Robert Arends

Fun East County Finds for Father’s Day Weekend

Father’s Day is just around the corner! If you’re just making plans and hankering for adventure, I’ve got a few fun ideas in San Diego’s wild and wonderful East County region:

Beer Pairing Dinner

Chef Jeremy to serve Beer Pairing Dinner fit for a king!

Chef Jeremy to serve Beer Pairing Dinner fit for a king!

Hop to it and take dad for out for a Beer Pairing Dinner at Jeremy’s on the Hill, located down the road from our famous Gold Rush mountain town of Julian. Partnering with Julian Brewing Company and Baileys BBQ Pit, Cordon Bleu-trained Chef Jeremy will serve a mouthwatering farm-to-table dinner dad won’t soon forget!

Where: Jeremy’s on the Hill – 4354 Highway 78 , Wynola, CA 92070
When: June 14, 2013
Reservations: 760.765.1587
Cost: $37 person/$68 for two

San Diego’s Gaudi – Hubbell/Ilan-Lael Open House

Architectural wonders at the Hubbell Open House

Architectural wonders at the Hubbell Open House

In nearby Santa Ysabel, famed architect/artist James Hubbell – “San Diego’s Gaudi” – opens up his fantastical art compound to the general public on Father’s Day, June 16. This 30th annual Open House sells out, so buy tix soon! This year, Hubbell debuts a new gallery building as dazzling as his art!

Where: 930 Orchard Lane, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070
When: June 16, 2013
Time: 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Cost: $30-$75. Kids 12 and under – Free.
> Find out more about the Hubbell/Ilan-Lael Open House

Feed-a-Cat…a Big Cat!

Feed-a-cat at Lions, Tigers & Bears!

Feed-a-cat at Lions, Tigers & Bears!

Grrrrrreat! Does your dad love Animal Planet and Discovery Channel? In the rolling hills of Alpine, he can experience wildlife up close and Feed-a-Cat – as in a tiger, lion or leopard (his choice!) at Lions, Tigers & Bears, a big cat and exotic animal rescue sanctuary. I’ve done it once and Thrilling is an understatement! If you bring the kids, they must be 16 or older.

Where: Lions, Tigers & Bears
Cost: $75
Book by calling: 619-659-8078

Borrego Springs

Galleta Meadows' Giant Sloth in Borrego Springs!

Galleta Meadows’ Giant Sloth in Borrego Springs!

Borrego Springs, San Diego’s desert oasis, is piping hot right now but don’t let the triple digits deter you. Summer means NO crowds and hours of poolside respite. I suggest staying at the swanky new La Casa del Zorro Resort (casitas with spas!). On the edge of town, check out the wild Galleta Meadows sculpture garden (free viewing!), featuring a cuddly new Giant Sloth. Book an off-road adventure with California Overland to take dad and the whole family to Fonts Point, “California’s Grand Canyon” – a contender for Virtual Tourist’s 8th Wonder of the World!

Happy Father’s Day and I’ll see you in East County! 🙂

Robert Arends

Surprising 2013 Summer Finds in San Diego’s East County!

There’s no place as diverse and full of surprises as San Diego’s expansive East County. Visitors to this region, ranging from rolling foothills to alpine mountains and pristine deserts, can find some of the most incredible sights, especially this summer.

Following are 5 to Try, as you hit the open road this May and June:

1. Julian Wild & Scenic Film Festival

Julian Apple Pies in San Diego's East County

Julian – home of apple pies and the Wild & Scenic Film Festival!

The charming historic Gold Rush mining town of Julian, famous for its apple pies, hosts the 2nd Annual Julian Wild & Scenic Film Festival this weekend. The theme: “A Climate of Change,” featuring 44 inspiring films! While you’re there, explore the town, enjoy a slice of pie and take in the beauty of East County’s most famous mountain town.

