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Potato Chip Rock, The Barn, Barona Drags, Oasis Camel Dairy, the Turkey Inn, goat yoga

Reader writer's mash note to Ramona

Mid-pose, an energetic goat named Pixie jumps on my back.
Mid-pose, an energetic goat named Pixie jumps on my back.

As Lakeside fades in my rearview and Ramona’s foothills loom in before me, I inhale my surroundings. Despite 20 years of living in San Diego, my Midwestern heart has yet to normalize the Western movie set backdrop that flies past my window. I am struck by the same thought every time: Ramona is the most underrated community in San Diego County.

Many San Diegans make the drive to Ramona for one reason: Potato Chip Rock. On Saturday mornings, cars line the side of the 67 as Lululemon-clad hikers trek up Mount Woodson. At the summit, they pose atop the dangerously thin rock, which has been tagged 104k times on Instagram. Most of them are oblivious to the fact that Mount Woodson is named after a prominent Confederate soldier: Dr. Marshall Clay Woodson, a dentist who settled in Ramona back in 1895.

Most of them are oblivious to the fact that Ramona is named after a bi-racial heroine from a novel with the same name published in 1884. Author Helen Hunt Jackson wanted to expose the genocide and rampant land theft occurring in Southern California against Native Americans; she hoped Ramona would have the same cultural impact as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. However, the public turned out to be far more enamored with the novel’s star-crossed love story than the plight of the Southern California’s Native people. The novel’s success sent the nation into a dizzying Ramona spiral: tourists visited SoCal in droves, and it seemed like every floundering Southern California town named restaurants, streets, festivals, and events in honor of Jackson’s hero. The city of Ramona was born in 1886 via a 3200-acre parcel of land originally used for sheep and purchased by Milton Santee, who hoped the name would lure new settlers. It did.

Ramona still has a frontier quality. It is where San Diegans move when they want their own slice of land. Those girls in middle school with the horse posters in their lockers? They are probably living in Ramona now on a couple of acres. It is one of the only communities in San Diego where it is not unusual to see people on horseback. Ramona’s local Albertsons sells carrots in 25-pound bags marketed for horses. The local brewery, Smoking Cannon, names their beers after Civil War weapons.

Driving down Main Street on a Thursday night, I count a handful of oversized Trump flags affixed to pickup trucks. An abundance of muscle cars and antique Fords rev their engines as they rip down the road. (I also spy several old VW Bugs; this is still SoCal, after all.) As I continue, I realize that I am driving through a car show: locals sit in folding chairs as vintage cars whip past. Sticky-faced kids chase one another, clutching popsicles purchased from a vendor selling frozen treats from a cart he rolls through the crowd. There is enough red, white, and blue apparel on display that it feels like the Fourth of July instead of an average Thursday night in May.

Driving down Main Street on a Thursday night, I count a handful of oversized Trump flags affixed to pick-up trucks. An abundance of muscle cars and antique Fords rev their engines as they rip down the road.

The marquee for Ramona’s Mainstage advertises midget wrestling, as well as an upcoming concert by The Red Hot Cholo Peppers and a meeting of The American Liberty Forum. I pass it and pull into the parking lot for The Barn restaurant. I’m here for their weekly line-dancing lessons. Across the street is a mural depicting a woman riding a turkey and proclaiming, “Welcome to Ramona.” In the parking lot, a young woman is sitting in the backseat of a dented sedan with her legs dangling out of the passenger side door. She struggles to pull her knee-high cowboy boots over a pair of skin-tight jeans. Once they’re on her feet, she hops out of the car, slams the door with a squeak, and bends down to check herself in the side mirror before heading inside.

The Barn is packed. At the bar, patrons sit elbow to elbow. The crowd is diverse: families with kids, groups of twenty-somethings, older couples, and gray-haired men in wide-brimmed cowboy hats. A waitress sporting bleach blonde hair, full sleeve tattoos down to her fingers, and a set of jet-black false eyelashes calls me “hon” as she takes my order for a hazy IPA.

Place

Barn Restaurant

344 Main Street, Ramona

A teenage girl sits at a table to my right, a pointy paper birthday hat perched atop her head. Her hair is dyed electric blue, and she wears fishnet stockings and a baby doll dress. It’s quite a contrast to all the denim and flannel around her; still, when the DJ announces her birthday from the stage, the crowd happily serenades her, and she grins and giggles before resuming her natural teenage scowl. The goateed DJ , who wears flip flops and not boots, teaches the crowd a line dance. “Left, right, left, right, left, rock back, right, left, right, left, right,” he prompts. The dancers practice one time before he sets the dance to music. A little girl in a cowboy hat drags a young boy around by his arm. She twirls him to the right, then to the left before settling down on the edge of the stage to watch the other dancers. An older lady wearing stonewashed denim with bedazzled back pockets struggles to keep up. She is off the beat but does not seem flustered.

Kaitlyn Maracle is out on the dance floor, all smiles and rhythm. A weekly visitor to the Barn, she wears yoga pants and a green tank top, her wavy brown hair tied back in a sweaty ponytail. When I ask if she is local, she laughs. “I mean, I live up the road, but no; I am from La Jolla. Growing up, I had never been to Ramona or heard of Ramona. I moved here for my horses” — in 2020, shortly after graduating from Cal Poly SLO. “My friends don’t get it. They are like, ‘Why do you live there?’ I mean, I am paying the same rent I paid down in San Diego, but I have horses. I can afford my horses out here, which you cannot do anywhere closer to the ocean.” If it were up to Maracle, she would keep Ramona a secret, but alas. “Everyone is moving here. There is soooooo much more traffic now. I mean, we only have one street, Main Street, to come in and out of. This is a small town. It’s not made for how many people are coming out here. Everyone is starting to find out about Ramona!” she exclaims in exasperation. She looks past me and out at the dance floor as the DJ starts a new song. She cannot resist. Back to the dance floor she goes, cowboy boots clicking along to the beat.

  • * * *

The next night, I zig-zag down Wildcat Canyon Road just past the southern border of Ramona to the Barona Drags, located on the Barona Indian Reservation. The one-eighth mile strip seems ancient, but the Teslas waiting to race on it are anything but. A man to my right is wearing overalls over a flannel shirt, and a cowboy hat that shadows his deep brown eyes. A Duck Dynasty-style goatee reaches the middle of his chest. The smell of cheese fries and gasoline fills the air. Five young men make bets on the cars as they shotgun Coors lights from a cooler at their feet; the loudest of them speaks with a twang and wears camel-colored cowboy boots with an aggressive point and slight heel. Their buzzcuts say they are military. They whoop and holler as the cars speed past them. A couple of little boys play tag on a grassy patch near the bleachers, killing time before their dad’s race is announced — at which point, they clamber up the stairs to their grandpa to cheer their dad on. They high-five when he wins, then back down the bleachers they go.

