Robert Arends

Rock Out – Rock Climbing in Mission Valley and Beyond!

Nope, we’re not talking rock concerts, but rather rock climbing! Located in the center of San Diego, within easy reach of most major attractions and activities, Mission Valley is the gateway to some of the best rock climbing and bouldering in Southern California.

If you’re looking for some serious face climbing (ascending a vertical rock face using finger holds and edges), scaling the best new handcrafted rock climbing wall in San Diego or just hiking to amazing photo-worthy rock formations (bring your camera!), Mission Valley and environs has something for everyone.

Following are a few standouts:

Grotto Climbing & Yoga

Mission Valley's new Grotto Rock Climbing & Yoga

Mission Valley’s cool new Grotto Climbing & Yoga

The new Grotto Climbing & Yoga is perfect for all experience levels (translation: you don’t need to be a pro). This urban rock climber’s dream features a massive 7,000-square-foot climbing/bouldering wall with 13,000 handmade holds that mimics San Diego’s rocky climbing trails. This is the spot to hone your rock climbing skills before heading into our great outdoors. Afterward, relax your weary muscles and Zen out in their studio offering 11 types of yoga classes.

Check out this cool time-lapse video of the action at Grotto Climbing!

Mission Trails Regional Park’s Mission Gorge

Climber's Loop Trail along Mission Gorge in Mission Trails Regional Park

Climber’s Loop Trail along Mission Gorge in Mission Trails Regional Park

For climbers ready to ascend real rock walls, Mission Gorge, part of Mission Trails Regional Park – one of largest urban parks in the U.S. – is San Diego’s best and oldest established climbing area, encompassing over two miles of the San Diego River. The granite slopes here are steep (40 to 80 feet high) and slick, offering a mix of crack and face climbing.

Main Climbing Wall in popular Mission Gorge

Main Climbing Wall in Mission Gorge

The one-mile Climber’s Loop Trail leads to a great mix of rock climbing areas, including a popular Main Climbing Wall, The Thumb, Skyline Pinnacle, Lunch Rock, Limbo (full of granite towers) and Middle Earth (calling all J.R.R. Tolkien fans!).

Santee Boulders

A bouldering playground at Santee Boulders!

A bouldering playground at Santee Boulders!

East of Mission Valley, the Santee Boulders is San Diego’s most popular bouldering area. (Bouldering is the practice of climbing on large boulders vs. rock cliffs 😉

Potato Chip Rock

The popular Potato Chip Rock atop Mt. Woodson Trail

The popular Potato Chip Rock atop Mt. Woodson Trail

There’s also the famous Potato Chip Rock on the Mt. Woodson Trail in Poway, which attracts shutterbugs galore. Our friends at So San Diego Tours did a great write-up on the hike up to this aptly named, narrow strip of stone.

If you’re up for a rock solid adventure in San Diego, look no further than Mission Valley and a couple popular points to the east. 🙂

Brent Bernasconi

Santee Brewery Crawl – There’s Great Beer Out East

Butcher's Brewing Tasting Room - Stop #1 on the Santee Brewery Crawl

So you have been to all the breweries up north, have spent time sampling beers in downtown before a Padres game and biked around the local breweries of North Park. But have you ever explored the three great breweries out in Santee? No you say? Well then put on your walking shoes and prepare to sample the best of East County’s brewing community on a Santee Brewery Crawl.

Please remember to be safe while you enjoy any of San Diego’s amazing craft breweries. Plan on using alternative modes of transportation or bring a designated driver with you. Just make sure to supply him or her with plenty of soda, water and all they can eat as a thank you!

Getting to the Santee Brewery Crawl Starting Point via Trolley

While you can drive, why not play it safe and take the trolley. Just hop on the Green Line heading towards Santee from any of the stops including Downtown, Old Town and Mission Valley. Get off at the Gillespie Field stop and start walking toward the first brewery, Butcher’s Brewing. You can get walking directions for the entire “crawl” from the Google Map embedded at the end of this post.

