A diverse landscape unfolds as one leaves San Diego’s coast and travels to rural East County. The majestic Cuyamaca Mountains and vast Anza-Borrego Desert State Park provide scenic backdrops for numerous activities and diverse communities just waiting to be discovered and explored.
From the charming mountain community of Julian and desert enclave of Borrego Springs to historic highways and outdoor recreation galore, rural East County offers visitors another unique and extraordinary San Diego vacation experience.
Savor Delicious Apple Pies
The charming mountain town of Julian could aptly be described “as American as apple pie.” Nestled in the Cuyamaca Mountains, it was once the second largest town in the county during the Southern California gold rush of 1869. Today, Julian’s charm and Victorian architecture stretch from one end of town to the other, housing handicraft and antique shops, a general store, history museum, country-style restaurants, and more.
One of the most popular times to visit Julian is during the annual Julian Fall Apple Harvest, held mid-September through mid-November. The irresistible aroma of cinnamon and apples leads hungry visitors to shops selling delicious homemade pies filled with fruit from the local orchards.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Parks and Lakes
Located south of Julian, the forested Cuyamaca Rancho State Park offers more than 110 miles of hiking trails along with popular campgrounds and picnic sites nestled among meadows, oak and pine woodlands, creeks, and the Sweetwater River headwaters. The park is home to magnificent wildlife, including herds of mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, an occasional mountain lion, and more than 150 species of birds.
Picturesque Lake Cuyamaca offers boating and freshwater fishing along with biking and hiking along the water’s edge. The lake is stocked annually with more than 38,000 pounds of trout and is the only San Diego lake able to stock trout throughout the year. Anglers of all skill level are encouraged to bring their rod and tackle.
Head to the Desert
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
The 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park. Visitors can view sweeping landscapes of cacti and other unique desert vegetation populated by roadrunners, golden eagles, kit foxes, desert iguanas, lizards, and chuckwallas. One of the most popular times to visit the park is during the annual desert spring wildflower display, when the dry rugged landscape is transformed by winter rains into a kaleidoscope of colorful flowers.
Located within Anza-Borrego, the desert community of Borrego Springs offers a tranquil oasis. Visitors can find comfortable accommodations, swimming pools, spas, restaurants, tennis courts, and golf. There is also a flourishing arts community plus one-of-a kind shopping to discover.
Get in a Round
East County offers many outstanding golf courses that combine scenic settings with challenging holes to satisfy duffers of all skill levels. Native grasses, oak trees, streambeds, and colossal rock formations set the tone for Barona Creek Golf Club in Lakeside, an 18-hole, 7,393-yard championship course designed by golf course architect Gary Roger Baird.
Golf Digest once named Mt. Woodson Golf Club in Ramona as one of the “most beautiful and unique courses in California,” citing its hilly terrain, superb conditions and panoramic views. Located in Santee, Carlton Oaks Golf Club features a challenging 7,225-yard Pete Dye-designed course with meandering creeks, full-grown trees, strategic undulation, and peninsula greens.
Take a Scenic Road Trip
Historic Highway 94
There is no better way to experience East County’s rich history than checking out the unique sites along Historic Highway 94, a 50-mile, tree-lined winding mountain road. Visitors step back in time at the Potrero General Store in Potrero which dates back to the stagecoach era of the mid-1800s and has a friendly, small-town feel. Built in 1917, the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum at the historic Campo Depot is a real treat for train enthusiasts.
The Sweetwater River Bridge, built in 1929, is a picturesque gateway to the Sweetwater River Trail. The Parker Truss-style bridge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Housed in the historic Campo Feldspar Mill, built in 1929, the Motor Transport Museum in Campo is home to more than 200 antique trucks and other motor transport vehicles.
Explore on Foot
For visitors wanting to experience East County on foot, there are plenty of hiking trails to enjoy Mother Nature. The trails in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area have a distinctly mountainous and remote feel. The 13 scenic trails vary from 2.4 to 10.4 miles one way with gains up to 500 feet. Spanning over 2,600 miles, the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail is a jewel in the crown of America’s scenic trails for its stunning scenery and vast expanse.
Hikers enjoy the terrain along the Sweetwater River Trail, an eight-mile trail located at the south end of the historic Sweetwater River Bridge. Volcan Mountain’s majestic 15-mile ridge is a chain of protected land open to the public for hiking daily, dawn to dusk.
Sample Local Pinot Noirs
The perfect end to a day of East County sightseeing is enjoying a glass of local wine. Volcan Mountain Winery, a six-acre vineyard and orchard just outside Julian, produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio and other seasonal wines along with delightfully delicious apple wine and apple port. Blue Door Winery offers a cozy tasting room tucked in Julian’s old livery stables in the heart of town.
Wine lovers should stop by Hawk Watch Winery, a small mountain winery in Warner Springs that produces handcrafted wines with the finest fruit using old world winemaking techniques. Since 1999, La Serenissima Vineyards and Winery in Warner Springs has been producing wines honoring the traditions of classic Venetian estate winemaking.
Lucky Bonus: Hit the Slots
East County’s Native American/Indian tribes center many of their activities around bustling casinos. Barona Resort & Casino is one of California's largest Indian gaming casinos with more than 2,000 Las Vegas-style slot and video poker machines, 80 table games and more. Sycuan Casino Resort offers plenty of exciting casino action along with first-class accommodations and amenities. After hitting the slots and tables at Viejas Casino & Resort, retail therapy is available at the popular Viejas Outlets.
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