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
– 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!


Golf Courses Carved out of the San Diego Landscape

Salt Creek Golf Club

It might be the hunter and gatherer in me, something to do with getting in touch with nature and tying into those natural forces whenever I’m fishing or hunting, but that’s the feeling I get when I enter one of these golf courses carved out of San Diego’s natural landscape.

Barona Creek Golf Course

Barona Creek Golf Course

Escape into the Barona Creek Golf Course

I know. It’s a strange thing to compare hunting and fishing to golf, but anyone who hunts, fishes and golfs, will tell you the reason they do them is to unplug from work, stress, whatever, and get outside for a few hours without having to think about anything but the nature around them. For me, at Barona, it starts with the mystical Native American music in the pro shop. It gets me every time. Then I look out at the first tee, with the giant California live oak that guards the green, smack dab in the middle of the fairway, the creek on the right with native grasses lining it, and it’s time to put the war paint on. I try to linger in that pro shop a while just to get more and more into the mood to play this incredible golf course.

There’s a reason golf magazines like Golfweek and Golf Digest consistently name Barona as one of the top public courses in California. It has five sets of tees, from easy to championship, with plenty of manageable tees in between.

The championship tees (7,088 yards, 140 slope) were played by the Nationwide Tour for its championship in 2007 and recommended for skilled golfers only. But golfers of all levels will enjoy this course’s middle tees (silver at 6,321 yards, 132 slope, 70.4 rating).

What makes this course so unique is how Todd Eckenrode, the course architect, blended each hole into this magnificent slice of California wild, a stretch of ranchland that once was hunted by Native Americans and settlers. He placed 100 bunkers in some very strategic places that catch your eye from the tee and on approaches to the green. Hit it a bit wayward, and you’re dealing with native grasses, maybe a rattlesnake or two, so be careful.

Location: 1932 Wildcat Road, Lakeside, CA
Green Fees: Monday-Friday – $120, Weekends – $160
Toll Free Phone: 888.722.7662
Phone: 619.387.7018

Mt. Woodson Golf Club

Ledges - Hole #3 Mt. Woodson Golf Club

Hole #3 – Ledges – Mt. Woodson Golf Club

If you’re looking for the best deal inland and a chance to play a unique course tucked into giant, whale-sized boulders and an oak forest, Mt. Woodson is the spot. Just 33 miles from Downtown San Diego, Mt. Woodson in Ramona offers a Lowest Rate Guaranteed green fee, so look for the best deal possible here for green fees.

The names on some of these holes are an indication of what to expect. There’s the par 5, 520-yard 14th hole called “Let Loose,” along with “Windinface,” “The Cradle,” “The Plunge” and “The Lookout.” You get away from it all on this course, and be ready for the cart ride over the trestle bridge that spans one of the course’s many canyons. Think jungle safari in a golf cart.

Woodson is a golfer-friendly course if you leave your driver in the bag on most holes. It’s a short course, with some drivable holes with the driver. It’s just 5,764 yards from the blue tees. It’s 5,399 yards from the white tees and 4,229 yards from the reds.

Location: 16422 N. Woodson Drive, Ramona, CA 92065 (map)
Green Fees: Monday-Friday – $55, Weekends – $65
Phone: 760.788.3555

Salt Creek Golf Club

Salt Creek Golf Club

Wander the natural landscape at Salt Creek Golf Club

Of these three courses, I’d rate Salt Creek Golf Club in Chula Vista as the most fun to play. It’s challenging, tough, but fair because course architect Cary Bickler custom-designed the course for the average golfer. There are no tricked-up greens or impossible bunkering.

Every hole is a different adventure, and the scenery is spectacular, with views of the Pacific Ocean, Mexico’s Coronado Islands, and the San Diego Wildlife Refuge, a stretch of land that will never see any development.

New owners Bill McWethy and Fred Grand will pour close to $1.5 million into course improvements included a new clubhouse with a wrap-around deck, new golf carts, an all grass hitting area driving range and a new practice area. New tees have been added to give this course some challenging tee shots, some new risk-reward options.

