This past weekend my husband, 9 year old son and I headed out to Warner Spring Ranch in San Diego’s east county for a little R&R. The ranch, which was originally established in 1844 as a stagecoach stop, is a funky and rustic oasis of the best kind.
Just an hour and a half out of downtown San Diego, the ranch occupies over 2,000 acres at the base of Palomar Mountains in an area surrounded by Native American Indian lands. At the ranch and throughout the area the Indian influence can be felt. For example, behind the ranch’s art studio you can see granite mortar holes in the boulders where the Indians would grind acorns for food.
The accommodations are rustic and luxuries are limited (the rooms are sparse and lack a phone or TV) but this actually adds to the serenity of the experience. Our room had a wonderful wood-burning fireplace, complete with firewood and fire starter, and was so quiet that all three of us slept like rocks.
On a tip from a friend, we brought along our mountain bikes which was a great call. The ranch features a host of bike trails plus a very cool off-road bike course with jumps and dirt ramps. My son rated this #1 on his list of best things about the ranch.
Number #2 on his list (and first on mine) were the horses. There’s around 80 of them on the ranch and many of them will come right over to you for a bite of grass through the fence. We took the 1-1/2 hour trail ride one morning which winds back into the pastures at the base of the surrounding mountains. We saw rabbits, hawks and lots of wildflowers and native plants. My son was fascinated by the smell of the wild sages and kept picking the leaves, within reach from his horse, and putting them in his pockets (so he could smell good).
The ranch also features two huge swimming pools. The “hot” pool is actually a sulfur mineral pool, fed by the natural hot springs on the property, and is kept at a steamy 104 degrees. Many people believe that the hot springs have healing powers. I don’t know about that but I do know that the minerals make your skin feel very soft and a long soak is quite relaxing, especially at night. The only drawback is the horrible smell from the sulfur which smells remarkably like rotten eggs. The other pool, sans smell, is a regular chlorine pool which is kept in the 80’s.
Dining opportunities on the ranch are limited but good, with one main dining room for dinner and a cafe for breakfast and lunch across the highway at the golf course. The main lodge area also has a ping-pong table (my son’s #4 favorite thing about the ranch), board games, Internet access and TVs for those who can’t live without. There’s also a spa and beauty salon on the property which I didn’t try but seems like a very good idea for next time.
About ½ hour drive from the ranch is the quaint gold mining town of Julian. We headed out mid-morning from the ranch, had lunch at an old-fashioned soda shop in town and then went on a tour of an old gold mine (#3 on the list of favorites). The tour we chose was run by the Smith family, on their property, and included a 1-mile train ride, exploration of an 1870’s gold mine and panning for gold (complete with planted gold nuggets). Mr. Smith is a retired school teacher and his monologue was perfect (funny and informative). It would probably be a little hokie for teens and over but it was great for my son. The other must-do in Julian is to sample the apple pie. The area is known throughout San Diego for its pies and we tried the French apple at both MOMs and the Julian Pie Company. Both were delicious (heated and ala mode of course)!
The last thing to say about Warner Spring Ranch is how wonderful the staff was. From the housekeeping and maintenance crews, to the front desk and pool attendants (Ms. Gwen and Ms. Dee), everyone we ran into was warm, friendly and truly terrific.
If you like escaping the city and going a little rustic with the kids, I highly recommend you check out Warner Spring Ranch. You won’t be disappointed.
By Kathleen Kubota, Guest Blogger