Robert Arends

5 To Try: East County’s Quirky Roadside Attractions

From quaint and quirky to weird and wonderful, San Diego has numerous backcountry marvels that dot the expansive East County region. Roadside attractions have always fascinated me because they meld America’s love affair with the road with a creative entrepreneurial spirit that makes drivers do a double take.

Following are five fun ones to try. Get your motor running!

A sweet tart of roadside attractions in Lemon Grove.

  1. The “World’s Largest Lemon” in Lemon Grove (located off Historic Highway 94, alongside the San Diego Trolley tracks at Broadway & Main Street). This gigantic fiberglass lemon is a nod to the area’s citrus boom of the early 1900s and commemorates the town’s incorporation in 1977. The lemons are long gone except for a small grove adjacent to this tart 10-foot wide wonder. The base of the sculpture reads, “Best climate on earth.”

    Ranchita's roadside Rancheti!

  2. “Rancheti” Bigfoot statue in Ranchita (along County Highway S22, 9 mi. SW of Borrego Springs): This 11 foot, 300-pound white yeti statue – built by Ranchita resident/realtor Joe Rauh to bring attention to his tiny desert town  – keeps watch over the parking lot by the Ranchita Country Store. A must-see for “snowbirds” and other desert visitors; stop by, take photos and pick up a souvenir T-shirt or tote bag.
  3. Desert View Tower in Jacumba (located on Historic Highway 80): This 70-foot, San Diego historic landmark – commissioned in 1922 as a tribute to early pioneers – is renowned for its incredible panoramic views of the desert floor below (views stretching from the Salton Sea to Mexico!) and a wonderfully weird Americana museum and boulder garden filled with whimsical painted animal rock carvings. Admission: $3. Ensuing laughter from this offbeat roadside attraction: priceless. 
  4. I’ve mentioned them before, but the “Sky Art” Sculptures in Borrego Springs (Galleta Meadows Estate along Borrego Springs Road) – a magical metallic menagerie of dozens of freestanding life-size sculptures of creatures that roamed the valley millions of years ago – are well worth repeating.

    All that's left of Dinosaur Land in Alpine is this friendly fellow.

  5. Speaking of dinos, there’s a little known find of the prehistoric kind called Dinosaur Land in Alpine (located in Alpine Mobile Home Estates along historic Highway 80). There’s not much left of this nifty amusement park from yesteryear (1960s) and its 10 ancient inhabitants, except this curious creature that was too massive to move when the mobile home park was built. Stop by and say hi – we promise it won’t bite 😉