If you want a quick escape from the dreary late-afternoon June gloom dogging the coast of late, try this little outing to the blue-sky realm of the Cuyamaca Mountains. Pack along a light dinner of potato salad and other warm-weather victuals, and head to Green Valley Campground (30 miles east of San Diego on Interstate 8, then 7 miles north on Highway 79). Drive in, ante up the day-use fee, and drive a bit farther to the Arroyo Seco picnic area. Here's a cool oasis, densely shaded by some of the biggest live oak trees anywhere, splendidly quiet after the lunchtime crowds have departed. After your meal, you can work off some calories on the following three-mile looping hike.
Walk over to the southwest (upper) edge of the adjacent camping area and pick up the Pine Ridge Trail at campsite 38. This narrow, two-mile-long trail starts by winding upward through smooth-barked manzanita brush and other forms of chaparral shrubbery that have remained green rather late this season. Soon, by gaining the crest of Pine Ridge, you can look down upon the half-shadowed Sweetwater River gorge to the south, filled with dark oaks and pines and threaded by a silvery ribbon of water. Some timber appears as you approach the topmost knoll of Pine Ridge. These trees -- Coulter pines and black oaks -- cling to the north slopes of the ridge, where less sunshine permits a greater retention of ground moisture. From the top of Pine Ridge you enjoy nice views of nearby Cuyamaca Peak, sidelit by the setting sun.
Past the topmost knoll of the ridge, the trail zigzags down to the wide California Riding and Hiking Trail. Turn right, go 0.1 mile, and turn right again on a still-wider trail -- Arroyo Seco Road -- which leads directly back to the picnic area. As twilight descends on the grassy meadows to either side of the road, keep an eye out for mule deer and coyotes.