Escondido may not be the first thing that strikes you as you consider vacation destinations, but don’t write off this Northern San Diego town too quickly. Just 30 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, 15 miles from the Ocean and 40 miles from the Mexican border, this town with population 150,000 offers more than meets the eye.
WHERE TO STAY
Welk Resorts San Diego ‘welkomes you home’ to 450 acres of luxurious resort style living complete with 2 golf courses and lighted tennis courts. The 5 different recreation centers offer a host of activities for the whole family. You can plan to spend the entire day at either Mountain Springs or Boulder Springs pools, both of which have waterslides, snack shacks which serve sandwiches and mixed cocktails. Cabanas are available to rent for the day which provide a welcome respite from the blazing sun in the height of summer. The 1-3-bedroom villas (think little apartments, complete with full kitchen and living room depending on the size and location you pick) are tastefully scattered throughout the property and many offer golf course views. Barbeque grills are sprinkled around the premises, so if you’d rather cook than dine out, you’re covered. The ‘downtown plaza’ area of the resort features a restaurant; Canyon Bar and Grille, a Pizza Hut, a gift shop and a Marketplace complete with Starbucks coffee shop (not the full starbucks menu, but good for lattes, cappuccinos and refreshers). The Welk Theatre on site offers a variety of live entertainment from concerts to Broadway shows to magicians. For those of you who prefer to do your own cooking, the kitchens are decently equipped and the Farmers Market on Mondays provides seasonally fresh produce.
WHERE TO EAT
Escondido’s proximity to the Mexican border is evident in its plethora of taco shacks, restaurants and taquerias. Chicken Lisa’s and Your Mexican Favorites (yes that is in fact the actual name of the restaurant) is located in an obscure strip mall next door to a 7-eleven. Don’t let its location put you off. This might be as they claim the best Mexican food in Escondido. The carnitas burrito is a gastronomic masterpiece. The carnitas is a family secret recipe and is both crispy and juicy and incredibly flavorful. If carnitas isn’t your thing, they have 8 different burritos for you to pick from. A favorite with kids, their taquitos are made from scratch. The filling is substantial (both beef and chicken were delicious) and the entire thing is hand rolled and deep fried and then sprinkled with cheese which is then melted so that it sticks to the taquito for an explosion of textures and flavors in your mouth. If you’re jonesing for a sandwich, give their Steak Ranchero sandwich a try. Slices of steak with housemade beans, guacamole and fresh cabbage, onion and cilantro; this comes paired with their delectable fries which are again crispy on the outside but lusciously creamy on the inside. For a cost-effective dining solution for the whole family consider their family meals which feature their incredibly juicy yet perfectly charbroiled chicken. With names like The Coop (serves 4-5), The Farmhouse (serves 5-7) and the Red Barn (serves 8-12) this caters to even the pickiest of eaters. Charbroiled chicken, a huge serving of carnitas, rice, beans, tortillas and chips and salsa, this covers the gamut of what you would need for the whole meal. Tip – ask them to sub out the coleslaw or potato salad for their cold corn salad – you will not be disappointed.
For non-Mexican fare try Ciao’s Ristorante Italiano in the town of Vista, just under 5 miles from Welk Resort. If the hallmark of a good Italian restaurant is measured by its lasagna then Ciao’s Ristorante Italiano hits a bullseye for having deliciously fresh, flavorful and yet somehow light lasagna. Light is never a word one would use to describe lasagna, and yet, this one doesn’t sit heavy in your stomach. Maybe it’s the fresh house made lasagna noodles or the delicious pomodoro sauce; whatever their secret is, it makes for fabulous lasagna. If lasagna isn’t your thing, definitely try out the Penne alla vodka; the little bits of bacon makes for a rich(er) yet not gut heavy gastronomic experience. For you seafood lovers, their Shrimp Scampi or Linguini Pescatore is a must! Save the sauce to dunk in the fresh-baked ciabatta bread that they provide or better yet, get a side of their fresh-made garlic bread. If pizza is your jam, look no further, offering both New York Style as well as Napolitano-style Brick Oven pizza. Build your own, or pick from one of their house favorites. You can’t go wrong with the Pere e Gorgonzola which is a no-sauce pizza with mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, gorgonzola cheeses and fresh pear. For a more traditional taste, try the Margherita or Capricciosa. Even though these pizzas are large enough for two, beware, you might not want to share! Be sure to leave room to sample some of their delectable desserts. For you lime lovers, you can’t go wrong with the individual sized Key Lime Cheesecake, however to keep with the Italian theme, pick the Tiramisu (perfectly soaked in rum and espresso) or the Cannoli (filled with spiced cream and ricotta cheese) or both!
WHAT TO DO
The best thing about Welk Resorts is the plethora of amenities, which means you never have to leave the resort to do something different every day. Rock climbing, arts and crafts, sunset bicycle trips, a Sport Court with basketball, oversized checkers, horseshoe throwing, pool, pingpong and even video games offer activities to keep your kids running on high octane all day long. At the time of writing, all facilities are open, except masks are required to be worn indoors, reservations to be made to use the fitness center and only one family at a time is able to use the rock climbing wall.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Named by Tripadvisor as the #1 activity to do in Escondido, this Animal Park is less than 30 miles from Welk Resort. This 1,800-acre park offers you an opportunity to see wild animals up closer and in their natural habitat. With oodles of options to choose from, you can zipline over the ‘Savanna Habitat’ and get a birds eye view of the rhinos, giraffes and other animals. Sun Up Cheetah Safari is a must do as you get to see the fastest land and air animal doing what it does best. You get to experience the Safari park before it opens to the public and even enjoy breakfast with breathtaking views of the African Safari.
Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve
For some exceptional hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding or simply walking in nature consider the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve. This 784-acre reserve has six overlooks, views of the Pacific Ocean, Channel Islands, Coronado Islands, the Laguna and San Bernardino mountain ranges, and Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir. Its picture-perfect Escondido Creek which runs all year is a nature lover’s dream with its beautiful old oak trees and other native plants. Whether you are up for an active hike, or just a short nature stroll or just want to rest in the shade and listen to the creek, Elfin Forest is the place for you. Note, this is not anything like the Elfin Forest in Los Osos which has stunted California Live Oaks and where you truly feel like you’re the giant among the elves.
California Center for the Arts offers a myriad of community activities as well as a robust roster of live performances. The center boasts an Art Museum, Event and Conference Space and two theatres for live performance. Need a beach day? La Jolla (La Jolla Cove for pelican and sea lion viewings) and Carlsbad (think Legoland, Museum of Music and the Flower Fields) are both within a 30-minute drive.
As strategically positioned as it is, Escondido offers a myriad of opportunities and experiences all within the same vacation, making it the perfect family summer getaway. Whether you’re there for a week or just a long weekend, there’s something for everyone.