Travel | 11 comments
By Zdenko Kahlina
Round trip from San Diego to Palm Springs
Several years ago I was spending a week in San Diego on a business trip. During this trip I reserved one weekend to explore southern California and pay visit to Palm Springs and all the places in between. As usual, I didn’t choose the fastest way; instead I drove thru the national forest and some big mountains with twisty roads.
Zdenko on scenic Cuyamaca Highway
First stage was to get as close as possible to Palm Springs. Minimum time for the route I choose was 4.5 hours. This was a 300 km long journey and it may well take five or more hours if you stop for food or snacks on the way. Just like the more direct route from San Diego to Palm Springs — you could easily make this a two day or a LONG day journey with some key stops and detours on the way. Both the Mojave and Joshua Tree National Parks could be on your way.
There are plenty of road route options between San Diego and Palm Springs and there is no need to worry about traveling on the “lesser” roads. Depending upon your preferences you can take a couple of days to travel to Palm Springs or do it in a little over two hours by taking the Interstate highways. The fastest and shortest route is only about 200 kilometers. If you are doing this in the spring and want to see wildflowers I would suggest a different route. But to see some of the local area, I would suggest the route we did. There are a bunch of other routes as well (but they will take longer). The SR-79 route should take you about five hours (with stops for views and food).
Zdenko’s Tour of Southern California
From San Diego we took Highway 8 out of the city. We passed El Cajon, Lake Side, Alpine and other smaller places. At the junction with the state route 79 we made a left turn (north) and very soon we were driving thru the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. This road is also called Cuyamaca Highway. At this point we were entering into the mountains and quickly noticed how everything around us was changing. The outside temperature dropped as we were gaining in altitude.
First stop was at Lake Cuyamaca
Nice lake, and a very convenient stop in the mountains, about 20 minutes drive before Julian. Would have been nice if it wasn’t so hot. The restaurant there has a great lakeside view and serves their famous indigenous apple pie. Though we didn’t eat there, the pies sure looked good. There’s a general store attached to the restaurant.
In the Park, we made another short stop for some really, really, good bread at Dudley’s Bakery. After the brake, we continued our journey until we got into Julian and there we stopped again to check out this famous little gold-country town.
The Julian Trading Post
Julian is an historic gold mining town located approximately an hour east of San Diego. This is the premier mountain retreat in the county and is unique in that it has four seasons. Spring brings the blossoming of many flowers including daffodils, summer is perfect for hiking and star gazing, fall is famous for their apples and fall colors, and winter brings snowfalls and bright, crisp, “Christmassy” days.
Although famous for apples and their superb apple pie, one can enjoy this place all year round. Julian has become the center for visitors who wish to stay in the mountains but take day trips to the nearby casinos, the Anza Borrego Desert State Park and the coast. It has always been the B&B capital of Southern California, known for its romantic atmosphere. Specialty shops line the streets, attractions are unique, ranging from wineries to wolves. From the old time melodrama to the Grape Stomp Festa, Julian events are great for couples, families and groups.
When leaving this town, at the north end, we made a right turn onto Highway 78 towards Borrego Springs. In Julian, we were at the high altitude and the air was very pleasant. From Julian, the road started descending, and next time we made a stop to take a picture of some cactuses by the road – it was already 40+ degrees. At that time we were already “down” in the desert. Next town we checked was Borrego Springs.
In the Anza-Borrego desert
History is unfolding in a town already filled with its own unique historical milestones, Borrego Springs with the first placement of the Gomphotherium free standing art structures.These creatures lived in the area about 3 million years ago. Dennis Avery, land owner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs envisioned the idea of adding ‘free standing art’ to his property with original steel welded sculptures created by ‘Perris Jurassic Park’ owner/artist/welder Ricardo Breceda based in Perris, California.
The first record of a European in Borrego Valley was when Lieutenant Pedro Fages of the San Diego Presidio came in search of deserters in 1772. His pursuit led him northwest through the present town of Borrego Springs and up Coyote Canyon. This event was related by Kumeyaay Indians to members of the first Anza expedition, who camped at their village in March, 1774. The Spaniards called this village (and spring) just east of the Borrego Sink, San Gregorio. It is the location of the original Borrego Spring.
It was another hundred years before cattlemen began homesteading the Borrego Valley, in about 1875. The first successful well was dug in 1926, which quickly led to irrigation farming. By then, the town contained a post office, a small general store, and a gas station. The presence of both the Army and the Navy during World War II brought the first paved roads and electricity to Borrego Springs. After the war, developers subdivided the area, attempting to create a resort community by capitalizing on the tourism generated by the state park.
Art is close to the road
The town Borrego Springs was never incorporated and, therefore, has no mayor or other form of municipal government. Now history is unfolding in this town already filled with its own unique historical milestones. Borrego Springs now is the site of Gomphotherium free standing art structures. More information.
We didn’t spend too much time there as it was already very, very hot. We took Borrego Salton Seaway S22 route and at the Salton City we made a left turn on Highway 86 north. Driving by Salton Sea Lake was non-eventful except for a police patrol car that was checking for highway speeders (I was O.K. this time!) and we stopped at Mecca for the night. It was a hot night in the desert!
