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Eclectic Shopping In Temecula

Old Town Temecula
Old Town Temecula
Photo by Aaron Linsdau

Where can you find European shops, a store full of heady spices, an olive oil tasting room and a purveyor of international cheeses? For these types of places, driving to Los Angeles or flying up to San Francisco is completely unnecessary. Just a short drive north of San Diego will bring you all of these shopping experiences and more.

Located at the southern edge of the Inland Empire, just off I-15, Old Town Temecula boasts some of the most unique -- save the ubiquitous Starbucks -- establishments in Southern California. Here, one can easily spend a day shopping and explore some true nooks and crannies of the community. Some stores are well hidden behind other buildings. However, these stealthy locations give way to the quality and variety of their offerings.

Formerly known as the Temecula Country Store, the newer and tastier Old Town Sweet Shop is sure to appeal to the sugar passion of both young and old. From Abba-Zabba to Whoppers, there are literally barrelfuls of candy lining the walls. These are right under smaller bins containing some of the childhood nostalgic brands. As you walk through this store, you’ll find yourself saying, “Hey, I remember those!” With the all natural fudge selections prepared on-site, there is something for everyone. There is even a selection of British treats, such as shortbreads, biscuits (cookies) and teas. Located in the Penfold Building at 28545 Old Town Front St, #101. 951-693-1919. Open Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Just two doors down from the Old Town Sweet Shop is the Old Town Root Beer Company. The selection of root beers, sarsaparilla and classic sodas is mind boggling. More than once this writer has broken down and had to ask for a suggestion of what to try next. Open your just-purchased bottle on the bottle opener right next to the register. A root beer float is just the drink to quench your thirst on a torrid Temecula summer day. 28545 Old Town Front St, #101. 951-676-5088, Monday through Thursday and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Right behind the Penfold building at the lower corner of Penfold Plaza is the delectable Temecula Valley Cheese Company. Hidden away and nearly invisible from Old Town Front Street, this store is a must-see for anyone who enjoys something greater than pedestrian cheddar cheese. With ever-changing selections from Austria, France, Spain, New Zealand and all corners of the world, there is always a cheese that suits the fancy. Everyone at the shop is more than happy to entertain sampling of each chunk or round until you find precisely what you are looking for. If you know what taste or texture your palate desires, describe it and the purveyors will shave off a healthy sample, based on your description. If you want a gritty, delicate cheese that is not too “footy”, ask and you shall likely receive. Enjoy a cheese sample plate and wine on the petite patio just outside and experience a little piece of gastronomical delight. Come with some spare time, as it can get very busy on the weekends. 42072 Fifth St. in the Penfold Plaza. 951-693-9500. Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m to 5 p.m.

On the corner of Old Town Front Street and Main Street is the Temecula Olive Oil Company. Here, you will find one of only a few places where you can taste over a dozen artisan olive oils grown throughout California, without pesticides or other nasties to ruin the delicate flavor. The help here is very knowledgeable in the creation and flavoring of each of the oils and can direct you to what you like. The samples are served in small cups and you can take as much time as you like, as there is no pressure, unlike in the busy local wineries. The perennial favorites are the fresh basil and the roasted garlic reserve olive oils. The best seasonal product is the white truffle oil. Usually available in the beginning in November, this specialty oil sells out very quickly and you will have to wait another year to get it. 28653 Old Town Front St. 951-693-0607. Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Delaney’s Market & Café on 5th street has begun expanding the selection from locally grown organic products to a worldwide selection of goods. Grass fed beef, wild caught salmon and other organic foods from around the planet can be found. Jordan Stone, the owner, has a passion for clean living and her store is proof of that. While shopping, you can take a little time to enjoy a book in the café at the far end of the store. 41955 5th Street, #101, 760-277-8575. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Old Town Spice Merchants has a bewildering array of spices from around the globe. With literally hundreds of spices, loose-leaf teas, rubs, sea salts and flavor-infused natural sugars, the quiet store must be visited by anyone looking for something as exotic as black truffle sea salt, an extremely popular product. The variety of selections competes with the markets of Marrakech, Morocco, without the international flight. There are four types of paprika and the Spice Merchants have them all. They carry both Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla, the world’s second most expensive spice. You have to ask for the world’s most expensive spice - saffron. It is not on the sales floor, as it costs $9.95 for 1/5th of an ounce (at time of publication). 41925 Fifth Street, #101. 951-587-2223. Open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Chili Roaster Gourmet truly knows spicy products. From salsa to pepper jellies to hot sauces so hot that they will make you beg for relief, this store is an expedition into the sultry wilds of heat. It is a must for those addicted to the endorphin rush created by the best and hottest sauces in the world. 28690 Old Town Front Street. 951-699-6750. Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

D&S Hobbies is the shop where the men can be boys and boys can pretend to be men. They can spend hours ogling over hobby Lionel and American Flyer trains, Estes rockets, and yo-yos. The owners are a fountain of knowledge, and their experience with scale trains is unmatched. The store has difficult-to-find track, models and all the accessories necessary to take your miniature world of trains to the next level. 28636 Old Town Front St, #123. 951-694-1773. Monday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday and Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Thursday.

Don’t be deceived by the diminutive size of Old Town Glass Blowers’s shop. They make a dazzling selection of hand-blown glass ornaments and decorations right on site. You might happen to stop by when glass is dripping and you can watch, with rapt attention, at the effort required to make delicate tear drops, beads and flutes of fine glass. 28690 Old Town Front Street, #310. 951-575-6969. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. At the Temecula Farmer’s Market on Saturday. Call before visiting on Sunday and Monday.

Harmony, across the street from Rosa’s Cantina, is arguably the ultimate decoration and knick-knack shop of Old Town Temecula. In here, you will find an old world approach to home decoration. This is not the big-box store experience but rather a place where every corner contains a treasure that might be just what you are looking for. During the late fall through winter, the store is a sight to behold. The seasonal spirit coats the floor, walls and ceiling. There is an ornament and a wall covering for every taste at Harmony. 28635 Old Town Front Street. 951-699-6199. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.