Among the pines in Pine Valley, CA

This East County mountain town's an easy 45-minute drive from downtown.

Mount Laguna lookout, 15 minutes' drive from Pine Valley.
  • Mount Laguna lookout, 15 minutes' drive from Pine Valley.

As someone who has primarily lived in suburbia, I find myself escaping to small-town USA when I am in need of a change in scenery. Most San Diegans head to Julian, Palomar, or Cleveland National Forest for a quick getaway. We San Diegans seem to be especially fond of quiet mountain villages.

Speaking of which: Pine Valley is San Diego’s best-kept secret.

When to visit

Pine Valley, CA

Pine Valley is most enjoyable in the late spring and fall. The summer and winter months bring extreme temperatures; dress in layers. Heatwaves and icy downpours are no fun!

How to get there

The mountain town is a short 45-minute drive from central San Diego. Take the Interstate 8 East, exit on Pine Valley Road, and turn left.

Where to stay

Pine Valley Inn and Laguna Mountain Lodge are the main accommodations in the area. Alternatively, there are several Airbnb listings to choose from.

Look no further than reserving this guest cabin if you're the “glamping" type. The owners happen to be the trail guides for San Diego Horse Trail Riding (see below). More of a tent or RV person? There are plenty of campgrounds to suit your needs.

Things to do

Pine Valley is a draw for those who enjoy camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating and horseback riding. Its rolling hills, open plains and dense woodlands offer close-to-home adventure if you're an outdoors person.

Experiencing the backcountry on horseback with San Diego Horse Trail Riding is a must. Cynthia and Christina are the real deal, and they're more than happy to take you on an adventure. When it’s time to unwind, stroll Pine Valley's downtown streets and peruse the unique shops. Parents will appreciate letting the kids burn off energy at Pine Valley County Park. The welcoming community has something for everyone.

Trail riding group at San Diego Horse Trail Riding.

Trail riding group at San Diego Horse Trail Riding.

What to eat

There are a few local establishments that offer your standard American fare. Major’s Diner is an authentic diner that's been in operation since 1961. Calvin’s Restaurant is a family-owned establishment that serves delicious sandwiches and salads. If you're in need of fast food, Frosty Burger is a practical option.

Pine Valley Store is the place to stock up on snacks, necessities, and supplies. Go on, pack a picnic and relax under the nearest oak tree.

Beyond Pine Valley

If you have the time, it's worth your while to visit some equally quaint destinations outside the valley. Stop in to Alpine and take a tour of the Lions Tigers & Bears animal sanctuary. Get your thrills by navigating winding roads on a joyride to Mount Laguna. Or, immerse yourself in fishing, boating and hiking at Lake Cuyamaca and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Escaping to quiet mountain villages is a literal breath of fresh air — the elevation and being surrounded by nature really does seem to do something for the soul. Pine Valley is worth the drive in my book for a day trip or a vacation. Have you been there? Please post a comment!

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