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Ramona’s Ballena Vista: A mansion in San Diego’s backcountry

Complete with regular barn and luxury barn

An arresting bannister that appears to have been grown, not made.
An arresting bannister that appears to have been grown, not made.

I tend to chide myself for going back to the same handful of coastal neighborhoods time and again in my efforts to dig up Unreal fodder. Then, once I’ve finished my chiding, I go right on back to those towns for more entries (see our two most recent entries — in La Jolla and Del Mar). But the truth is that I do try to mix things up and find fancy houses in places where they’re not always expected. We’ve been to Chula Vista a few times (and not just to the McMansions built over the last decade out east), and to deep East County enclaves like Descanso and Warner Springs. We’ve even been near my decidedly “real” neighborhood in Southeast San Diego.

One place we’ve never been, though, is Ramona, a 20,000-person exurb about 30 miles northeast of downtown. There are plenty of interesting houses, both in town and in the equestrian-themed San Diego Country Estates development a few miles farther east, including both million-dollar stock and structures originally erected as far back as 100 years ago then and cobbled onto in the ensuing decades. But it’s after we get out of the town center and onto the multi-acre estates that make up the bulk of San Diego’s backcountry that things get interesting.

So, let’s head out to “Ballena Vista, a stunning 170-acre estate perched high upon the hillside” about six miles (and at least six wineries) east of the town center. There, we’ll find a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath estate with 5000 square feet of living space in the main mansion, not counting the “guest house, three casitas, and five modular homes” spread across the property “for overnight guests and staff.”

We start our tour with an aerial shot of the main house: an oversized Tuscan-style villa with wings branching off a circular main hall, a grand entry staircase, and tightly-manicured lawns flanking the back and sides of the house — except for the side with the pool. An oak-lined private drive leads us in from the street and past a private pond surrounded by fenced pastures, where the horses we’ll talk about later are presumably free to roam. Moving along, we see a few shots of the pool and grounds. While not over-the-top luxurious in the fashion of some homes that attempt to ape resort-style pool decks, it’s still a pleasant space, with lots of green grass on which to entertain or simply lounge in the shade, avoiding the backcountry heat.

The estate, complete with regular barn and luxury barn.

Once we get inside, we’re greeted by an open foyer with a grand staircase curving around one side. I like the interesting mix of wood and stone on the floor forming a sunburst pattern, and what looks like twisted manzanita being used as the handrail balusters. Like the entry, the living room has vaulted ceilings that stretch up to the second floor. Unlike the entry, there’s a massive stone fireplace. From here, arched French doors lead us out to the pool deck — or we could head over to the billiards room for a different kind of pool game.

A round dining room offers seating for six and some pretty views across the valley (of which we presumably would own a large portion), but is otherwise unremarkable. The kitchen offers your typical luxury appointments, including a commercial range and massive copper hood, a refrigerator that blends into the cabinetry, and a farmhouse-style sink. What’s unusual is the center island – is it made of sealed wood planks? It’s hard to tell, but if so, it’s definitely an interesting choice.

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Next we see a bedroom with its own private balcony, and a bath with a huge soaking tub that’s also afforded serene vistas of the nearby valleys and the Laguna foothills beyond. This is all we get upstairs before jumping back down for another look at the billiards room, an outdoor kitchen with fireplace and covered dining area, and then an artist’s studio of sorts equipped with a sink and built-in desk. Also, bookshelves that — unlike those in so many staged photos of mansions we come across — are actually stocked with books.

That seems to be all we get of the main house before moving on to a brick structure that I assume is the primary guest house. It seems pleasant enough inside, with exposed log beams in the ceiling and more logs framing a doorway from the living room to kitchen — though they do look more decorative than structural in nature.

Our next shot is an aerial view of a massive equestrian facility, which includes both “a luxury eight-stall barn and a separate 38-stall barn.” I’m not sure what makes one of them more luxurious than the other, but I’ll take the listing’s word for it. There also seem to be shade structures built for each of a handful of corrals, something I’m sure the horses appreciate on blazing summer afternoons. We also see some of the 40 acres that have been planted with a variety of grapes — the listing tells us there’s plenty of room to expand the operation and even “convert existing structures into a first-rate winery.”

Looking inside one of the barns, we see that it’s covered in finished wood paneling from floor to ceiling. I’m guessing that this is the “luxury” barn, for the good horses. From here, we bounce around through another handful of drone shots showing us more barns, a private cul-de-sac, and what I assume are the rest of the guest casitas and the “expansive solar farm” that powers the property — including its seven wells, which can produce and store nearly a half-million gallons of water. (The listing tells us it’s the second-largest solar installation in the county.) More aerials follow, and show us just how massive 170 acres is. Tthere’s even a handy map to point out different sectors of the grounds and their current uses. I’m not sure whether we see it or not, but somewhere, there’s a quarter-mile race track for the horses.

Public records list a Cohn Family Trust based in La Jolla as the owners of Ballena Vista; it looks to have been at least 30 years since the property last changed hands. The ranch has been listed on and off since 2021, at one point carrying an asking price as high as $26 million. That makes the current listing at $17.5 million seem almost like a bargain!

26353 Old Julian Highway | Ramona, 92065

Current owner: Cohn Trust | Listing price: $17,500,000 | Beds: 3+ | Baths: 4+ | House size: 5000+ sq ft.