Butcher’s Brewing

Walking directions from trolley stop: Head northwest on N Marshall Ave toward Cuyamaca St. Turn right onto Cuyamaca St. Turn right onto Prospect Ave. Destination will be on the left.

Butcher's Brewing Tasting Room - Stop #1 on the Santee Brewery Crawl

Make friends and drink good beer at Butcher’s Brewing, the first stop on the Santee Brewery Crawl

The 72nd brewery to open in San Diego (according to West Coaster San Diego), Butcher’s Brewing pours ten house beers along with special brews and four beers from the Mucho Aloha label. Once you arrive, check out what’s on tap and order up a flight. If it’s a warm day, cool off with a taster of the Haupia Cream Ale, a dry-hopped ale with roasted coconut and vanilla, or the Fair Weather Friend. My personal favorite was the Choice Red IPA, a crisp beer with hints of caramel and biscuit notes. Once you finish your flight, thank the bartender and head on out to the next stop, Twisted Manzanita.

> Read about my visit to Butcher’s Brewing during a Beer Up

Where: 9962 Prospect Ave, Ste E, Santee, CA 92071
Distance from Trolley Stop: .6 Miles
> Find out more about Butcher’s Brewing

Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits

Walking directions from Butcher’s Brewing: Head east on Prospect Ave toward Ablette Ct. Destination will be on the right.

Twisted Manzanita Tasting Room

Sample the Gillespie Brown at the Santee Brewery Crawl’s second stop, Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits

When I first discovered Twisted Manzanita, they brewed out of what is now this Santee Brewery Crawl’s first stop, Butcher’s Brewing. Manzanita had larger ambitions and needed a much bigger space. Keeping to their Santee roots, the brewery moved only .2 miles down the road. The larger tasting room invites you to relax inside with the air conditioning or to sit outside in the shade while enjoying a few tasters. You can easily sample all six house beers in one visit. Make sure to enjoy the Gillespie Brown Ale, their most popular beer. If you are feeling adventurous, order a taster of Where There’s Smoke, a 7% ABV brew infused with chiles.

Wait, they have spirits too?

Yes they do! Twisted Manzanita Spirits is one of the first San Diego breweries to branch out into the world of spirits (Ballast Point and BNS are two others). In a separate tasting room, you can order up a flight of their craft spirits while learning about the process of distilling. I have yet to sample any of their spirits, but a co-worker of mine recommends the Oaked Moonshine 80 proof. After you have sampled the beers and/or spirits, grab a water and start the trek toward BNS Brewing & Distilling Co.

Where: 10151 Prospect Avenue, Santee, CA 92071
Distance from Butcher’s Brewing: .2 Miles
> Find out more about Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits

BNS Brewing & Distilling Co.

Walking directions from Twisted Manzanita: Head east on Prospect Ave toward Ian Way. Turn left onto Cottonwood Ave. Turn right onto Buena Vista Ave. Turn left onto Railroad Ave. Turn right onto Mission Gorge Rd. Continue onto Woodside Ave. Slight left to stay on Woodside Ave. Turn left at Woodside Ave. Slight right onto N Woodside Ave. Turn left onto Wheatlands Ave. Destination will be on the right.

BNS Brewing & Distilling Co.

Sit on the patio or step up to the bar inside at BNS Brewing & Distilling Co., stop #3 on the Santee Brewery Crawl

With two breweries under your belt it’s time to hitch a ride or mosey on over to BNS Brewing & Distilling Co. You might want to bring a bottle of water for the 30ish minute walk. The beer will taste even better after the long walk! It might be best to start things off real light with the Gunfighter Golden Ale. After you cool down, move on up to the heavier beers like the Ma Deuce Double IPA or the Gatling Gun Imperial Stout (a favorite of two friends). Since this is the last stop, grab a full pint, take a seat on the outdoor patio and soak up the San Diego sunshine.

Where are the Spirits?

BNS was recently approved to build a spirits tasting room and the opening date is to be determined. When open, BNS plans on serving tasters of house vodka, gin, whiskey and bourbon.

Where: 10960 Wheatlands Ave #101, Santee, CA 92071
Distance from Twisted Manzanita: 1.7 Miles
> Find out more about BNS Brewing & Distilling Co.

