The very common question came from a reader at the recent San Diego International Auto Show.

“How long does it you take to research your drives? How do you find those roads?”

The answer? The road’s just up ahead, around the corner. Get behind the wheel and drive.

This San Diego day trip is typical of roads that can be found just around the corner. Take, for example, West Lilac Road. This column has been over the stretch between Valley Center and Old Highway 395, a thrilling, twisting turn through the hills. But what’s west of the old highway? Happily, it’s more of the same.

Talk about a hairpin curve: West Lilac Road.

Today’s trail takes us over some of the old farm roads in and around the community of Bonsall, a place seemingly populated by more horses than people. It’s one of those areas where the lots are separated by four-foot-high fences, barriers perfect for keeping in equine wanderers.

West Lilac twists along the edge of the hills above the San Luis Rey River, offering spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. But drivers, don’t enjoy the hills too much, though, as the road has severe twists and kinks.

Just before crossing the San Luis Rey River, West Lilac ends at Camino Del Rey in the historic heart of Bonsall. Just on your left, you’ll see the original one-room Bonsall schoolhouse, a few yards from its original location; today it’s Bonsall Elementary School. The community has come a long way since it opened in 1895.

Time to stock up at the feed store.
Time to stock up at the feed store.

A drive in the country should always include a stop for lunch; my first choice was the restaurant advertised at the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center, an auxiliary horse racing track and stables. It’s just like Del Mar but missing the betting, grandstands and, as I found out, a restaurant. It looked long closed, but the facility is still operating. I could have gone down the road to the golf course to see if their restaurant was open, but I opted for another choice and it was a good one.

It might look like part of an abandoned motel and gas station but Estrella’s Family Restaurant No. 1 (5584 Mission Road, at Camino Del Rey, 760-758-0310) is an indoor oasis of great family style Mexican food. I traded the usual burger or sandwich for a great carne asada burrito, with char broiled beef, sauce, avocado and other goodies wrapped up in a fresh tortilla. Good stuff.

Long straightaway on Sleeping Indian Road is a nice contrast to the curves.
Long straightaway on Sleeping Indian Road is a nice contrast to the curves.

Leaving Estrella’s, I headed across busy Mission Road (SR-76), past the McDonalds and up into the hills of Bonsall. Another fantastic old farm road, Olive Hill Road was a new experience that reminded me of the roads around Julian. Even in January, there were a few golden trees showing fall colors, as well as oaks creating a canopy over the road. It also had one of those rare, ultra hairpin turns, with several large yellow 10 mph caution signs. You might want to heed the recommended speed, as this twist is not only sharp but on a hill.

Find your way to the top of Olive Hill and resist the urge to cruise into Fallbrook; rather, take the left at Burma Road (we are near Camp Pendleton) and into Morro Hills. At the top of Burma Road, make the left onto Sleeping Indian Road. Like Burma, regular readers have been over Sleeping Indian before, but on a clear day it’s well worth the repeat visit. Over the next mile or two, the elevation drops about 500 feet, switching from views of the fields and ocean to the west, to the rugged canyons and valleys to the east. Sleeping Indian has some nice straightaways, broken up by a few twists, so drivers can enjoy the view just a bit. Oranges, avocados and flower fields remind us that agriculture is still big business in San Diego County.

From there, head west along North River Road, a nice throwback to the agricultural days that contrasts busy and developed Mission Avenue on the south side of the San Luis Rey. After a short stretch on busy Pala Road (SR-76), it was back through Bonsall and I-15. Running along on the south side of the ridge we traversed on West Lilac Road, Camino Del Rey is almost as fun, giving drivers a good exercise before dropping onto the freeway.

This little corner of San Diego County is a hidden treasure. Big homes are lurking up long driveways and across groves of avocado and citrus, pastures or oaks. Tucked away are a few bed-and-breakfast inns. For the driving enthusiasts, its one of the best.

Olive Hill Road on a Spring day in 2010.
Olive Hill Road in Fallbrook.

Route and Info

Distance

  • About 32 miles from I-15. Exit I-15 at Old Highway 395 exit, abut 37 miles north from central San Diego.

Difficulty

  • Challenging with hairpin turns, narrow lanes and heavy traffic along SR-76. Be sure to pay attention to speed limits and cautions on curves.

Directions

  • I-15 to Old Highway 395 exit; go north (left from I-15 north).
  • Left at West Lilac Road
  • Right at Camino Del Rey. Continue right toward Mission Road.
  • Continue across Mission Road onto Olive Hill Road.
  • Left at Burma Road.
  • Left at Sleeping Indian Road.
  • Left at North River Road.
  • Left at Mission Road (SR-76).
  • Right at Camino Del Rey.
  • Right at Old Highway 395.
  • Right at Mountain Meadow Road to I-15.

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