North of Escondido is some of the most rugged terrain in San Diego county.
Among the peaks and valleys the some great roads on today’s itinerary. And, of course, there’s just a bit of history along the way. Our route twists over peaks and ravines, past avocado groves, a gaggle of golf courses and ends up crossing a graceful, award-winning bridge.
So gas up the bike, convertible or sports car, and come along for a great San Diego day trip.
After exiting Interstate 15 at El Norte Parkway in Escondido, cut through the suburban mishmash and head north on Broadway past Escondido High School and the Reidy Creek Golf Course (the first of five we’ll pass today). Turn left to a real hidden gem, the community of Jesmond Dene.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the name — Jesmond Dene. As a kid cruising around in the back seat of my parents’ Pontiac, I always though there was something funny about the name. To a six-year-old, Jesmond Dene became Jimmy Dean, the country singer and sausage maker Jimmy Dean. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Turns out, the name comes from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in northeastern England, reports Leland Fetzer in his book, “San Diego County Place Names A to Z.” Two guys named W.G. Morgan and W.G. Moore developed it as a “cabin subdivision” in 1927. They hoped the image of green, rolling hills and Olde England would help sell homes in rugged, dry San Diego county.
And by the way, dene is a British English word for valley, according to Merriam-Webster.
“Downtown” is marked by the Moose Lodge (No. 1874), where there’s not only a hall, but a small campground out back for members.
The winding, sometimes tree-shaded road terminates at the northern end of Centre City Parkway at the Thunderbird Driving Range, (760) 746-0245 (we’ll count it as golf course No. 2), which is the old U.S. 395 — the highway that preceded today’s Interstate 15.
Along here, it’s not much more that the freeway’s frontage road, but it connects to our next turn, Mountain Meadow Road.
The sign says “no outlet,” but it’s worth looping around. A more recent suburb, Hidden Meadows, is up the hill at an elevation of 1,500 feet. Neatly kept homes pepper the hills, surrounding the Meadow Lake Country Club (golf course No. 3). Enjoy the drive through this lovely neighborhood; information and history is available online.
Maps will show connections west other than Mountain Meadow Road, but they’re all blocked by gates… at least the ones I was able to find. Still, I had fun driving around the hills.
Back at old U.S. 395, we head north, where it’s now called Champagne Boulevard. The section is named after the Welk Village Resort and surrounding developments, which were started by late bandleader Lawrence Welk. His bubbly “Champagne Music” continues to be a TV staple in PBS reruns but started back in the 1950s when his show was called the “Dodge Dancing Party.” Sometimes old postcards show up on eBay with Welk standing next to a swell ’61 Dodge convertible… but that’s another story.
I didn’t visit the village during my drive, but it includes a restaurant, theater and golf course (No. 4).
Take a right at Circle R Drive to the Castle Creek resort (and golf course, No. 5), where I stopped for lunch. I never learned how to play the game (always figured I had enough problems), but I have found that golf courses usually have nice restaurants.
When you’re out on the road, there are usually only a few places to stop to eat. A gas station/convenience store might have a deli, but chances are they’ve only got those factory-made sandwiches designed for long shelf life. Possibly better than a military MRE, but not by much.
A road house restaurant with a gaggle of motorcycles parked out front is a must those of you on two wheels. But another option: San Diego county is covered with golf courses and their “19th hole” eateries generally have good food with a better view than either the gas station or road house. Most are open to the public.
The restaurant at the Castle Creek Country Club didn’t disappoint. Aptly named “The View Restaurant,” it has a vista of the greens, surrounding homes and hills. The food and service weren’t bad, either. In addition to the golf course, Castle Creek has a spa and hotel.
From there, it was back to the twists and curves. Circle R Drive quickly climbs the hills, providing rich views back to I-15 and over to Valley Center, depending on which side of the hills you’re on. The twists and turns are even more enjoyable as traffic can be light, especially if you’re lucky enough to take your cruise on a weekday.
Circle R meets up with West Lilac Road and continues west, through stables, groves of avocado, a few greenhouses and fields growing a variety of crops. Ranchettes here have a few acres and a large home. Where I-15 meets West Lilac Road, engineers blasted through the ridge to reduce the grade as the freeway heads south from Pala Road. There’s no interchange at West Lilac, but a graceful, single-arch bridge that’s a local landmark. Driving across the bridge, you don’t realize its beauty, but from the freeway, do check it out.
The 695-foot span won several awards when it opened in 1979, according to Caltrans spokesman Hayden Manning.
Reaching Old Highway 395 (so signed in this area), I turned left to return home. Rather than entering the freeway a mile or so south, I opted to cruise back down the old highway as far as Mountain Meadow.
North County’s jagged terrain has some real gems for roads, not to mention some hidden communities and lots of golf courses. I’ll waive to all you duffers as I’m cruising by.
Route and Info
- From June 2006
- About 20 miles.
- Moderate; lots of hills and twists.
- Interstate 15 to El Norte Parkway.
- East on El Norte Parkway to Broadway.
- Left on Broadway.
- Left on Jesmond Dene Road.
- Right on Centre City Parkway.
- Right on Mountain Meadow Road. At Hidden Meadows Road, turn left to stay on Mountain Meadow Road.
- Right at Meadow Glen Way East.
- Continue onto Granite Ridge Road.
- Continue onto Hidden Meadows Road.
- Right at Champagne Boulevard.
- Right at Circle R Drive.
- Continue onto West Lilac Road.
- Left at Old Highway 395. Return to Interstate 15.