While the Pacific Ocean might be the leading lady of San Diego’s epic, coastal drama, the foothills to the east are packed with impressive supporting characters and hidden gems worthy of tasting, sipping and exploring.
While not for the inexperienced hiker, a trek up Iron Mountain is a worth the effort if you’re looking for stunning, panoramic views of Southern California. Serious hikers should also post a selfie from Potato Chip Rock, the photogenic formation atop Mount Woodson. For a more leisurely outdoor excursion, try hiking or biking around Lake Hodges. The Piedras Pintadas Trail is an easy 3.8-mile loop (when you include Bernardo Bay) which features Kumeyaay Indian rock art. To go even more wild, visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, an 1,800-acre open space preserve and animal sanctuary, where the animals roam in natural habitats. Private jeep tours take you up close to elephants, giraffes, cheetahs and more, and the famous tram circles around the entire property.
With temperatures climbing a few degrees warmer than the coast, the foothills are a perfect place to sample cold, craft beers. Stone World Bistro & Gardens offers tours of the famous brewer’s operation as well as an impressive indoor/outdoor restaurant, herb and vegetable garden, and even a tree tunnel.
Farther north, Escondido is home to several wineries open for tastings, including Orfila Vineyards & Winery, which uses most Italian and French varietals and boasts a tree-lined picnic area and family-friendly vibe. Foodies will appreciate a stop at The Wooden Spoon, a gourmet gastropub inside a former taco shop where chef Jesse Paul serves up duck confit, beer donuts with compressed melon and hops syrup and more. Cork and Craft is another foodie favorite in the area, with chef Philip Esteban at the helm, who trained under David Chang at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York. With a winery and brewery on site, it’s a one-stop shop for local flavor.