East County is the sunny side of San Diego, where there is never any overcast or fog to contend with. Please refer to the San Diego Map in the front of this book for the locations of these cities and attractions.
The dynamic appeal of San Diego County’s East County is its affordable family-style of living and its back-country attractions. In winter residents flock to its huge national forest with its snow capped mountains to play in the snow. Then there are five Las Vegas-style Indian casinos where you can gamble instead of going to Las Vegas.
Farther east is Borrego Springs, which is a small desert resort community boasting the largest desert in the continental United States. East County is also home to the small town of Julian, a romantic 1880s gold rush mining town filled with bed and breakfast inns, good restaurants, country shops, wineries, horseback riding and lots of back country serenity.
The City of El Cajon is celebrating its 100th anniversary in a big way by showcasing everything that’s new, exciting and fun to do. The City’s slogan is the “Valley of Opportunity” and it is just that. A great place to begin your discovery of enchanting El Cajon it to stroll through their revitalized Downtown business district filled with great place to eat. East Main Street has become East County’s showpiece for dining and entertainment.
There is an almost unlimited amount of fun things to do within the city limits of this expansive East County city. Then there is the Mother Goose Parade annual attraction. This draws over 100,000 people each year and is the second oldest Parade on the West Coast, surpassed only by the Rose Bowl Parade. This annual parade is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to what there is to do in El Cajon.
A new attraction is the weekly Farmer’s Market. Then there are a host of dinner concerts planned for throughout this centennial anniversary.
Plus, El Cajon has easy freeway access because it’s the hub of east county commerce. So all freeways lead to El Cajon be it Highway I-8 running east and west, Highway 67 coming from Julian, Ramona, Poway, Lakeside and Santee to Highway 52 that bisects Santee and feeds into Highway 67. So getting to El Cajon has never been easier.
El Cajon Dining
One of their most popular restaurants in East County is undoubtedly Hacienda Casa Blanca (1) at 700 North Johnson Ave. (619-442-9827). You’ll love listening to the mariachi music while you dine. And the authentic Mexican decor will make you feel like you’re in Mexico.
Celebrating well over 50 years in business should tell you something about the reputation of Pernicano’s Italian Restaurant (1) (619-444-4546) located at the corner of E, Main Street and Broadwayat 1588 E. Main Street. It’s outstanding reputation for being the best Italian restaurant in East County is why you should dine here soon
Shopping in El Cajon
El Cajon, which is the largest city in East County, is also home to the impressive 80-acre Westfield Parkway Shopping Mall (1) (619-579-9932), which is the largest regional, all enclosed, air-conditioned shopping center in San Diego County. It has almost 200 stores and anchored by JC Penney, Macy’s, Sears, WalMart and a Regal Cinemas. The shopping center is just off Interstate 8 at the Johnson Avenue exit.
And the main thoroughfare for shoppers other than at the mall is Jamacha Road (see map) where you’ll find everything conceivable to buy.
Each autumn, people flock to El Cajon for the popular Mother Goose Parade (1) (619-444-8712), which will be held on Nov. 23rd. This is the second largest parade on the West Coast.
Gillespie Field (1) is the oldest and largest of San Diego County’s eight airports. It includes not just runways, tower, and a terminal, but many airport-related businesses as well. It’s biggest annual attraction is called “Wings Over Gillespie Field” which an annual air show held at the end of June. The airfield is located in the northwest corner of El Cajon, off Bradley & Highway 67, 10 miles north east of Downtown San Diego, at 1960 Joe Crosson Drive (619-956-4800) [gillespiefield.com].
City of La Mesa
The charming small-town village atmosphere of La Mesa’s central business district with cars still parked diagonally along its thoroughfare has great appeal for its 58,642 residents. Here you will find many one-of-a-kind retail shops, antique stores and great places to dine.
To get there by car, it’s only 15 freeway minutes east from downtown San Diego off I-8 or Hwy. 94. Take the Spring Street exit off either freeway and it will take you right to the center of La Mesa Village.
If you prefer, you can take the San Diego Trolley’s Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) Orange Line (619-577-4555). This rail transit goes directly to the Village, stopping at the corner of La Mesa Boulevard and Spring Street.
For over 30 years La Mesa Village Merchant’s Association (2) has hosted a number of extremely popular annual events including however while the street is undergoing a year long construction project most of the events are postponed for this year.
Farmer’s Market offers farm-fresh goods for sale by certified vendors in the parking lot at the intersection of University Avenue and Spring Street. The Farmers Market takes place every Friday afternoon from 2 p.m.–6:00 p.m.
On the north side of Interstate 8 is the immensely popular Grossmont Center (2) (619-465-2900). This modern shopping center boasting more than 105 specialty shops, a Macy’s and a Target. And a host of popular restaurants including BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, Casa de Pico Mexican Restaurant, Claim Jumper, Fuddruckers, Red Lobster, Hooley’s Irish Pub & Grill, The Olive Garden Restaurant and Chuck E. Cheese.
