HIDDEN GEMS OF ESCONDIDO
**THIS IS AN ONGOING PAGE OF UNIQUE HIKES AND PLACES TO EXPLORE IN ESCONDIDO**
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“Escondido” is a Spanish word meaning “hidden”. Before it was named Escondido this area was called Rincon del Diablo, which translates to “Corner of the devil” or “Where evil ones abide” in Spanish. It is referring to lands outside Christianity or unenlightened – a dark place to fear. In reference to the beliefs of that period being what is not of Christians belongs to evil.
This town definitely lives up to its name of being hidden. Out of all the towns in San Diego, we have found more hidden gems here than anywhere else. Take a moment to check out our list and see how many places you’ve visited!
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1. ART & MUSIC
A SHIP IN THE WOODS
A Ship in the Woods is an artist residency in Felicita Park that holds occasional public events. It is then when we get to gawk at what magic they’ve been summoning inside their wonderful world. Prepare yourself to be immersed in a world that strives to think outside of the box. There are so many marvelous wonders to explore around every corner.
GARY’S RECORD PARADISE
Stepping into this store kind of makes you feel as if you’re stepping right back into the 70’s. This store comes complete with rare and vintage records in pristine condition, incense-filled air, an awesome store manager and an overall eclectic environment. If you’re a record-buff, you definitely want to hit this store up.
QUEEN CALIFIA’S MAGICAL CIRCLE GARDEN
This unusual sculpture garden was created by the late, internationally famous Niki de Saint Phalle. It is one of the four large-scale sculptural environments designed and built by the artist and her studio collaborators, and the only one located in the United States. The garden is a joint effort by Saint Phalle, who financed the sculpture project, and the city of Escondido, which acquired the land and is responsible for landscaping, maintenance and operation. link
Out of all the lakes that I have visited in San Diego, this is one of my favorites. Why? Because it isn’t “perfect” and the trails are not manicured. It feels as though they worked with nature instead of plowing it down. It is a decent-sized lake with boat rentals, bbq/party spots, camping grounds and plenty of great fishing locations. This is right next to Daley Ranch, so if you’re in an adventurous mood and it’s not too hot, you should hit that spot up too.
KIT CARSON PARK HIKING TRAIL
I’ve hiked this trail multiple times before and would say it’s personally one of my favorites in Escondido. There’s a lot going on in this area so you can hit up multiple spots in one day including Queen Califia’s Magical Circle Garden and both the San Pasqual Pioneer and Indian Cemeteries. It’s shaded with trees and there are small details to take note of such as what appears to be old ruins, a swinging rope across a creek, beautiful trees that hang over the trail and more. It’s quiet and peaceful and especially green in the springtime. Watch out for poison oak as it’s thriving out here!
On this one road alone you will find a psychic village complete with little colorful homes & a seance room, ruins dating back to the early 1900’s, a two-story house on a hill with no doors or windows (only a garage and vents) a labyrinth, the remains of an old slaughter farm, and many other photo-worthy opportunities! Not to mention, this whole area is rumored to be haunted by a white witch and Indian spirits. link
Felicita Park is the site of one of the largest and oldest Indian villages in the county. To this day, grinding holes and other artifacts reveal evidence of the centuries-old community of the Northern Diegueno Indians.
Questhaven, which is neighbors to the Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove, is filled with haunted rumors. Whether or not there is any truth to these rumors will remain a mystery. What is undeniable about this place is the spooky feeling that it gives you when you drive on the windy, woodsy road. Much of what used to be known as Questhaven is now known as the San Elijo Hills suburbs. Tons and tons of wooded acres were cut down to replace homes. Although this area is definitely scariest at night, I also recommend checking it out during the day too because the surrounding area is actually filled with interesting spots to explore.
Lake Wohlford is a moderately sized reservoir. The shoreline is lined with rocky outcroppings, and offshore rock piles provide excellent fish habitat.
Elfin Forest, which neighbors Questhaven and Harmony Grove, is not only great for hiking but also for delving deeper into the mysteries that surround this area. Like its popular neighboring communities, the Elfin Forest is rumored to be extremely haunted with hundreds if not thousands of stories and sightings to back up this claim.
The most popular myth is about the white witch. As the story goes, her husband and son were murdered out here a long time ago. Rumor has is she is still looking for her family, or possibly the person who murdered them.
Robert Daley was the first pioneer on this land, arriving in 1869. He built a small log cabin which still remains to this day near the bottom of one of the ranch’s ponds. In 1875, Daley was granted to official claims of 1,600 acres each.
GRAPE DAY PARK
Since the early 1930s, Grape Day Park, Escondido’s oldest park, has been the center for community events and activities. Every year from 1908 to 1950, people from as far away as Los Angeles came to celebrate the annual Grape Day Harvest, a major industry in the Escondido valley.
The park continues its tradition as the center for community gatherings. It is a registered landmark and home to a turn-of-the-century working barn, Santa Fe Railroad depot, blacksmith shop, and other historic buildings, museums, and monuments.
SIKES ADOBE HISTORIC FARMSTEAD
This historic farmstead is one of the earliest homes in the area. The Sikes and their neighbors became founders of a community of pioneer farmers that settled the former Rancho Bernardo in the 1870s and developed the region into productive agricultural lands that supported a rural society.
PHAP VUONG MONASTERY
Escondido has some of the most beautiful monasteries in the city, including this one. They have beautiful statues that will make you feel as if you are in another country. If you decide to visit, make sure that you come here with the utmost respect.