Getting Back Home

Congratulations! You have just completed the Santee Brewery Crawl and it is time to return to your home base. If you are feeling energized, walk back to the trolley and enjoy the ride. However, if the weather is really hot or you just can’t walk anymore, call up a taxi or use on demand car services like Uber, Lyft or Sidecar. All I ask is that you get home safe, so let someone else do the driving for you!

Santee Brewery Crawl Map


Free Summer Concerts Throughout San Diego County – 2013

Free Summer Concerts in Pacific Beach
Free Summer Concerts in Pacific Beach

Bring a chair or a blanket to sit on the grass and enjoy free summer concerts under the warm San Diego sunshine

Free summer concerts have become traditions in neighborhoods throughout San Diego County. They’re an opportunity for visitors, locals and their families to socialize, picnic, enjoy music together – and maybe even dance as the sun sets on another perfect San Diego day.

Here’s a sampling of the free summer concerts to expect this summer:

San Diego’s Free Summer Concerts

The Point Loma Summer Concert Series opens July 12 with Jumping Jack Flash (a Rolling Stones tribute band) and continues on consecutive Fridays through August 9. Shows run 5:30 to 8:30 PM. Pack a picnic or buy food at the venue. Bring blankets, lawn chairs and Frisbees to Point Loma Park, 1049 Catalina Blvd.

Pacific Beach Concerts on the Green are set for Sundays July 21 through August 11. Shows run from 4:00 to 6:30 PM at Kate Sessions Park (Lamont Street, just north of Beryl). Bring your own food and drink.

Mission Hills’ Concerts in the Park series opens June 21 at Pioneer Park and continues on consecutive Fridays through August 23. Once exception: No concert on July 5 because of the community’s big Fourth of July celebration, which includes a concert. The series opens with Hullabaloo followed by Zydeco Patrol on June 28 and Dr. Elvis on July 4. Pioneer Park is at 1425 Washington Place.

Balboa Park’s Twilight in the Park concert series kicks off at 6:15 PM June 18 and continues on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through August 29 at the park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The hour-long shows feature everything from classical music to R&B.

Enjoy organ music? The International Summer Organ Festival features organists from around the world. Showtime is 7:30 to 9:30 PM on Mondays, June 24 through Aug. 26, at Balboa Park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

The Bird Park Concert Series in North Park will open June 15 with jazzman Lenny Rankins. More concerts are scheduled June 29 (indie rock), July 13 (Latin jazz), July 27 (country rock) and August 10 (blues). All shows run 5:30 to 7:30 PM. Bird Park is at 28th and Thorn streets.

Enchanted Music on Coronado

Coronado’s Concerts in the Park series is set for 6:00 PM on Sundays, May 26 through September 8, at Spreckels Park, 7th and Orange. Families (but no dogs) are welcome to picnic during the 90-minute shows. The Coronado Community Concert Band will open the series.

Coronado Ferry Landing Concert Series kicks it off with the Coronado Big Band on May 25 and continues rocking Saturdays and Sundays through July 28. Most performances run from 2:00 to 5:00 PM.

Rocking Out in North County

Del Mar’s Summer Twilight Concerts are set for Powerhouse Park, overlooking the Pacific, at 1600 Coast Blvd. The series begins June 18 with Atomic Groove, followed by Mrs. Robinson on July 9, Back to the Garden on August 13 and Mark Wood and the Parrot Head band on September 8. Show time is 7:00 PM, with pre-show entertainment beginning at 6:00 PM.

Carlsbad’s TGIF Jazz in the Park is staged at three community parks. The 28th season opens at Stagecoach Park (3420 Camino de los Coches), with concerts on June 28, July 5 and 12. The party moves to Poinsettia Park (6600 Hidden Valley Road) for concerts on July 19, 26 and August 2. The season closes at Calavera Hills Park (2997 Glasgow Drive) with concerts on August 9, 16 and 23. Showtime is 6:00 to 8:00 PM. Wear your dancing shoes.