Place

Barona Drag Strip

1750 Wildcat Canyon Road, Lakeside

Racer Cole Thomas is a fan favorite. When his vehicle enters the line-up in a haze of smoke, the crowd goes nuts. Later, I find him in the parking lot and ask what he is driving.

“A 1972 Chevy c10 with a small block chevy 350 motor and a Weiand 1777 supercharger, 10 to 1 compression with forged aluminum pistons.”

I nod my head, pretending to understand. To be honest, I am more interested in his badass old timey race suit and waxed handlebar mustache than the details of his car.

Kaitlyn Maracle (middle) is out on the dance floor at The Barn, all smiles and rhythm.

The 41-year-old Cole grew up in Ramona, and is a self-proclaimed gearhead. He comes out to the Drag’s street-legal races every chance he gets. “I keep coming back because I like to beat people with my piece of junk. Taking a piece of junk and beating someone who just bought something [expensive] — that is always cool,” he says with a chuckle before placing his helmet back on to line up for another race.

Noting his safety gear, I ask, “Have you seen anyone get injured out here?”

“Not while I have been here, but last season they had two pretty bad wrecks. One was a life flight. Some girl cracked her skull. She was in a Pontiac Trans Am, I think.”

“Does your family worry about you?”

“Nah,” he says, with an animated shrug, “My wife usually comes. My parents are here now. I usually have a whole crew watching. They bring me hot dogs and stuff.”

Apart from Cole’s rebuilt Chevy, the other hit of the night is a beat-up Honda minivan that spins its wheels and revs its engine before each of its races. The timer clocks its last ride at the grocery-getting speed of 58 miles per hour. One of the military guys in front of us shouts, “Look out racers, here comes Karen,” and the crowd erupts into a roar of laughter.

The driver is 18-year-old Bryce Gibson from Scripps Ranch. A couple of his friends are racing as well — only their cars are supped up and customized. “This is all I have,” explains Bryce. “I just don’t have the money to put into a different car. I race this almost 100% because it’s funny. And it’s fun to come out here to race, even though I always lose. I think the fastest time I’ve gotten is 65 mph.”

  • * * *

The next morning, I leave my La Mesa home at 8 am, hair still wet, to head to San Diego Country Estates, located in the southeastern portion of Ramona. I am picking up my friend Cori; she lives a short ten minutes from my destination. Google maps clocks my travel time at 41 minutes, but fails to account for the delay caused by an oversized turkey crossing Ramona Oaks Road, so it’s 8:42 when I pull up to Cori’s door. She moved to Ramona back in December after being outbid on a handful of condos in San Carlos and La Mesa. They sold above asking price, all in the low-to-mid-500s. When she found the place she now calls home, she fell in love. It was comparatively large, featured two oversized balconies with mountain views, and was priced $100,000 less than the other places on which she’d bid. When I heard she’d bought in Ramona, my first response was, “All the way out there?” I wasn’t alone in the sentiment. Says Cori, “My family acted like I was moving out of state! I don’t think a single person said, “Wow! That is super exciting!’ Everyone was so focused on how far away it was.” (With reason. Cori is social. She likes going out, having people over, and eating at swanky restaurants. She once told me that she would not date a man if he lived east of La Mesa.)

Cori’s condo sits in the San Vincente Valley, surrounded by mountains. The area’s earliest inhabitants were the Yuman Indians, who foraged for acorns and hunted small game here. When I ring her doorbell, she greets me with a cup of coffee. She wears yoga pants and an oversized off-the-shoulder tee. Her cropped blonde hair is perfectly styled. Her place smells like mountains and fresh coffee.

“They should bottle this aroma,” I tell her in earnest.

The one-eighth mile strip at Barona Drags seems ancient, but the Teslas waiting to race on it are anything but.

Cori nods, adding, “When I wake up each day, I open every sliding glass door and window to let that air in. I love it! I take Ollie out” — Ollie is her teacup chihuahua — “to the trailhead behind our community, and everything is so green and lush. There is dirt and nature, and I can hear birds.” Her view is postcard-worthy. Outside her dining room window, the sun beats down on a boulder-strewn mountain, bathing it in a pink and orange wash of sunshine. I am tempted to take a seat on her balcony to enjoy my coffee with a view, but we are meeting friends at Blackledge Farms and have only 15 minutes to get there.

  • * * *

Blackledge Farms sits on eight acres off San Vincente Road. Near a pasture dotted with fluffy alpacas, Melissa Wagner sits at a table, all smiles and sunshine, checking people in for this morning’s session of goat yoga. When my friends Nicole and Kelly arrive, her husband Matt lends me a yoga mat and ushers us to a shaded canopy-covered spot across from the goat pens. The attendees appear to be non-locals. There is a middle-aged couple, a group of older ladies, what appears to be a mother/daughter combo, a twenty-something couple who may or may not be on a first date, and two thirty-somethings in neon sport bras, patterned yoga pants, and full makeup. They are already posing for photos.

Place

Blackledge Farms

2377 San Vicente Road, San Diego

Melissa leads a relaxing yoga session while her goats wander around us. Matt hands out handfuls of animal crackers for those brave enough to lure them over. Mid -pose, an energetic goat named Pixie jumps on my back. Another pounces on my friend Kelly, who laughs in delight. The couple, who may or may not be on their first date, are much more focused on the goats than the yoga. No big deal, Melissa explains: “If you want to just pet the goats, you can do that too,”

Melissa and Matt, who adorably refer to themselves as M-squared, opened their farm for yoga classes during the pandemic. They bought their Ramona property in January of 2020. Melissa grew up in the South Bay, while Matt comes from a cattle family in the Midwest. Melissa says, “We love it here! I have always been a horse girl. I think that is why Ramona appealed to me.”

Adds Matt, “Ramona is the biggest small town in San Diego. It’s the closet you can get to the country anywhere in San Diego, or even California. I have lived in the Central Valley and Northern California, and Ramona, it’s just different. Everyone genuinely cares about one another”

Melissa nods in agreement before gushing, “We are surrounded by so many natural preserves that Ramona has a little bit of something for everyone. It has that country feel. I like the smallness of it. Only in Ramona will you see posts on the neighborhood Facebook page that say, ‘Hey, someone’s cow is loose!’ I love that,” she says with a laugh.

