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

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

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!