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Vista has always had my heart

Most craft breweries per capita in the U.S.

“This is a great farmer’s market, it’s affordable for me to sell my candy and the people are so nice,” said Albert Asmussen, the owner of Albie Candy Co.
“This is a great farmer’s market, it’s affordable for me to sell my candy and the people are so nice,” said Albert Asmussen, the owner of Albie Candy Co.

When I decided we needed to move my growing family from La Mesa to the beach, I quickly realized I couldn’t afford coastal property and somehow ended up in Vista. My late husband Ralph commented that it was so far from South County family and friends that it was like “driving out of the state.” But I wouldn’t budge. I had discovered a brand new home in an area known as Shadowridge, a master-planned community built on the hills north of Highway 78 looking out over —“and down on,” some residents like to say — much of Vista.

Ralph wasn’t impressed with the tract house and its vaulted ceilings, marble countertops, and shared greenbelt down the street, but I held firm. That is, until I was taking a friend to see the new home that I had put a deposit on and we got lost on the tiny roads that wind through the area, roads lined with farm stands and nurseries and ranch-style homes from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. I drove across a cement culvert to make a U-turn and crossed a small creek. My friend and I were intrigued by this rural road shaded by old oak, sumac, and sycamore trees. We drove past a cluster of vibrant red and orange liquid amber trees and turned onto a private street named Lone Oak Lane. I looked to my right. On a small knoll sat a 10-year-old ranch-style home. A pepper tree, a few squatty palms, and a pine tree lined the massive lawn. A “For Sale” sign hung out front. I looked up at the empty green hills at the end of the street and the horse standing in a fenced-in field across the street.

On a small knoll sat a 10-year-old ranch-style home. A pepper tree, a few squatty palms, and a pine tree lined the massive lawn. A “For Sale” sign hung out front. We bought the house, which we nicknamed The Reed Ranchito.

I glanced over at my friend and said, “Well, there goes my fancy new house.”

All this was in 1988. We bought the house, which we nicknamed The Reed Ranchito. Our two children grew up there. Almost every night, they ran amok with the other neighborhood kids and dogs until they were called home to dinner. Occasionally, the local llama would end up in my driveway or the horse across the street would escape from his paddock and trot up to the fence and bray at Timber, our Rottweiler. We hiked the hills weekly, dodging a rattlesnake here and there, and when we made it to the top, huffing and puffing, we could often spot the power plant across from Carlsbad State Beach. Most evenings, Ralph and I sat on the patio he built, sipped wine, and contemplated how to get rid of the endless rabbits and squirrels. Ralph sometimes rhapsodized on the hues of the sunset.

We raised our children in that home, and expected to grow old on Lone Oak Lane. Then in 2009, when the economy tanked and took our jobs with it, the bank suggested a short sale, which we did. Empty-nesters turned no-nesters, we packed our belongings and set out on a nine-year adventure of moving to a lake and then an island in Washington state; then to Springdale, Utah to run a B&B outside the gates of Zion National Park. We lived in an RV in Oceanside, then drove up the coast, and out to Colorado. We finally got that beach house when we rented a small condo in Mission Beach.

Now that my husband is gone and I once again reside in San Diego, I seem to find myself drawn to the area — to visit old friends and memories.

Derek and Lacey Poore grew up in Vista and live there now. They aren’t sure if Vista is where they will raise a family, because it’s expensive just like the rest of San Diego County.

In late February, I was in Vista cleaning out my storage unit when nostalgia struck and I decided to take a walk down memory lane. The sun hadn’t even burned through the early morning fog that pre-COVID-scare Saturday, and already, hundreds of people were walking through the Vista Farmers Market.

For the past 31 years, every Saturday morning, rain or shine, the parking lot of the Vista County Courthouse is transformed into a shopping mecca of apples, avocados, bread, flowers, and seafood from 8 am until noon. (They are still open at this time, though scaled down in compliance with the California Department of Public Health.)

The market, one of the first of its kind in North County, has inspired other outdoor venues to crop up in cities such as Del Mar, Carlsbad, Oceanside, and Little Italy.