Roaring Good Time in East County

El Cajon’s Dinner and a Concert series is set for 6:00 to 8:00 PM Fridays through Sept. 30 on the Prescott Promenade near East Main Street and Rea Avenue in downtown El Cajon. The family oriented venue is smoke-, alcohol- and dog-free. No need to pack a picnic; about a dozen restaurants edge the promenade, offering on-the-spot dining or picnics to go.

Santee’s Free Summer Concerts are scheduled 6:30 to 8:30 PM on Thursdays, June 20 through August 22 (except July 4), at Town Center Community Park East, 550 Park Center Drive in Santee. The Navy’s Southwest Showband will open the series. Picnics are welcome, but know that food trucks rally nearby.

> Enjoy more live music in San Diego

Know of more free summer concerts I don’t have in this list? Let me and others know in the comments below.

Robert Arends

5 to Try: Roadside Wonders of San Diego’s East County

Cosmic car at Unarius Academy in El Cajon

You might recall my blog awhile back on Quirky Roadside Attractions in San Diego’s East County region. With Memorial Day around the bend, now is the perfect time to map out another adventure to discover some wonderfully fascinating finds in our backcountry. Following are 5 to Try:

Dino-sized greeting at Creation & Earth History Museum

1. Creation and Earth History Museum

Let there be light! The Creation and Earth History Museum in Santee is a showcase of the literal six-day creation of earth, according to the Bible’s book of Genesis. Highlights include stellar displays of planetary development (Day 1), a jungle-like Garden Room with live animal terrariums (Day 6), model of Noah’s Ark (great photo opp), an Ice Age Room and Ancient Civilizations Room with replicas of the Tower of Babel and Rosetta Stone. Admission is free.

Model of UFO spiritual tower at Unarius Academy

2. Unarius Academy of Science

Out of this world! The Unarius Academy of Science in El Cajon is a garden-like teaching center featuring cosmic art, a “Power Tower,” Future City Model and Star Center room with murals of Atlantis – illustrating Unariun beliefs in past lives, Tesla technology, lost civilizations and UFOs. The group is known for its 2001 prophecy of spaceships landing in nearby Jamul to form a spiritual tower. Call 619-444-7062 or e-mail to arrange a visit. Did you know: Unarius stands for Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science.

Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge in Anza-Borrego Dessert State Park

Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge

3. Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge

Make tracks… to the world’s tallest curved timber railroad trestle, the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge traversing the steep-walled Carrizo Gorge near Jacumba. It spans 200 feet high and 750 feet long! It’s a hearty hike to the vista point, but well worth it. For those who may not have the hiking boots (or stamina) to make the trek, there’s a 10-foot high model at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum (the world’s largest operating model railroad museum) in Balboa Park.

Giant labyrinth at Sacred Rocks Reserve

Giant labyrinth at Sacred Rocks Reserve

4 and 5. California’s Two Largest Labyrinths

A-MAZE-ing! Check out California’s two largest labyrinths at Labyrinth in the Oaks, a private riverfront retreat along the San Diego River headwaters in Julian, and Sacred Rocks Reserve in Boulevard. Both claim to have the largest labyrinths in the state, but technically LITO is biggest at 105 feet in diameter. Sacred Rocks’ maze is still an impressive 100 feet, modeled after the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France(!). Cost is $8 for a day pass to explore the grounds of Sacred Rocks. Labyrinth in the Oaks is open to overnight guests only.

Happy exploring! 🙂


Great Freshwater Fishing Spots in San Diego

Russel Park and a Rainbow Trout
Russel Park and a Rainbow Trout

Fresh Catch of the Day

There’s a reason Field and Stream Magazine placed San Diego No. 2 on its list of America’s Best Fishing Cities. In addition to some of the most diverse saltwater fishing in the world and two productive bays, the area has 23 different lakes to choose from for a great freshwater experience.

When I moved to San Diego, I thought it was all about the ocean, but I soon found out there is a whole other world out there for fishermen at this area’s mix of city and county lakes. At most lakes you can count on catching trophy-sized largemouth bass, catfish and bluegill, but many are stocked with trout in the late fall, winter and spring. Some lakes like Dixon, Poway, Santee Lakes and Wohlford get stocked with channel catfish in the spring and summer months.

