26 HIDDEN GEMS IN ESCONDIDO
**THIS IS AN ONGOING PAGE OF UNIQUE HIKES AND PLACES TO EXPLORE IN ESCONDIDO** If you are a business and feel like you should be included in our list, please shoot us an email: [email protected]!
HIDDEN GEMS IN ESCONDIDO
“Escondido” is a Spanish word meaning “hidden”. Before it was named Escondido this area was called Rincon del Diablo, which translates to “The Devil’s Corner”. From what I’ve read, 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.
Today it is a highly diverse town and one of my favorites in San Diego County. It 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 of Hidden Gems in Escondido and see how many places you’ve visited!
1. 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.
2. DIXON LAKE
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.
3. 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.
4. FELICITA PARK
Felicita Park is the site of one of the largest and oldest Native American villages in the county. To this day, grinding holes and other artifacts reveal evidence of the centuries-old community of the Northern Diegueno Indians.
5. HARMONY GROVE
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. Sadly, this area has been the victim of a TON of development, but the charm still remains.
TIP: If you’re enjoying this post, make sure to check out our list of Hidden Gems in Orange County next!
6. QUESTHAVEN RD.
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.
7. LAKE WOHLFORD
Lake Wohlford is a moderately sized reservoir. The shoreline is lined with rocky outcroppings, and offshore rock piles provide excellent fish habitat.
9. ELFIN FOREST
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.
10. DALEY RANCH
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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. QUESTHAVEN RETREAT
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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. HARMONY GROVE HAUNTED HOUSES:
What used to be a lush forest filled with mysticism and ghost stories is now mostly demolished and replaced with tract homes. One plus side is a lot of these homes are sticking with the ghostly theme and decorating for Halloween! This is one of our must-see neighborhoods for elaborately-decorated Halloween homes!
21. MIA MARIE VINEYARDS
For those of you who have not had the opportunity to explore Escondido’s back roads, Mia Marie Vineyards may be the perfect excuse to finally experience them!
In an area known as Highland Valley, the windy road leading you up to their winery feels like you’re somewhere in the back-country of France or Italy. It definitely doesn’t feel like San Diego!
Once you make it to their 105-acre estate, get ready to be greeted with stunning 280° views of the valley below. This is definitely an ideal spot to enjoy the sunset, but beautiful throughout the day as you will quickly see.
22. A SHIP IN THE WOODS
A Ship in the Woods is an artist residency in Felicita Park that (used to hold) occasional public events. It is then when we get to gawk at what magic they’ve been summoning inside their wonderful world. They had so many marvelous wonders to explore around every corner, but sadly it has shut down. I still keep the page up in its memory.
23. KIT CARSON PARK HIKING TRAIL
This is another spot I keep up in its memory as it recently became no trespassing. Boo! I’ve hiked this trail multiple times before and would say it’s personally one of my favorites in Escondido. 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!
24. NEIGHBORHOOD WALK: DEL DIOS
One of the most magical neighborhoods in all of San Diego, in my opinion, is Del Dios. It’s tucked away amongst the shaded oaks with stunning views of Lake Hodges. It’s a small community of around 125 homes with many of the residencies being artists of some form.
There are many streets to walk through and I have returned time and time again, finding new details to appreciate every time I visit. There is a cute and historic restaurant that you can dine at while visiting, called Hernandez Hideaway and a ton of lakeside hiking trails as well.
25. Hubbell House
For those whom are into unique architecture, the name James Hubbell should possibly ring a bell. Hubbell is a beloved artist in San Diego that is responsible for designing some of the most distinctive homes and structures in the county. His work is described as both whimsical and something you would find in a hobbit land.
One of his fantasy homes is actually tucked away in the hills of Escondido. It was on the market for awhile and finally ended up selling for $1.43 million in January 2021. When it was on the market though, I got the lovely opportunity to not only tour the property, but also meet the owners who hired Hubbell to build their dream home!
26. Domaine Artefact
Located on 30 acres, their wine selection is inspired by the wines grown in the Rhône Valley, France. The husband and wife duo, Mark Robinson and Lynn LaChapelle, alongside their team are not only busting out 95% of the wines they sell on their property, they have also created a wildlife refuge for so many animals.
27. Rancho Guejito
Rancho Guejito is a true hidden gem, quietly sitting as both the largest and oldest business in San Diego County! Established in 1845, it is spread out over 22,000 acres; a footprint slightly smaller than the size of the entire city of Escondido.