Robert Arends

Sun, Surf, Sand…and Snow! in San Diego

San Diego for the Holidays - Top Things to Do
From sand to snow - in San Diego!

From sand to snow – in San Diego!

It’s winter in San Diego – clear blue skies, sunshine, sparkling beaches for miles and temperatures today…wait for it…in the 80s! Just another beautiful day in paradise!

Sure we’ve got the perfect year-round climate. But did you know a few times each winter when it rains here, something magical and unexpected happens in San Diego’s East County region. A frosty blanket of snow covers the mountains, usually above four or 5,000 feet.

If you find yourself in San Diego during one of our winter storms, following is a quick guide to a few fun places in East County for sledding, snowballs and making snowmen:

Julian

Wintertime in Julian.

Wintertime in Julian.

The historic Gold Rush mountain town of Julian has numerous hills to sled down, including William Heise Park. Afterward, enjoy a piece of famous homemade apple pie with piping hot apple cider or cocoa. Nearby Mt. Cuyamaca/Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is another great spot for winter whimsy.

Sunrise Highway

Sledding on Mount Laguna, off the Sunrise Highway.

Sledding on Mount Laguna, off the Sunrise Highway.

Sunrise Highway (County Route S1) and the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area are popular with local families, featuring several sledding spots just off the road. Pick up your “Adventure Permit” for $5 at Laguna Mountain Lodge and directions to the best sledding areas. Word to the wise: Park your car completely off the road so as not to block traffic and don’t sled on private property (look for posted signs).

Palomar Mountain

Saucer sledding on Mount Laguna.

Saucer sledding on Mount Laguna.

Palomar Mountain, home of the world-famous Palomar Observatory, is another winter wonderland worth exploring, especially the meadows and hills of Palomar Mountain State Park. On the drive up, panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and San Diego’s backcountry below will take your breath away!

Winter tip – Snow Sledding San Diego-style

If you don’t have a sled or saucer, no problem. A boogie board with a slick plastic bottom makes for a great sled alternative. Inner tubes too! 🙂

From the coast to majestic inland mountains, San Diego can be a surprising winter wonderland.

See you in East County!

Robert Arends

5 to Try: Holiday Happenings in San Diego’s East County

SoCal's largest ice skating rink at Viejas Outlet Center!

SoCal’s largest ice skating rink at Viejas Outlet Center!

“Oh the weather outside is frightful…” everywhere else but here, in sunny San Diego! With temps in the high 60s, winter is a wonderful time of year to check out the city sights, as well as activities in our East County region where ’tis the season to see charming foothill, mountain and desert communities decked in holiday splendor.

Following are 5 Holiday Festivities to Try – sure to have families humming “fa la la la la” all season long:

1. Christmas in the Village

La Mesa Christmas in the Village

It’s a winter wonderland at La Mesa Christmas in the Village

The delightful downtown of La Mesa transforms into an old-fashioned Christmas in the Village. There’s fun for the whole family: horse-drawn carriages, Santa Claus, carolers, carnival rides, live music stages and an outdoor market to shop for one-of-a-kind gifts.

Where: La Mesa Blvd & Spring Street, La Mesa, CA 91941
When: December 13-14, 2013
Time: 5:00 to 10:00 PM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about La Mesa’s Christmas in the Village

2. Annual Christmas Caroling Sing Along

Holiday Fun at Mt. Helix Annual Christmas Caroling in San Diego's East County

Join Santa’s Elves for a night of holiday merriment and Christmas caroling

Just up the hill on La Mesa’s majestic Mt. Helix – featuring spectacular 360 degree views of San Diego – the Annual Christmas Caroling Sing Along. Join Santa Claus, a choir of carolers and concert bands in musical merriment. There will also be free baked goods, hot drinks, and a raffle for prizes.

Where: 4901 Mt. Helix Drive, La Mesa, California 91941
When: December 15, 2013
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 PM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about Mt. Helix’s Annual Christmas Caroling Sing Along

3. Handel’s Messiah

In the historic Gold Rush mountain town of Julian, enjoy a rousing rendition of Handel’s Messiah by the Julian Community Choir in the Town Hall. While you’re there, be sure to sample Julian’s famous apple pies with a cup of hot cocoa. Our local U-T San Diego paper recently touted their top Julian pie shop picks.

