Sparsely visited Harry Griffin Park, tucked away in Grossmont Summit where La Mesa and El Cajon adjoin, has for years remained one of East County's well-kept secrets. As the largest park within La Mesa's city limits, its 53 acres encompass spacious grassy fields, sidewalks and dirt trails, a eucalyptus-shaded picnic area with barbecues, an amphitheater seating up to 360, horseshoe pits, and a sandbox play area for kids.
The park's main drive-in entrance is on Milden Street (off Water Street), just north of Grossmont High School. Two additional pedestrian-only entrances can be used during daylight hours along Poppy Street in La Mesa and at the end of Blackthorne Court in the Fletcher Hills District of El Cajon.
With small kids you can spend many a pleasant hour in Griffin Park, as I have over the past few years with my son, now aged ten. On the east edge of the park, an almost perfectly flat expanse of grass, devoid of trees and other obstructions, serves as East County's finest site for kite flying. It is here that the usual summer-afternoon sea breeze picks up speed as air flowing from Mission Valley squeezes through a wind gap and falls toward the El Cajon valley. The flat expanse of grass itself conceals the underground Grossmont Reservoir, which stores drinking water for area residents.
Below and to the west, a "natural area" of wild vegetation and looping dirt paths serves as a perfect place to teach a youngster how to ride a bike. My son's first introduction to bicycle touring consisted of endlessly circling the nearly flat inner loop measuring 1/3 mile. Now, having memorized the layout of all the paths, he likes to ditch Dad.
Here are two other imaginative ideas to keep the little ones and their parents or older siblings busy: Build stacks of balanced rocks using the rounded cobbles found in the park's drainage channels. Discover the sound-channeling properties of the underground system of drainage pipes that underlie the park.