiece of the 200,000-acre park is the 105-mile Skyline Drive that features dramatic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains around every turn. Well-marked trails offer hikes through woodland valleys and across streams. History buffs might want to stop at nearby Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site of a devastating 1861 Civil War clash.

At the southern end of the park lies Charlottesville, the pastoral area that Thomas Jefferson called home. Though he failed to make fine wine, wineries like King Family Vineyards, Stinson Vineyards, Barboursville, and Veritas produce Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Viognier, and red blends in the Monticello AVA.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Joshua Tree National Park

Two major deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran come together in Joshua Tree National Park, an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. Explore the desert scenery, granite monoliths (popular with rock climbers), petroglyphs from early Native Americans, old mines, and ranches. And the hiking is fantastic.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to this park wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Temecula about two hours southwest. The Temecula Wine Region invites you to savor the hundreds of award-winning wines in Southern California’s wine county. Wine snobs may scoff at the wines of Southern California in favor of the grapes of Napa or Sonoma but the vineyards of Temecula Valley have established a reputation over the last decade for producing fantastic Bordeaux and Rhône varietals as well as those from Spain, Italy, and Portugal. With more than 40 vineyards throughout the region, you can find something to satisfy any tasting desire from lavish, over-the-top wine resorts to small, mom-and-pop operations.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stunning modern Moorish architecture and warm hospitality are the hallmarks of Bizhan “BJ” Fazeli’s beautiful winery which has one of the widest ranges of varietals in the Temecula Valley. Produced both from estate vineyards and select local growers the names of the collections are an homage to Fazeli’s Persian roots—The Heritage Collection honors five Persian poets, Embrace the Chaos includes Pandemonium, Rukus, Mayhem, and Uproar and the popular Season Collection celebrates annual solstices and equinoxes. If you’re visiting at lunchtime, stop by Baba Joon’s Kitchen for Mediterranean/Persian-influenced shareable appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and flatbreads.

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

Temecula Valley Wine Country

Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first modern commercial vineyard was planted in 1968 by the late Vincenzo Cilurzo and his wife Audrey. Cilurzo worked as a television lighting director in Los Angeles for many years and, like many later Temecula Valley pioneers, he fostered an interest in winemaking as a hobby before he decided to pursue his dream full time.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Later in 1968, Guasti-based Brookside Winery also planted a vineyard in Temecula Valley. In 1971, Brookside Winery produced the first commercial wines made from Temecula grapes.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Callaway Vineyard and Winery began farming grapes in 1969, and opened the first Temecula Winery in 1974. Its founder, Ely Callaway went on to gain fame and fortune in the world of golf with his namesake company, Callaway Golf.

John Poole’s Mount Palomar Winery opened in 1975, and in 1978 the Cilurzos opened the third Temecula winery at a new site. Their original vineyard, Temecula’s oldest, is now owned by Maurice Car’rie Winery.

Temecula Valley received formal recognition as an American Viticultural Area in 1984, first as Temecula AVA with a subsequent name change to Temecula Valley AVA in 2004.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley now boasts over 40 licensed wineries, producing over 500,000 cases annually.

The De Portola Wine Trail is quickly becoming the new “Wine Row” of Temecula, and this is a balance combination of the picturesque valley and the nine unique wineries that nestle amid the rolling hills.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the west end of the De Portola Wine Trail is family owned Robert Renzoni Vineyards. The tasting room is located on 12 acres of rolling hills featuring nine acres dedicated to classic Italian and Bordeaux grape varieties, uniquely planted in six segmented micro climate blocks. The Renzoni family began creating wines over 100 years ago along Italy’s northern coast. Today, Robert Renzoni Vineyards continues the tradition begun by their ancestors.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We tasted a portfolio of five wines in the Tuscan Villa tasting room that included Barile Chardonnay, Barbara, Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Montepulciano. Tasting fee is $15 ($20 on weekends). We purchased two bottles of Zinfandel.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We previously visited the Temecula Valley Wine Country in November 2001 while staying at Thousand Trails Wilderness Lakes Preserve. We took in the 10th annual Harvest Wine Celebration held the third weekend in November. At that time 14 wineries produced premium wines made possible by a unique micro-climate and well-drained decomposed granite soils.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling east on Rancho California Road, we started with the last winery, Wilson Creek. Founded and operated by the Wilson family, Wilson Creek carried a broad selection of premium wines and offered a unique tasting experience including the very popular Almond Champagne. Next to the winery and tasting room was an elegant wedding gazebo, landscaped gardens, a large event tent, and a natural creek and pond.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards features a welcoming tasting room, full-service restaurant with vineyard view dining and expansive patio, creek side picnic area, indoor and outdoor conference and event spaces, romantic wedding venue, and exclusive retreat accommodations.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The following day we returned to the Temecula Valley Wine Country stopping for tastings at Filsinger, Keyways, Van Roekel, and Callaway Wineries. And that was 17 years ago when wine tasting was $3 to $5 a person and often with a complimentary wine glass.