Hooley’s Irish Pub and Grill (2) for example, (619-713-6900) exemplifies the quality of these restaurants in that it captures the true magic of an authentic Irish Pub.
Here too is Casa de Pico Mexican Restaurant at 5500 Grossmont Center Dr. (619-463-3267). This restaurant, which was a favorite dining destination in Old Town, has been a La Mesa favorite since 2005.
Another San Diego tradition dating back to 1961 is Anthony’s Fish Grotto Restaurant and Fish Market (2) at 9530 Murray Dr. (619-463-0368). This award winning seafood lovers’ paradise is built on its own private lake.
Rancho San Diego
Rancho San Diego is a master-planned community only 30 minutes from downtown San Diego. It is home to good schools and good family values.
The main commercial thoroughfare from one end of this community to the other is Jamacha Road, which is connected to two freeways: Highway 8 to the north and Highway 94 to the south.
A major countywide attraction here is the Heritage of the Americas Museum, (4) which is located on the campus of Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego at 12110 Cuyamaca College Dr. West (619-670-5194). The Museum is a cultural and educational facility featuring an awesome display of the prehistoric and historic art, culture and natural history of the Americas. Also on the grounds of the Cuyamaca College Campus is the “must see” Water Conservation Garden at 12122 Cuyamaca College Dr. West (619-660-0614), which are both free and open to the public daily from 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
Make a day of visiting Rancho San Diego by having lunch at the original location of Hooley’s Irish Pub & Grill (4) (619-713-6900) [hooleys.com] at 2955 Jamacha Rd. It captures the true magic of an authentic Irish Pub.
Also freeway close is the immensely popular Indian casino Sycuan Casino (6) at 469 Sycuan Rd., El Cajon (800-2- SYCUAN). It’s just 30 minutes from downtown San Diego making it the closest casino from downtown San Diego via Hwy. 94 when traveling there through Rancho San Diego.
At the eastern end of the San Diego Trolley’s Green Line is the city of Santee’s Santee Trolley Square (5), which is home to excellent restaurants including Phil’s BBQ, The Olive Garden and a Chili’s Restaurant.
With a population of 56,103 Santee is the eleventh largest City of the 18 cities comprising the County of San Diego. It offers affordable housing including lots of mobile home parks. With the extension of freeways SR-52 and SR-125 greater access has been made to this once relatively landlocked community, which offers lots of promise.
San Diego County’s diversity is again demonstrated by the fact that the county is also home to the largest desert state park in the world. The impressive 630,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is nearly the size of the state of Rhode Island. This spectacular desert park has majestic mountains, beautiful canyons, hiking trails, camping, wildflowers and miles of scenic beauty. At night the sky is filled with millions of glittering stars. The resort community of Borrego Springs has a year-round population of 3,429 residents.
Most of Borrego Springs’ 644,000 visitors come in the spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom. So be sure to bring your camera. A must-see attraction is the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor’s Center (8), (760-767-4205) which showcases the natural beauty of the desert, is home to over 1,000 species of plants, 56 species of reptiles and amphibians, 297 varieties of birds and 116 different species of butterflies. The Visitor’s Center is open daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Oct. 1–May 31. During the hot season, June 1–Sept. 30, the Visitor’s Center is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. It’s closed weekdays.
An extremely popular desert activity is off roading and the leader in this recreational industry is San Diego Motorsport Rentals with two locations to serve you in Ocotillo Wells at 5965 U.S. Hwy 78 in Ocotillo Wells (760-767-4020) and Glamis Beach on Gecko Road in Brawley (760-767-4020). They rent dune buggies, quads, side-by-sides and dirt bikes.
Where to stay just got a whole lot better with the reopening of La Casa del Zorro at 3845 Yaqui Pass Rd. [lacasadelzorro.com]. Call (760-767-0100) for reservations. This is a world-class resort where discriminating travelers come to escape. La Casa del Zorro offers 44 deluxe poolside rooms, each with spectacular oversized bathrooms and large dressing areas, patios or balconies. Nineteen private casitas, nestled within the 42-acre property, feature a private pool, spa or both, and rooms are available in one- to four-bedroom floor plans.
Another favorite place to stay is where Marilyn Monroe and Bing Crosby and the other desert lovers is The Palms Hotel (760-767-7788). It’s a low key hotel nestled against the mountains at the northern end of the valley.
Where to dine is always a fun experience in Borrego Springs as each restaurant has its loyal following. Here are a few to choose from. You can’t go wrong with a meal at The Coyote Restaurant. Located on the back side of The Mall on Palm Canyon Drive is Kendall’s Cafe (760-767-3491). They serve excellent breakfasts and lunch. And when the sun goes down loals can be found at Carlie’s Place at 660 Palm Canyon Dr. (760-767-3262).
A Tour of Historic Hwy 80
Old Highway 80 (1) has been designated by the State of California as a historic highway. This means that this 30-mile stretch of highway is an official historic site. It was commissioned a federal highway in 1926. To get on to this historic route from the west, exit from Interstate 8 at Lake Jennings Park Road. Then head east and look for the Historic Highway 80 road signs.