Travel

Exploring The Wild West: San Diego County


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From history, to horses, to hunger hot-spots, we list the top five Faze favourites from San Diego’s East County.

The sunny state of California lures many tourists out to enjoy its various attractions. But while many stick to the coastal areas, soaking up the sun and surf on the beach, more are turning inland to discover the rich history, wildlife and cuisine it has to offer.

One of these amazing areas is San Diego County, located in the southwestern corner of California, south of Orange County and just north of the Mexican border. While it was inhabited for more than 10,000 years by indigenous people, San Diego County was settled by Europeans in the 1700s. From the Pacific Ocean, to the Cuyamaca Mountains, to the Anza-Borrego Desert, San Diego’s East County offers a diverse range of landscapes to explore. Here are some of the Faze favourites:

Gold mines

The mountain town of Julian was a part of the Southern California Gold Rush, which started in 1869, when they first found gold in a creek outside of town. It lasted for 30 years, attracting over 800 prospectors in just a few weeks who sought their fortune in these mountains, and produced almost two million dollars worth of gold (about $150 million today).

While there’s not much more than fool’s gold there now, you can still take a tour of the Eagle and High Peak Mines, through 1,000 feet of hard rock tunnels and into the centre of the mountain.

San Diego High Peak Gold Mine

MUST SEE: While the tour is lit electrically these days, when the tour guide turns off the nearby lights to show you what it would have been like back in the day, it’s amazing to see (or not see—picture pitch black minus the glow of a tiny, tiny lamp) how tough the workers had it, day in and day out.

Horseback riding

San Diego County Horseback

The culture of the cowboy is an important part of this western area and towns like Ramona hold a few different annual rodeos. But what’s the fun in just watching? If you want your very own cowgirl experience, San Vicente Resort has—along with a PGA-accredited golf course, large swimming pool and tennis courts—two equestrian centres, where you can grab a quick lesson from local riders and then hop on your horse for a trail ride through the countryside.

The gray wolf

The California Wolf Center is a wildlife education non-profit organization that helps to increase public awareness about the importance of preserving the populations of gray wolves, as they are a necessary predator to maintain biodiversity in ecosystems across North America. The Center also breeds and then reintroduces these amazing creatures back into the wild. They host both Mexican and Alaskan gray wolves, and visitors are invited to learn about and then view the wolves from a safe space just outside of the enclosures. Photography tours can be arranged to spend up to two hours getting up-close shots of the wolves from inside their enclosures (with an experienced staff member, of course). Internships are also available, where students can participate in animal care, research, education and more.

San Diego Gray Wolf

Check out www.californiawolfcenter.org for more info.

MUST SEE:
Sometimes the wolves are a bit shy when visitors approach, so the staff will spray a bit of Obsession perfume near the edge of the enclosures, which attracts them over to the area (I guess I know what I WON’T be wearing while hiking in the woods).

Desert adventures

San Diego County Desert

Leaving the lush landscapes of the mountains, the county’s desert area is another great exploring opportunity. The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is best explored on an open-air military vehicle while on a California Overland Desert Excursion. You can choose between the easy, moderate or challenging routes, with overnights available in each level. The highlight of this tour, by far is the view from Font’s Point, which looks a lot like the Grand Canyon, overlooking the badlands for miles and miles. While staying out in the desert at Borrego Valley Inn (I had my own little yard and lemon tree!), our group was treated to an incredible stargazing experience with Dr. Jim Rickard, a professional astronomer and expert guide to the stars. The town of Borrego Springs is surrounded by the massive, lightless state park, meaning there are virtually no distracting unnatural lights to compete with the starry night sky. It is one of only three certi† ed Dark Sky Communities in the world, which makes it the perfect stargazing spot. On a clear night, the view is breathtaking.

San Diego County Desert Stars Skiy
“Desert adventures” photo courtesy of © Dennis Mammana/SkyScapes.com

Food

COWBOY CHOW:
Gingham, a charming western-themed restaurant (there’s a chandelier made of bullets and old pistols) in La Mesa has way too many tasty treats on the menu. My favourites have to be the lemon poppy seed soda (made in-house) and the “B.L.T” fries (topped with “baconnaise” instead of mayonnaise).

APPLE PIE:
After the gold rush, the mountain town of Julian turned to apples as their next export. Their apple pies are famous, but my number one pick from the area has to be the sour cream apple pie from The Candied Apple Pastry Company, made by Chef Charles Scott—after just one slice, I looked just as happy as he does in this photo!

San Diego Candied Apple Pie

FINE DINING:
Jeremy’s on the Hill, also in Julian, features season dishes by super-cute and friendly Cordon Bleu Chef Jeremy Manley. He started cooking at the age of 10, by 13 was catering large weddings and now, at 24, he is the head chef at his own restaurant. You can’t go wrong ordering off of his menu.

San Diego Jeremy's on the Hill

For more info on San Diego County and all its available adventures, check out www.sandiego.org.


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