Where: Various Julian Locations
When: May 17-19, 2013
Cost: $5-$60
> Find out more about the Julian Wild & Scenic Film Festival

2. Hubbell/Ilan-Lael Open House

Find your muse at the Hubbell Open House & Studio Tour!

Find your muse at the Hubbell Open House & Studio Tour!

Down the road in Santa Ysabel, on June 16 (Father’s Day) visitors can get an exclusive peek at the art-filled compound of James Hubbell, “San Diego’s Gaudi.” A beautiful new headquarters and amphitheater, featuring fantastical colorful mosaics, plaster of Paris reliefs, stained glass and iron work, debuts at this year’s Hubbell/Ilan-Lael Open House. Get your tickets now before they sell out!

Where: 930 Orchard Lane, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070
When: June 16, 2013
Time: 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Cost: $30-$75. Kids 12 and under – Free.
> Find out more about the Hubbell/Ilan-Lael Open House

3. A Magnificent Bald Eagle Nest

Bald Eagle and Chick - Wildlife Research Institute - East County

Bald eagle and chick at Ramona Grasslands Preserve.

Soar like an eagle to the Wildlife Research Institute in the Ramona Grasslands Preserve to see firsthand a magnificent bald eagle nest – with a single chick and two proud parents! – located 1 mile from the institute headquarters. Bring your binoculars; the best vantage point is from Rangeland Road. Also visit the institute’s family of wild bison!

Where: 18030 Highland Valley Road, Ramona, CA 92065
> Find out more about the Wildlife Research Institute

4. Wings Over Gillespie Air Show

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High-flying fun can also be had at the big annual Wings Over Gillespie Air Show in El Cajon. Aviation aficionados of all ages will love the displays of dozens of classic aircraft, as well as military re-enactors and mock battles overhead. New this year: Silver Wings Wingwalking!

Where: Gillespie Field – 1960 Joe Crosson Dr, El Cajon, CA 92020
When: June 1-2, 2013
Time: 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Cost: Starting at $8
> Find out more about Wings Over Gillespie Air Show

5. Giant Sloth Sculpture

Yours truly with Giant Sloth at Galleta Meadows, Borrego Springs!

Yours truly with Giant Sloth at Galleta Meadows, Borrego Springs!

In San Diego’s desert oasis of Borrego Springs, a new behemoth sculpture of a Giant Sloth – the last one in a collection of dozens of prehistoric beasts – was recently unveiled at Galleta Meadows. Photo ops abound in this “Land of the Lost” and people from all over the world have searched out these roadside wonders. The best thing: its Free!

> Find out more about Galleta Meadows

> Discover more of San Diego’s East County

Happy (early) summer from East County!

Robert Arends

February Fun in San Diego’s East County!

Each winter, visitors – especially “snowbirds” – flock to San Diego’s East County to explore our desert oasis of Borrego Springs and charming mountain towns like Ramona and Julian, famous for its gold mines and apple pies.

February brings a few fun East County events and activities that are sure to make for a memorable backcountry visit.

Following are 3 that really piqued my interest:

1. Borrego Springs ARTWALK

Beautiful new Borrego Art Institute.

Beautiful new Borrego Art Institute.

Borrego Springs ARTWALK paints an eye-catching kaleidoscope of color over our desert landscape on February 1, 2013, from 5:00 to 8:00 PM.  Start your stroll at the beautiful *NEW* Borrego Art Institute, featuring their BIG. BOLD. BEAUTIFUL. exhibition of paintings, sculpture and other artworks. Then head up the street to check out other fantastic exhibits at Matson Gallery, Liesel Paris Arts Studio, Tumbleweed Gallery, The Galleria at The Palms at Indian Head and House of Borrego Springs.

2. Valentine’s Day in Julian

Loving the Orchard Hill Country Inn!

Loving the Orchard Hill Country Inn!