Private front yard in Palm Springs
Next morning, after the breakfast in our (nice) hotel we continued on a local road that goes in parallel with the busy Highway 86S (I think it was road 111) and later parallel to Redlands Highway 10. It goes thru the small towns Coachella, Indio, Palm Desert and Cathedral City. We were not in hurry, and driving was very pleasant, with loads of interesting sites to see. Vera and I were especially interested to se how people maintain their yards… in the desert!
Gun fight? Zdenko plays a cowboy…
We stopped in downtown Palm Springs for lunch, and quick window shopping. The town is very clean and full of bikers enjoying warm climate…
Rich in history and blessed with gorgeous weather, Palm Springs is a preferred destination of travelers from all over the world. Nestled at the base of the Mount San Jacinto Mountains, Palm Springs is known for its crystal blue skies, year-round sunshine, stunning landscape, palm tree lined streets and starry nights.
Entertainment for all ages, Palm Springs offers a wealth of indoor and outdoor activities. Soar to the top of Mount San Jacinto on the world famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, shop the many mid-century boutiques and art galleries located uptown and downtown, hike scenic trails in our majestic mountains, tour celebrity and mid-century modern homes, attend theatre performances, stroll through art and cultural museums, or simply relax by the sparkling pool.
Over 130 hotels and resorts are available including mid-century marvels, modest bungalows, historic bed and breakfasts, private villas and condos and luxury resorts. Palm Springs is also home to fine dining, quaint cafes, and family restaurants with a variety of cuisines and price ranges.
The Cahuilla maiden sculpture by Doug Hyde (Bronze, 1997.)
Legend about Cahuilla sisters
Three Cahuilla sisters, fearful of the hot bubbling spring, saw a baby in the water. This Cahuilla maiden tried to save the baby, but they perished in a whirlwind down with the water of the spring. Her two frightened sisters ran to their father, the Medicine Man. He witched the spring with mosquitoes and they carried his power to the spirits of the water below. The next morning the body of the girl came up, but she was dead. Then our people/ancestors gathered, prayed, and offered nourishment. With that, they gained strength to no longer fear the spring, but respected its spiritual healing.
In the moist with Merlin Monroe outside Pinocchio’s
After couple of hours spent there we were on the road again. This time we were heading north on the State Highway 10 until we reached huge shopping centre – Desert Hills Premium Outlets, just before Banning. We turned into the parking lot and spent another couple of hours shopping. This time for real… Vera just couldn’t resist!
Desert Hills Premium Outlets
They have all the good stores there: BCBG, YSL, Gucci, Dolce&Gabbana, Versace, Christian Dior, Escada, Lacoste, AG, Space, Coach, Barneys, Off Saks, Giorgio Armani, Tod’s, and a lot more. This is a great place to stop on the road trip down the Highway 10. Once you find parking (which on a holiday weekend is a chore) there are plenty of opportunities to spend money. Just because it is an outlet do not expect it to be cheap. They want you to shop since the dining options are few and far between. Also – the bathrooms are not to be missed – they even have built in spaces for your shopping bags so that they do not have to hit the floor! Anyway, like a said we spent there several hours, and than it was time to get on the road again.
Up the road, next on our list was city of Banning. The City of Banning is strategically located astride Interstate 10 in the San Gorgonio Pass. The City, incorporated in 1913, has a rich and colorful history. Initially, Banning served as a stagecoach and railroad stop between the Arizona territories and Los Angeles. Banning is a friendly and wholesome place to work and raise a family. The City features clean air, ample water supplies and the memorable and inspiring scenic vistas of Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto.
Vistas of Mt. San Jacinto
At Banning we took a state road 243 that will take us south into another State Parks: Mt. San Jacinto State Wilderness Park and Idyllwild-Pine Cove State Park. The road started climbing immediately and the scenery was fantastic. We had to stop at one of the vistas to snap several photos of the valley bellow. Leaving the desert and getting into the Pine woods was in one word: beautiful.
Scenic highway through the mountains
Mount San Jacinto State Park
MOUNT SAN JACINTO STATE PARK (Riverside county) and Wilderness has many access points along State Highway 243 south of Banning; Idyllwild, 26 miles south of Banning on Highway 243 or 17 miles east of Hemet on Highway 74; also west of Palm Springs, via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Hikers can enjoy the park with over 70 miles of hiking trails. The Desert View trial in Long Valley (1.5 mile loop) provides vistas into Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley 8,500 feet below. There is also an easy mile loop around a lush, flower-filled meadow. From Long Valley, there are several trails into the wilderness. The San Jacinto Peak trail climbs 2400′ in 6 miles to the highest point in California State Parks. On a clear day you can see the ocean from the universal access Panorama Point Trail (1 mile loop).
The park and wilderness are open all year providing winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities. BE PREPARED. Bring the 10 essentials and check in at the Long Valley or Idyllwild Ranger stations.