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An arresting bannister that appears to have been grown, not made.
An arresting bannister that appears to have been grown, not made.

I tend to chide myself for going back to the same handful of coastal neighborhoods time and again in my efforts to dig up Unreal fodder. Then, once I’ve finished my chiding, I go right on back to those towns for more entries (see our two most recent entries — in La Jolla and Del Mar). But the truth is that I do try to mix things up and find fancy houses in places where they’re not always expected. We’ve been to Chula Vista a few times (and not just to the McMansions built over the last decade out east), and to deep East County enclaves like Descanso and Warner Springs. We’ve even been near my decidedly “real” neighborhood in Southeast San Diego.

One place we’ve never been, though, is Ramona, a 20,000-person exurb about 30 miles northeast of downtown. There are plenty of interesting houses, both in town and in the equestrian-themed San Diego Country Estates development a few miles farther east, including both million-dollar stock and structures originally erected as far back as 100 years ago then and cobbled onto in the ensuing decades. But it’s after we get out of the town center and onto the multi-acre estates that make up the bulk of San Diego’s backcountry that things get interesting.

So, let’s head out to “Ballena Vista, a stunning 170-acre estate perched high upon the hillside” about six miles (and at least six wineries) east of the town center. There, we’ll find a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath estate with 5000 square feet of living space in the main mansion, not counting the “guest house, three casitas, and five modular homes” spread across the property “for overnight guests and staff.”

We start our tour with an aerial shot of the main house: an oversized Tuscan-style villa with wings branching off a circular main hall, a grand entry staircase, and tightly-manicured lawns flanking the back and sides of the house — except for the side with the pool. An oak-lined private drive leads us in from the street and past a private pond surrounded by fenced pastures, where the horses we’ll talk about later are presumably free to roam. Moving along, we see a few shots of the pool and grounds. While not over-the-top luxurious in the fashion of some homes that attempt to ape resort-style pool decks, it’s still a pleasant space, with lots of green grass on which to entertain or simply lounge in the shade, avoiding the backcountry heat.

The estate, complete with regular barn and luxury barn.

Once we get inside, we’re greeted by an open foyer with a grand staircase curving around one side. I like the interesting mix of wood and stone on the floor forming a sunburst pattern, and what looks like twisted manzanita being used as the handrail balusters. Like the entry, the living room has vaulted ceilings that stretch up to the second floor. Unlike the entry, there’s a massive stone fireplace. From here, arched French doors lead us out to the pool deck — or we could head over to the billiards room for a different kind of pool game.

A round dining room offers seating for six and some pretty views across the valley (of which we presumably would own a large portion), but is otherwise unremarkable. The kitchen offers your typical luxury appointments, including a commercial range and massive copper hood, a refrigerator that blends into the cabinetry, and a farmhouse-style sink. What’s unusual is the center island – is it made of sealed wood planks? It’s hard to tell, but if so, it’s definitely an interesting choice.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Next we see a bedroom with its own private balcony, and a bath with a huge soaking tub that’s also afforded serene vistas of the nearby valleys and the Laguna foothills beyond. This is all we get upstairs before jumping back down for another look at the billiards room, an outdoor kitchen with fireplace and covered dining area, and then an artist’s studio of sorts equipped with a sink and built-in desk. Also, bookshelves that — unlike those in so many staged photos of mansions we come across — are actually stocked with books.

That seems to be all we get of the main house before moving on to a brick structure that I assume is the primary guest house. It seems pleasant enough inside, with exposed log beams in the ceiling and more logs framing a doorway from the living room to kitchen — though they do look more decorative than structural in nature.

Our next shot is an aerial view of a massive equestrian facility, which includes both “a luxury eight-stall barn and a separate 38-stall barn.” I’m not sure what makes one of them more luxurious than the other, but I’ll take the listing’s word for it. There also seem to be shade structures built for each of a handful of corrals, something I’m sure the horses appreciate on blazing summer afternoons. We also see some of the 40 acres that have been planted with a variety of grapes — the listing tells us there’s plenty of room to expand the operation and even “convert existing structures into a first-rate winery.”

Looking inside one of the barns, we see that it’s covered in finished wood paneling from floor to ceiling. I’m guessing that this is the “luxury” barn, for the good horses. From here, we bounce around through another handful of drone shots showing us more barns, a private cul-de-sac, and what I assume are the rest of the guest casitas and the “expansive solar farm” that powers the property — including its seven wells, which can produce and store nearly a half-million gallons of water. (The listing tells us it’s the second-largest solar installation in the county.) More aerials follow, and show us just how massive 170 acres is. Tthere’s even a handy map to point out different sectors of the grounds and their current uses. I’m not sure whether we see it or not, but somewhere, there’s a quarter-mile race track for the horses.

Public records list a Cohn Family Trust based in La Jolla as the owners of Ballena Vista; it looks to have been at least 30 years since the property last changed hands. The ranch has been listed on and off since 2021, at one point carrying an asking price as high as $26 million. That makes the current listing at $17.5 million seem almost like a bargain!

26353 Old Julian Highway | Ramona, 92065

Current owner: Cohn Trust | Listing price: $17,500,000 | Beds: 3+ | Baths: 4+ | House size: 5000+ sq ft.

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