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Our favorite family-friendly day trips to East San Diego include the historic mining town of Julian, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the pine-studded Laguna Mountains.
The mountains of San Diego’s East County are an easy escape from the urban environment and conjure up images of the Old West with their historic sites and towns. They may not be tall or especially snowy compared to other mountains in the west, but their accessibility (6,000 feet and less than one hour from downtown San Diego) means you can hike, bike, sled, snowshoe or cross-country ski during the day and be back in the city by nightfall.
The delightful mountain community of Julian was once the second largest town in San Diego County during the gold boom of 1869. Set in the Cuyamaca Mountains and reached by tree-lined country roads, picturesque Julian is nearly empty of traffic and uncluttered by commercial development. Cattle graze on the hillsides, apple orchards dot the landscape, roadside stands sell homemade jams and fresh produce—it’s truly a peaceful, pastoral scene. This quaint town is as famous for its apple pie as it is for its collection of gold mines (several offer tours geared toward children). Julian enchants with its friendly restaurants, bed & breakfast hideaways, antique stores, art galleries and nearby hiking and nature walks.
Julian’s charm and Victorian architecture stretch from one end of town to the other, housing handicraft and antique shops, a general store and country-style restaurants. The irresistible aroma of cinnamon and apples fills the air as many shops and eateries sell homemade pies filled with fruit from local orchards. One of the most popular times to visit Julian is during the apple picking season each autumn from mid-September through mid-November, a tradition begun in 1909 and celebrated annually with the 2-day Julian Apple Days Festival.
Located slightly south of Julian is Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, home to more than 100 miles of hiking trails, many open to horseback riders, as well as campgrounds and picnic sites. On a clear day, the park’s highest viewpoint, Cuyamaca Peak (6,512 feet), reveals views of Mexico, mountain ranges near Los Angeles and wide expanses of desert. The park is also inhabited by magnificent wildlife, including large herds of mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, an occasional cougar, and more than 150 identified species of birds.
The pine-studded Laguna Mountains, located within the Cleveland National Forest’s 8,600-acre spread, offers outdoor enthusiasts hiking, biking, camping, fishing, and mountain climbing during the summer months and sledding and tobogganing in the winter.
Follow this link to learn about San Diego's East County Region.
$5 off Whale & Dolphin Watching with Hornblower Cruises. Hornblower offers large comfortable Whale Watching boats with live narration from San Diego Natural History Museum's trained naturalists...
Stay Cool in the heart of the city, surrounded by restaurants, nightlife & shopping. We’re 90 steps from PETCO Park, home of the San Diego Padres. And don’t miss ALTITUDE Sky Lounge...
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