As shoppers walked through the two-acre site, greeting friends and carrying on conversations with farmers, the scents of fresh cut basil, peaches, and sweet onions floated through the air. The voice of a young guitarist from Israel could be heard throughout the market as he sang for tips.

Albert Asmussen caught my eye as he sat in a tiny teardrop trailer selling his homemade fudge. A large neon light that spelled out, “We Love Candy,” drew me over. I bought some creamy chocolate peanut butter fudge.

“This is a great farmers market; it’s affordable for me to sell my candy and the people are so nice,” said the owner of Albie Candy Co. “Some of the fancier markets down in San Diego don’t have the same vibe as this place. They’re so crowded, and I can’t really afford to sell there.”

Hidalgo Flower stand has been in Vista since 1976. They sell at the Farmers Market on Saturdays in the parking lot of the Vista County Courthouse.

Asmussen makes the fudge himself and sometimes carries confections made by a friend. “I can afford to sell here and some other smaller markets, but markets like the one in Little Italy are a flat $137 a day, while Vista is a $16 minimum or 8 percent of sales. Not only is it more affordable, but everyone is so friendly and nice.”

The bright purple sweet peas at the Hidalgo Flower stand stopped me and I leaned in to smell the perfumed bouquet, which reminded me of the delicate flowers that grew along the fence at the Reed Ranchito. I bought a small bunch and spoke to the young man running the flower stand.

“We’ve been in Vista since 1976,” he said as he wrapped the wet stems in newspaper. “The weather and the soil are perfect for growing, that’s why so many nurseries are here.”

While Fallbrook has taken Vista’s title as the “avocado capital of the world,” Vista continues to boast lush hillsides ripe with avocados, fruit trees, and flower fields. In most neighborhoods north of the 78, you can still find clusters of farms.

Booze became the first successful agricultural business in Vista in 1879 when the Delpy family opened the Buena Vista Winery at the corner of Foothill Drive and East Vista Way. The winery lasted until 1920, when Prohibition shut it down. Wineries are making their way back. About a half a dozen are scattered throughout the hillsides.

The memories of mornings spent at the Farmers Market made me glad that I had visited. I drove to a friend’s home perched on a small hilltop off East Vista Way. As she placed the sweet peas in a vase, we reminisced about our sons growing up together and the innocence of the time. We lamented the presence of crime that, contrary to popular belief, is less than many of the surrounding cities.

Considering that the estimated population of Vista is 101,224 — according to the most recent United States census estimates — and the overall median age is 32.7 years, Vista is a young town. And although gangs have been a part of the culture since before I moved to the area in 1988, crime is lower than, say, Del Mar’s (theft, car theft, property crimes) or Oceanside’s (homicide in 2018: Oceanside 9, Vista 5) But it’s still a presence.

On March 3, 2020, the North County Regional Gang Task Force, the FBI SWAT team, and other law enforcement agencies raided a property in Vista and 22 arrests were made. The investigation took place over almost three years. The homeowner allegedly allowed gang members, drug dealers, and users to stay at the property. Prosecutors said in a press release that North County gang members lived at the residence and used it as a headquarters for the importation of heroin and methamphetamine from Mexico, and the distribution of said drugs throughout North San Diego County.

“Today’s operation brings the conclusion of a long-term investigation led by our North County Regional Gang Task Force. This group of dedicated agents and officers works hard making the streets of North County safer for the community to live and work,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Scott Brunner in a press release. “The dangerous activity involving heroin, methamphetamine, firearms, and other illegal activity at the so called ‘Heroin House’ has been shut down.”

“We knew what was going on in that house for years,” said a neighbor named Loretta (she asked that I not use her last name.) “It seemed like nobody cared, that the cops didn’t care, but I guess it takes time. This part of Vista looks rough, but good people live here, and we don’t need drug dealers in the same neighborhood as where our kids play.”