Where: Julian Town Hall – 2129 Main Street, Julian, CA 92036
When: December 15, 2013
Time: Starts at 7:00 PM
> Find more events in Julian

4. Ice Skating

Viejas Outlet Center Ice Skating

Viejas Ice Skating Rink

Grab your scarf and mittens and head to Viejas Outlet Center in Alpine to practice figure 8s on the largest outdoor ice skating rink in Southern California!

Where: 5005 Willows Rd Suite 229, Alpine, CA 91901
When: Through January 5, 2014
Time:
– Monday-Friday: 5:00 to 10:00 PM
– Saturday-Sunday: 12:00 to 10:00 PM
Cost: $12-$14
> Find out more about the Viejas Outlet Center Ice Rink

5. Barona’s North Pole Gingerbread Village

Barona's North Pole Gingerbread Village

Barona’s North Pole Gingerbread Village

Look but don’t eat the incredible Barona’s North Pole Gingerbread Village at Barona Casino in Lakeside. This 50-foot culinary wonder – which took 900 hours to create! – features a snow-covered village complete with Santa’s workshop, an elf tavern and train station made entirely of gingerbread! It’s located at the entrance to the bustling Season’s Fresh Buffet and will be on display through Dec. 30. Yum! 😉

Where: 1932 Wildcat Canyon Rd, Lakeside, CA 92040
When: Through December 30, 2013

> Discover more holiday cheer in San Diego

Ho ho ho from East County!

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

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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

Julian Ripe and Ready for Apple Days!

Visitors and locals alike are gearing up for a San Diego tradition as “American as apple pie:” Julian Apple Days, happening this weekend October 6-7!

Every year the historic Gold Rush mountain town of Julian rolls out the red (apple) carpet, celebrating its big annual harvest with apple picking and mouthwatering apple pies and ciders. The Apple Days fest takes place on the grounds of Menghini Winery (10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Saturday & Sunday), featuring music and dancing, children’s games, gold panning, a wine and beer garden, food, vendors, apple-related contests, the coronation of Mr. and Mrs. Apple Days and, of course, Julian’s famous apple pies.

While in Julian be sure to sample the apple pies!

It’s A LOT of fun for the whole family! Admission is only $5; free for children ages 12 and under. The first 250 guests receive a free souvenir pie server!

While you’re in town, following are my Top 5 to Try Julian activities that’ll have you smiling ear to ear this weekend:

1. Pick a Bushel of Apples at Raven Hill Orchard

Sculpture with a Raven at Raven Hill Orchard

Wild Raven Hill sculptures!

Next door to the Julian Apple Days fest is Raven Hill Orchard where you can pick your own apples among a vast orchard of 8,000 trees! Also check out the fantastical metal sculptures dotting the grounds – great photo opps!

2. Pan for Gold at the Julian Mining Company

Family Panning for Gold - Julian Mining Company

Gold panning in Julian!

New in town is the Julian Mining Company, featuring gold panning, pumpkin picking and even an Early American Farm-Life Tour where you can work a real apple cider press!

3. Take a Llama Trek from Wikiup B&B

Couple with two Llamas from the Wikiup Bed and Breakfast

Lovin’ the Wikiup llama treks!

Gidddyup on one of Wikiup B&B‘s exciting Llama Treks through Julian’s backcountry to the Menghini Winery and famous Eagle Gold Mine, where you can take a tour of one of Julian’s original gold mines!

4. Fresh Apple Pies

Julian Apple Pies

Mmmm…Apple pies!

Sure there’s delectable Dudley’s Famous Bakery, Mom’s Pies and Julian Pie Co… But for the most gourmet apple pie in town, nothing beats the Candied Apple Pastry Company‘s sour creamapple pie. It’s off the charts!

5. Spooky Tour of the Julian Cemetery

Yours truly at spooky Julian Cemetery!

Kids will get a kick out of Julian Historical Society’s classic 1888 one-room school house (2133 Fourth St.), open weekends throughout October. For an insider’s scoop on prospectors and pioneers who settled here, join local resident/historian David Lewis on fun guided walking tours that include the spooky Julian Haven of Rest Cemetery!

Quick sidebar: Our local newspaper, U-T San Diego, did a great story on Julian Apple Days weekend!

See you in Julian!