Kathleen

Land, Ocean and Culture: Exploring San Diego Parks

Anza-Borrego Desert Wildflower Season

San Diego is a paradise of parks. The Trust for Public Land named San Diego one of the 10 best U.S. cities based on access to and size of our parks, which comprises close to a quarter of the city’s total area. But ratings aside, the best facet of San Diego’s many parks is the diversity. From water to grass, from culture to desert, San Diego has it all.

Balboa Park

balboa park san diego

Balboa Park is the nation’s largest cultural park.

Known as the Smithsonian of the West, Balboa Park is the largest urban cultural park in the United States and a must-stop on any San Diego vacation. Housing 14 museums including the San Diego Natural History Museum, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and the San Diego Air & Space Museum as well as the Old Globe theater, Balboa Park is the cultural heart of San Diego. The park is also home to the San Diego Zoo, Spanish Village Art Center and wonderful gardens including the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Botanical Building and Lily Pond. The park – which celebrates its centennial in 2015 – features a host of seasonal events and celebrations where you can mix and mingle with the locals.

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument

The only National Park in San Diego, the Cabrillo National Monument celebrates the arrival of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who landed at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542 and was the first European explorer to set foot on the west coast of the United States. At the highest point of the park stands the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, a San Diego icon since 1854, where visitors can enjoy spectacular views of San Diego Bay and skyline. The park features a visitor center and just below the park at the shoreline, some of the best tide pools in San Diego.

Mission Bay Aquatic Park

Mission Bay Aquatic Park

Mission Bay Aquatic Park is the largest park of its kind in the world.

The largest park of its kind in the world, the Mission Bay Aquatic Park is a 4,600 acre aquatic playground. Around the bay, 27 miles of shoreline is lined with grass playgrounds, picnic areas and fire pits, bike paths, boat launches and resorts. Bikes, boat and equipment rentals are readily available including sailing, waterskiing, wave runners and paddle boards. Mission Bay is one of the main hubs for San Diego sport fishing offering day and overnight trips as well as whale watching excursions. It is also home to SeaWorld San Diego and a host of great events including the annual Crew Classic.

Anza Borrego

Anza Borrego State Park gets colorful every spring thanks to wildflowers.

Anza Borrego State Park gets colorful every spring thanks to wildflowers.

Five hundred miles of dirt roads and 12 wilderness areas compose Anza Borrego, the largest state park in California. The park offers miles of hiking trails, including a leg of the Pacific Crest Trail, and camping can also be enjoyed with a quick stop by the visitor center. Yearly temperatures can range from near freezing to as high as 108 degrees Fahrenheit, and you might spy wildlife including roadrunners, kit foxes, mule deer, bighorn sheep, iguanas, rattlesnakes, hawks and golden eagles. Each spring, the park transforms in a blaze of color when the desert wildflowers bloom. There are also a number of outstanding Native American cultural preserves including archaeological sites, pictographs and rock formations.

Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park - Bikes

Discover natural San Diego beauty on the trails of Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park comprises nearly 5,800 acres and offers over 40 miles of trails, including the popular Cowles Mountain, whose summit is the highest in the city of San Diego. Beyond hiking, activities in the park include camping, mountain biking, boating and horseback riding. Mostly covered in chaparral, oak woodlands and sage scrub, it’s hard to imagine that you can get this deep into nature just an hour from downtown. The park features a great visitor and interpretive center offering nature walks and low cost children’s education classes on local wildlife including butterflies, hawks, owls, deer and coyotes.

Which of these San Diego parks will you visit next? Let us know in the comments below.

Robert Arends

Spring to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for Sensational Hikes

Font's Point
Font's Point

I'm on top of the world! Font's Point

I recently laced up my hiking shoes and trekked through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (located 2 hours east of San Diego) to discover some of the most pristine, untouched wilderness in Southern California, including Clark Dry Lake bed, winding slot canyons and phenomenal vistas from Font’s Point, “California’s Grand Canyon” (RV Life).

Borrego Springs Desert Wildflowers

Anza-Borrego Desert wildflowers

Spring is the perfect time to visit the park for a few hikes. The temps are pleasantly warm (in the 70s) and desert wildflowers begin to bloom in the canyons and washes (though the winter rains weren’t very plentiful this year). Desert cacti are generally dependable performers through late March.

If you’re a first-timer to this arid, breathtakingly beautiful part of San Diego County, I highly recommend hooking up with California Overland whose knowledgeable guides will take you deep into the park’s hidden, less-accessible areas aboard 4-wheeel drive vehicles. It’s a thrilling “E-ticket ride” as you rumble across scenic landscapes through rugged Badlands.

Slot Canyon near the Calcite Mine

One stop along the way that offers incredible hiking is a magnificent Slot Canyon just off the S-22 by a former Calcite Mine (in the Font’s Point North Sector of the park). It’s a relatively easy hike with phenomenal photo ops at every twist and turn of the terrain. This is nature’s cathedral with towering peaks and boulder outcroppings, creating a peaceful almost Zen-like silence that’s only broken by occasional birds singing overhead.

Font's Point - "California's Grand Canyon!"

Font's Point - "California's Grand Canyon!"

