San Diego’s One-Tank Wonders.
For San Diego travelers and families planning their Labor Day vacations, the rising gas prices could not have come at a worst time. Luckily, the city’s unique proximity to the mountains, international border and desert make San Diego a great hub for one-tank wonders.
Whether you want to take day trip or a weekend getaway, these three backyard locations–Salton Sea; Tecate, Mexico; and Palomar Mountain–are all only one tank of gas (round trip) from San Diego.
Part ghost town, part snowbird retreat, the Salton Sea is a decaying paradise just west of Anza-Borrego Desert in Imperial County. Developed as a resort community in the late 1950s, the Salton Sea drew its fair share of celebrities, including The Rat Pack and The Beach Boys, before its untimely demise in the 1970s due to a rising sea and salinity levels. The once budding shoreline communities were abandoned or never completed and recreational activities diminished.
Despite being California’s largest lake and having a salinity level higher than the Pacific Ocean, the Salton Sea is rarely used for water activities or boating, mainly over confusion surrounding pollution levels in the sea. Now a days, it’s more popular with bird watchers–more than 400 species have been documented in the area–and photographers drawn to the post-apocalyptic feel of the once flourishing resort communities–Salton Sea City, Bombay Beach, North Shore–situated along the sea’s salt encrusted shoreline.
Palomar Mountain State Park
Boasting a Sierra Nevada-like atmosphere, Palomar Mountain State Park is an ideal getaway for travelers of all ages. Located in northeastern San Diego County, the state park covers nearly 2,000 acres. It’s highest peak is High Point, which sits at an elevation of 6,140 feet. In addition to hiking, camping and trout fishing at Doane Pond, Palomar Mountain is also home to the Palomar Observatory and the Hale Telescope. Visitors can tour the observatory daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at no charge. Because the tours are self-guided, I recommend downloading this free podcast from the observatory’s website (http://www.astro.caltech.edu/palomar/visiting.html), which will help guide you through the observatory.
In between Tijuana and Mexicali is Tecate, the Cinderella of Baja California border towns. The quite nature of the city, known mainly for its production of Tecate beer, is more akin to the atmosphere and culture found in small towns throughout Mexico. Situated in the hills 40 miles east of San Diego, small bakeries, restaurants and markets line the streets and Zócalo (main square) of Tecate. However, for many visitors, the main draw is the city’s famous brewery. Set in the middle of the city (walking distance from the border), the Tecate Brewery offers free tours (in English and Spanish) of its storied factory.
For day trips to Tecate or its brewery, I recommend paying a few dollars to park in one of the lots on the American side of the border, and then walking across. Keep in mind that unlike traveling to Baja through the San Ysidro border crossing, the Tecate border crossing is not open 24 hours; it operates between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily. Tecate Brewery tours are by reservation only. From the U.S. 011+52 (665) 654-9490 or (665) 654-9478 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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