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Treat your sweetie to a gourmet, candlelit four-course dinner in the dining room of the Craftsman-style Orchard Hill Country Inn in Julian. As you swoon over the mountaintop views of the town below, your loved one also receives a box of chocolate truffles and a rose. Cost is $45 per person (and worth every dime! 😉 ).

3. HawkWatch

Harri Hawk -  one of the raptors you may spot at HawkWatch!

Harri Hawk – one of the raptors you might spot at HawkWatch!

Spread your wings and fly to the big annual (FREE) HawkWatch at the Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona, happening each Saturday, February 2, 9, 16 and 23 from 9:00 to 11:00 AM. Bring your binoculars and cameras to spot magnificent wintering and resident raptors, including Golden Eagles, Ferruginous Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Prairie Falcons and Red-shouldered Hawks, to name a few. While you’re there, say hello to the herd of bison that call this “raptor hotspot” home!

Happy exploring! 🙂

Robert Arends

Star Sightings at the Julian StarFest This Weekend!

Woman Looking Through a Telescope
Woman Looking Through a Telescope

Aim for the stars at Julian StarFest!

Get ready to space out (I couldn’t resist 😉 ) this weekend at Julian StarFest, the second largest gathering of professional and amateur astronomers and stargazers in California. Visitors are in for some out-of-this-world encounters on August 16-19 as they peer through telescopes for an exciting glimpse of our galaxy and beyond.

Guests are welcome to bring their own telescopes too. Experts will be on hand to answer questions about the celestial opportunities and how to position their telescopes for optimal viewing.

Astronomy swap meet at Julian StarFest.

There will be exhibition areas, galactic guest speakers and a large swap meet selling astronomy equipment.

Where, do you ask, can visitors count their lucky stars at this four-day festival? On the grounds of Menghini Winery, located just three miles north of Julian in San Diego’s scenic East County. Visit for the day or camp out at the winery for all three nights!

Free Star Party

Julian StarFest admission is free for kids 12 and under!

There’s also a free Star Party on Saturday night, August 18 – the largest public star party on the West Coast (over 1,000 attendees!). Simply arrive between 7:00 and 9:00 PM and you can enter the StarFest grounds for free. Take a star tour of the heavens using numerous telescopes set up in the viewing area. Organizers suggest bringing a red light flashlight (if you don’t have one, red translucent film will be provided to cover a white light flashlight).

Starry starry night in Julian. photo credit: © Dennis Mammana/dennismammana.com

Explore Even More of San Diego’s East County

While in Julian be sure to sample the apple pies!

While you’re at StarFest, be sure to check out the historic Gold Rush mining town of Julian. The town’s famous apple pies and refreshing ciders are just down the road!

And for the most adventurous, who feel like braving triple digit temps, take a jaunt down the summit to Borrego Springs to discover the beauty of the clear desert skies at night. Surrounded by the vast and lightless Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs is one of only two certified Dark Sky Communities in the world; it is also designated by USA Today as one of the top 10 stargazing locations in the United States.

Aim for the stars! 🙂

Julian StarFest Information

Location: Menghini Winery
Address: 1150 Julian Orchards Drive, Julian, CA 92036 (map)
Dates: August 16-19, 2012
Day Time Admission: $5 for adults, $2.50 for teens and kids 12 and under are free
3-Night Camping: $30 per adult, $15 per teen and kids 12 and under are free
Website: www.julianstarfest.com

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

Make some Merry in San Diego’s East County

Mt. Laguna - Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

If you’re looking for a few off-the-beaten-path adventures this holiday season, look no further than San Diego’s East County. With some serious holiday cheer in the forecast, plus snow levels dropping between 4 to 5,000 feet the next couple of days, parts of the County are beginning to look like a winter wonderland.

Following are my Top 3 picks of places to make some merry – and even snow angels! – this week:

Julian - a winter wonderland!