Driving from my friend’s house, I only needed to go a few blocks to check out Downtown Vista Village, the same neighborhood that city developers had always touted was going to be revitalized. (I was a freelance reporter for the local daily newspapers for nearly ten years, and I had heard the hype over and over.) It has finally come to fruition — sort of. A preschool sits next door to the DogHaus Biergarten, which serves beer and plays live music (not during school hours). New brewery tasting rooms line Main Street, and (in non-pandemic times) a mostly local daily crowd tastes the homegrown beers, while families shop in the tiny Tortilleria Los Reyes — established in 2000 — for fresh tortillas made on-site, chiles of every temperature, and made-to-order tacos and burritos. Belching Beaver Tavern & Grill, located in a former bank, features a 10,000-square-foot tavern, which includes two outdoor patios with an outdoor lounge area with a fire pit on the front patio. It was already filled with laughing patrons, children, and dogs when I peeked in. Besides buying the 50-year-old bank building, Belching Beaver has invested about $1.3 million so far into its downtown tavern and grill. Vista is home to nearly 20 craft breweries — and more are in the planning stages — the most per capita in any United States city. There is one brewery for every 7000 people in Vista. In comparison, there’s one brewery for every 19,000 people in the City of San Diego. Stone Brewing Co.— one of San Diego County’s largest craft brewers — is moving some of its North County workforce, including its leadership team, to its national distribution center in Vista.

“The craft brewing industry in San Diego County has more than a $1 billion annual economic impact, and Vista is proud to contribute to that,” said Kevin Ham, Vista’s economic development director. “We want to continue to support and attract these innovative entrepreneurs to our city and region. They bring people into the business parks and more visitors to our city, who, in turn, discover other local businesses, shops, and hotels. Breweries also create vibrant neighborhoods and serve as community centers where people can connect.”

The first brewery to arrive in Vista was Green Flash, which set up shop in 2002 and moved to Mira Mesa in 2011. In 2010, Mother Earth Tap House — whose name comes from the founder’s fondness of the outdoors and nature — arrived in town. Mother Earth has grown from a small garage to over 70,000 square feet. The popular brewery — whose Cali Creamin’ brew is a favorite — has its brewery in Vista’s industrial park, its tap room in downtown Vista, and a production brewery located in Boise, Idaho. They are celebrating their 10-year anniversary in May; at one time, Mother Earth was the fastest growing craft brewery in the U.S.

“The City of Vista has been a contributing factor to the success of local breweries,” said Kevin Hopkins, executive vice president for Mother Earth Brew Co. “They’ve helped us with numerous avenues to give small businesses a leg up.”

(As of April 13, Mother Earth has closed its Main Street location for good. “We are changing locations as our lease has expired,” Hopkins said. “We intend to stay in Vista, but as negotiations are not complete, I’m not at liberty to discuss the location yet. I can assure you that we are only looking in Vista.”)

On that February afternoon, I walked into the Mother Earth Tap House and found some friends of my daughter’s, Lacey and Derek Poore, sitting at a family-style table against a wall of red brick and looking out onto the main drag. The tasting room was already noisy and bustling at 3 pm, and as Derek got up to stand in line to buy me a beverage, Lacey and I caught up. She was one of those cute kids back in the day, running around The Lane as we called it. She was a little red-headed imp who I sometimes had to send home because it was getting dark and we were going to eat dinner.

“That was the type of neighborhood I grew up in, and I loved it,” she said, her red hair and smile as bright as ever. “Some kids got into trouble, but they turned out okay, becoming pretty successful. Things aren’t the same there, though. I don’t really like to go back to The Lane.”

Lacey and Derek have socialized with the same group of friends since high school, but only a few years ago, they fell in love and married. Lacey said she isn’t sure if Vista is where she and Derek will raise a family, because it’s expensive ($565,638 median home price, says Zillow) just like the rest of San Diego County ($628,519), and she’s not sure they’ll ever be able to afford a home. For now, she is happy renting a townhouse within walking distance of Main Street.

“I like living close to downtown Vista, mostly because of the breweries like Mother Earth and Belching Beaver. Before, we didn’t have many places to grab a drink. When I turned 21, I went to downtown Carlsbad to get together with friends. Now in Vista, we have a lot of options. Vista is my comfort place. It’s where most of my happy memories have taken place, from my childhood to becoming an adult.”

