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!


San Diego Restaurant Week 2013 Preview

Was your New Year’s resolution to start feeding that piggy bank? If you’re like me, you want to save money without feeling like you’re missing out on the good things in life, like fine dining. January is always a great time of year for money-saving travel to San Diego, when hotel rates and airfares have dropped from their peak holiday prices. And thanks to San Diego Restaurant Week, you really can live the good life in San Diego without breaking the bank.

From January 13 – 18, 2013, diners can enjoy a six-day exploration of the region’s exciting dining scene for a fraction of the normal expense.  More than 180 participation restaurants will offer special three-course, prix fixe dinner menus for just $20, $30 or $40 per person (beverages, tax and gratuity not included) and two-course, prix-fixe lunch menus for just $10, $15 or $20 per person. Here’s a sneak peek at some notable menus:

100 Wines Hillcrest

100 Wines Hillcrest San Diego Restaurant Week

100 Wines Hillcrest

100 Wines Hillcrest will be serving up their signature crispy cauliflower with pancetta, parmesan cheese and a balsamic port reduction. Follow that up with a proscuitto pizza creatively topped with house made mozzarella and green grapes.

Gaijin Noodle + Sake House

Gaijin Noodle and Sake House San Diego Restaurant Week

Ramen at Gaijin Noodle + Sake House

Gaijin Noodle + Sake House in downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter offers one of the tastiest deals with a starter, two yakitori skewers, half bowl of ramen and dessert (like their bacon s’more) all for only $20.

Terra American Bistro

Terra American Bistro San Diego Restaurant Week

Pumpkin soup and lamb at Terra American Bistro (Photo by Paul Body as it appears in “From Terra’s Table,” Chefs Press, 2010)

For diners who want maximum menu options, Terra American Bistro in La Mesa has you covered with more than 10 appetizer options and seven entrée options, including their Karl Strauss Amber Lager braised pot roast and sinful lobster mac ‘n cheese.

California Restaurant Month

San Diego Restaurant Week is part of California Restaurant Month, occurring January 2013, when 30 destinations across California are hosting restaurant week events.  Details are available online at

What restaurants are you excited to try out during Restaurant Week?

Robert Arends

3 for Free: Wheel fun in San Diego’s East County!

Cars Along the Street at Cajon Classic Cruise
Cars Along the Street at Cajon Classic Cruise

Cars Line the Streets of El Cajon during the Cajon Classic Cruise

Summer’s finally here – my favorite time of year to hit the open road and explore San Diego’s scenic backcountry! Our East County is dotted with small cities and towns nestled in the rolling foothills and mountains that entice motorists to their Norman Rockwell-esque main streets with classic car shows the whole family can enjoy.

Get your motor running all summer long at these three FREE roadside events:

1. Cajon Classic Cruise

The Cajon Classic Cruise, Southern California’s largest weekly classic car show, features classic and specialty cars on display along Main Street in downtown El Cajon. The cars are on display every Wednesday night, 5:00 – 8:00 pm, June through September 26. Some theme night highlights include “Salute to American Muscle” (July 4), “Dragsters Rule” (August 8), “Evolution of the Mustang” (September 5) and “British Invasion” (September 12).

2. La Mesa Summer Car Show

La Mesa Car Show

Classic 1950s wheels at the La Mesa Car Show

The City of La Mesa revs into gear with the La Mesa Summer Car Show every Thursday night, 5:00 – 8:00 pm, June through August. This classic “Back to the 50s” car show takes place along La Mesa Blvd. in downtown La Mesa. While you’re there, enjoy shopping, dining and live music with DJ Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

3. Julian Classic Motoring Show

Julian Classic Motoring Show at Menghini Winery in Julian

Julian Classic Motoring Show at Menghini Winery in Julian

The Julian Classic Motoring Show is coming up on July 14-15 in the historic Gold Rush mountain town of Julian. This year’s show celebrates the 45th running of the famed Score Baja 1000 desert race. On July 14, from 2:00 – 5:00 pm, check out vintage motor racing vehicles – including Ferraris, Porsches, Cobras, Corvettes – on display along Main Street in downtown Julian. On July 15, cruise out to Menghini Winery on the outskirts of town to view classic and exotic sports and race cars from around the world, along with historic trucks, buggies and motorcycles. Also enjoy food and wine tastings and live music, from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.