Before class ends, Matt brings out baby goats for attendees to snuggle. A pint-sized, fainting goat falls asleep in Cori’s arms. Matt encourages Kelly to place an animal cracker in her own mouth and feed the goats. She bravely obliges, and a spotted goat approaches and removes the treat from between her lips.

We head to our cars, refreshed and happy to have not been pooped on by any goats. Matt and Melissa walk us out and give us lunch recommendations.

“You have to try the cinnamon roll at the Ramona Café.” Matt urges.

Adds Melissa, “It’s so good. They were on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

My mouth waters at the suggestion. When we pull out of the lot, I turn to Cori and say, “That’s what I call a perfect morning,” Three activities in, and I am already falling for Ramona.

  • * * *

We don’t get the cinnamon roll, because we have only an hour to get to the Oasis Camel Dairy on the other side of town. So we opt for deli sandwiches at Ramona Family Naturals. I purchase a chicken salad sandwich that sets me back $13. When I complain about the cost, Cori explains, “They are the only organic food place in town, so they can get away with that.” We sit at tables on their patio facing Main Street. A woman wearing an American flag tank top with a matching hat strolls by. Even her shoes have stars-and-stripes laces. A couple one table over is discussing chicken feed. “Welcome to Ramona!” Cori says with a laugh.

Racer Cole Thomas is a fan favorite. When his vehicle enters the line-up in a haze of smoke, the crowd goes nuts.

Oasis Camel Diary sits on the border of Ramona near Julian. I am expecting to join a small tour with a handful of attendees, but, like the Barn on Thursday night, the Dairy is packed. We take our seats in a makeshift outdoor auditorium to watch Nancy Riegler’s presentation. I assume the topic will be camels; however, she is holding a parrot. Nancy has a late-night talk show host’s personality. Addressing the crowd, she explains how she and her husband Gil met on the state fair circuit; she with her exotic birds and he with his camels. They fell in love, combined forces, and moved from a one-acre property in Ramona to a 34-acre property in Ramona, which they later expanded to 42 acres. The pair worked together at fairs across America until Covid hit.“Turns out, turkey races are non-essential!” she explains, and the crowd loves it. She goes on to explain that she and Gil pivoted into opening their property so guests could visit their animals during the pandemic. They have been operating successfully ever since. On weekends, large groups gather to get up-close views of the camels. The pair make camel dairy products and host private tours.

Place

Oasis Camel Dairy

26757 Old Julian Highway, Ramona

After the show, which includes a bird show and some information on how they milk their camels, Nancy invites guests to feed their sheep and camels. For an extra fee, guests may ride a camel. We opt for feeding. Cori, Nicole, Kelly, and I are each allotted two apples on sticks. One by one, the curious camels swivel their necks over the gate before gingerly biting down on their snacks. A baby camel eyeballs us from behind its mother. It’s surreal to see these exotic humped creatures here in the San Diego backcountry.

While groups of tourists raid the gift shop, buying camel dairy chocolates, soaps, and lotions, Nancy sits behind the cash register, her curly light brown hair tucked behind her ears. She wears a red polo shirt with a logo advertising the dairy. “I grew up in North Hollywood.” she tells me, “When I was little, I wanted to be one of the Sea World Girls, but I have brown hair and I don’t like to swim. Back in the day, all the Sea World girls were blonde.”

Riegler got an associate degree in exotic animal training and management in Riverside. Upon graduation, she was offered a job at the San Diego Wild Animal Park as trainer and entertainer. She moved to Ramona in 1984, sight unseen. She needed to rent a room somewhere that had a stable to keep her horse, and Ramona was the closest, most affordable location near the Wild Animal Park. “I did not research Ramona, I did not know what I was getting into, and it turned out to be this really magical decision.” Nancy says, noting that “there is a whole different class of people that live up here now. It used to be more blue-collar. Everyone had two acres with their ducks in kiddie pools and a horse they got for 200 bucks at an auction. Now, we have people with four acres and a mini vineyard, and a Tesla parked in their driveway. I don’t like the term ‘yuppie.’ We just have people in different tax brackets now.”

The other hit of the night is a beat-up Honda minivan that spins its wheels and revs its engine before each of its races. The driver is 18-year-old Bryce Gibson from Scripps Ranch.

I ask if she preferred the old Ramona. Nancy shakes her head. “The longer I am here, the more it appeals to me. It is getting bigger. But I still go into the restaurants, and I know the waiters and waitresses. I know my bank tellers and the hardware store guy. Nothing beats a small town. What we have all gone through as a society over the last two years has brought that home more significantly. Being in the open air, less crowded, having more personal relationships, I think people are valuing that more than ever before. And that’s Ramona. The people who move up here still want clean air and lots of room. They are on an adventure. It’s still the same Ramona; it’s just that we have nicer restaurants now. We have businesses that are thriving that just would not have survived here 20 years ago.”

Speaking of surviving: when the pandemic hit, Nancy feared she might have to leave Ramona. Prior to the shutdown, the couple booked so many fairs that they were able to buy the house behind their property and add eight acres. Then boom, all their work was canceled, and they had to return deposits. “It was rough. Luckily for us, it rained a lot, so we did not have to pay for hay. We just let the animals out to graze. I actually YouTubed how to gut and cook ground squirrel!” Today, they aren’t making as much as they once did on the fair circuit, but hosting visitors on their land has worked. They still agree that they never want to move from Ramona. “It’s just magically beautiful,” Nancy says with a sigh, “I’m really proud to live here. I feel like I accidentally stumbled into the most wonderful life!”

Is it becoming less conservative? Nancy ponders and says, “I wouldn’t say it’s all Republicans. What I do see is that people here have a real love of country. It’s a lot more culturally diverse than it has ever been. It used to be very white out here. Now I am seeing a lot more Hispanics, Asians, and African-Americans, and no one is feeling like they are sticking out like sore thumbs. I really like that.”

  • * * *

Back in town, we head to the Turkey Inn. I’ve been told that a life-sized portrait of Donald J. Trump hangs above the bar. The bar itself dates back to 1926; the neon turkey over the door, to 1937. Once, Ramona was known as the turkey capital of the world, and the town is still rife with the feathered fowl. There are so many of them that Ramona has its own turkey hunting season, running mid-fall through January. As we walk through the door, every eye darts in our direction. I nervously fiddle with the collar of my shirt. The bartender’s hair is pulled into a messy bun at the nape of her neck. Her belly hangs out of a tight grey crop top. A black lace choker is secured tightly around her neck. She gives off the vibe of someone uninterested in taking anyone’s shit.