After we finished our drinks, the Poores walked me out. We stood outside Mother Earth and Derek pointed at the tall structure under construction — the Rylan Apartments, which will boast 126 luxury apartments and 60 retail spaces when it is completed in July of this year — on a once-empty lot where we all used to park our cars when we came downtown. The wide smile that he’d sported the entire time that we spoke became serious. “You know, I was born in Vista and it’s always had my heart,” he said. “As of late, I don’t agree with what the city is doing... trying to bring in more people than the city can handle. It’s going to put a strain on us hometown people with more traffic and congestion.”

Perhaps it was the small glass of wine I had consumed at Mother Earth, but I felt brave, very sure that I wouldn’t have a weeping widow breakdown when seeing our old home. I drove the scenic route, winding through Mar Vista and passing an old farm that was dilapidated when I lived a few miles away but which has now become an organic farm called Sand n’ Straw. It offers a petting zoo and cooking classes. I saw vibrant yellow flowers in front of a small red barn from the road as I headed to the industrial area a mile away. I wanted to see where the world’s only Olympic skateboard training facility — CA Training Facility — was located, so that, when my son Samuel came home from Canada to visit, we could check it out together. Back when Sam was a young teenager, Vista was just becoming the place for skate industries such as Vans to make their shoes. Skating icon Bob Burnquist built a home in the hills of Vista, complete with 60-foot mega ramps. Burnquist is also famous for his organic gardens, which supply local restaurants.

I took note of the training facility, texted my son a photo, and drove toward Lone Oak Lane. I sat at the light at Buena Creek and South Santa Fe, waiting for what seemed like forever for the trolley to pass. It was a three-way stop sign when Ralph and I first moved “out of the state.” I drove the half-mile winding road along the creek, past an old trailer park and a somewhat tired looking subdivision that was new when I first arrived.

As I turned off Buena Creek, my head automatically swiveled to the house right before the turn, which, while I lived there, seemed to have a car crash into its yard every year. It was always a thing to see if the fence was still intact. As I steered my car onto Lone Oak Road, I remembered it as the bus stop for the neighborhood children — the last stop on the route — and often, my little tow-headed boy would be the only child exiting the bus. I reminisced about the year when the rains seemed to be non-stop and the county closed our street, afraid the creek would wash away the culvert. Neighbors parked their cars on busy Buena Creek and waded through the rushing water to get home. The next morning, when the storm halted for a bit, everyone walked to their cars, cheerful and calling out, “Good morning,” to their neighbors, coffee cups in hand.

I arrived at what used to be the first house on Lone Oak Road, where one of the last remaining neighbors lives, and stopped my car. Across the street, I was shocked to see that the old Buena Creek Herb Farm that owned the horse pasture was now filled with 24 red-roofed cookie-cutter homes. The new housing development, named Oak Creek, boasts new trees that weren’t there a few years ago, surrounding a fancy, fence-lined walking path, which made me laugh, because you can still walk up into the hills — part of the San Marcos Mountain range — from the trailhead at the end of the street. I strolled around the corner and soon arrived at the former Reed Ranchito and walked halfway up the driveway. I peeked around the remains of the fence that once held back our 170-pound dog and saw that the patio and 1950’s-style brick barbeque that Ralph lovingly built was still standing. A few of the trees have been cut down and the pine tree looked sad and in need of water. I shrugged. I didn’t care about the house. I had my memories. I walked up the tiny lane and approached a house that was once a tropical nursery owned by our friend Tom Piergrossi. People would flock to our neighborhood during their big sales, carting out brightly colored birds of paradise, canna lilies, and other exotic botanicals. I tried to remember who used to live in which house as I made the decision to trek up the steep hill where my husband and I used to hike. I found the path and scooted under a fence surrounding yet another new tract division that had been built at the base of the hill. I had to trudge through tall grass and sharp brush, and was careful not to trip over rocks, since I was wearing sandals. I kept an eye out for snakes. I was out of breath when I reached the top and looked around for the spot where we buried Timber. Sitting on a small boulder and stretching my legs in the sun, I thought about what Derek had said to me after I hugged them both goodbye at Mother Earth. “All in all, Vista has its up and downs,” he said. “Even though they’re trying to expand Vista, it still has a small-town charm. If I had one wish for Vista it would be to turn it back into the sleepy little town that I grew up in.”

I took some deep breaths and looked out onto the horizon. Sure enough, I saw the ocean.