Green fees are very reasonable and the new owners are trying to re-introduce players to this great spot, so look for good deals for a while.

Location: 525 Hunte Parkway, Chula Vista, CA 91914 (map)
Green Fees: $25-$38
Phone: 619.656.2373

> Find the perfect golf course in San Diego

Where’s your favorite place to escape for a round of 18 in San Diego?

Robert Arends

Make tracks for San Diego’s East County Museums

The Western art of Olaf Wieghorst

San Diego Museum Month is in full swing (1/2 price admission to 40 participating museums!) and there’s no better time to explore some lesser-known museum jewels in the San Diego’s East County communities. They may not be the biggest cultural institutions on the map, but they’re certainly some of the most charming and a great way to discover the Wild West heritage of our rustic backcountry.

Following are my Top 5 Favorite East County museums: Continue reading

Robert Arends

San Diego Arts Month: Wild, Wonderful Art Finds in East County

In celebration of San Diego Arts Month, let’s trek into San Diego’s backcountry where the art scene is as diverse as the topography. From pop art to pioneer museums, there’s a plethora of fascinating art finds. Following are some of my favorites:

Galleta Meadows Dragon sculpture!

  • The Galleta Meadows Sculpture Installations in Borrego Springs (along Borrego Springs Rd.) are TV’s “Land of the Lost” come to life! Dozens of metallic dino-type creatures and other wild animals roam freely through the desert landscape. Artist Ricardo Breceda’s newest, largest and most wondrous creation: A 350-foot long Chinese dragon!
  • Two more roadside pop art wonders that are definitely worth the drive: Rancheti Big Foot sculpture in Ranchita (on the way to Borrego Springs) and the World’s Largest Lemonsculpture in Lemon Grove.

    Kaleidoscope of color at Hubbell House & Studios!

  • Tucked away in the Julian hillsides is San Diego’s own Barcelona of the backcountry: James Hubbell House and Studios, a 40-acre arts complex showcasing the fantastical designs of artist/sculptor/architect extraordinaire James Hubbell, considered “San Diego’s Gaudi.” Group tours are available by appointment.

    Raven Hill sculpture.

  • Speaking of Julian, their popular annual apple harvest is just around the corner (mid-Sept. through mid-Nov.). Head to Raven Hill Orchard to not only pick apples from an orchard of 8,000 trees with seven varieties of apples(!), but also stroll through a marvelous outdoor gallery of sculptures by accomplished artist Patrick Brady.

    Julian Pioneer Museum.

  • East County’s Wild West culture of cowboys, pioneers and prospectors who set their sights on this vast inviting frontier comes alive at the Julian Pioneer Museum, features gold mining equipment, Native-American artifacts, animal and bird mountings, an original “Julian City” buggy and sleigh, Victorian clothing and one of the finest collections of lace in California.

    "His Wealth" painting by Olaf Wieghorst.

  • Giddyup to the Olaf Wieghorst Museum and Western Heritage Centerin downtown El Cajon to view dozens of paintings by nationally renowned artist Olaf Wieghorst, portraying the 19th century American West, including cowboys, Native Americans and pioneer settlers.

    Reed baskets and art at the Barona Museum.

  • For the Native American perspective, the Barona Cultural Center & Museumis a must-see; San Diego’s only museum on an Indian reservation dedicated to the perpetuation and presentation of local Native-American culture, including handmade pottery, reed baskets, paintings, arrowheads and other artifacts dating as far back as 10,000 years!

    El Cajon offers enticing palette of galleries.

  • Modern art aficionados will want to check out El Cajon’s burgeoning Art Gallery Walk on Main Street downtown (between 120 and 140 E. Main), including the fabulous new Studio C Contemporary, Silver Creek Fine Art, Main Street 5 Gallery, The Rich Artist Studio, White Sage Gallery and Merkabah Gallery.