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Wine Country, affordable homes and more make region a destination

Not too far from popular Southern California tourist attractions such as Disneyland and SeaWorld, you'll find a different kind of destination.

Southwest California, a location blessed with a mild climate moderated by cooling ocean breezes and clean air, has something to offer all ages and interests. That's one of the reasons it is among the fastest growing areas in the state and nation.

The nearly 600-square-mile area of Southwest California, which runs from Temecula and Murrieta north to Lake Elsinore, is dotted with dozens of lush green community parks covering hundreds of acres.

Situated on Interstate 15 halfway between Ontario, Calif., and San Diego, Southwest California is within an hour's drive of Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.

Because of its convenient location and numerous amenities, Southwest California has become a magnet for people being priced out of San Diego County's increasingly unaffordable housing market. According to some estimates, only one in 10 San Diego County families can afford a median priced home.

The northward migration has as much to do with economics as it does with the search by residents for a better lifestyle and quality of life.

This area of almost 275,000 people is predicted to climb to nearly 450,000 by 2020. In 2003, retailers already had access to 83,392 families in the southwest county area with an average household income of $73,746 and $6.1 billion in total personal income.

The area's climate is milder than most inland areas. It has a thriving wine industry. Its housing stock is quite new, and much of it is upscale. The communities have been carefully planned, and shopping and entertainment possibilities are maturing. The economy continues to expand with a significant number of high technology firms clustered within the region. Local schools systems are among the best in the state, the crime rate is extremely low and recreational opportunities abound.

Southwest California's residents and business leaders have ready access to a large array of private and public colleges and universities with a total of 22 campuses and a combined enrollment of 151,068 students. They include nationally-known private, liberal arts schools like the Claremont Colleges and the University of Redlands. Impressive scientific work is being conducted at Harvey Mudd College, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and the University of California, Riverside. Loma Linda University boasts one of the top medical schools in the world.

Temecula and Murrieta have plans to open new public libraries to keep up with the reading habits of their growing population and provide a better forum for the region's rich and varied history.

Wine Country, which covers about 2,000 acres of Southwest California, offers convenient access to nearly two dozen award winning wineries, most of which are located along a 5-mile stretch of Rancho California Road, soon to be receiving a $2 million makeover complete with monument signs, rail fences, roses and cypress pines.

Southwest California's Wine Country offers convenient access to nearly two dozen award winning wineries, most of which are located along a 5-mile stretch of Rancho California Road.

An estimated half-dozen more new wineries are on the way, as vintners realize the climatic benefits of growing grapes in this region and its proximity to 25 million people who live within a two-hour drive.

Although best known for its white wines, Wine Country is developing a reputation as a great area for growing Rhone varietals such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Viognier grapes and award-winning dessert wines.

Combine a little history with your shopping experience in Old Town Temecula, Downtown Lake Elsinore or Historic Downtown Murrieta, which recently underwent a $5 million facelift that included the addition of new vintage style light posts, street widening, sidewalks, landscaping and intersections refurbished with decorative pavers.

And if this isn't enough, there is fishing, boating and camping at nearby Lake Skinner and Lake Elsinore, hot air ballooning over Temecula, hang gliding in Lake Elsinore, great restaurants throughout the region, and the Four Diamond Pechanga Resort & Casino provides lodging, dining, gaming and entertainment. Kids of all ages will enjoy a tour of the Imagination Workshop Children's Museum in Old Town Temecula.

Annual special events include the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival, numerous car shows and motorcycle races, the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival, Arts in the County Festival and Temecula Valley International Jazz Festival.

In the mountains just west of Murrieta, the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve covers 8,300 acres and connects to the Cleveland National Forest via a 3.5 mile-long lifeline for wildlife known as the Tenaja Corridor.

The Santa Rosa Plateau is a secluded refuge in the Santa Ana Mountains -- a place of rare beauty and serenity that belies its location near the encroaching city: distant mesas glimpsed through fog, a moss-draped oak overlooking a shallow canyon, cumulus clouds floating over seasonal vernal pools. It blends the region's largest expanse of native grasslands with wetlands, coastal sage scrub, chaparral and dramatic stands of rare Engelmann oak.

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