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“This is a great farmer’s market, it’s affordable for me to sell my candy and the people are so nice,” said Albert Asmussen, the owner of Albie Candy Co.
“This is a great farmer’s market, it’s affordable for me to sell my candy and the people are so nice,” said Albert Asmussen, the owner of Albie Candy Co.

When I decided we needed to move my growing family from La Mesa to the beach, I quickly realized I couldn’t afford coastal property and somehow ended up in Vista. My late husband Ralph commented that it was so far from South County family and friends that it was like “driving out of the state.” But I wouldn’t budge. I had discovered a brand new home in an area known as Shadowridge, a master-planned community built on the hills north of Highway 78 looking out over —“and down on,” some residents like to say — much of Vista.

Ralph wasn’t impressed with the tract house and its vaulted ceilings, marble countertops, and shared greenbelt down the street, but I held firm. That is, until I was taking a friend to see the new home that I had put a deposit on and we got lost on the tiny roads that wind through the area, roads lined with farm stands and nurseries and ranch-style homes from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. I drove across a cement culvert to make a U-turn and crossed a small creek. My friend and I were intrigued by this rural road shaded by old oak, sumac, and sycamore trees. We drove past a cluster of vibrant red and orange liquid amber trees and turned onto a private street named Lone Oak Lane. I looked to my right. On a small knoll sat a 10-year-old ranch-style home. A pepper tree, a few squatty palms, and a pine tree lined the massive lawn. A “For Sale” sign hung out front. I looked up at the empty green hills at the end of the street and the horse standing in a fenced-in field across the street.

On a small knoll sat a 10-year-old ranch-style home. A pepper tree, a few squatty palms, and a pine tree lined the massive lawn. A “For Sale” sign hung out front. We bought the house, which we nicknamed The Reed Ranchito.

I glanced over at my friend and said, “Well, there goes my fancy new house.”

All this was in 1988. We bought the house, which we nicknamed The Reed Ranchito. Our two children grew up there. Almost every night, they ran amok with the other neighborhood kids and dogs until they were called home to dinner. Occasionally, the local llama would end up in my driveway or the horse across the street would escape from his paddock and trot up to the fence and bray at Timber, our Rottweiler. We hiked the hills weekly, dodging a rattlesnake here and there, and when we made it to the top, huffing and puffing, we could often spot the power plant across from Carlsbad State Beach. Most evenings, Ralph and I sat on the patio he built, sipped wine, and contemplated how to get rid of the endless rabbits and squirrels. Ralph sometimes rhapsodized on the hues of the sunset.

We raised our children in that home, and expected to grow old on Lone Oak Lane. Then in 2009, when the economy tanked and took our jobs with it, the bank suggested a short sale, which we did. Empty-nesters turned no-nesters, we packed our belongings and set out on a nine-year adventure of moving to a lake and then an island in Washington state; then to Springdale, Utah to run a B&B outside the gates of Zion National Park. We lived in an RV in Oceanside, then drove up the coast, and out to Colorado. We finally got that beach house when we rented a small condo in Mission Beach.

Now that my husband is gone and I once again reside in San Diego, I seem to find myself drawn to the area — to visit old friends and memories.

Derek and Lacey Poore grew up in Vista and live there now. They aren’t sure if Vista is where they will raise a family, because it’s expensive just like the rest of San Diego County.

In late February, I was in Vista cleaning out my storage unit when nostalgia struck and I decided to take a walk down memory lane. The sun hadn’t even burned through the early morning fog that pre-COVID-scare Saturday, and already, hundreds of people were walking through the Vista Farmers Market.

For the past 31 years, every Saturday morning, rain or shine, the parking lot of the Vista County Courthouse is transformed into a shopping mecca of apples, avocados, bread, flowers, and seafood from 8 am until noon. (They are still open at this time, though scaled down in compliance with the California Department of Public Health.)

The market, one of the first of its kind in North County, has inspired other outdoor venues to crop up in cities such as Del Mar, Carlsbad, Oceanside, and Little Italy.

As shoppers walked through the two-acre site, greeting friends and carrying on conversations with farmers, the scents of fresh cut basil, peaches, and sweet onions floated through the air. The voice of a young guitarist from Israel could be heard throughout the market as he sang for tips.