> Find More Great Free Things to Do at

Put the pedal to the metal and we’ll 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

‘Tis the season: Holiday Festivities in East County!

SoCal's largest ice skating rink at Viejas Outlet Center

San Diego’s bucolic East County always beckons me this time of year. I don’t know if it’s the crispness in the air, change of color in the leaves or subtle scent of pine trees as you drive out into the backcountry that’s so enticing, but it’s absolutely wonderful and welcoming! It’s where locals and visitors alike go to experience winter in San Diego. And yes, we even get snow on occasion in the higher elevations. Our historic mountain town of Julian is particularly nice – like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life when the first snow falls.

With Thanksgiving and the official launch of the holiday season just around the corner, following are some fun and festive activities for folks to enjoy in East County:

El Cajon's Mother Goose Parade!

  • Make some merry at the 65th Annual Mother Goose Parade on Nov. 20. This very popular, local holiday tradition is the largest parade in San Diego County and largest of its type west of the Mississippi, attracting thousands of spectators to the streets of El Cajon. The free fete features marching bands, colorful floats, equestrians and this year’s Grand Marshal, Taylor Guitars.

    Carriage ride through Julian.

  • There’s nothing more charming than a good ol’ fashioned Christmas celebration. Jingle up to Julian on Nov. 26 for the Julian Country Christmas & Tree Lighting, featuring strolling carolers, horse-drawn carriages, the scent of freshly-baked apple pies (yum!) and Santa Claus’ arrival aboard a bright red fire engine for the tree lighting.
  • The delightful downtown of La Mesa is transformed into a Victorian wonderland on Dec. 9 & 10 during their family-friendly Christmas in the Village, featuring horse-drawn carriages, strolling minstrels, carolers, an outdoor market with gift ideas galore and jolly ol’ Saint Nick.

    Ice skating at Viejas Outlet Center

  • The quaint town of Alpine joins in the festivities on Dec. 9 with its 16th Annual Alpine Village Christmas Parade of Lights & Snow Festival, complete with a snow hill for sledding! Just down the road, Viejas Outlet Center (awesome holiday shopping deals!) is home to the largest outdoor ice-skating rink in Southern California – open now through New Year’s.

    Santa on the North Pole Limited train in Campo.

  • All aboard… the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum’s 8th Annual North Pole Limited! This popular Christmas vintage train ride through the backcountry to the “North Pole” takes place on Nov. 25-26, Dec. 2-3, 9-10 and 16-17.The one-hour adventure begins at the Campo Depot and features an on-board reading of a famous Christmas train story (hint: see photo above 😉 ), hot cocoa, holiday cookies and an appearance by Santa Claus and his elves. Reservations are required; sure to sell out! 

    Wintertime in Julian.

     Happy Holidays from East County!

Robert Arends

San Diego Restaurant Week: Fine Dines in Coronado and East County

Two of my favorite areas of San Diego are Coronado – our postcard-perfect slice of paradise just across the bridge from downtown – and East County which constantly surprises me with its cool backcountry finds.

Narrowing down my favorite restaurants in each region wasn’t easy, as there’s a plethora of mouth-watering options, from French, Italian and some of the finest Mexican food in the County to farm-to-fork and coastal cuisine.

Blessed with a spectacular bay and seaside setting and easygoing island vibe, Coronado is a diner’s delight! My top three choices in the “Crown City” for San Diego Restaurant Week are:

  1. Sheerwater at the Hotel del Coronado is a refined, yet casual oceanfront restaurant featuring a “Fish by the Sea” menu of classic bistro-style cuisine with a focus on fresh sustainable seafood. Just steps away, the beach beckons couples for romantic strolls.

    Mistral's panoramic views of San Diego Bay.

