San Diego Destination Guide Part Five Beaches, Valleys, Deserts and Mountains

Updated: Sep 28

Beyond the laid-back coastal towns and lively urban centers, San Diego has historic hamlets, close-knit suburban communities, quiet wilderness pockets, desert oases and sprawling natural spaces just waiting to be explored.



Let's start of with East County, the area of deserts and mountains. In sharp contrast to San Diego's beaches to the west, the rolling hills, majestic mountains, sparkling lakes and deep canyons make east county one of the most diverse areas in San Diego County to explore. The area offers hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, fishing and camping in the vast and beautiful wilderness. You can spend an afternoon hiking Cowles Mountain, mountain biking through Mission Trails Regional Park, strolling along Lake Murray or fishing on El Capitan Reservoir. For flower lovers, don’t miss the spring wildflower bloom in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where a blanket of color covers the desert floor.


In addition to outdoor adventures, East San Diego County boasts plenty of entertainment. Sizzling Las Vegas-style casinos, luxurious resorts tucked right into the rugged landscape, challenging golf courses built around natural obstacles, historic sites and highways, and annual festivals and rodeos can be enjoyed, all within the expansive landscape of this California wilderness country. A favorite day trip in East San Diego is to the historic mining town of Julian. Set against the backdrop of a Mountain landscape and countless apple orchards, this friendly, walk-back-in-time town is as famous for its apple pie as it is for its collection of gold mines. Julian has a variety of restaurants, bed & breakfast hideaways, antique stores, art galleries, nearby hiking and nature walks, along with the California Wolf Conservation Centre.


If you are looking at a budget vacation look no further to Old Town and Mission Valley. Just minutes away from the San Diego International Airport and within easy reach of all that San Diego has to offer, Mission Valley and Old Town are a great place to call home base. Conveniently located in the center of San Diego county, the area is within a 15 minute drive of the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diegoand Downtown Gaslamp District and offers a wealth of affordable accommodations, family friendly dining options a great shopping at both the Fashion Valley and Mission Valley malls.


A check on Experience This 360's Hotel Room finder comes up with hotels as low as $54, but they could be even lower, depending on the dates.


Outdoor enthusiasts can play 18 holes at the Riverwalk Golf Club in Mission Valley or go hiking and rock climbing in Mission Trails Regional Park. Cultural attractions in the area include the Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first of 21 missions established in California, and Old Town State Park with 12 acres of Mexican lore and historical sites.



Quaint boutiques, mouth-watering restaurants, colorful art galleries and festive theatres also populate Old Town, making it a great stop. Mexican cuisine is the specialty in Old Town. Here you'll find authentic delectable fare at any of the many cantinas. Just follow the aroma of freshly made tortillas and take a seat outside on the patio. Enjoy the sounds of local mariachi, or watch traditional folkloric dancers as you sip on the best margaritas in town.


Here you'll also find the main boarding location for the Old Town Trolley Tours, which offers an excellent sightseeing tour of San Diego with on-and-off privileges.

Next up is the North Inland County where wide-open spaces make up much of the landscape. It is a beautiful area of rolling hills and winding roads where most of you time will be spent outdoors. Hike or bike to the top of Palomar Mountain, or golf at over 40 courses carved out of the natural landscape.


Spend an afternoon at one of the local wineries or on a craft beer tour at one of the many local breweries in this area. The North Inland County offers some budget options for stays and is perfect for someone who does not want all the hustle and bustle of the city, but also wants to be close to both San Diego and Anaheim, where a mouse lives in his Magical Kingdom. Yes, Disneyland. And a lot of visitor that go to San Diego find the short trip up the coast to Disney an adventure on its own.


This area is particularly popular with people that car camp as the wide open areas are easily accessible and offer a cheap alternative to costly hotels or motels.


On our next episode we will dive into a recommended itinerary for a one day stop in San Diego and following that others for an entire week stay, a family-friendly guide and one for couples or single travelers.

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