East County is awash with opportunities for outdoor adventure. Those who enjoy hiking, camping, horseback riding or any of a number of fresh-air activities will find themselves pleasantly occupied for days, or even weeks, in San Diego's Eastern regions.
Hiking and camping
Escape the closeted confines of the city and head into the mountainous expanse surrounding the town of Julian. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (15027 Highway 79 in Julian) offers select hiking trails that are open during the day at the Green Valley Campground, as well as the popular Stonewall Peak Trail, which is open on weekends and climbs an elevation of 900 feet through oak and cedar trees to the summit. Much of the area is still suffering from last year's Cedar fire, but the hiking trails that are open provide a unique perspective of how the area was affected and is still recovering. Bring your fishing rod and catch some dinner in Cuyamaca Lake, which is frequently stocked with trout.
Volcan Mountain (2.2 miles north of Julian on Farmer Road) is home to a three-mile roundtrip trail leading from the gateway to a ridge overlooking the town. Mount Laguna (east of Julian on Highway S1 via Highway 79), a virtual maze of 70 miles of hiking trails, is home to the Pacific Crest Trail, which enables hikers to gain astounding views of the desert beyond. Palomar Mountain (north of Julian on Highway 76, between Highways S6 and S7), contains hikes of varying lengths and difficulties, and Mt. Woodson, a 2,894-foot peak located between Ramona and Poway off Highway 67, offers challenging climbs for hikers and enough smooth, granite boulders to keep rock climbers distracted for hours.
Don't miss an opportunity to view the desert flowers in bloom every spring at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (200 Palm Canyon Drive in Borrego Springs), which covers roughly 600,000 acres. Palm groves, bighorn sheep and exotic birds are a bonus to the seasonal desert wildflowers. Get information at the visitor center for many of the park's attractions. Don't miss Agua Caliente County Park, located within, which contains geothermal springs flowing from the desert that attract a diverse bird population. Also, Coyote Canyon (open from Sept. 16 to June 15) is the only section of the desert boasting a year-round stream. The main trail houses three campsites, which allow visitors to extend their trip by staying overnight.
Lots of organizations can provide you with an equestrian friend for your travels. Smoketree Horse Rental & Equine Encounters (302 Palm Canyon Drive in Borrego Springs) offers guided tours through the beautiful desert that lies 25 minutes outside of Julian. Integrity Stables Training and Trail Rides (17550 Harrison Park Road in Julian) offers hour-long instructional horseback rides through the meadows and forests of an historic cattle ranch. And Julian Stables (760-765-1598, reservations required) enables you to view the scenic display provided by the Volcan Mountain Preserve.
Reach for the stars
East County's vast stretches of open desert and widely dispersed towns make it an ideal place to stargaze. View planets, stars and galaxies at the Observer's Inn (3535 Highway 79, Julian). Mt. Laguna Observatory and Mt. Palomar Observatory provide alternate opportunities for the starry-eyed.
On your way out east, take the opportunity to learn about psychological space exploration at the Unarius Academy of Science (145 S. Magnolia Ave. in El Cajon). The "educational and scientific organization" is dedicated to "expanding our awareness and connection with galactic intelligence." Visit www.unarius.org to get more information about access to intergalactic worlds.
Learn about the plight of the wolf at the California Wolf Center (Julian; 619-234-9653, reservations required). The facility, open on Saturday afternoons, offers a slide show and a tour of resident wolf packs. Or, tour one of California's original gold mines when you visit the Eagle Peak Mining Company (at the end of C Street in Julian). Ten dollars will provide you with access to the intricate tunnels, as well as an informative oral history of Julian's early residents. King Leo's Confections (4510 Highway 78, north of Julian) lets you experience the creation of mouthwatering chocolates during a factory tour.
Get drunk on more than your natural surroundings when you sample some of the locally produced fine wines. Try the pinot noir, pinot grigio and apple wine at J. Jenkins Winery (1255 Julian Orchards Drive in Julian). Or, continue down the road to Menghini Winery (1150 Julian Orchards Drive in Julian), which offers a full-bodied merlot among other flavorful options. Orfila Winery (4470 Highway 78 in Wynola) and the Witch Creek Winery (2000 Main St. in Julian) offer some alternate locations to booze it up-er, sample possible purchases (most bottles are reasonably priced at $15 to $20).
Apple Pie, cider and more
Julian and its surrounding areas are famous for their apple products. Grown in orchards such as Apple Land Orchard (2641 Apple Lane in Julian) and Meyer Orchards (3995 Highway 78 in Wynola), the fresh-picked fruits are quickly transformed into apple cider, apple butter and other apple wonders. Choose from some of the finest at Julian Cider Mill (2103 Main St. in Julian).
Sample some of the area's renowned apple pies at places like the Julian Pie Company (2225 Main St. in Julian) or at Mom's Pies (2119 Main St. in Julian). Who makes the "best" pie is, as one local pointed out, "a very political question in this town," but Mom's pies are a little sweeter while those at the Julian Pie Company have a more crumbly crust.