  1. Grab a sled, saucer, toboggan or boogie board (So SoCal) and trek up to our historic mountain town of Julian to go sledding on the hillsides, followed by a piping hot cup of apple cider – a local specialty! Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, located south of town, and Mt. Laguna Recreation Area are two other choice spots to “chill” when it snows in San Diego’s higher elevations.
  2. Remember that Peanuts’ Christmas TV special with Snoopy’s doghouse decked out in a festive explosion of colored lights and decorations? Well, multiply that by 100 and you have Jim Fairchild’s holly jolly house in La Mesa (8045 Stadler Street). Thousands of twinkling lights and inflatable Santas, snowmen and other winter characters fill every nook and cranny of the yard, including his prized light-up Grinch. If you’re looking for the gift of Christmas cheer, look no further than here!
  3. Looking ahead to New Year’s – and for those who may have missed last weekend’s spectacular lunar eclipse – the clear desert skies over Borrego Springs Resort will soon beckon star gazers and revelers alike. Make your reservation for the resort’s New Year’s Eve Dinner & Celebration, which includes a lavish buffet of prime rib and Cornish game hen, dancing starting at 8:00 pm and a champagne toast at midnight. Cost, $59.95 per person. $299 per couple includes a deluxe guestroom. Insider tip: after midnight, head outside to the golf course to marvel at the Milky Way in all its splendor – a memorable & magical way to welcome the New Year!
Robert Arends

3 Tried and True Backcountry Adventures

Joy is in the journey! Ne’er so true in San Diego’s scenic East County where wild and wonderful adventure tours await. From gold mine trains to desert off-roading to flights into the wild blue yonder, following are three sure bets to put some “spring” in your sightseeing:

Mine a good time at Smith Ranch in Julian.

  1. Make tracks… For the Smith Ranch Train Rides in Julian! Just in time for the town’s big annual Daffodil Show (March 26-27), pioneers of all ages can enjoy a one-mile train ride up the mountain and through the blooming backcountry. Afterward, explore an authentic 1870 gold rush mine (climb into one of the mine cars for an unforgettable ride!), and then try your hand panning for gold!  
  2. Wheel good time… California Overland is roughing it at its finest, especially venturing deep into the vast (600,000 acres!) untamed landscape of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – “one of the most pristine desert parks in the world” (National Geographic). Hop board their open-air military vehicle for an unforgettable wildflower tour, as you discover hidden palm oases, slot canyons, wind caves, Native-American pictographs, historic ruins, stark Badlands, ancient fossil reefs, dry lake beds and breathtaking vistas {whew!}. Travel + Leisure Magazine-approved! 

    Go wild with California Overland!

  3. Fly like an eagle…  Just west of Borrego in Warner Springs, grab some serious air with Sky Sailing where your heart will soar high as the birds as you hitch a ride on a sail plane (also called a glider)! It’s the ultimate adrenaline rush and the views of pine peaked mountains and the desert floor in the distance are out of this world!

    Hip to the height with Sky Sailing.

Robert Arends

5 To Try: East County’s Quirky Roadside Attractions

From quaint and quirky to weird and wonderful, San Diego has numerous backcountry marvels that dot the expansive East County region. Roadside attractions have always fascinated me because they meld America’s love affair with the road with a creative entrepreneurial spirit that makes drivers do a double take.

Following are five fun ones to try. Get your motor running!

A sweet tart of roadside attractions in Lemon Grove.

  1. The “World’s Largest Lemon” in Lemon Grove (located off Historic Highway 94, alongside the San Diego Trolley tracks at Broadway & Main Street). This gigantic fiberglass lemon is a nod to the area’s citrus boom of the early 1900s and commemorates the town’s incorporation in 1977. The lemons are long gone except for a small grove adjacent to this tart 10-foot wide wonder. The base of the sculpture reads, “Best climate on earth.”

    Ranchita's roadside Rancheti!

