Happening Family Hikes That Kids and Parents Will Love

One of the best parts about being in San Diego is enjoying all its beauty. With great weather and scenic views, hiking with your family is yet another way to appreciate America’s finest city. When it comes to adventures on foot with the kids, check out some of the top happening hiking spots compiled from suggestions of local moms.

Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines - La Jolla - Scenic Waterfront Walks

Walk among the famous Torrey Pines with the Pacific Ocean as your backdrop.

It would nearly be a crime not mention this spot first! In fact, when gathering as much hiking intel as I could from other parents, this was the one place always mentioned. Sandwiched between Del Mar and La Jolla, the wild flowers can be enjoyed with one of the world’s most breathtaking ocean views. With three of the popular hike options being short ones, choose to walk to the water or get up close to the famous Torrey Pines! If you want to get your kids excited about hikes, start at this 1,750 acre seaside reserve. (12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, California 92037.)

San Elijo Lagoon

This 915 acre reserve is nestled neatly in North County with sprawling ocean views. Known for its bird watching, there’s also lots of unique plants to check out, too. In fact, you may even spot a fish or two in the lagoon on one of the eight trails to choose from! (2710 Manchester Avenue in Cardiff-by-the-Sea.)

Batiquitos Lagoon

The Batiquitos Lagoon is a great place to see wildlife.

The Batiquitos Lagoon is a great place to see wildlife.

Beginners should start here. And by that, I especially mean those with the age 3 and under set that just want to get a nice walk in with a view of the water. Enjoy ocean and lagoon scenery with an easy walk for all ages. (7380 Gabbiano Ln, Carlsbad, CA 92011)

Cowles Mountain

360 Panorama of Cowles Mountain

360 Panorama of Cowles Mountain. Via Wikipedia

Got older kids? Get ready to hike to the highest point in San Diego! Savor the 360 degree views of San Diego and a healthy 3 mile round trip workout, too. With the shorter distance, kids may not notice that the hike is a bit more of a challenge. And bragging rights of reaching the “top of San Diego” (and the view!) will make it all worth while. (At the corner of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road.)

Old Mission Dam

For fun with finding shells along the dam, this hike is another great place to enjoy with children while collecting wild flowers along the way. With easy trails, the historical landmark is also great for bird watching. (1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119)

Mount Woodson

Known for its cool rock formations that look like potato chips hanging in the sky, this hiking trail is thought of as moderate in terms of difficulty but worth the effort for the photos sitting on the edge of the rocks. With great views, round trip will be just about 8 miles so make sure the kids are up for a true adventure if you go for the whole route. (Mt Woodson Trail, Poway, CA.)

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve

The Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve features  hiking, biking and equestrian trails.

The Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve features hiking, biking and equestrian trails.

Kid friendly walking (read: easy trails) can lead to the excitement of a waterfall! One of the best options leaves from the Canyonside Rec center with a path that will guide you along the creek to the main waterfall event.  For a very different hike, be sure to check out the West Entrance as well. Either way, bring your swimsuits on a hot day and enjoy a little dip in the water to cool off! (12122 Canyonside Park Drive, San Diego, CA 92129.)

Black Mountain Open Space Park

For the over 5 years old crowd, get ready for some steep hills that will guide you to awesome views overlooking North County all the way to the ocean on a clear day! Reaching the top of the summit of Black Mountain, catch the views to downtown San Diego, too! (12115 Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92129)

Remember, with so much beauty to explore in this city, be sure to get the kids outside and enjoying all the atmosphere that one of these family hikes in San Diego has to offer.


Robert Arends

Stellar Finds at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego’s East County

Palomar Observatory
View from Mt. Palomar

Spectacular views from high atop Mt. Palomar.

Fall is here and there’s no better time to visit scenic East County where the trees are starting to change into a kaleidoscope of autumn colors – a real treat for leaf peepers! Over the weekend I trekked to East County’s legendary Palomar Observatory to do some exploring and I’ve got to say, it was out of this world! (pun intended)

Half The Fun is Getting to the Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory amongst the changing leaves.

The drive there was half the fun. Take Highway 78 east from Ramona – where you’ll pass some excellent local wineries offering tastings – then fuel up with a quick bite of scrumptious apple pie at Dudley’s Bakery in Santa Ysabel. Just past the bakery, head north on Highway 79, then west on Highway 76 toward Lake Henshaw. After La Jolla Indian Reservation, turn right on South Grade Rd./S6 which begins a wonderfully winding adventure up Mt. Palomar with panoramic overlooks at every turn. You can see as far as the Pacific!

Atop the mountain, continue straight on Canfield Rd. and follow the signs to Palomar Observatory. Forests and fern meadows abound; don’t be surprised if you spot flocks of wild turkeys on the roadside! (Mmm…Thanksgiving! 😉 )

What To Do Once You’re There

Andromeda Galaxy

Andromeda galaxy at the Palomar Observatory museum.

Seeing the observatory’s giant Art Deco-style white dome for the first time is jaw-dropping! Inside, a colossal 7-story Hale Telescope points toward the heavens. Tours are available Saturdays/Sundays at 11:00 AM and 1:30 PM at the low price of $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and children under 12 are free. Be sure to explore the free museum, spotlighting Palomar’s stellar discoveries, including the first brown dwarf and a planetoid called Sedna. My favorite cosmic find was a massive photo (above) of the twinkling Andromeda galaxy gracing the back wall.

Did You Know…

Palomar Observatory Dome

7-story dome at Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory houses the 8th largest telescope in the U.S. and weighing in at 14 ½ tons, the telescope’s main mirror is one of the heaviest pieces of glass in the world!

On The Way Back

Lake Henshaw Vista Point

Do a little birding at the Lake Henshaw Vista Point

Head down Mt. Palomar on East Grade Rd./S7.  At the 1.8 mile marker, stop at Henshaw Vista Point for breathtaking views of Lake Henshaw. Keep your eyes peeled for hawks and eagles soaring high above Santa Ysabel Valley. If you close your eyes, you can imagine you too have taken flight over San Diego’s East County…Will wonders never cease! 🙂

> Discover More of San Diego’s East County

Have you been to the Palomar Observatory? What was your favorite thing there? Let me and others know in the comments below.

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


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

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!
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.