Through one of San Diego’s most allegedly haunted forests is the infamous gate is a Christian retreat brimming with mystery and mysticism. They deal with a TON of disrespectful people so if you choose to visit here, do it with good intentions. link
HARMONY GROVE SPIRITUALIST ASSOCIATION
The Harmony Grove Spiritualist Association, founded in 1896, is a 13 acres spiritual meeting ground surrounded by lush oak trees. The association was formed as a meeting ground for spiritualists whom were eager to learn more about spirituality, religion, philosophy and science. Sadly, most of the association was destroyed in the 2014 wildfire. They are busy restoring.
DEER PARK MONASTERY
Deer Park Monastery is a 400-acre Buddhist sanctuary. All retreats at Deer Park Monastery include the basic practices of sitting meditation and chanting, walking meditation, eating in mindfulness, group discussions, touching the Earth, total relaxation, and working meditation. Depending on the retreat, extra activities may include private consultations, mountain hiking, bon-fire, and song & skit performances. Retreats are for beginners and experienced practitioners of meditation.
BLUE LIFE WELLNESS STUDIO
Chromotherapy, also known as color therapy, is actually an ancient form of healing which uses both light and color to heal the body. Combine this treatment with an infrared sauna and you have yourself quite a powerhouse for detoxing! At Blue Life Wellness Studio, their saunas have built in chromotherapy lights which you can change throughout your treatment.
MODERN MAKER MARKET
Modern Maker Market is a dream shop for those interested in upping their homesteading skills. This adorable shop has a tea-making station, soap and candle-making kits, soap nuts to wash your clothes and lavender sachets (to replace the chemical-rich dryer sheets most are accustomed to) and so much more. I am in love! Beyond all the neat (and extremely cheap) items they offer, there are also a ton of classes you can take! They have a bread-making class, kombucha class, learn how to naturally dye clothing, gin-making and many more classes which are constantly changing!
SAN PASQUAL PIONEER CEMETERY
This cemetery is one of the earliest burial sites for pioneers in the area. There are possibly some buried here from the San Pasqual battle as well. Please come here with respect, as many of the people buried here still have family members that regularly visit. There are still new people being laid to rest here too.
SAN PASQUAL INDIAN CEMETERY
In the center of a metal pipe fence stands a pepper tree surrounded by twenty-four crosses and one stone grave marker. An adobe wall once enclosed this graveyard, and in the center stood a large wooden cross with a red heart painted between the arms. Now adjacent to Highway 78, and a schoolyard, this burial ground dates back prior to the Europeans’ intrusion into the San Pasqual Valley.
I found this location to be another hidden gem, tucked away in the hills of Escondido. Upon arriving we were immediately greeted with a warm welcoming from the owner who let us roam around and soak up the beauty of their property.
We were given permission to be part of their private tour and learn about the history not only of their vineyard but of the Escondido terrain surrounding their property (which turns out to have a very rich and bloody history). Co-owner, Peter, is a very knowledgeable and charismatic man, who taught us a lot about the process of turning grapes into wine. We got to view the behind-the-scenes and learn the insights of wine-making. If you’re in the area, stop by!
THE GRAND TEA ROOM
So I finally got to eat here and it has instantly become one of my favorite places! We went on a weekday and got the full 2-hour experience called the ‘Grand Tea’ on the menu. It seriously felt like we had gone back in time. The service was exceptional too. We had something like a 5 or 6 course meal with delicious tea! I ordered the Crime of Passion which is a tropical green tea. This spot won’t be for everyone, but if you’re a tea lover and enjoy a meal and atmosphere brimming with Victorian touches, then I recommend checking this spot out!
7. UNIQUE HOMES
THE SPACESHIP HOUSE
Tucked away in the hills of Del Dios lays dozens of unique homes with equally unique owners. It is said that 30 years ago a group of creative individuals living in Encinitas grew tired of the increasing prices of rent & decided to head to the hills of Escondido for affordable housing. The most unique home to catch our eye ended up having some of the most enjoyable owners. Pancho and Margarita, the owners, graciously gave us a tour of their home and a taste of their eccentric lifestyle.
THE HEARTBREAK HOTEL
Located in a traditional suburban neighborhood in Escondido is one house that stands FAR out from the rest of them. There is no missing the eye-catching ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. The Located in a traditional suburban neighborhood in San Diego is one house that stands FAR out from the rest of them: The ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. The morphing of a standard suburban home into a 1950’s museum-esque living space was all done by one man, Andre Villa. The process has been a slow progression of almost 50 years.
Andre says that he was inspired by American culture as a child and would often go to the movies. Marilyn Monroe was one of the first Hollywood legends he really took notice to and she is now part of the main theme of his home. James Dean, Elvis Presley and John Wayne are the other two heavy hitters throughout.
DEL DIOS TREE HOUSE
One day I will be writing about this area as a whole, but today I will be talking about one home in particular: the Del Dios Tree House. We stumbled upon this unique home during an evening walk and while gawking at the beautiful mosaic pieces in the front yard, one of the owners came outside and greeted us.
The homeowners were kind enough to welcome us onto their property and that’s where the magic began! This husband and wife duo said that they did not always feel like artists, but believe that the artistic energy running through their neighborhood brought out their creative sides. The wife said that she learned how to do mosaics from a neighbor who teaches mosaic classes nearby. The husband has always been a handyman so the wood-working skills required to create such interesting features on their property came naturally.