  2. With floor-to-ceiling panoramic views of San Diego Bay and the iconic San Diego-Coronado Bridge, Mistral at Loews Coronado Bay Resort offers an idyllic backdrop for modern French delicacies prepared by chefs Marc Erhler and Patrick Ponsaty.

    Coronado Boathouse 1887 on Glorietta Bay.

  3. Coronado Boathouse 1887, located on Glorietta Bay across the street from the Hotel del Coronado, serves gourmet steaks and seafood. This “diminutive Del” is celebrating 40 years in the restaurant business and is a favorite with locals and visitors alike!

My top three East County picks are:

  1. Terra American Bistro, located in the East College District, brings farm to table dining to East County. Chef Jeff Rossman’s New American cuisine focuses on the local bounty of sustainable, organic ingredients and preparation styles from North, South and Central America.  (Bring Terra home with the chef’s new cookbook, From Terra’s Table.)

    Enjoy farm to fork cuisine at Chef Rossman's Terra Restaurant.

  2. Every day is a fiesta at Casa de Pico in La Mesa, known for its award-winning “Best Mexican” cuisine, festive atmosphere and famous birdbath margaritas [just one, please 😉 ]. Enjoy dining on the patio with its colorful umbrellas, splashing fountain and strolling Mariachis – ole!

    Festive patio dining at Casa de Pico!

  3. A favorite with locals and critics alike, the Grove Steakhouse at Viejas Casino in Alpine serves a fabulous selection of steaks, seafood, chops and delectable desserts in a luxurious setting. Go a bit early to explore the casino and outlet shops. Viejas, by the way, is celebrating its 20th anniversary!

    The Grove Steakhouse at Viejas.


Nibble Your Way Through San Diego

The bruschetta at the Taste of Little Italy is the bomb!

From East County to the coast, San Diego neighborhoods are dishing up delicious tasting events this spring. These “Taste Of” events offer the opportunity to sample mouthwatering cuisine from each community’s best restaurants in a single visit.

Kick off your spring tasting tour in the mountains with the Taste of Julian on April 9 from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 on the day of the event. Participants can meander through town to sample small bites of gourmet delights like halibut Florentine, St. Louis pork ribs, wood-fired pizza and lobster bisque with sherry.

On April 17, head to the Taste of Hillcrest from noon to 4:00 pm and enjoy a self-guided stroll peppered with small bites ranging from scrumptious appetizers to delectable desserts at over 50 of the neighborhood’s top restaurants. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 on the day of the event.

Still hungry? Then check out the Taste of La Mesa on May 16 from 5:30 to 8:30 pm when more than 25 area restaurants will take over the city’s Community Center for an evening of delectable dining. Tickets are $30 in advance or $40 at the door.

On May 25 from 5:00 to 9:00 pm the Taste of Little Italy will dish up Italian favorites and much more. Participants who purchase tickets for $35 in advance or $40 on the day of the event can nosh their way through the hip downtown neighborhood and sample signature dishes from their best restaurants.

Wrap it up on June 18 and 19 with the Taste of the Gaslamp. Each day, more than 30 eateries will be serving up tastes so visitors can explore San Diego’s busiest dining neighborhood in one fell swoop. Yum!


5 to Try This Weekend: Free Holiday Events

Parade of Lights

  1. The 39th Annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights sets sail this Sunday from 5:30–9 p.m. More than 100 private boats covered with holiday lights and decorations will parade around San Diego Bay, followed by an extravagant firework show over the water. Great views are available on dry land from Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Marina Park and Coronado’s Ferry Landing. 
  2. See Old Town State Historic Park decked out for the holidays during Holiday in the Park.  Learn how residents celebrated the holidays in the 1800s, enjoy candlelight tours, holiday singers, live performances and complimentary refreshments; Holiday in the Park takes place this Saturday from 6–8 p.m.
  3. Visit the Village of La Mesa and see it transform into a Victorian Wonderland for Christmas in the Village. Enjoy street performers, carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, carnival rides, entertainment for the family and more; Christmas in the Village takes place from 5–10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.  
  4. Enjoy the Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade this Sunday in downtown San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter. Owners and their dressed-up pets will march down the decorated streets of the neighborhood and end at a Pet Expo featuring an awards ceremony for best-dressed pups.  The parade starts at 3 p.m. and the Pet Expo will be open from 1–5 p.m.
  5. Celebrate holiday cheer during Christmas in the Park – Poway.  The event features a tree lighting ceremony, visits from Santa, train rides, live music, theatre performances, food, treats, crafts and more. The fun takes place this Saturday from 3:30–8:30 p.m.