Place

Turkey Inn

716 Main Street, San Diego

“Everyone is staring at us. Do you think that it’s because we aren’t locals?” Cori asks me.

“You are a local,” I remind her.

She laughs, and with that, I turn to the table behind me, where two couples in their mid-50s are drinking draft beer.

Oasis Camel Diary sits on the border of Ramona near Julian.

“Are you guys from Ramona?” They nod. They seem friendly, so I continue. “I was told there was a life-sized Trump portrait hanging behind the bar. What happened to it?”

The biggest guy, a bearded man wearing a windbreaker, answers flatly, “They took it down. He’s not our president anymore.”

“Oh,” I say. “Why didn’t they put Biden up there?”

He doesn’t bother answering. He shakes his head and turns back to his table.

“She doesn’t know she’s in Ramona,” his friend quips. They erupt into laughter.

I turn back to my own table. Cori is making small talk with the guy next to us. His face is weatherbeaten, and he wears a bright red shirt with the sleeves cut off and cargo shorts. I ask him if he is a regular at this bar. He tilts his head back and laughs.

“I don’t think I am a regular at any bar. I just came here because it’s a redneck bar and I wanted to watch NASCAR.” He goes on to explain that He just moved to Ramona a few months ago from Santee. He is renting a room on a two-acre property. “It’s peaceful, up here,” he says, keeping an eye on the NASCAR race on the TV.

After our drinks, we leave. It’s getting late, and Cori wants to check out one of the local wineries. We decide on Rashelica Winery, located near Mount Woodson.

  • * * *

The winery is confusing and quirky, just like Ramona. There are beautiful statues and blown glass displayed throughout the property, but it’s run down. Weeds grow lazily between art displays. A wedding is happening, or maybe a quinceanera? It’s hard to tell. There are women walking around in beautiful dresses and men in suits. A pair of little girls run in and around the statues in matching white dresses, giving off a very Alice in Wonderland vibe.

Place

Rashelica Winery & Art Garden

17948 CA-67, San Diego

We order a flight of wine and a charcuterie board; $50 later we are presented with five club crackers and a few small pieces of cheese paired with a dab of what appears to be jelly. The wine is mediocre, but the sun is hanging low in the sky, causing the mountainous backdrop to glitter. Large Cypress trees shield the property from the road, creating a magical setting. We spend an hour walking around the winery, marveling at the art and the beautiful view.

Rashelica Winery is confusing and quirky, just like Ramona. There are beautiful statues and blown glass displayed throughout the property, but it’s run down.

The sky is growing dark, and I am ready to head back down the hill into town. Before I leave, I ask Cori how she feels about becoming a Ramonian. She pauses before answering. “I think a lot of people thought I would not like living up here. But I am absolutely in love with it every single day. It’s good for my soul. I have never felt more at peace.”

  • * * *

Early Sunday morning, I decide to make one last trip to Ramona to visit Farmstand 67. Dozens of locals have told me that it is a must-see. The Farmstand is located just past A Touch from Above, a five-acre camp ground where you can rent prayer cabins for $45 a night, and just before the Lemurian Fellowship, a 60-acre property where followers believe in the order of Mu. The farmstand sits on eight acres and sells all matter of water-wise plants: succulents, Mediterraneans, and houseplants. It also sells locally grown organic fruits, veggies, honey, and juices. I park in the lot in front of the chicken coop, next to a Kia Soul with a bumper sticker that reads “Socialism Sucks.”

Place

Farmstand 67

16827 CA-67, San Diego

Owner Carol Leap is busy planting spring and summer vegetables in a raised garden bed. Leap started off as an art major at Cal State San Bernardino before switching her major to English. Five years ago, she quit teaching to open the Farmstand. She uses her art background in everything you see on her property. The onsite greenhouse was built using recycled materials. Its oversized door was once an old produce table. The lights hanging overheard are made from old wine barrels and recycled oversized light bulbs purchased from a North Park restaurant. The fiberglass roofing material came from a nursery in Escondido when it went out of business. Old railroad ties act as walkways and retaining walls. Although she doesn’t look like one, Carol Leap is a hippie in the truest sense of the word.

Carol and her husband Kevin moved to Ramona from Los Angeles 20 years ago in the hopes of providing an idyllic childhood for their kids. They wanted their children to learn life lessons not readily available in an urban setting. “We wanted them to be outside in the dirt, playing,” says Leap. “We wanted to give them a farm life experience. Growing up, they were active in 4H. We had goats, we had pigs, we had rabbits, a few chickens. Nothing too serious, just enough so that they could learn the cycle of life.”

When the kids grew up and moved away, Carol decided to cultivate their acreage. At first, her vision was simple: grow an orchard and open a fruit stand to sell organic produce to neighbors. “We wanted to do the easiest thing we could grow that does not take up a lot of time. So, we started with fruit trees. We planted about 100 .” Today, Carol invites Ramona farmers to sell their overstock from her Farmstand. “Everything [we sell] is local. I think the furthest-away products we have are from a Fallbrook farm.”

Leap says that her husband still works full-time, “because someone has to make money.” The stand “is lot of work but you know, it’s good to be busy. It’s good to have something to look forward to. It keeps us sane.” And she has big plans for the nursery’s future. “I want this to be a gathering place, where people say, ‘Meet me at Farmstand 67!’ I want to give people a local shopping experience and the opportunity to taste everything locally.”

What Carol and Kevin don’t plan on ever doing is leaving. “What I love about Ramona is the diversity of the people here and the things you can grow. I know they say Poway is the country in the city, but I think that describes Ramona, too. The value you get for the amount of space, and this beautiful environment, that is what I love the most!”

When asked if she feels the conservative Ramona stereotype still holds up, Leap responds, “It’s funny, because a customer that walked in here recently from the city of San Diego said, ‘You know, I really love Ramona. Everyone here is so great. But I also notice that there are people here who don’t like us.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, we are not one of those.’ Yes, the town is still very conservative, but I think it’s changing. New diverse families are moving in. I think it’s great.”

As I head back into San Diego, I have new perspective on Ramona: I am in love with it. Back home, I check out Ramona properties on Redfin. There is a four-acre property with a three-bedroom, two-bath home for $595,200. “Let’s buy it!” I urge my husband. “We can get a couple of donkeys and a few of those hipster Highland cows.”

“You can barely manage our dogs, and we both hate yardwork,” he says.

He has a point.


