Reader writers explore the elements of America’s Finest — water, air, fire, land.
If it’s true that San Diego is America’s Biggest Small Town, then it is certainly fitting that our most famous architect worked mostly in houses and churches. No monuments, no governmental edifices; rather, daily life punctuated by weekly worship. Start online by searching for “irving gill san diego google map.” (Thanks, Paul Jamason!) Then head out to survey the man’s work; it’s like the city is an open-air museum, and Gill is part of the permanent collection. Except for the Marston House. That’s more of a museum-museum. Don’t miss the First Church of Christ, Scientist, on Second Avenue, or the string of houses along Seventh, or the La Jolla Women’s Club.
A windy, winey drive
Pick a designated driver and head toward Julian by way of Highway 67, and this time, instead of merely slowing for Ramona, make a few full stops at the various tasting rooms along the way. Some are old (Schwaesdall), some are new (Milagro Farm), and some are better than others (do try Milagro). But all partake of the fantastic pioneering spirit that has built, sustained, and grown a local wine region in relatively short order. (Ramona was granted American Viticultural Area status in 2006). Many of the rooms are listed on the brochure available at ramonavalleyvineyards.org.
1198 North Imperial Highway, Imperial Valley
Desert dune buggy
Thrill your inner badass with a dune-buggy ride through the desert. Helmets are optional when you rent one at Dezert Adventures in Ocotillo, but the wheels will kick up a ton of sand, so you’ll want to wear the provided goggles. For $275, you can have your buggy for any four hours of daylight; $450 gets you eight hours. Adam, the outfit’s owner, will negotiate a per-person price to provide lunch, if you like. Otherwise, coolers are available for stashing whatever you bring yourself. Adam has handmade, color-copied maps of landmarks to keep you oriented. If your inner badass gets you into trouble, good cell-phone service means he can come and rescue you, so be sure to bring his number with you.
Two pies and a great drive
Drive to Ramona, winding out Highway 78 to Santa Ysabel, then up the grade toward Julian. When you reach the tiny town of Wynola, stop at Wynola Pizza and Bistro for some thin-crusted, wood-fired perfection. Try the pesto with zucchini. The patio is a great place to meet fellow daytrippers. Then continue on to Julian (three miles), pick up a boysenberry apple crumb at Mom’s Pies in Julian; in late summer and fall, the apples in the pie are locally grown. Drive south down Highway 79 through Lake Cuyamaca and Descanso. If it’s late afternoon, you’re likely to see deer or turkeys hiding in the shadows near the road. Head back to San Diego on Interstate 8. In less than three hours, you’ll have sampled the remarkable biodiversity of San Diego County — coastal sage, inland chaparral, grasslands, oak and pine woodlands — and sampled a couple of really great pies.
16422 North Woodson Drive, Ramona
Golf in the chaparral: Mount Woodson Golf Club
One must admire the vision of golf-course architects Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt, who looked at the steep northeast side of Ramona’s Mount Woodson and thought: “golf course.” The result is a layout that’s equally a nature preserve. Holes wind in and out of canyons and around ancient live oaks and sycamores. Wild lilac, lemonade berry, and manzanita shrubs of native chaparral line the holes. The trestled cart path that crosses a deep canyon between holes two and three is worth the price of admission alone, as are the views of the Ramona grasslands. And the price of admission is reasonable: $55 weekdays, $65 weekends. The post-1:00 p.m. twilight rate is $27, a steal for a course this beautiful.
Picnic above your pay grade
It’s almost hard to believe there’s a city park tucked into La Jolla Heights, let alone one that offers a commanding view of the village and coast below. But a steel bench and a chained-up trash can confirm it: La Jolla Heights Open Space is public land. The hard way to get there is by hiking the narrow path up from Crespo Street — and we do mean up. The easy way is to take Country Club Drive past the golf course, turn left on Romero, left again on Brodiaea. Park and walk down Encelia Drive until you get to the gate. The path is off to the left and leads to that hilariously downmarket bench. Bring a cushion, maybe some lunch, and take in a view that people pay millions to enjoy.
Tackle a “problem”
Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that’s performed without the aid of ropes on shorter (usually less than 15 feet) climbs. Because of smaller equipment requirements, bouldering can be a cool way to get into the local climbing scene. The Santee Boulders on Mast Boulevard just off the 52, and Mt. Woodson in Poway off the 167, are both popular spots. Still, there’re plenty of technique and safety precautions to be learned, and it’s a good idea for newbies to hook up with experienced climbers first. Visiting a gym like Vertical Hold in Miramar (a day pass is $16, equipment extra; punchcards and monthly memberships are available) on a weeknight between 5:00–8:00 p.m. is a good way to meet serious climbers, learn about bouldering, and perhaps find someone to try bouldering out of doors with on a weekend.
Give something back
San Diego County is rife with opportunities for volunteers to get out and do a little good in the world. The Surfrider Foundation (sandiego.surfrider.org) has beach cleanups three times a month — how hard can it be to pick up a little trash from our city’s beaches? Volunteering is also a great way to meet the nicest of the nice among your fellow citizens. If beach cleanup dates prove inconvenient, volunteermatch.org has a search function that provides information on dozens of ways to give back to the community. 858-792-9940.