Tour The World This Fall In San Diego

This awesome little guy at the Barona Pow Wow is repping the one culture that is actually from here.

So, you think you can dance? Wait til you see this awesome little guy at the Barona Pow Wow.

Warm ocean temperatures, coastal highs in the mid-70’s and crowds back in school make fall one of the best times to visit San Diego’s beaches and world-famous family attractions.   But, in my opinion, an even more exciting reason to visit in fall are all the cool events celebrating the cultures and people who make up San Diego. 

It’s common to hear San Diegans say “everyone here is from somewhere else.”  Well, here’s a chance to dig below the surface and find out where we come from – you might be surprised!

Fall cultural heritage events include:

  • The Pow-Wow Trail of California, celebrating the culture and history of the indigenous people of the state, winds through San Diego in September.  The Barona Band of the Mission Indians holds their annual Barona Pow-Wow Sept. 4-6 at the Barona Reservation in Lakeside.   The following weekend, Sept. 11-13, The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation holds their Pow-Wow at the Sycuan Reservation in El Cajon.  Both events include traditional singing, dancing, games, arts and crafts, costumes, food and much more.   
  • On Sept. 26-27, the Pacific Islander Festival brings the spirit of the islands to Mission Bay’s Ski Beach with a celebration of the traditional cultures of the indigenous people of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia – an area that includes more than 2,000 unique Pacific islands.  This fall marks the 15th anniversary of the event which brings to San Diego the traditional food, dance, music, art and friendly hospitality of the people of Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti and many more vibrant island cultures. 
  • More than 200,000 people gather in La Mesa during Oct. 2-4 for the largest three-day Oktoberfest west of the Mississippi.  Lovers of German food, music, culture and beer flock to the festivities and celebrate German culture with traditional foods like bratwurst and sauerkraut, frosty brews flowing in three huge beer gardens, hundreds of craft vendors, costumed folk dancers and a children’s carnival.   
  • On Oct. 11, San Diego’s Little Italy Association presents the 15th Little Italy Festa – the largest one-day Italian American festival west of the Mississippi.  A grand celebration of Italian culture, more than 120,000 people gather annually for this traditional street festival that serves up traditional music, authentic foods, specialty crafts and Gesso Italiano, an Italian street chalk painting exhibition.   Sporty types also enjoy the street stickball exhibition games – San Diego is home to 10 stickball teams and visiting teams come from around the region – and can register early to enter the bocce ball tournament on Oct. 12.
  • The San Diego Asian Film Festivalreturns Oct. 12-29 to Mission Valley with programming that has earned an international reputation as one of North America’s top Asian-American film festivals. Last year, it drew a record crowd of nearly 18,000 film buffs and attracted high profile filmmakers and celebrities, including Academy Award-winning director Jessica Yu (short film, Breathing Lessons), Aaron Yoo (Disturbia, Nick and Nora), John Cho (Harold and Kumar), Leonardo Nam (Sisterhood of Traveling Pants), and YouTube sensation Christine Gambito of HappySlip.
  • On Nov. 1, the city of Oceanside brings its Annual Dia del los Muertos celebration to the historic Mission San Luis Rey. The mission grounds are transformed into a Mexican plaza with thousands of marigolds used in the creation of “ofrendas,” or altars, which are memorials to loved ones who have passed. Guests can enjoy music, dancing, food booths, a retail mercado and the Chalk Cemetery, an interactive area where guests use flowers, candles and chalk to create their own ofrendas.