OUTSIDE SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA-We Canadians think of a few things when we think of San Diego; beaches, the zoo, golf, maybe the military presence and good food. Most of us don’t think of the beauty and ruggedness and charm of the mountains and small mountain and hill towns just east of the city.
Heck, I grew up in California and had never visited the area until a drive-through this week. But I would absolutely LOVE to go back.
My Dad and I were in Borrego Springs the other day, south of Palm Springs by a couple hours. The plan was to stay the night in Borrego, but a sandstorm shut down power and we opted to high-tail it to San Diego instead.
The road out of Borrego to the south is fairly desolate, but you soon pass through winding canyons around Yaqui Pass Rd., with towering cliffs and rocks and cactus and more rocks and more cactus. It’s pretty imposing, actually, and fairly inspiring.
It also feels pretty strange to look at a roadside sign that says it’s 65 or 85 (sorry, can’t remember) miles to the pretty, beachside community of Oceanside, as this part of the state feels more like the moon than the California the Beach Boys sang about.
After maybe a half hour you suddenly edge close enough to the Pacific that the prevailing winds bring enough moisture (or maybe the soil changes) and you suddenly, and I mean wham kind of suddenly, start seeing five to eight-foot high shrubs and green bushes and towering, rocky hills that feel like northern Spain or southern France.
The cactus gives way to small farm houses and ranches and horses as you wind your up the hill towards the western-looking town of Julian.
It’s a pretty community maybe 90 minutes from San Diego, but 1,000 worlds away, with stores like Miner’s Diner and Jack’s Grocery with western fronts and shops selling saddles and cowboy gear.
The region is famous for apples, and we stopped in at the Julian Pie Co. for apple pie and apple-boysenberry crumble, both of which were to die for. Two generous slices and two coffees set us back $11.
There’s a small patio out front at the pie shop but it was a freakin’ ridiculous 37 degrees Fahrenheit at 3 p.m. on Monday; about one-half the temperature we’d registered in my Dad’s car in Palm Desert at 10 a.m.
The main route from Julian to San Diego is through the small town of Ramona, famous for a bar called the Turkey Inn with a giant, brown turkey that’s lit up at night with neon. It’s a real hoot, at least on the outside, and I’d love to go back some time to have a beer or watch a San Diego Chargers game on TV with the locals.
The mountains and hills outside San Diego don’t get much publicity out our way, but it’s a glorious region with fruit orchards, ranches, egg farms, cowboys, wineries, cute towns with art galleries and lots more. Well worth checking out next time you’re in southern California.
Oh, by the time we got to San Diego it was sunny and a lovely 64 Fahrenheit. Just so you know....
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