Read Sharon Doubiago's 1994 five-part Reader story on Ramona.

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Mid-pose, an energetic goat named Pixie jumps on my back.
Mid-pose, an energetic goat named Pixie jumps on my back.

As Lakeside fades in my rearview and Ramona’s foothills loom in before me, I inhale my surroundings. Despite 20 years of living in San Diego, my Midwestern heart has yet to normalize the Western movie set backdrop that flies past my window. I am struck by the same thought every time: Ramona is the most underrated community in San Diego County.

Many San Diegans make the drive to Ramona for one reason: Potato Chip Rock. On Saturday mornings, cars line the side of the 67 as Lululemon-clad hikers trek up Mount Woodson. At the summit, they pose atop the dangerously thin rock, which has been tagged 104k times on Instagram. Most of them are oblivious to the fact that Mount Woodson is named after a prominent Confederate soldier: Dr. Marshall Clay Woodson, a dentist who settled in Ramona back in 1895.

Most of them are oblivious to the fact that Ramona is named after a bi-racial heroine from a novel with the same name published in 1884. Author Helen Hunt Jackson wanted to expose the genocide and rampant land theft occurring in Southern California against Native Americans; she hoped Ramona would have the same cultural impact as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. However, the public turned out to be far more enamored with the novel’s star-crossed love story than the plight of the Southern California’s Native people. The novel’s success sent the nation into a dizzying Ramona spiral: tourists visited SoCal in droves, and it seemed like every floundering Southern California town named restaurants, streets, festivals, and events in honor of Jackson’s hero. The city of Ramona was born in 1886 via a 3200-acre parcel of land originally used for sheep and purchased by Milton Santee, who hoped the name would lure new settlers. It did.

Ramona still has a frontier quality. It is where San Diegans move when they want their own slice of land. Those girls in middle school with the horse posters in their lockers? They are probably living in Ramona now on a couple of acres. It is one of the only communities in San Diego where it is not unusual to see people on horseback. Ramona’s local Albertsons sells carrots in 25-pound bags marketed for horses. The local brewery, Smoking Cannon, names their beers after Civil War weapons.

Driving down Main Street on a Thursday night, I count a handful of oversized Trump flags affixed to pickup trucks. An abundance of muscle cars and antique Fords rev their engines as they rip down the road. (I also spy several old VW Bugs; this is still SoCal, after all.) As I continue, I realize that I am driving through a car show: locals sit in folding chairs as vintage cars whip past. Sticky-faced kids chase one another, clutching popsicles purchased from a vendor selling frozen treats from a cart he rolls through the crowd. There is enough red, white, and blue apparel on display that it feels like the Fourth of July instead of an average Thursday night in May.

Driving down Main Street on a Thursday night, I count a handful of oversized Trump flags affixed to pick-up trucks. An abundance of muscle cars and antique Fords rev their engines as they rip down the road.

The marquee for Ramona’s Mainstage advertises midget wrestling, as well as an upcoming concert by The Red Hot Cholo Peppers and a meeting of The American Liberty Forum. I pass it and pull into the parking lot for The Barn restaurant. I’m here for their weekly line-dancing lessons. Across the street is a mural depicting a woman riding a turkey and proclaiming, “Welcome to Ramona.” In the parking lot, a young woman is sitting in the backseat of a dented sedan with her legs dangling out of the passenger side door. She struggles to pull her knee-high cowboy boots over a pair of skin-tight jeans. Once they’re on her feet, she hops out of the car, slams the door with a squeak, and bends down to check herself in the side mirror before heading inside.

The Barn is packed. At the bar, patrons sit elbow to elbow. The crowd is diverse: families with kids, groups of twenty-somethings, older couples, and gray-haired men in wide-brimmed cowboy hats. A waitress sporting bleach blonde hair, full sleeve tattoos down to her fingers, and a set of jet-black false eyelashes calls me “hon” as she takes my order for a hazy IPA.

Place

Barn Restaurant

344 Main Street, Ramona

A teenage girl sits at a table to my right, a pointy paper birthday hat perched atop her head. Her hair is dyed electric blue, and she wears fishnet stockings and a baby doll dress. It’s quite a contrast to all the denim and flannel around her; still, when the DJ announces her birthday from the stage, the crowd happily serenades her, and she grins and giggles before resuming her natural teenage scowl. The goateed DJ , who wears flip flops and not boots, teaches the crowd a line dance. “Left, right, left, right, left, rock back, right, left, right, left, right,” he prompts. The dancers practice one time before he sets the dance to music. A little girl in a cowboy hat drags a young boy around by his arm. She twirls him to the right, then to the left before settling down on the edge of the stage to watch the other dancers. An older lady wearing stonewashed denim with bedazzled back pockets struggles to keep up. She is off the beat but does not seem flustered.

Kaitlyn Maracle is out on the dance floor, all smiles and rhythm. A weekly visitor to the Barn, she wears yoga pants and a green tank top, her wavy brown hair tied back in a sweaty ponytail. When I ask if she is local, she laughs. “I mean, I live up the road, but no; I am from La Jolla. Growing up, I had never been to Ramona or heard of Ramona. I moved here for my horses” — in 2020, shortly after graduating from Cal Poly SLO. “My friends don’t get it. They are like, ‘Why do you live there?’ I mean, I am paying the same rent I paid down in San Diego, but I have horses. I can afford my horses out here, which you cannot do anywhere closer to the ocean.” If it were up to Maracle, she would keep Ramona a secret, but alas. “Everyone is moving here. There is soooooo much more traffic now. I mean, we only have one street, Main Street, to come in and out of. This is a small town. It’s not made for how many people are coming out here. Everyone is starting to find out about Ramona!” she exclaims in exasperation. She looks past me and out at the dance floor as the DJ starts a new song. She cannot resist. Back to the dance floor she goes, cowboy boots clicking along to the beat.

  • * * *

The next night, I zig-zag down Wildcat Canyon Road just past the southern border of Ramona to the Barona Drags, located on the Barona Indian Reservation. The one-eighth mile strip seems ancient, but the Teslas waiting to race on it are anything but. A man to my right is wearing overalls over a flannel shirt, and a cowboy hat that shadows his deep brown eyes. A Duck Dynasty-style goatee reaches the middle of his chest. The smell of cheese fries and gasoline fills the air. Five young men make bets on the cars as they shotgun Coors lights from a cooler at their feet; the loudest of them speaks with a twang and wears camel-colored cowboy boots with an aggressive point and slight heel. Their buzzcuts say they are military. They whoop and holler as the cars speed past them. A couple of little boys play tag on a grassy patch near the bleachers, killing time before their dad’s race is announced — at which point, they clamber up the stairs to their grandpa to cheer their dad on. They high-five when he wins, then back down the bleachers they go.

