San Diego East County, An Awesome Side Trip

For some, it’s unthinkable to venture outside of San Diego. Why bother when California’s second-largest city has an idyllic climate, 70 miles of pristine beaches, a world-class zoo, the lively Gaslamp Quarter, Legoland California and numerous family and individual attractions.

But an hour’s drive northeast is San Diego’s East County, which is a fantastic rural experience. For example, there’s year-round apple-pie sampling in Julian. Nature lovers head for the Anza-Borrego Desert and its kaleidoscope of springtime wildflowers. Foodies dine in tiny Wynola at a Cordon Bleu-chef restaurant with a Spanish Mission visit nearby. And for the adventurous, an abandoned gold mine guided tour is top-notch. Taken individually, a suggested itinerary includes the following.

What To Do In Julian

Julian turned its Gold Rush days into an apple industry bonanza. Today, the mountain hamlet has one traffic light and a population around 1,500. Its orchards are picked clean, especially for the annual Julian Fall Apple Days Festival. Granny Smith apples (the staple for Julian pies) are hauled in by the semi-load. Pie shops such as The Candied Apple Pie Company, Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pies and Apple Alley Bakery bake thousands of pies and sell them for $3 a slice or around $14 for a whole pie.

The pie pilgrimage led to Main Street specialty shops, nature hikes, an artists’ colony and the California Wolf Center offering paid private tours. Local historian, David Lewis, turned his 9,000 hours of town research into a memorable Haven of Rest Cemetery tour. Winemakers, Mike and Toni Menghini, transformed a former fruit-packing warehouse in the foothills of Volcan Mountain into Menghini Winery. Visitors mingle at the sampling bar to purchase or taste the recent bottling: Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot ($22-$28). Sample pours cost $5 and include a souvenir glass. Newcomer Hawk Watch Winery in Warner Springs has won 31 medals for its Syrah. Tastings are $8 on Saturday and Sunday only. Julian Hard Cider has a Tasting Room at the Wynola Farms Marketplace and is sold in stores. Expect to find a fruity, Champagne-like, clear and bubbly drink in the beer-style dark bottle.

Run, don’t walk to the Eagle Mining Company. Its two remaining gold-mining sites can be explored with a guide (760-765-0036). Walk in 1,000 feet at the Eagle Mine entrance and exit 1,000 feet later at the adjoining High Peak Mine. Panning for gold with makeshift troughs pleases the kids. The on-site dusty museum holds Indian arrowheads; photos of 1800s townspeople; a vintage barber’s chair and a potbelly stove. The one-hour Folklore & Legends “Hot Spots” Paranormal Guided Tour on Friday and Saturday nights ($20) occurs within a darkened mine for optimal effects and goosebumps. 888-795-3475

Attractions Near Julian

Jeremy’s On The Hill is located in Wynola on busy Highway 78. The restaurant has country-chic décor with 23-year-old Cordon Bleu chef and owner Jeremy Manley holding court in the kitchen. He’s a local boy who learned first-hand in his mother’s restaurant and today buys from local farmers, including grass-fed bison for burgers or ships in Wisconsin cheese and Iowa-grown meat. Bison onion bratwurst with Jeremy’s paprika sauerkraut is a favorite as is Chambord Black Raspberry Crème Brule. Reservations suggested.

Dudley’s Famous Bakery pies, pastries and fruit bars are sold in many San Diego establishments but its home base is Santa Ysabel on Highway 78. The pies are filled with almost three pounds of apples. Wall racks are lined with bread choices such as Pecan Maple, Baja Jalapeno and Garlic Sourdough. The deli attracts locals and Dudley devotees.

It’s peaceful and inspiring at Mission Santa Ysabel with its primitive museum of Indian relics and dusty cases. But the nearby cemetery is fascinating and where parishioners’ graves are decorated with numerous mementoes depicting their lives. Entrance is free and welcomed (no photos, please). A candlelight vigil is held in early November.

Drop into the first-class Santa Ysabel Art Gallery located in a former two-family home and under the loving curator eye of owner Annie Rowley. She features regional artists and James Hubbell, known as San Diego’s Gaudi. His Hubbell House and Studios is near Julian and complemented with eight fantastical structures on its landscape. Spring and fall docent-led tours cost $40 per person. 760-765-3427

Lake Cuyamaca is partially surrounded by the 26,000-acre Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and stocked year-round with 44,000 pounds of fish. Various boat rentals are available; paddleboats are $15/hour. Free fishing lessons occur Saturday mornings. RV and tent sites are available as are a few cabins. Birders are drawn to Lake Cuyamaca since San Diego County has more bird species than any other U.S. county. Franz’s Lake Cuyamaca Restaurant is known for its wiener schnitzel and potato pancakes, plus its mini-store at this large lakeside complex.

Where to Stay in Julian and Near San Diego
Orchard Hill Country Inn is a AAA Four-Diamond property that sits atop a secluded hill yet is steps from tiny and historic Julian. Some of the 22 rooms are in the main lodge, while others are cottages named for apples. All have high-end furnishings, gas fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs. Wild turkey and deer roam throughout the nearby oak and pine trees. The gracious and original owners, Pat and Darrell Straube, are on-site and eager to share tips about the town. The Travel World News package offers a two-night accommodation, double occupancy, with full price for the first night and 50% off the second. A full breakfast and afternoon hor d’oeuvres are included. Guests must dine one night at Orchard Hill, which features local products. Offer ends May 31, 2011. Agent commission is 10%. 800-716-7242.

The 265-acre Rancho Bernardo Inn Golf Resort & Spa is 30 minutes from the San Diego Airport and in East County. The Preferred Hotels and Resorts Worldwide member recently completed a $25 million-dollar renovation. Each of its 287 Guest Rooms and Suites feature amenities such as 42-inch TVs, wireless Internet, custom furniture and private patios or balconies. On site there’s an 18-hole championship golf course, luxurious spa and the award-winning El Bizcocho Restaurant. Special to Travel World News is a one-night deluxe accommodation for two with breakfast, complimentary parking and resort fee. The Couple’s Spa Escape includes for her an 80-minute chocolate indulgence or strawberry and grapefruit Made Fresh Daily spa treatment (depending upon date). For him, it’s a 50-minute deep tissue massage followed by a warming back scrub finish. Price is $499 plus tax, double occupancy. Black out dates and some restrictions may apply. The offer is available through April 30, 2011. Agent commission is 10% on room revenue. 877-517-9340, reference ”Sweet Retreat”;

San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau for East County; Julian,