Southwest of slot canyon is another hiking highlight: Font’s Point. The trek up to this unparalleled precipice from the parking area is short and sweet and so worth it! The views are seemingly endless to the Salton Sea and Mexico to the east, the entire Borrego valley and surrounding mountains. You could easily spend an hour gazing in awe at the formations below. Word of warning: There are no fences at the overlook so be very cautious with every step and don’t get too close to the edge.

Roadrunner at the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center

Beep beep! Roadrunner at the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center

For novices (and those who would rather not off-road to the two hiking spots above) there’s a very easy nature trail that loops around the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center (200 Palm Canyon Dr.). See cacti (the Ocotillo is my favorite with its crimson red flowers!), palm trees and other flora up-close, as well as lizards sunning on rocks and the occasional roadrunner darting to and fro! Like Font’s Point, this trail offers sensational vantage points of the valley and mountains. Definitely bring your camera!

Flowering Ocotillo at Anza-Borrego Visitor Center

Flowering Ocotillo at Anza-Borrego Visitor Center

Tell us or show us in the comments below, what is your favorite thing about the Anza-Boreggo Desert State Park…

Robert Arends

5 to Try: Camping in San Diego’s East County

Hiking at Cuyamaca's Paso Picacho campground.

Ready to go wild! Pack the tent, sleeping bag and all the s’mores fixins for a camping adventure in East County, San Diego’s massive “backyard” which stretches from the rolling foothills and mountains of Cleveland National Forest to the magnificent Anza-Borrego Desert.

I’ve gone camping throughout East County over the years and there’s nothing like the crisp mountain air and relaxing sound of nature to put you in vacation mode.

Following are Five Campgrounds to Try:

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park,  located south of San Diego’s historic mountain town of Julian, offers 110 miles of hiking trails, most open to horseback riders. Nearby Lake Cuyamaca offers boating and fishing. The park’s highest viewpoint is Cuyamaca Peak (6,512 feet) with panoramic views of Mexico, mountain ranges and the desert floor below. The park is home to lots of wildlife, including mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, an occasional mountain lion and more than 150 species of birds. Picturesque camping sites abound, nestled among meadows, oak and pine woodlands, creeks and the Sweetwater River headwaters.

Stonewall Peak.

  1. First on our list to try is Cuyamaca Rancho State Park’s Paso Picacho campground, which has some beautiful pristine meadows and two great mountain hikes, including a 2 mile trek up Stonewall Peak (elevation 5,700 feet), and 3.5 mile trek up Cuyamaca Peak. It might not exactly be “glamping,” but the park’s 12’ x 12’ cabins are pretty nice by camping standards, featuring full-size bunk beds (bring your own bedding), wood stove, picnic table, BBQ and fire ring. Each holds up to 4 people.

    Green Valley's refreshing Sweetwater River.

  2. Cuyamaca’s Green Valley campgroundis pretty as a postcard, situated on the Sweetwater River. There’s an easy hiking trail along the river with clear (and chilly!) pools and waterfalls to explore and swim. The perfect way to beat the heat!

    Lovely Laguna Meadow.

  3. Also located in the Cleveland National Forest, the pine-studded Laguna Mountains (approx. 6,000 feet) offer some great hiking, mountain biking and fishing for campers. There are seven major campgrounds. With 104 sites, each with a table and fire ring, Laguna Campground is the second-largest, located near the Sunset and Big Laguna trails which encircle the bucolic Laguna Meadow – a must see!

    Anza-Borrego Desert beauty.

  4. Just over the mountains, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a campers’ paradise where you’re sure to spot roadrunners, bighorn sheep (called “borrego” in Spanish), lizards and yes, even snakes (keep your hands and feet out of rock crevices!). As California’s largest state park it’s difficult to choose just one campground out of the 12, but my pick would be Borrego Palm Canyonwhere – as the name suggests – a lush palm oasis awaits hikers. Note:  Be sure to bring plenty of water for desert camping, as temps are 100+!

    Santee Lakes Cabins.

  5. If you want a cozy home away from home, the swanky new Santee Lakes Cabins provide a fun camping getaway for the entire family. There are 10 cabins to choose from; seven on the water’s edge and three that actually float ON the lake. How cool is that! Each cabin is furnished, decked out with full utilities, including AC, TV, and WiFi, and includes a kitchenette, master bedroom, living room, restroom with shower, porch and BBQ. If roughing it is not quite your thing, Santee Lakes is the place for you.

See you on the trails!

 

Robert Arends

5 To Try on the Wild Side!

Lions and tigers and bears – Oh my!

But I’m not talkin’ about animal encounters at the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park.

Rather, wild and mighty creatures (plus one of the most mysterious kind) can be found in East County – an expansive rural area we refer to as San Diego’s backyard. Here the great outdoors beckons and inspires folks to not only embrace, but also give back to nature by caring for and giving a home to animals great and (very) small.

Following are 5 to try:

  1. Howl!…The California Wolf Center, located just south of Julian, is dedicated to increasing public awareness and understanding of the history, biology and behavior of gray wolves which once roamed North America in countless numbers.  The center offers a thrilling opportunity to view packs of Alaskan gray wolves and highly endangered Mexican gray wolves. Travel tip: Visit in the morning when they’re most active. Click here for a public tour; private tours available too!