  2. “Rancheti” Bigfoot statue in Ranchita (along County Highway S22, 9 mi. SW of Borrego Springs): This 11 foot, 300-pound white yeti statue – built by Ranchita resident/realtor Joe Rauh to bring attention to his tiny desert town  – keeps watch over the parking lot by the Ranchita Country Store. A must-see for “snowbirds” and other desert visitors; stop by, take photos and pick up a souvenir T-shirt or tote bag.
  3. Desert View Tower in Jacumba (located on Historic Highway 80): This 70-foot, San Diego historic landmark – commissioned in 1922 as a tribute to early pioneers – is renowned for its incredible panoramic views of the desert floor below (views stretching from the Salton Sea to Mexico!) and a wonderfully weird Americana museum and boulder garden filled with whimsical painted animal rock carvings. Admission: $3. Ensuing laughter from this offbeat roadside attraction: priceless. 
  4. I’ve mentioned them before, but the “Sky Art” Sculptures in Borrego Springs (Galleta Meadows Estate along Borrego Springs Road) – a magical metallic menagerie of dozens of freestanding life-size sculptures of creatures that roamed the valley millions of years ago – are well worth repeating.

    All that's left of Dinosaur Land in Alpine is this friendly fellow.

  5. Speaking of dinos, there’s a little known find of the prehistoric kind called Dinosaur Land in Alpine (located in Alpine Mobile Home Estates along historic Highway 80). There’s not much left of this nifty amusement park from yesteryear (1960s) and its 10 ancient inhabitants, except this curious creature that was too massive to move when the mobile home park was built. Stop by and say hi – we promise it won’t bite 😉
Robert Arends

5 to Try – East County Desert Edition

Pre-historic Giant Sloth sculpture in Borrego Springs.

Fall is in the air – A perfect time to check out San Diego’s Anza-Borrego Desert and the quaint desert town of Borrego Springs. Following are five fun ways to explore and experience this captivating landscape:

1. Star gazing… Borrego Springs is an International Dark Sky Community – only the second in the world! No doubt because downtown is illuminated by only 25 or so streetlights. At night, gaze skyward to behold the most spectacular sparkling display of stars in the state. The quiet stillness and sheer vastness of this stellar tapestry will take your breath away!

2. Walk with dinosaurs… Borrego’s fossilized past comes to life at Galleta Meadows Estate, a literal “Land of the Lost” along Borrego Springs Rd. featuring artist Ricardo Breceda’s “Sky Art” Sculptures – realistic steel-welded dinosaurs, mammoths, saber-tooth tigers and sloths, as well as life-size animals of the non-prehistoric kind, including camels, tortoises and wild stallions. On the way, be sure to pick up some delicious fresh oranges and ruby online casino red grapefruit from roadside vendors by the citrus groves.

3. Trip to the moon(scape)…The Borrego Badlands, located east of town off of Highway S22, are an incredible sight with jagged eroded hills, cliffs and giant cracks in the earth. There are some great overlooks just off the road to park your car and peer down on this other-worldly landscape. Sunset, especially, really brings out the red, yellow and orange sandstone layers!

4. Desert delights… For an up-close look at the boundless beauty of San Diego’s desert, a must-see is the Visitor Center at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Photo opps abound in their desert garden: cacti and towering ocotillo with spines of fiery crimson blossoms, plus postcard backdrops of clear blue skies, rugged mountains and the desert floor.  Be on the lookout and listen for rustling in the chaparral to spot lizards and roadrunners {beep beep!}. There’s even a palm-lined pond of tiny desert pupfish (yep! They’re native to the region.).   

5. Bird watching… for “snowbirds,” that is! A great way to end the day: dinner at Carlee’s Place (660 Palm Canyon Dr.) where you can spot snowbirds – RVers and other folks from colder climates who spend the fall/winter in the desert – and locals alike enjoying good ol’ American eats (mouthwatering steaks and seafood!).  For the bravest Borrego explorers, karaoke night is every Saturday.