A family-owned winery since 1978, Filsinger currently produces about 7,000 cases including seven different varietal wines and four types of champagnes.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1989, Keyways Vineyard and Winery was one of the original wineries along Temecula Valley’s winding De Portola Wine Trail. Keyways’ beautiful building and grounds are reminiscent of an early California mission, complete with vineyards and horses grazing in a nearby coral.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maurice Car’rie Winery produces wines under the Maurice Car’rie and Van Roekel labels.

Callaway Vineyard & Winery wines are only available at the winery and are offered for tasting and purchase in their gift shop and tasting room.

Pechanga Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

Temecula Valley: 50 Years in the Grapes

Winegrowing goes back over 50 years in Temecula Valley

A stone’s throw from the millions of people who inhabit Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties, the Temecula Valley sits in western Riverside County.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a hot August day in the late 1960s, Eli Callaway, a very East Coast businessman, was being driven on what is now Rancho California Road when he came upon a very pregnant woman working in a small family vineyard.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It must have been over 100 degrees,” said Audrey Cilurzo, who with her husband, Vincenzo, had planted the first commercial vineyard in the region.

Dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit and wearing white shoes, Ely Callaway wasted little time.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“He walked up to me and said, ‘My name is Ely Callaway and I’m the CEO of Burlington Industries and I only have two hours to learn all there is to know about the wine business.'”

Fifty years later, much has changed in Temecula.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula’s Wine Country, a dream of a handful of pioneers five decades ago, has grown in both size and prestige having been named one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” by the prestigious Wine Enthusiast.

Ely Callaway and John Moramarco met on a dirt road in what is now Temecula’s Wine Country when Callaway was looking for property to buy.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1967, Moramarco who descended from a long line of viticulturists had been hired by Brookside Winery of Rancho Cucamonga to come to Rancho California to plant 1,000 acres of grapes. Brookside and the Cilurzos were the first to plant commercial vineyards in the valley.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Callaway asked Moramarco where a good location would be for a winery. Moramarco pointed to the spot where the winery sits today.

In 1968, Callaway bought 150 acres. Soon after, he hired Moramarco away from Brookside to plant grapes and manage the vineyard.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next year, Moramarco planted 105 acres of grapevines, including 40 acres of sauvignon blanc, 40 acres of chenin blanc, and 25 acres of white riesling.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1973, Callaway sold 25 tons of grapes to Robert Mondavi Winery, keeping just enough of his harvest to determine whether he should build a winery in Temecula.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After heading up giant textile manufacturer Burlington Industries, but being passed over for its chief executive officer position in 1973, Callaway “retired” to Temecula to oversee the vineyard. In January 1974, he began building the winery, with plans to crush and bottle the first Callaway wines that September. Moramarco served as the vineyard’s manager. The first wines were sold in October 1975.

Eli Callaway sold the winery to Hiram Walker & Sons in 1981 and went on to gain fame and fortune in the world of golf with his namesake company, Callaway Golf.

You can find almost every familiar variety in California here, from Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, and Merlot. There are also some grapes that aren’t so common, like Vermentino, Falanghina, and Counoise.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red blends are popular including classic styles like Rhône and Bordeaux blends. Grapes that originate in warmer climates, like Sangiovese and Tempranillo, also do well.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rather warm region is cooled by Pacific Ocean wind and fog that sails through the “Rainbow Gap” of the Santa Margarita Mountains. Today, thanks to more than 40 wineries and their multifaceted tasting rooms, the hospitality industry is thriving, with restaurants, hotels, golf courses, breweries, distilleries, and even a casino with a 5-star RV Park.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With great wines and beautiful scenery, Temecula Valley is a fun place to spend a few days or a few weeks in your RV with lots of options for all ages.

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Pechanga Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

Temecula Valley Named Best Wine Destination for 2019

The Southern California wine region was named one of the best destinations for 2019

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The esteemed annual list is a product of extensive travel and tastings that Wine Enthusiast editors and contributors undertake throughout the year.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We seek locales that offer world-class wines as well as unforgettable restaurants, hotels, and cultural activities suited for the intrepid wine lover,” says the publication’s executive editor, Susan Kostrzewa. “The list balances classic, famed regions with emerging, insider gems that have yet to be discovered.”

This marks the first time that Temecula Valley was selected.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The wines have never been better,” says Wine Enthusiast contributing editor Matt Kettmann, “and I’ve sensed an increased focus on grape growing and quality winemaking in just the past five years that I’ve been covering the region. Plus, there’s a lot more excitement surrounding their hospitality offerings now than ever before.”

Temecula Valley has been producing notable wines since the late 1960s, when early adopters discovered that a wide range of varietals could flourish here. Now, winemakers have had time to take their craft to the next level. In addition, some have opened hotels and gourmet restaurants to round out the experience.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Not long ago, Temecula Valley was just beginning to create tourism experiences with only a handful of wineries and offerings,” says Kimberly Adams, CEO of Visit Temecula Valley. “The pioneers had a dream and persevered; it was their passion—and that of those who followed—that continue to make this a destination people fall in love with.”