    Who let the wolves out - woof!

  2. Roar!…Lions, Tigers & Bears (LTB) animal preserve in Alpine provides a safe haven for abandoned and unwanted exotic animals, including 13 big cats like lions, tigers and a leopard, plus a cute black bear cub named Liberty who was rescued and brought to the habitat on July 4, 2010. LTB gives animals the opportunity to live in a safe and caring environment while educating the public about nature’s most magnificent wildlife. Word of advice: DON’T turn your back on the lions (yikes!). Click here to schedule a visit.

    They're grrreat! Feeding the tigers at Lions, Tigers & Bears.

  3. Stomp!.. The tiny high-desert town of Ranchita is home to the Rancheti Bigfoot statue, a monstrous 11 foot, 300-pound white yeti sculpture built by local resident Joe Rauh which keeps watch over the Ranchita Country Store. For years, the beast has supposedly been spotted in the region. Make tracks to the souvenir shop for a memento or two to remember your abominably-cool encounter.

    Ranchita + Yeti = Rancheti!

  4. Fish fry…As in native fish that call our scorching desert home. At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center, keep your eyes peeled for a palm-lined pond full of tiny desert pupfish. The little guys are hard to spot at first. They look like mini minnows camouflaged to match the murky waters. These “extreme” fish are tough for their size, as they thrive in fresh or salty water and can survive temps from near freezing to 108 degrees! {whew!}
  5. Oink!…Bate’s Nut Farm in Valley Center is not only chock full of nuts, candies and dried fruits, but also a menagerie of animals you can feed: pigs, goats, geese, sheep – OH, and even ostriches! During big events, they also offer pony rides for the kids. It’s charming and quaint in a Norman Rockwell kind of way, but that’s why we love it. They put the fun in farm!
Suzzanne

5-to-Try Films Shot in San Diego

After watching the Oscar awards last night, it got me thinking…what Oscar nominated films were shot in San Diego? Here are 5-to-Try films shot in San Diego. Do you know what part of town they were filmed in?

1. Babel (2006) Starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and nominated for seven Academy Awards, Babel tells the story involving four different families after tragedy strikes a married couple on vacation in the Moroccan desert. Scenes were shot in both San Diego and neighboring Mexico.

2. Almost Famous (2000) A high-school boy is given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone Magazine about an up-and-coming rock band as he accompanies it on their concert tour. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and won for Best Screenplay. Insider info: the producers found the 1970’s look and feel they needed in the community of Ocean Beach. Many of the extras were locals who wore their own clothes and drove their actual vehicles. The radio station in the film was actually an Allstate Insurance office. The two characters played by Patrick Fugit and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are seen walking up Cortez Hill and the scene cuts to the characters eating in the Sun Cafe, located in downtown San Diego.

3. Traffic (2000) Nominated for five Academy Awards (and won four including Best Director) shows the underside of the drugworld after a conservative judge is appointed by the President to spearhead America’s escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is an addict. Insider’s Tip: Scenes for the movie were shot in Balboa Park, La Jolla and Rancho Bernardo Inn among others.

4. Into the Wild (2007) Nominated for two Academy Awards, the film starring Emile Hirsch was shot mostly in Alaska, however the beautiful Anza-Borrego State Park in East County was used for a scene during his road trip to Alaska.

5. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2003) Okay, this film wasn’t nominated for any awards, however, it’s hard to talk about movies shot in San Diego without mentioning this one. Insider info: the film was originally set to film in Portland, but after seeing shots of San Diego, they realized it would be the perfect backdrop for the 1970’s film. Feel free to leave favorite Ron Burgundy quote below…there are so many!

Stephenie

Springtime Flora and Fauna

Sniiiiiiiffffff…. Can you smell that?!  Spring is in the air and I’m bouncing-off-the-walls excited because it’s my favorite season of the year.  I know spring doesn’t technically begin until later this month, but San Diego and his dear friend Mother Nature are starting the party early with two must-see floral displays that you won’t want to miss:

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Desert Wildflowers

Next week, this 600,000-acre desert will burst with color for a limited time with the blooming of desert wildflowers. Because the blooming of the flowers depends upon timing, temperature and quantity of winter rains, the blossoms are usually at their peak for only two weeks. 

I advise you call the park’s 24-hour “Wildflower Hotline” at 760-767-4684 before planning a trip to the desert.  I made a call yesterday and they anticipate that the flowers will begin to sprout sometime next week, weather pending. 

Flower Fields of Carlsbad

A Sea of Flowers

Here, a sea of giant ranunculus flowers transforms 50-acres of hills into rows and rows of color.  During March through May, you can walk or take a wagon ride through these amazing flower fields, which includes a miniature rose garden, a sweet pea maze, red, white and blue flowers planted in the shape of a giant American flag and more. 

Currently, the flowers are just beginning to bloom so give it a couple more weeks; then it will be a sea of ranunculus ridiculocity (yes, I made that word up).  Keep checking the website for updates on the flowers.