Idyllwild is nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains. Set among tall pines, sweet smelling cedars and legendary rocks. The town has kept its “small town” atmosphere. Locally owned shops and restaurants are all you will find here. This makes the ride to Idyllwild worthwhile with the added benefit that the roads to and from Idyllwild are also great. Come and experience the peace and quiet of Idyllwild. We did…
If you are ready to get away from the traffic jams, or the noisy city life, this is the town for you. Idyllwild has perfect day hikes for the quick weekend hike, as well as the high country for the longer “over night” hiking journeys. Rock Climbing is another favorite past time in which to enjoy Idyllwild. With many boulders and the legendary Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks, Idyllwild attracts beginners as well as seasoned professionals.
Idyllwild in San Jacinto Mountains
We spent an hour or so in town taking pictures and getting an ice cream. State road 243 leaves the town and descends quickly with great sweeping turns. As you drive, the view to the West becomes breathtaking. There are several turnouts where you can enjoy the view and take pictures. We were both amazed with the huge pine trees along the road and their cones so big that it’s almost unbelievable.
Huge pine tree cones
After what seemed to be a long descending drive, we reached the flats in the valley. Heading Southeast on Road 74, the road is straight as flat as you pass thru a wide area of mountain ranches. On your right, you will pass Lake Hemet with its nearby cottages.
Road 74 eventually ends at intersection with Road 371, where we made a right turn to proceed westward. There is a nice restaurant at this intersection that welcomes tourists. The parking lot is hard packed dirt so some caution is advised.
Initially the road 371 has rolling turns and continues to descend until we entered the small town of Anza. When you leave Anza on the Cahuilla road 371, the road flattens out as you pass thru the desert towards Aguanga. Here we continued west on the road 79 and very soon road changed from narrow two line road into four lines just before entering Temecula. Mountains are visible to the South and the road has less sweeping turns.
Temecula valley and wineyards
Old Town Temecula
So we drove straight thru the Temecula and stopped in the Old Town Temecula, where it seems something is happening at all times. When we got there the main road was closed for traffic, because of some sort of festivity and there were vintage cars parked everywhere. That was a good reason for us to find parking and go for a walk to explore this town.
Old Town Temecula is almost like going back in time. It is hard to figure out the historical buildings from the new ones, it is all Old West style. There is wine tasting at Tesero Winery Tasting Room and the Longshadow Ranch.
Parking is a real problem so once you find a space you have to walk. The town is divided in half by Main Street which is always full of traffic. I think if they closed Main street permanently to cars, the whole experience would be greatly improved. Other than the fact that the town itself is historic there are not many historic sites or museums around. There are lots of antique shops if that is something you enjoy. Basically it’s just an old town to shop in, as there is very little else to do other than shop.
Old Town Temecula has been around since 1882 when the California Railroad came through the valley and local investors created the first Bank, and retains many historical features. It’s an absolute delight! In Old Town temecula you’ll find that elusive piece of art you’ve been looking for, that usual and tasteful gift for the person who has everything, then take in a show and finish a perfect day with a wonderful meal at one of the many independent restaurants.
Panoramic view of Temecula valley
Historic Temecula, California
Temecula is a city in Riverside County, in the Riverside-San Bernardino metro area. The name Temecula comes from the Luiseño Indian word “Temecunga” – “temet” meaning “sun” and “-ngna” which means “place of”. The Spanish interpreted and spelled the word as “Temecula”. Over the years, the meaning of “Temecula” has been translated into several different versions of this interpretation, including the most popular, which is “Where the sun breaks through the mist”. The estimated population, in 2010, was about 95,000.
Old Town Temecula
Since its early beginning, the Temecula Valley has always been a place where the combination of mild climate and beautiful rolling hills have attracted human settlement. The hillsides were the home of the Temecula Indians, the first residents of the area. Ancestors of the Temecula Indians were in this area as early as 900 A.D. The native people from here to the coast who shared the same language and culture became commonly known as the Luiseños, because many of their villages were once under the influence of Mission San Luis Rey.
Old Town Temecula
Be sure to take the children to the Root Beer store so they can experience one of the many kinds of root beers or sarsparilla. There is sure to be one of your own favorite childhood root beers available. There are several antique stores, the usual gift stores and a country store that is my personal favorite, Rooster Creek (…be sure to look at the Wool Lady section of that store, too.) Be sure to take home something from the Temecula Olive Oil Company where they have the best olive oils I have ever tasted. They have vanilla fig vinegar that is to die for. I know it sounds strange, but you must try it! They have a tasting bar there, too. If you are around at Christmas time, this place is fabulous…decorated trees, just stunning. Look on the website for events and dates and times for the farmer’s market. Those who find this place “ho-hum” just don’t know where to look. It is a fabulous day trip, inexpensive, historical and charming.
Vera and I stayed in Temecula over night and continued our trip back to San Diego next morning. Again, we didn’t want to drive on a highway 16, so we took second exit south of Temecula on state road 76 heading towards Oceanside city.
Our next stop was at Oceanside, small town on the Pacific coast, but this will be another blog (Cruising on Highway 101). Basically from Temecula we drove to the ocean highway 101 and back to our hotel in San Diego. All in all, this was a beautiful route and drive thru southern California in two days, which I would recommend to anyone visiting San Diego area.