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Relative newcomers are making an impact, too—like Robert Renzoni and his vineyard, which he opened in 2008 on the west end of the De Portola Wine Trail. The tasting room is located on 12 acres of rolling hills featuring nine acres dedicated to classic Italian and Bordeaux grape varieties, uniquely planted in six segmented micro climate blocks.

The Renzoni family began creating wines over 100 years ago along Italy’s northern coast. Today, Robert Renzoni Vineyards continues the tradition begun by their ancestors.

“Back in the day, people used to laugh at Napa and Paso Robles,” he says. “It took determination and experimentation for those regions to get to where they are now.”

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

He says Temecula is following the same trajectory: Dedicated winegrowers are settling here, doing their homework, and continually experimenting. Now they’ve had time to figure out what grows best; with a terroir and elevation similar to Tuscany, that’s been mainly the Mediterranean varietals.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Syrah and Sangiovese will make this region famous,” he says, but Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, and Vermentino are flourishing as well.”

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a recent visit we tasted a portfolio of five wines in their Tuscan Villa tasting room that included Barile Chardonnay, Barbara, Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Montepulciano. Tasting fee is $15 ($20 on weekends). We purchased two bottles of Zinfandel.

Renzoni also jumped on the flourishing hospitality trend by opening an on-site trattoria, Mama Rosa’s, a few years ago. And he’s happy to see the area begin to receive national attention for all of its offerings. “Eventually, we’ll get to the point where people will say, ‘Remember when people laughed at Temecula?’”

Pechanga RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

Temecula Valley: Historic Old Town, Wine Country and More

The Southern California wine region was named one of the best destinations for 2019

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley wine country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people just don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards so close to the California desert.

But the Temecula Valley has been producing top wines since the 1970s. And like the best vintages, this wine country just gets better with age.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It’s a diverse growing region, home to everything from cooler climate grapes like Chardonnay to such warm-weather loving varieties as Syrah and Grenache. The tasting experience is varied, too. Visit posh wineries with lavish restaurants overlooking the vines, and summer concerts featuring top performers.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Stroll the streets of Old Town Temecula, with quality boutiques, eateries, and a relaxed Old West feel. Take a hot-air balloon ride or tasting tour in a chauffeured limousine, or play a round of golf. Or just hang out in a tasting room gain insights into this unique and surprising region.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Centrally located just east of Interstate 15, Temecula Valley is within an hour’s drive from San Diego, Orange County, and the Palm Springs/Coachella Valley area. 

The name Temecula comes from the Luiseño Indian word “Temecunga” —“temet” meaning “sun” and “-ngna” which means “place of”.

The Spanish interpreted and spelled the word as “Temecula” translated to mean “Where the sun breaks through the mist”. Temecula is the only city in California to still retain its original Indian name.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

History buffs can wander the streets of Old Town Temecula viewing rustic buildings, sidewalks, and storefronts reminiscent of the historic golden west in the 1880s.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located in the heart of Temecula, the Old Town district is a unique blend of historic buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, hotels, weekly farmers market, and special events in one walkable, easy-to navigate area.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Taking a step back in time, we strolled along the wooden boardwalks past rustic western-era buildings, antique shops, and specialty boutiques. We checked out the shops with a stop at Temecula Olive Oil Company.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Once the site of a stopover on the historic Butterfield Overland Stage Coach Line, scenic Vail Lake was created in 1948 when the owners of the Vail Cattle Ranch constructed the 132 foot high Vail Lake Dam. Owned and operated by the Rancho California Water District since 1978, the 1,000+ acre lake is a well known mountain biking destination and recreational mecca.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Today Vail Lake RV Resort offers camping and activities for the whole family, including camping, mountain biking, hiking, miniature golf, swimming, horseshoes, and just plain relaxing under the oaks. Offering both privacy and security, Vail Lake RV Resort is a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature in over 8,000 acres of ancient, shady oaks, and natural California chaparral hillsides.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Temecula Valley, at an elevation of 1,400 feet, with warm days and cool nights, is an ideal location for growing high quality wine grapes.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

No matter which varietal of wine you’re looking for, you can probably find it in Temecula Valley Wine Country. Wineries here in the Temecula Valley grow and produce over 50 different varietals of wine; from Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot to Mourvedre, Viognier to Chardonnay.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Temecula Valley is particularly well-suited to growing Italian, Spanish, and French grapes such as Sangiovese, Syrah, Montepulciano, Viognier, Zinfandel, and Tempranillo.

The majority of Temecula Valley wineries make only a small quantity of each vintage—not enough for national distribution. So, you won’t often find their wines in grocery stores or wine shops; they’re mostly available to visitors via winery tasting rooms. That means, when you buy a bottle to take home, you’re bringing back something truly unique.

Pechanga Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966