Looking for something fun and different to do this summer in Southern California? Then head to glorious wine country in Temecula and take a sunrise hot air balloon ride with California Dreamin’
I confess to a fear of heights, but my mother, who was visiting from overseas and has an adventurous spirit, wanted to go hot air ballooning. So, several weeks ahead of schedule I booked our flight with California Dreamin’ in Temecula – just a short 90-minute drive from Los Angeles.
I chose California Dreamin’ for a number of reasons: They responded quickly to our inquiries, and the company is the oldest in the area. David Bradley, who owns the company with his wife, Gail, has been flying balloons since he was a teenager. His son, Dylan is also a pilot with the company. David is a born raconteur, has traveled the world flying balloons and has such a passion for what he does, it’s impossible to not fall in love with his enthusiasm.
We organized our balloon flight for my birthday. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, California Dreamin’ will go out of their way to post a sign on the basket when you fly, and will even have a cake with candles waiting for you on your return, for the post flight breakfast.
Yes, there’s a post flight breakfast, complete with bread, fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, Champagne, Mimosas, hot cocoa, tea and coffee. By the time you return from your flight you’ll be pretty hungry, because you need to be at the meeting site at 5 a.m. Trust me, though, it’s totally worth it.
We decided to head to Temecula the day before our flight and stay somewhere nearby to the meeting place – which is the Vindemia vineyard – where the Bradley family live in a gorgeous pale yellow house and also run their small winery.
We chose to stay at The South Coast Winery Resort & Spa. We’d heard great things about it, and discovered it was only a seven-minute drive to Vindemia. Perfect!
Marketing Manager Melissa Fry, was wonderful to work with (and she just happened to have the same birthday as me). We booked our room and looked forward to a meal at the resort, a tour of the winery, and some time at the spa.
Driving up to Temecula though, Melissa called to tell us that South Coast Winery was in the midst of a power outage and they were going to put us up in their newer hotel – the Carter Estate Winery & Resort – just across the road.
Carter Estate is just three years old and we were thrilled to discover that although we’d booked one room with two queen beds at South Coast Winery, at Carter Estate we were given a villa with two separate rooms. Our villa was like a little house with our own parking space. A main front door lead to an entrance hallway with two separate doors to our adjoining suites. Each suite had a King-sized bed, spa tub, walk-in shower, a living room and dining area. The piece de resistance was a private patio with a dining table overlooking the vineyards.
We really had the best of both worlds – staying at Carter Estate – which also included a wine pairing touring and tasting, along with access to the amazing restaurant, spa and pool at South Coast Winery.
After returning from our balloon flight we headed off to the South Coast Winery’s spa for massages and facials, followed by a delicious lunch on the gorgeous patio at the hotel’s Vineyard Rose restaurant. We met with Executive Chef Loren Lawe, who served me a to-die-for double fudge birthday cake. We spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool. Once you book a treatment at the spa, you are free to use the spa all day long. They’ll provide you with robes and slippers, access to the hot tub, the pool, the rain showers, and the sauna. Bliss!
The spa was the perfect antidote after having to drag ourselves out of our comfy beds at Carter Estates at 4:30 a.m. to head off on our balloon adventure. There were six of us on the balloon ride (plus pilot David), and following an explanation of how the morning would unfold, we piled into David’s van and drove to our launch site. Along the way, we stopped twice for David and his crew to check the balloon and the wind direction. A quick note here: balloon flights are at the mercy of the weather gods. California Dreamin’ makes it clear you should call the afternoon before your flight to check with the company if the flight is still on. And even as you head out on the morning of your flight, David will check and double check to make sure it’s safe to fly.
Remember to dress in layers and you must wear close-toed shoes to go hot air ballooning. It’s cold early in the morning but by the time you’re in the balloon the sun will have risen. California Dreamin’ has blankets you can wrap yourself in before you set off. A lovely, thoughtful, touch.
Watching David and his crew spread the balloon on the launch site, and light the pilot light makes you realize how much physical labor is involved in the process, but it’s fascinating to watch. The most difficult part is clambering in and out of the basket but once you’re in, it’s surprising how soft and springy the base of the basket is and how roomy it is.
As someone who would rather have both feet firmly planted on the ground, I was amazed to discover how gentle take off and landing was. You’re moving so imperceptibly slowly, you forget that you’re literally going “up, up and away”. Hovering above the beauty of the landscape – the homes, the vineyards, the greenery – is a truly inexplicable experience. You really do feel as though you are floating, and what makes the adventure so remarkable is feeling the wind in your face and the silence that envelopes you as you pretty much glide across the landscape.
Even a scaredy-cat like me is now a convert to hot air ballooning. There is nothing like a Southern California summer, and I can’t think of a better vacation than a hot air balloon ride with California Dreamin’ and an overnight stay at either the South Coast Winery or Carter Estate. I think I can safely say it was my best birthday to date.
Click here for more information on California Dreamin’ Balloon Rides.
Click here for more information on South Coast Winery Resort & Spa.
Click here for more information on Carter Estate Winery & Resort.
The reporter was a guest of California Dreamin’ Balloon Rides.