Place

Barona Drag Strip

1750 Wildcat Canyon Road, Lakeside

Racer Cole Thomas is a fan favorite. When his vehicle enters the line-up in a haze of smoke, the crowd goes nuts. Later, I find him in the parking lot and ask what he is driving.

“A 1972 Chevy c10 with a small block chevy 350 motor and a Weiand 1777 supercharger, 10 to 1 compression with forged aluminum pistons.”

I nod my head, pretending to understand. To be honest, I am more interested in his badass old timey race suit and waxed handlebar mustache than the details of his car.

Kaitlyn Maracle (middle) is out on the dance floor at The Barn, all smiles and rhythm.

The 41-year-old Cole grew up in Ramona, and is a self-proclaimed gearhead. He comes out to the Drag’s street-legal races every chance he gets. “I keep coming back because I like to beat people with my piece of junk. Taking a piece of junk and beating someone who just bought something [expensive] — that is always cool,” he says with a chuckle before placing his helmet back on to line up for another race.

Noting his safety gear, I ask, “Have you seen anyone get injured out here?”

“Not while I have been here, but last season they had two pretty bad wrecks. One was a life flight. Some girl cracked her skull. She was in a Pontiac Trans Am, I think.”

“Does your family worry about you?”

“Nah,” he says, with an animated shrug, “My wife usually comes. My parents are here now. I usually have a whole crew watching. They bring me hot dogs and stuff.”

Apart from Cole’s rebuilt Chevy, the other hit of the night is a beat-up Honda minivan that spins its wheels and revs its engine before each of its races. The timer clocks its last ride at the grocery-getting speed of 58 miles per hour. One of the military guys in front of us shouts, “Look out racers, here comes Karen,” and the crowd erupts into a roar of laughter.

The driver is 18-year-old Bryce Gibson from Scripps Ranch. A couple of his friends are racing as well — only their cars are supped up and customized. “This is all I have,” explains Bryce. “I just don’t have the money to put into a different car. I race this almost 100% because it’s funny. And it’s fun to come out here to race, even though I always lose. I think the fastest time I’ve gotten is 65 mph.”

  • * * *

The next morning, I leave my La Mesa home at 8 am, hair still wet, to head to San Diego Country Estates, located in the southeastern portion of Ramona. I am picking up my friend Cori; she lives a short ten minutes from my destination. Google maps clocks my travel time at 41 minutes, but fails to account for the delay caused by an oversized turkey crossing Ramona Oaks Road, so it’s 8:42 when I pull up to Cori’s door. She moved to Ramona back in December after being outbid on a handful of condos in San Carlos and La Mesa. They sold above asking price, all in the low-to-mid-500s. When she found the place she now calls home, she fell in love. It was comparatively large, featured two oversized balconies with mountain views, and was priced $100,000 less than the other places on which she’d bid. When I heard she’d bought in Ramona, my first response was, “All the way out there?” I wasn’t alone in the sentiment. Says Cori, “My family acted like I was moving out of state! I don’t think a single person said, “Wow! That is super exciting!’ Everyone was so focused on how far away it was.” (With reason. Cori is social. She likes going out, having people over, and eating at swanky restaurants. She once told me that she would not date a man if he lived east of La Mesa.)

Cori’s condo sits in the San Vincente Valley, surrounded by mountains. The area’s earliest inhabitants were the Yuman Indians, who foraged for acorns and hunted small game here. When I ring her doorbell, she greets me with a cup of coffee. She wears yoga pants and an oversized off-the-shoulder tee. Her cropped blonde hair is perfectly styled. Her place smells like mountains and fresh coffee.

“They should bottle this aroma,” I tell her in earnest.

The one-eighth mile strip at Barona Drags seems ancient, but the Teslas waiting to race on it are anything but.

Cori nods, adding, “When I wake up each day, I open every sliding glass door and window to let that air in. I love it! I take Ollie out” — Ollie is her teacup chihuahua — “to the trailhead behind our community, and everything is so green and lush. There is dirt and nature, and I can hear birds.” Her view is postcard-worthy. Outside her dining room window, the sun beats down on a boulder-strewn mountain, bathing it in a pink and orange wash of sunshine. I am tempted to take a seat on her balcony to enjoy my coffee with a view, but we are meeting friends at Blackledge Farms and have only 15 minutes to get there.

  • * * *

Blackledge Farms sits on eight acres off San Vincente Road. Near a pasture dotted with fluffy alpacas, Melissa Wagner sits at a table, all smiles and sunshine, checking people in for this morning’s session of goat yoga. When my friends Nicole and Kelly arrive, her husband Matt lends me a yoga mat and ushers us to a shaded canopy-covered spot across from the goat pens. The attendees appear to be non-locals. There is a middle-aged couple, a group of older ladies, what appears to be a mother/daughter combo, a twenty-something couple who may or may not be on a first date, and two thirty-somethings in neon sport bras, patterned yoga pants, and full makeup. They are already posing for photos.

Place

Blackledge Farms

2377 San Vicente Road, San Diego

Melissa leads a relaxing yoga session while her goats wander around us. Matt hands out handfuls of animal crackers for those brave enough to lure them over. Mid -pose, an energetic goat named Pixie jumps on my back. Another pounces on my friend Kelly, who laughs in delight. The couple, who may or may not be on their first date, are much more focused on the goats than the yoga. No big deal, Melissa explains: “If you want to just pet the goats, you can do that too,”

Melissa and Matt, who adorably refer to themselves as M-squared, opened their farm for yoga classes during the pandemic. They bought their Ramona property in January of 2020. Melissa grew up in the South Bay, while Matt comes from a cattle family in the Midwest. Melissa says, “We love it here! I have always been a horse girl. I think that is why Ramona appealed to me.”

Adds Matt, “Ramona is the biggest small town in San Diego. It’s the closet you can get to the country anywhere in San Diego, or even California. I have lived in the Central Valley and Northern California, and Ramona, it’s just different. Everyone genuinely cares about one another”

Melissa nods in agreement before gushing, “We are surrounded by so many natural preserves that Ramona has a little bit of something for everyone. It has that country feel. I like the smallness of it. Only in Ramona will you see posts on the neighborhood Facebook page that say, ‘Hey, someone’s cow is loose!’ I love that,” she says with a laugh.

