Potrero Regional Park hides in a spacious, live-oak-covered corner of Potrero Valley, near the forgotten south-county hamlet of Potrero -- east of the Tecate turnoff and west of Campo. The twisting but scenic drive to the park from San Diego, via Highway 94, measures 44 miles (from downtown) and takes about an hour.
Why bother going there? No reason at all -- unless you crave peace and near-absolute quiet. On a recent summer Sunday, my companion and I shared several acres of oak-shaded picnic tables with only one other picnicking party. A warm west wind pushing gently eastward from the coast kept us toasty and dry for as long as we stayed out of the sun. We didn't for long, opting to trace the park's obscure nature trail, which rambles past a dry cattle pond and meanders amid sun-scorched chaparral. Six months from now, with wildflowers popping out all over the place, this little half-hour excursion could be well worth it.
A bit more activity was evident in the park's nearby campground, with a small bunch of RV and tent campers. For youth-group campouts and company picnics, the park seems ideal with its developed and primitive camp sites, ball fields, playgrounds, and a dance pavilion.
The juxtaposition of oak woodland and chaparral at Potrero Park attracts hawks, golden eagles, acorn woodpeckers, scrub jays, and other flying creatures of interest to birdwatchers. Toward evening twilight, coyotes, deer, raccoons, and skunks emerge from their daytime lairs on the fringes of the park. Bats flit overhead, scooping up flying insects with their wings. If and when your interest in nature study subsides, you can always visit Tecate -- with its 100,000+ residents, a brewery, restaurants, and a colorful town square -- just ten minutes away.
Day-use hours for Potrero Park are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., extended to sunset on the weekends. Day-use fee is $2, with camping fees starting at $10. For more information, call County Parks at 858-565-3600.