Albert Asmussen caught my eye as he sat in a tiny teardrop trailer selling his homemade fudge. A large neon light that spelled out, “We Love Candy,” drew me over. I bought some creamy chocolate peanut butter fudge.

“This is a great farmers market; it’s affordable for me to sell my candy and the people are so nice,” said the owner of Albie Candy Co. “Some of the fancier markets down in San Diego don’t have the same vibe as this place. They’re so crowded, and I can’t really afford to sell there.”

Hidalgo Flower stand has been in Vista since 1976. They sell at the Farmers Market on Saturdays in the parking lot of the Vista County Courthouse.

Asmussen makes the fudge himself and sometimes carries confections made by a friend. “I can afford to sell here and some other smaller markets, but markets like the one in Little Italy are a flat $137 a day, while Vista is a $16 minimum or 8 percent of sales. Not only is it more affordable, but everyone is so friendly and nice.”

The bright purple sweet peas at the Hidalgo Flower stand stopped me and I leaned in to smell the perfumed bouquet, which reminded me of the delicate flowers that grew along the fence at the Reed Ranchito. I bought a small bunch and spoke to the young man running the flower stand.

“We’ve been in Vista since 1976,” he said as he wrapped the wet stems in newspaper. “The weather and the soil are perfect for growing, that’s why so many nurseries are here.”

While Fallbrook has taken Vista’s title as the “avocado capital of the world,” Vista continues to boast lush hillsides ripe with avocados, fruit trees, and flower fields. In most neighborhoods north of the 78, you can still find clusters of farms.

Booze became the first successful agricultural business in Vista in 1879 when the Delpy family opened the Buena Vista Winery at the corner of Foothill Drive and East Vista Way. The winery lasted until 1920, when Prohibition shut it down. Wineries are making their way back. About a half a dozen are scattered throughout the hillsides.

The memories of mornings spent at the Farmers Market made me glad that I had visited. I drove to a friend’s home perched on a small hilltop off East Vista Way. As she placed the sweet peas in a vase, we reminisced about our sons growing up together and the innocence of the time. We lamented the presence of crime that, contrary to popular belief, is less than many of the surrounding cities.

Considering that the estimated population of Vista is 101,224 — according to the most recent United States census estimates — and the overall median age is 32.7 years, Vista is a young town. And although gangs have been a part of the culture since before I moved to the area in 1988, crime is lower than, say, Del Mar’s (theft, car theft, property crimes) or Oceanside’s (homicide in 2018: Oceanside 9, Vista 5) But it’s still a presence.

On March 3, 2020, the North County Regional Gang Task Force, the FBI SWAT team, and other law enforcement agencies raided a property in Vista and 22 arrests were made. The investigation took place over almost three years. The homeowner allegedly allowed gang members, drug dealers, and users to stay at the property. Prosecutors said in a press release that North County gang members lived at the residence and used it as a headquarters for the importation of heroin and methamphetamine from Mexico, and the distribution of said drugs throughout North San Diego County.

“Today’s operation brings the conclusion of a long-term investigation led by our North County Regional Gang Task Force. This group of dedicated agents and officers works hard making the streets of North County safer for the community to live and work,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Scott Brunner in a press release. “The dangerous activity involving heroin, methamphetamine, firearms, and other illegal activity at the so called ‘Heroin House’ has been shut down.”

“We knew what was going on in that house for years,” said a neighbor named Loretta (she asked that I not use her last name.) “It seemed like nobody cared, that the cops didn’t care, but I guess it takes time. This part of Vista looks rough, but good people live here, and we don’t need drug dealers in the same neighborhood as where our kids play.”