Before class ends, Matt brings out baby goats for attendees to snuggle. A pint-sized, fainting goat falls asleep in Cori’s arms. Matt encourages Kelly to place an animal cracker in her own mouth and feed the goats. She bravely obliges, and a spotted goat approaches and removes the treat from between her lips.

We head to our cars, refreshed and happy to have not been pooped on by any goats. Matt and Melissa walk us out and give us lunch recommendations.

“You have to try the cinnamon roll at the Ramona Café.” Matt urges.

Adds Melissa, “It’s so good. They were on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

My mouth waters at the suggestion. When we pull out of the lot, I turn to Cori and say, “That’s what I call a perfect morning,” Three activities in, and I am already falling for Ramona.

  • * * *

We don’t get the cinnamon roll, because we have only an hour to get to the Oasis Camel Dairy on the other side of town. So we opt for deli sandwiches at Ramona Family Naturals. I purchase a chicken salad sandwich that sets me back $13. When I complain about the cost, Cori explains, “They are the only organic food place in town, so they can get away with that.” We sit at tables on their patio facing Main Street. A woman wearing an American flag tank top with a matching hat strolls by. Even her shoes have stars-and-stripes laces. A couple one table over is discussing chicken feed. “Welcome to Ramona!” Cori says with a laugh.

Racer Cole Thomas is a fan favorite. When his vehicle enters the line-up in a haze of smoke, the crowd goes nuts.

Oasis Camel Diary sits on the border of Ramona near Julian. I am expecting to join a small tour with a handful of attendees, but, like the Barn on Thursday night, the Dairy is packed. We take our seats in a makeshift outdoor auditorium to watch Nancy Riegler’s presentation. I assume the topic will be camels; however, she is holding a parrot. Nancy has a late-night talk show host’s personality. Addressing the crowd, she explains how she and her husband Gil met on the state fair circuit; she with her exotic birds and he with his camels. They fell in love, combined forces, and moved from a one-acre property in Ramona to a 34-acre property in Ramona, which they later expanded to 42 acres. The pair worked together at fairs across America until Covid hit.“Turns out, turkey races are non-essential!” she explains, and the crowd loves it. She goes on to explain that she and Gil pivoted into opening their property so guests could visit their animals during the pandemic. They have been operating successfully ever since. On weekends, large groups gather to get up-close views of the camels. The pair make camel dairy products and host private tours.

Place

Oasis Camel Dairy

26757 Old Julian Highway, Ramona

After the show, which includes a bird show and some information on how they milk their camels, Nancy invites guests to feed their sheep and camels. For an extra fee, guests may ride a camel. We opt for feeding. Cori, Nicole, Kelly, and I are each allotted two apples on sticks. One by one, the curious camels swivel their necks over the gate before gingerly biting down on their snacks. A baby camel eyeballs us from behind its mother. It’s surreal to see these exotic humped creatures here in the San Diego backcountry.

While groups of tourists raid the gift shop, buying camel dairy chocolates, soaps, and lotions, Nancy sits behind the cash register, her curly light brown hair tucked behind her ears. She wears a red polo shirt with a logo advertising the dairy. “I grew up in North Hollywood.” she tells me, “When I was little, I wanted to be one of the Sea World Girls, but I have brown hair and I don’t like to swim. Back in the day, all the Sea World girls were blonde.”

Riegler got an associate degree in exotic animal training and management in Riverside. Upon graduation, she was offered a job at the San Diego Wild Animal Park as trainer and entertainer. She moved to Ramona in 1984, sight unseen. She needed to rent a room somewhere that had a stable to keep her horse, and Ramona was the closest, most affordable location near the Wild Animal Park. “I did not research Ramona, I did not know what I was getting into, and it turned out to be this really magical decision.” Nancy says, noting that “there is a whole different class of people that live up here now. It used to be more blue-collar. Everyone had two acres with their ducks in kiddie pools and a horse they got for 200 bucks at an auction. Now, we have people with four acres and a mini vineyard, and a Tesla parked in their driveway. I don’t like the term ‘yuppie.’ We just have people in different tax brackets now.”

The other hit of the night is a beat-up Honda minivan that spins its wheels and revs its engine before each of its races. The driver is 18-year-old Bryce Gibson from Scripps Ranch.

I ask if she preferred the old Ramona. Nancy shakes her head. “The longer I am here, the more it appeals to me. It is getting bigger. But I still go into the restaurants, and I know the waiters and waitresses. I know my bank tellers and the hardware store guy. Nothing beats a small town. What we have all gone through as a society over the last two years has brought that home more significantly. Being in the open air, less crowded, having more personal relationships, I think people are valuing that more than ever before. And that’s Ramona. The people who move up here still want clean air and lots of room. They are on an adventure. It’s still the same Ramona; it’s just that we have nicer restaurants now. We have businesses that are thriving that just would not have survived here 20 years ago.”

Speaking of surviving: when the pandemic hit, Nancy feared she might have to leave Ramona. Prior to the shutdown, the couple booked so many fairs that they were able to buy the house behind their property and add eight acres. Then boom, all their work was canceled, and they had to return deposits. “It was rough. Luckily for us, it rained a lot, so we did not have to pay for hay. We just let the animals out to graze. I actually YouTubed how to gut and cook ground squirrel!” Today, they aren’t making as much as they once did on the fair circuit, but hosting visitors on their land has worked. They still agree that they never want to move from Ramona. “It’s just magically beautiful,” Nancy says with a sigh, “I’m really proud to live here. I feel like I accidentally stumbled into the most wonderful life!”

Is it becoming less conservative? Nancy ponders and says, “I wouldn’t say it’s all Republicans. What I do see is that people here have a real love of country. It’s a lot more culturally diverse than it has ever been. It used to be very white out here. Now I am seeing a lot more Hispanics, Asians, and African-Americans, and no one is feeling like they are sticking out like sore thumbs. I really like that.”

  • * * *

Back in town, we head to the Turkey Inn. I’ve been told that a life-sized portrait of Donald J. Trump hangs above the bar. The bar itself dates back to 1926; the neon turkey over the door, to 1937. Once, Ramona was known as the turkey capital of the world, and the town is still rife with the feathered fowl. There are so many of them that Ramona has its own turkey hunting season, running mid-fall through January. As we walk through the door, every eye darts in our direction. I nervously fiddle with the collar of my shirt. The bartender’s hair is pulled into a messy bun at the nape of her neck. Her belly hangs out of a tight grey crop top. A black lace choker is secured tightly around her neck. She gives off the vibe of someone uninterested in taking anyone’s shit.

