california, Camping, Hiking, Historical sites, history, Museums, outdoors, Travel, Uncategorized, Vacation, writing

San Diego Adventures: Beyond the Beach

For many, San Diego, California evokes images of beaches, craft beer, and Mexican food joints on every block. And while this is totally true- some of the best Mexican food with craft beer I’ve ever had was in San Diego- there is a lot more to do than hang out at the beach with your tacos. Though that doesn’t entirely sound like a bad day.

My sister and her family live in La Jolla, which is a trendy community within San Diego. Torrey Pines State Reserve, ranked as one of the prettiest hiking spots in California is a quick drive from her place, as is La Jolla Cove, a popular spot for kayaking and snorkeling. The kids and I try to make it down a couple times a year just to visit with their cousins, and we will sometimes hit some of La Jolla’s natural attractions while down there. San Diego is also one of the spots where I’ve been sent for work-related events. Not that there’s much time for sight-seeing then, but there are worse places to go for conferences, so I shouldn’t complain. After all, this is when having the best breweries is convenient- after hours of course.

If you’re not so into beaches and beer, never fear. There is plenty to do in San Diego and its surrounding communities, and as sure as the sun shines bright on the bruhs chilling on the beach, there is an activity for everyone. For the sake of this post, I’ll share two fun places Sami and I visited on our vacation this week that are inland and not on many top ten visitor lists.

Mission Trails Regional Park

Chris the Puppy has a fun day at Mission Trails

Mission Trails Regional Park encompasses 7220 acres of land located eight miles from Downtown San Diego, between the communities of Tierrasanta, San Carlos, and Santee. There are over 60 miles of hiking trails, which includes several peaks, and a campground at Kumeyaay Lake. Unfortunately at time of writing, we are still in the middle of the Covid19 crisis, and the visitor center was closed. The Mission Trails Visitor and Interpretive Center offers a great view of the Mission Gorge, and has exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the area. Hopefully Covid19 will get under control and we can check it out on our next visit.

Samantha and I hiked the Father Junipero Serra Trail to Old Mission Dam. The trail is a fully paved road that follows the San Diego River up to the dam and to Kumeyaay Lake. There are several side trails of varying degrees of difficulty that one can take to extend the adventure. The afternoon Sami and I went was a warm one, and the road offered very little shade, so I was already pushing my luck with my cranky camper to get to the dam. One day I’d like to explore the strenuous Climbers Loop for a good workout or the Grinding Rocks Trail for some large boulders.

The trek to the dam was hot and exposed, but it was a flat, otherwise easy trail. The scenery surrounding us, with the river on our left and high cliffs to the right was really stunning, and not what I typically think of for San Diego. We took a few water stops under the shade of the few oaks along the side of the road, and after about an hour, made it to the dam. The Old Mission Dam is now a designated National Historic Landmark, as well as a registered state historic landmark. It was built in 1803 to provide water for Mission San Diego de Alcala.

Stopping for our Subway lunch and the prospect of some water play refreshed Sami’s spirits. She, as well as the other kids on the trail, had some fun watching the tadpoles swimming in the still water areas of the dam. The kids also spotted a few fish; indeed there was a fisherman who caught what appeared to be a decently-sized trout. After spending about an hour at the dam, we decided to head back to the car. By then the afternoon had cooled off slightly, and a strong breeze blew through the canyon, which felt good as we hiked back.

There is a so much more to do and see at Mission Trails Regional Park. The highest peak in San Diego, Cowles Mountain, is within the park’s boundaries and is a popular hiking spot. There is also a 5-Peak Challenge, developed to encourage hikers to hike more than just the overpopulated Cowles and get on some different peaks. The five peaks in the challenge include Cowles, as well as North Fortuna, South Fortuna, Kwaay Paay, and Pyles Peak. Total distance for all five peaks is about 15.7 miles, with a cumulative elevation gain of 4249 feet. It’s no Baden-Powell or Cucamonga, but it looks like a lot of fun. One day, I plan on accepting the challenge, but that too is for another trip.

Lake Poway

Lake Poway is a reservoir nestled in the hills of Poway, California, built in 1972 to provide water to the residents of the city of Poway, located within San Diego County. There is a ton of recreational opportunity here at this municipal park. In addition to some great hiking trails, there is boating and fishing Wednesday-Sunday, an archery range, and the usual park amenities- play areas, concessions, and plenty of green space.

Probably the most popular hike here is the Mt. Woodson Trail, which takes hikers up to the famed Potato Chip Rock, an unusual rock formation that thinly hangs over a small cliff like a potato chip. There are several trails to get to Potato Chip Rock, and it is part of the Six Pack of Peaks Challenge. Sami and I began the trail from Lake Poway to Potato Chip Rock; unfortunately Sami was done after about a mile. She wasn’t feeling the hike, and at about 7.5 miles out and back, I figured it wasn’t going to be worth the effort getting her up the mountain on this trip. I’ve added it to my list of must-do activities for one of my relatively frequent visits to the San Diego area. Instead, we hung out by the lake, and enjoyed watching the wild bunnies along the Lake Poway Trail, which was very pleasant by the water.

There’s no shortage of activities for outdoor enthusiasts regardless of age of activity level at Lake Poway Recreation Area. And being just outside of the city of San Diego, it wasn’t as touristy. I would definitely recommend a trip to Lake Poway for outdoor adventure.

These are just two outdoor recreation areas that offer up an alternative to the famed beaches of San Diego. Just pick a happy trail and get outside.

Sami had a good time at Mission Trails after all. So did Chris the Puppy.

To plan your visit, check out

Mission Trails:

Lake Poway:

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