Driving from my friend’s house, I only needed to go a few blocks to check out Downtown Vista Village, the same neighborhood that city developers had always touted was going to be revitalized. (I was a freelance reporter for the local daily newspapers for nearly ten years, and I had heard the hype over and over.) It has finally come to fruition — sort of. A preschool sits next door to the DogHaus Biergarten, which serves beer and plays live music (not during school hours). New brewery tasting rooms line Main Street, and (in non-pandemic times) a mostly local daily crowd tastes the homegrown beers, while families shop in the tiny Tortilleria Los Reyes — established in 2000 — for fresh tortillas made on-site, chiles of every temperature, and made-to-order tacos and burritos. Belching Beaver Tavern & Grill, located in a former bank, features a 10,000-square-foot tavern, which includes two outdoor patios with an outdoor lounge area with a fire pit on the front patio. It was already filled with laughing patrons, children, and dogs when I peeked in. Besides buying the 50-year-old bank building, Belching Beaver has invested about $1.3 million so far into its downtown tavern and grill. Vista is home to nearly 20 craft breweries — and more are in the planning stages — the most per capita in any United States city. There is one brewery for every 7000 people in Vista. In comparison, there’s one brewery for every 19,000 people in the City of San Diego. Stone Brewing Co.— one of San Diego County’s largest craft brewers — is moving some of its North County workforce, including its leadership team, to its national distribution center in Vista.

“The craft brewing industry in San Diego County has more than a $1 billion annual economic impact, and Vista is proud to contribute to that,” said Kevin Ham, Vista’s economic development director. “We want to continue to support and attract these innovative entrepreneurs to our city and region. They bring people into the business parks and more visitors to our city, who, in turn, discover other local businesses, shops, and hotels. Breweries also create vibrant neighborhoods and serve as community centers where people can connect.”

The first brewery to arrive in Vista was Green Flash, which set up shop in 2002 and moved to Mira Mesa in 2011. In 2010, Mother Earth Tap House — whose name comes from the founder’s fondness of the outdoors and nature — arrived in town. Mother Earth has grown from a small garage to over 70,000 square feet. The popular brewery — whose Cali Creamin’ brew is a favorite — has its brewery in Vista’s industrial park, its tap room in downtown Vista, and a production brewery located in Boise, Idaho. They are celebrating their 10-year anniversary in May; at one time, Mother Earth was the fastest growing craft brewery in the U.S.

“The City of Vista has been a contributing factor to the success of local breweries,” said Kevin Hopkins, executive vice president for Mother Earth Brew Co. “They’ve helped us with numerous avenues to give small businesses a leg up.”

(As of April 13, Mother Earth has closed its Main Street location for good. “We are changing locations as our lease has expired,” Hopkins said. “We intend to stay in Vista, but as negotiations are not complete, I’m not at liberty to discuss the location yet. I can assure you that we are only looking in Vista.”)

On that February afternoon, I walked into the Mother Earth Tap House and found some friends of my daughter’s, Lacey and Derek Poore, sitting at a family-style table against a wall of red brick and looking out onto the main drag. The tasting room was already noisy and bustling at 3 pm, and as Derek got up to stand in line to buy me a beverage, Lacey and I caught up. She was one of those cute kids back in the day, running around The Lane as we called it. She was a little red-headed imp who I sometimes had to send home because it was getting dark and we were going to eat dinner.

“That was the type of neighborhood I grew up in, and I loved it,” she said, her red hair and smile as bright as ever. “Some kids got into trouble, but they turned out okay, becoming pretty successful. Things aren’t the same there, though. I don’t really like to go back to The Lane.”

Lacey and Derek have socialized with the same group of friends since high school, but only a few years ago, they fell in love and married. Lacey said she isn’t sure if Vista is where she and Derek will raise a family, because it’s expensive ($565,638 median home price, says Zillow) just like the rest of San Diego County ($628,519), and she’s not sure they’ll ever be able to afford a home. For now, she is happy renting a townhouse within walking distance of Main Street.

“I like living close to downtown Vista, mostly because of the breweries like Mother Earth and Belching Beaver. Before, we didn’t have many places to grab a drink. When I turned 21, I went to downtown Carlsbad to get together with friends. Now in Vista, we have a lot of options. Vista is my comfort place. It’s where most of my happy memories have taken place, from my childhood to becoming an adult.”

After we finished our drinks, the Poores walked me out. We stood outside Mother Earth and Derek pointed at the tall structure under construction — the Rylan Apartments, which will boast 126 luxury apartments and 60 retail spaces when it is completed in July of this year — on a once-empty lot where we all used to park our cars when we came downtown. The wide smile that he’d sported the entire time that we spoke became serious. “You know, I was born in Vista and it’s always had my heart,” he said. “As of late, I don’t agree with what the city is doing... trying to bring in more people than the city can handle. It’s going to put a strain on us hometown people with more traffic and congestion.”