Place

Turkey Inn

716 Main Street, San Diego

“Everyone is staring at us. Do you think that it’s because we aren’t locals?” Cori asks me.

“You are a local,” I remind her.

She laughs, and with that, I turn to the table behind me, where two couples in their mid-50s are drinking draft beer.

Oasis Camel Diary sits on the border of Ramona near Julian.

“Are you guys from Ramona?” They nod. They seem friendly, so I continue. “I was told there was a life-sized Trump portrait hanging behind the bar. What happened to it?”

The biggest guy, a bearded man wearing a windbreaker, answers flatly, “They took it down. He’s not our president anymore.”

“Oh,” I say. “Why didn’t they put Biden up there?”

He doesn’t bother answering. He shakes his head and turns back to his table.

“She doesn’t know she’s in Ramona,” his friend quips. They erupt into laughter.

I turn back to my own table. Cori is making small talk with the guy next to us. His face is weatherbeaten, and he wears a bright red shirt with the sleeves cut off and cargo shorts. I ask him if he is a regular at this bar. He tilts his head back and laughs.

“I don’t think I am a regular at any bar. I just came here because it’s a redneck bar and I wanted to watch NASCAR.” He goes on to explain that He just moved to Ramona a few months ago from Santee. He is renting a room on a two-acre property. “It’s peaceful, up here,” he says, keeping an eye on the NASCAR race on the TV.

After our drinks, we leave. It’s getting late, and Cori wants to check out one of the local wineries. We decide on Rashelica Winery, located near Mount Woodson.

  • * * *

The winery is confusing and quirky, just like Ramona. There are beautiful statues and blown glass displayed throughout the property, but it’s run down. Weeds grow lazily between art displays. A wedding is happening, or maybe a quinceanera? It’s hard to tell. There are women walking around in beautiful dresses and men in suits. A pair of little girls run in and around the statues in matching white dresses, giving off a very Alice in Wonderland vibe.

Place

Rashelica Winery & Art Garden

17948 CA-67, San Diego

We order a flight of wine and a charcuterie board; $50 later we are presented with five club crackers and a few small pieces of cheese paired with a dab of what appears to be jelly. The wine is mediocre, but the sun is hanging low in the sky, causing the mountainous backdrop to glitter. Large Cypress trees shield the property from the road, creating a magical setting. We spend an hour walking around the winery, marveling at the art and the beautiful view.

Rashelica Winery is confusing and quirky, just like Ramona. There are beautiful statues and blown glass displayed throughout the property, but it’s run down.

The sky is growing dark, and I am ready to head back down the hill into town. Before I leave, I ask Cori how she feels about becoming a Ramonian. She pauses before answering. “I think a lot of people thought I would not like living up here. But I am absolutely in love with it every single day. It’s good for my soul. I have never felt more at peace.”

  • * * *

Early Sunday morning, I decide to make one last trip to Ramona to visit Farmstand 67. Dozens of locals have told me that it is a must-see. The Farmstand is located just past A Touch from Above, a five-acre camp ground where you can rent prayer cabins for $45 a night, and just before the Lemurian Fellowship, a 60-acre property where followers believe in the order of Mu. The farmstand sits on eight acres and sells all matter of water-wise plants: succulents, Mediterraneans, and houseplants. It also sells locally grown organic fruits, veggies, honey, and juices. I park in the lot in front of the chicken coop, next to a Kia Soul with a bumper sticker that reads “Socialism Sucks.”

Place

Farmstand 67

16827 CA-67, San Diego

Owner Carol Leap is busy planting spring and summer vegetables in a raised garden bed. Leap started off as an art major at Cal State San Bernardino before switching her major to English. Five years ago, she quit teaching to open the Farmstand. She uses her art background in everything you see on her property. The onsite greenhouse was built using recycled materials. Its oversized door was once an old produce table. The lights hanging overheard are made from old wine barrels and recycled oversized light bulbs purchased from a North Park restaurant. The fiberglass roofing material came from a nursery in Escondido when it went out of business. Old railroad ties act as walkways and retaining walls. Although she doesn’t look like one, Carol Leap is a hippie in the truest sense of the word.

Carol and her husband Kevin moved to Ramona from Los Angeles 20 years ago in the hopes of providing an idyllic childhood for their kids. They wanted their children to learn life lessons not readily available in an urban setting. “We wanted them to be outside in the dirt, playing,” says Leap. “We wanted to give them a farm life experience. Growing up, they were active in 4H. We had goats, we had pigs, we had rabbits, a few chickens. Nothing too serious, just enough so that they could learn the cycle of life.”

When the kids grew up and moved away, Carol decided to cultivate their acreage. At first, her vision was simple: grow an orchard and open a fruit stand to sell organic produce to neighbors. “We wanted to do the easiest thing we could grow that does not take up a lot of time. So, we started with fruit trees. We planted about 100 .” Today, Carol invites Ramona farmers to sell their overstock from her Farmstand. “Everything [we sell] is local. I think the furthest-away products we have are from a Fallbrook farm.”

Leap says that her husband still works full-time, “because someone has to make money.” The stand “is lot of work but you know, it’s good to be busy. It’s good to have something to look forward to. It keeps us sane.” And she has big plans for the nursery’s future. “I want this to be a gathering place, where people say, ‘Meet me at Farmstand 67!’ I want to give people a local shopping experience and the opportunity to taste everything locally.”

What Carol and Kevin don’t plan on ever doing is leaving. “What I love about Ramona is the diversity of the people here and the things you can grow. I know they say Poway is the country in the city, but I think that describes Ramona, too. The value you get for the amount of space, and this beautiful environment, that is what I love the most!”

When asked if she feels the conservative Ramona stereotype still holds up, Leap responds, “It’s funny, because a customer that walked in here recently from the city of San Diego said, ‘You know, I really love Ramona. Everyone here is so great. But I also notice that there are people here who don’t like us.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, we are not one of those.’ Yes, the town is still very conservative, but I think it’s changing. New diverse families are moving in. I think it’s great.”

As I head back into San Diego, I have new perspective on Ramona: I am in love with it. Back home, I check out Ramona properties on Redfin. There is a four-acre property with a three-bedroom, two-bath home for $595,200. “Let’s buy it!” I urge my husband. “We can get a couple of donkeys and a few of those hipster Highland cows.”

“You can barely manage our dogs, and we both hate yardwork,” he says.

He has a point.


Read Sharon Doubiago's 1994 five-part Reader story on Ramona.

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