Wander Local: 7 Places to Spend the Day in Southern California

Feb 11, 2021

One unexpected upside to the pause on our usual lives is the opportunity to explore communities and destinations that we may have otherwise overlooked. Before recent events, how often did you go on a road trip to see wildflowers in bloom; or take a many-hours-long walk through the neighborhood; or hop in the car just for a scenic drive? With this extra time, we've been afforded the rare opportunity to wander locally, to rediscover the familiar and get a fresh look at old favorites.

Southern Californians are privileged to have stunning landscapes and colorful communities easily accessible. So why not get out of your bubble for a day and see what you've been missing in your own backyard? Read on for seven communities that are worth (re)discovering—they're all located near Temecula Valley, less than two hours' drive from Los Angeles or San Diego.

Editor's note: Before you head out on your local adventure, be sure to check the relevant websites for status, hours and any safety requirements.

Throw a Line in Lake Hemet

Head to Lake Hemet (50 miles from Temecula) for a waterfront picnic or a stroll with a stunning backdrop. Surrounded by the San Jacinto Mountains, this little slice of nirvana is freckled with pine and giant oak trees. Keep an eye out for bald eagles and wild deer. The lake is also great for bigmouth bass fishing. Don't worry, there's no need to be an expert to pick up a pole; it's a beginner-friendly sport, and fishing licenses, poles and bait are sold by Lake Hemet Market at the campground's entrance. Should you wish to extend your day trip overnight, tent camping and cabin rentals (real bed included) are available through Lake Hemet Recreation.

Meander through Murrieta Valley

In Murrieta Valley (7 miles from Temecula), cyclists spin through extensive, varied trail systems set in among stunning scenery. Road riders can traverse the bike-friendly town center or climb the hilly country roads through wooded areas. With nearly 10,000 acres to explore, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is perfect for the trail rider hunting for unique scenery. For an easy 4-mile ride through a grassy valley, take the Vernal Pool Trail loop to see the frog and tadpole-filled pools for which the trail is named.

Go Clubbing at Canyon Lake

The 6,000-yard course at Canyon Lake (22 miles from Temecula) was designed by award-winning architect Ted Robinson. Though the course itself is limited for play by members, the practice facility and driving range are open to the public. In addition to a large turf range, the practice facility has a putting green, pitching area and a sand bunker. After warming up (and undoubtedly falling in love with the facilities), you can play a round by joining the club under a pay for play membership. Before you leave, swing by the clubhouse for an alfresco breakfast, complete with their beloved French Toast. 

Take Flight in Temecula Valley

Temecula Valley is (rightly) celebrated for its prolific wine production—on its own a wonderful reason to take a day trip—but there's another activity you'll miss if you bolt after a tasting: hot air ballooning. 

Here you can soar over the rolling hills and lush vineyards of Temecula Valley with one of three great companies. Sunrise flights are the norm, so to zen out among the clouds, you'll need to first stay overnight. Temecula has several hotels, inns and vacation rentals to choose from; four-star hotels Temecula Creek Inn and South Coast Winery Resort & Spa are among our favorites.

Get Extreme at Lake Elsinore

It's not only the namesake freshwater lake (the largest in Southern California) that makes Lake Elsinore (17 miles from Temecula) worth a visit. The town's wide availability of extreme sports have long made it a destination for thrill seekers. 

Here the warm winds blowing from the neighboring Ortega Mountains make the area perfect for skydiving, hang-gliding and paragliding. If you're ready to take the plunge, book with Skydive Elsinore who have been in operation for 57 years, which makes them the oldest and longest-running drop zone in North America.

Hike in Idyllwild

The search for "perfect little mountain town" can stop; we found it. Filled with locally-owned shops, restaurants and art galleries, Idyllwild (55 miles from Temecula) packs a major culture punch for a city with only 2,500 permanent residents. There's an arts academy, annual Jazz in the Pines Festival and an international film festival (2021 dates for both fests are TBA).

Exposed granite outcrops make the area surrounding Idyllwild popular for rock climbing. This isn’t beginner-level stuff—you’ll need special equipment and some knowhow—but if rock climbing is your sport, Tahquitz Rock is the place to start.

Idyllwild also boasts abundant hiking trails among the surrounding towering pines and cedars. These hikes range from quick and easy weekender treks to grueling overnight hiking journeys. On the easy (and family-friendly) side, we like Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail, a scenic 5-mile roundtrip hike with a forest path and excellent views of Tahquitz Rock. Load a backpack picnic to enjoy at Humber Park where the trail begins.

Summit Mt. San Jacinto

Then there's the challenging ascent to Mount San Jacinto (summit: 10,834) via the Deer Springs Trail which runs along the famous Pacific Crest Trail for a stretch. You'll gain 5,121 feet in elevation on the 19-mile hike. A permit is required, but it's free and can be arranged at the San Jacinto Ranger Station. Before you start up the trail, pick up some fuel at the Sunday or Thursday Farmers Market in the city of San Jacinto.

Once you reach the peak of Mount San Jacinto, you'll see what John Muir described as the "most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth." It's said that on a clear day, you can see from Catalina Island to Southern Utah. From there, you can figure what part of your backyard to explore next.

Ready to hit the road and discover these great backdrops and open spaces? Start planning your next local adventure today.

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