Before heading out onto the water, you’ll need a California fishing license ($14.30 for a one-day state license) at most lakes, but Dixon, Santee and Poway lakes don’t require a one. You will need a fishing permit ranging from $6 to $9, depending on the lake.

Here are my three favorite freshwater lakes, based on good shoreline access and good fishing:

Santee Lakes Cabins

Cabins on the Shorelines of Santee Lakes. Photo courtesy of East County Magazine

Santee Lakes

Santee Lakes, an oasis out in San Diego’s East County, offers seven fishing lakes the size of big ponds, really! While all the lakes are stocked with fish, lakes 3 and 4 get the most activity because they’re the most heavily stocked with trout and catfish and lakes 6 and 7 are reserved for campers. Great access around all the lakes, RV camping and kid-friendly fishing make this a must for the family of fishermen.

Cost is $3 per vehicle during the week, $5 on weekends. State permits are not require but fishing permits can be purchased at $9 for adults, $6 for juniors. Extra pole rentals are $4. There are also limited boat rentals.

The Calm Waters of Lake Murray

The Calm Waters of Lake Murray

Lake Murray

Lake Murray, located at the base of Cowles Mountain in the Mission Trails Regional Park, offers convenient shoreline access, a fishing pier and good boat launch. The surrounding park area and trail are also great for picnics, biking, running or just relaxing outside.

You’ll need a California fishing license and the permits go for $8 for adults, $2.50 for kids 8-15 and kids 7 and under fish free. Boat rentals are also available.

Lake Cuyamaca

Lake Cuyamaca. Photo by Jasmine’s Cove

Lake Cuyamaca

Lake Cuyamaca, a bit of a drive from the city (about an hour), is nestled in the San Diego’s miniature version of the High Sierra, the Cuyamaca Mountains. The lake – stocked most of the year with rainbow trout, bass, crappie and catfish – offers great shoreline access, fishing piers and fishing jettys. Just along the shoreline are great camping sites, cabins and RV spots to help make it a relaxed weekend of fishing.

Costs are $6 for adults, $3.50 for kids 15 and under. There are boat rentals and a boat launch, but all private boats must be inspected for invasive species such as quagga mussels ($10 charge).

Tell me, where is your favorite freshwater fishing spot in San Diego County?

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!



Burgers and Golf at Carlton Oaks

Teeing Off at Hole 9

Now that spring has fully sprung in San Diego I’ve been trying to make good on my resolution for more golf in 2011. Easier said than done, but I had a great reason recently when a good friend came to visit from Phoenix.

As is our custom, we took our usual foursome out for a round, and decided to play Carlton Oaks Golf Club in Santee, a residential neighborhood about 20 minutes from Downtown.

Carlton Oaks has real golf history and is regarded as on of San Diego’s best golf courses. They’ve recently hosted the 2008 and 2009 PGA Tour School; the 2007, 2008, and 2009 Canadian Tour School; 2008 Callaway Junior World; and The American Junior Golf Association (AJGA).

The course is very friendly for visitors, and even has their website translated into Japanese and Korean for Asian golfers coming to San Diego.

It is the only public Pete Dye course in town, and boasts water-clearing approach shots, pot bunkers and wide fairways. In addition to the course there is a small hotel, ample practice facilities, pro shop and a great restaurant.

In our foursome there were handicaps from 15 to 30, and the five tee placements helped keep it challenging for all. The Par 4 18th is a great finishing hole. There is an extremely wide fairway, which you’ll need to attack the guarded green, protected on two sides by water. I managed a par, which helped to redeem the rest of my scorecard.

After the round we sat down in the newly renovated Oaks Bar & Grill for some much-needed burgers. We were all pleasantly surprised by the quality, portions and price. I opted for the Hawaiian burger and it was amazing. Huge patty, big thick chunk of grilled pineapple, and oozing with Teriyaki – all the elements of an awesome Hawaiian burger and all for under $10.