Perhaps it was the small glass of wine I had consumed at Mother Earth, but I felt brave, very sure that I wouldn’t have a weeping widow breakdown when seeing our old home. I drove the scenic route, winding through Mar Vista and passing an old farm that was dilapidated when I lived a few miles away but which has now become an organic farm called Sand n’ Straw. It offers a petting zoo and cooking classes. I saw vibrant yellow flowers in front of a small red barn from the road as I headed to the industrial area a mile away. I wanted to see where the world’s only Olympic skateboard training facility — CA Training Facility — was located, so that, when my son Samuel came home from Canada to visit, we could check it out together. Back when Sam was a young teenager, Vista was just becoming the place for skate industries such as Vans to make their shoes. Skating icon Bob Burnquist built a home in the hills of Vista, complete with 60-foot mega ramps. Burnquist is also famous for his organic gardens, which supply local restaurants.

I took note of the training facility, texted my son a photo, and drove toward Lone Oak Lane. I sat at the light at Buena Creek and South Santa Fe, waiting for what seemed like forever for the trolley to pass. It was a three-way stop sign when Ralph and I first moved “out of the state.” I drove the half-mile winding road along the creek, past an old trailer park and a somewhat tired looking subdivision that was new when I first arrived.

As I turned off Buena Creek, my head automatically swiveled to the house right before the turn, which, while I lived there, seemed to have a car crash into its yard every year. It was always a thing to see if the fence was still intact. As I steered my car onto Lone Oak Road, I remembered it as the bus stop for the neighborhood children — the last stop on the route — and often, my little tow-headed boy would be the only child exiting the bus. I reminisced about the year when the rains seemed to be non-stop and the county closed our street, afraid the creek would wash away the culvert. Neighbors parked their cars on busy Buena Creek and waded through the rushing water to get home. The next morning, when the storm halted for a bit, everyone walked to their cars, cheerful and calling out, “Good morning,” to their neighbors, coffee cups in hand.

I arrived at what used to be the first house on Lone Oak Road, where one of the last remaining neighbors lives, and stopped my car. Across the street, I was shocked to see that the old Buena Creek Herb Farm that owned the horse pasture was now filled with 24 red-roofed cookie-cutter homes. The new housing development, named Oak Creek, boasts new trees that weren’t there a few years ago, surrounding a fancy, fence-lined walking path, which made me laugh, because you can still walk up into the hills — part of the San Marcos Mountain range — from the trailhead at the end of the street. I strolled around the corner and soon arrived at the former Reed Ranchito and walked halfway up the driveway. I peeked around the remains of the fence that once held back our 170-pound dog and saw that the patio and 1950’s-style brick barbeque that Ralph lovingly built was still standing. A few of the trees have been cut down and the pine tree looked sad and in need of water. I shrugged. I didn’t care about the house. I had my memories. I walked up the tiny lane and approached a house that was once a tropical nursery owned by our friend Tom Piergrossi. People would flock to our neighborhood during their big sales, carting out brightly colored birds of paradise, canna lilies, and other exotic botanicals. I tried to remember who used to live in which house as I made the decision to trek up the steep hill where my husband and I used to hike. I found the path and scooted under a fence surrounding yet another new tract division that had been built at the base of the hill. I had to trudge through tall grass and sharp brush, and was careful not to trip over rocks, since I was wearing sandals. I kept an eye out for snakes. I was out of breath when I reached the top and looked around for the spot where we buried Timber. Sitting on a small boulder and stretching my legs in the sun, I thought about what Derek had said to me after I hugged them both goodbye at Mother Earth. “All in all, Vista has its up and downs,” he said. “Even though they’re trying to expand Vista, it still has a small-town charm. If I had one wish for Vista it would be to turn it back into the sleepy little town that I grew up in.”

I took some deep breaths and looked out onto the horizon. Sure enough, I saw the ocean.

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Yours and MS-13 & The Vista Home Boys.

May 14, 2020
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