Updated: Jan 26
Since March of 2020, the San Diego Mountains have been a safe haven for SoCal residents looking to escape COVID-19. The region is filled with a diverse array of geography, attractions, and culinary experiences. The low population is just a bonus…The catch is, the region may have a low residential population, but the pandemic has boosted tourism. The good news is that as long as everyone doesn’t go to the same places, the backcountry has room for everyone to spread out. Let’s get to it; here are some of the best social distancing activities in the San Diego Backcountry.
Between the San Diego County’s open space preserves, the Cleveland National Forest, Palomar Mountain State Park, and the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, I promise you there are many miles of hiking trails to keep you busy. You can learn about a few of my favorite hikes here. Lace-up those hiking boots, pack lots of water, and start exploring!
Not only is camping a good social distancing activity, it is also a great way to get some extra vitamin D. There are so many beautiful campgrounds to choose from you might just have to keep coming back until you’ve tried them all out! Be sure to take some time to enjoy our beautiful night sky. It is sure to take your breath away.
For those looking for a no-hassle camping experience, check out Alter Experiences. When you stay with them, they provide everything, even an outdoor kitchen sink. Sleep up in the trees or on a comfortable bed inside a fully decorated bell tent. Either way, you’ll wake up to the birds singing and the fresh mountain air in the Cleveland National Forest.
There are tons of great places to picnic in the county. You can choose from an ocean, mountain, or desert view. Where else can you do that? Whether you pack a lunch or order takeout, picnics are a quick way to cure cabin fever on the fly. My top picnic spots are Jess Martin Park and Lake Cuyamaca Recreation Area.
Self-Guided Julian History Hunt
The Self-Guided Julian History Hunt is one of my personal favorite activities to do in Julian. Stop by the Julian Town Hall for a map of the historical buildings and the History Hunt answer card. Historic landmarks throughout the Julian historic district have plaques with a brief history of each site. Answer the questions about the buildings on your card. Before you leave town, drop your answer card back at the Town Hall to be entered in a drawing. (Not too many people know about this opportunity, so your chances of winning are good.) I will note that on the weekends, the town of Julian is a popular tourist destination.
Watching the Sunrise on Sunrise Highway
Being that San Diego is on the coast, everyone talks about sunsets. But we have breathtaking sunrises too! If you couldn’t guess by the name, Sunrise Highway is known for spectacular dawn views. The highway is easily accessed off Interstate Eight, takes you through the Cleveland National Forest, and has a one-of-a-kind eastward view.
Watching the Sunset at Inaja Memorial Park
If early mornings aren’t your thing, the mountain sunsets are just as spectacular. Inaja Memorial Park is a tribute to the 11 firefighters who lost their lives battling the Inaja Fire in 1956. The park has nice picnic areas and a few short trails. It is perched up at 3440 feet in elevation, making it a fantastic place to watch the sun go down.
Backcountry Quilt Trail
Since 2014, the Julian Women's Club has been working with property owners and businesses to create Southern California's first quilt trail. Each of the 30-plus painted quilt squares shares something about local history, the owner, and the property. For those looking to see the whole collection, a nice drive through the San Diego Backcountry is required, making it a great social distancing activity. If that's not for you, there are six quilt squares all within walking distance of each other, hanging in store windows in the town of Julian.
Ramona H.E.A.R.T. Mural Project
Ramona is geographically located in the center of San Diego County. Most visitors only pass through on their way to other destinations, but Ramona has a lot to offer. One attraction is the Ramona H.E.A.R.T. Mural Project. Local artisans are working together to display the local heritage, history, and industries for all to enjoy. There are over 20 murals throughout the community. The murals are easily visible from inside the car. If you get out for a closer look, see if you can spot the hidden heart(s) in each painting.
For those wanting to get out of the house without any human interactions, driving the backcountry roads is a great option. There are hundreds of country roads you can explore. Please stay on the main roads.
Book a Vacation Rental
Taking a San Diego staycation is a wonderful way to get a change of scenery while staying away from large crowds. The San Diego Backcountry is full of fantastic vacation rentals. Check out a few of my favorite short-term rentals near Julian here.
The country is full of trails that allow mountain biking. What are you waiting for? Get out there and soak up all the vitamin D you can get.
Galleta Meadows Sculptures
On the eastern edge of San Diego County sits Borrego Springs. This community was home to Dennis Avery, son of R. Stanton Avery, the founder of Avery labels. Dennis used part of his inheritance to build the Galleta Meadows Sculpture collection. Visitors can drive around to over 120 large metal sculptures created by artist Ricardo Breceda. The collection includes metal sculptures of dinosaurs, mammoths, wild horses, giant sloths, camels, birds of prey, saber-tooth tigers, and much more. You can view them from the car or walk right up to them.
San Diego County has a lot to offer, even in these strange times. Please visit in off-hours to avoid large crowds, leave no trace, and don’t forget to support the locally owned businesses.