Escondido is a city in San Diego County’s North County region, 30 miles north of Downtown San Diego. That means when you’re searching for things to do in San Diego, chances are your results will include some Escondido attractions.
That said, there are enough fun things to do in Escondido that the area deserves its own guide. You’ll find wineries, craft breweries, history, arts and culture scene, archeological sites, and plenty of outdoor activities.
The scenery is actually one of Escondido’s biggest draws. People come from all over for the gorgeous weather, the lakes, the views of the mountains, the trails, and the canyons which means a lot of the best things to do in Escondido are free.
Fun Things to Do in Escondido
Sip Suds at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens
Stone Brewing was founded as a craft brewery in 1996 by beer lovers Steve Wagner and Greg Koch, and since then production has grown significantly.
Today, the brewery produces more than 100,000 barrels annually, and Stone Brewing beers are distributed in 36 states.
The massive Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon, especially when sipping excellent craft beer in the one-acre garden.
There are 45-minute brewery tours daily, and the on-site restaurant, Stone World Bistro, serves an ever-changing menu of dishes made with locally sourced produce and meats — many of which feature beer as an ingredient.
Also exciting is that they’re opening a Stone Brewing Hotel, a reason for some to base their vacation in Escondido.
Visit Escondido Wineries
Pick a couple of wineries and spend the day sipping wine in San Diego sunshine. Many of them are family-owned and operated with interesting histories.
Be sure to check their calendars to see whether you need to make an appointment to visit and in addition to their days and hours of operation.
If you prefer to have someone drive and guide you through Escondido wineries, San Diego Beer, Wine, and Spirits Tours can help.
Orfila Winery and Vineyards
The most well-known Escondido winery is Orfila Winery and Vineyards. It’s on the way to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and worth a visit for the scenery alone, though the wine is lovely, too. In fact, Orfila Vineyards has won more gold medals than any other winery in the region.
The 70-acre estate (which is the oldest active winery in San Diego County) grows wine grapes across 40 acres on a 10,000-acre agricultural preserve owned by the City of San Diego. Grab a snack in the gift shop and sip a glass or two at the picnic area just outside the tasting room.
Espinosa Vineyards and Winery
This winery occupies part of history because it is on the site where grapes were first planted in Escondido in 1893 by William Winn.
It wasn’t until nearly 50 years later that the first commercial winery was built, and soon after that, the vineyards were left to lay fallow for decades.
Espinosa Vineyards and Winery is relatively new, having been planted in 2008 after the old winery burned down, but it attracts a lot of visitors.
The family specializes in wines made from grapes originally native to Spain, and their wines are available only at the winery. There are tastings every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m (it is always wise to verify open times before you go).
Rosa and Gerardo Cordiano moved from Italy to San Diego in the early 1990s. They opened several Italian restaurants here but their first love was actually winemaking. Eventually, they sold the restaurants and Cordiano Winery was born.
Given their culinary background, it’s no surprise that the winery is also known for its fantastic pizza, pasta, and Italian desserts that guests enjoy on a gorgeous patio overlooking San Pasqual Valley. You’ll feel at home here, enjoying the Tuscan experience right here in San Diego.
If you plan to eat, do make a reservation. Wines you’ll taste include mostly reds like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir but Cordiano also makes sparkling wine, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.
Deer Park Winery and Auto Museum
It’s not a combination you’ll see often, which makes this Escondido attraction unique. The Auto Museum at Deer Park Winery has hundreds of beautiful vintage vehicles, soapbox derby cars, old-timey wagons, and carriages. There are also antique signs, appliances, license plates, toys, and games.
While admiring these vehicles you can sip wine! Wine tastings are held daily.
Meditate at Deer Park Monastery
This Buddhist sanctuary was founded in 2000 and hosts weekly events — including designated mindfulness days and overnight retreats — that are open to the public.
During your visit, you can practice sitting and walking meditations, enjoy mindful eating with the community, listen to talks given by the monastery’s teachers, visit the peaceful gardens, and walk along the monastery’s nature trails. It’s definitely a unique experience.
Relax at Dixon Lake
If you want to experience what California deserts are like, head over to Dixon Lake. The climate is pleasant and dry, the fishing is great, and you’ll find everything you need for hiking, camping, and picnicking nearby. You can even rent motorboats and cruise around the lake.
Stroll Around Escondido Community Garden
Escondido has one of the best community garden programs in the entire state of California, with 106 plots managed exclusively by community members.
It’s wonderfully relaxing to stroll through and see what people choose to plant in their plots, ranging from flowers in every color of the rainbow to fruits and vegetables. Depending on the season, you may even see hundreds of butterflies.
Tour Palomar Observatory
If you’re wondering what to do in Escondido that’s a bit quirky, this is definitely one option to consider (though it’s about an hour to the east).
Palomar Observatory on Palomar Mountain was founded almost one hundred years ago and has since become a hotspot of astronomical research. Astronomers from Caltech and partner organizations come here to study the sky on clear nights using three large active research telescopes.
The observatory is open to the public daily for self-guided tours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. most of the year. From April through October, there are public guided tours on the weekends that include a chance to look through the 200-inch Hale Telescope.
Tour a Real Adobe
The Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead was established around 1870. It has one of the oldest surviving structures in North San Diego County and one of the few remaining adobes in the region.
The farmstead is open for public tours on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and on other days by appointment.
Walk the Lake Hodges Bicycle Pedestrian Bridge and Trails
Hike the Coast to Crest Trail on the north shore of Lake Hodges which will take you to the bridge.
Designed by T.Y. Lin International, this pedestrian bridge is one of only four stressed ribbon-style bridges in the western hemisphere.
It was also, at the time of its completion, the longest stressed ribbon bridge in the world. From the 990-foot bridge, you can see wildflowers, fish, ducks, turtles, and birds.
Tour the Escondido History Center Museum Complex
In historic downtown Escondido, in Grape Day Park, you’ll find this museum complex dedicated to the rich history of the area. It’s home to the original Escondido Library building, a working barn, a working blacksmith shop, a working wheelwright shop, a Victorian country home, a railway depot, and a real Pullman railroad car.
There are also other historical structures, including windmills and a tank house. If you’re looking for things to do in Escondido, CA with curious kids, definitely put the complex on your must-visit list. Depending on the day, there are lectures, tours, and special events.
Drive by the Heartbreak Hotel
This is another one of the quirkier things to do in Escondido, CA. It’s not actually a hotel, but a collection of iconic pop culture memorabilia collected by Andre Villa and displayed in his Utah Street yard.
There are thousands of pieces, from antique signs to statues of Elvis, Ronald McDonald, and Marilyn Monroe. Andre doesn’t officially offer tours, but it’s said that if you catch him outside and ask nicely, he’ll show you around.
See What’s Happening
Escondido is a city of special events, and there’s something happening all year long.
In the summer, there’s the Cruisin’ Grand car show featuring the best American-made cars built in 1973 or earlier, and Independence Day in Grape Park.
In wintertime, there’s the famous Jaycees Christmas Parade and the Winter Wonderland Festival.
At other times of the year, there are walking tours, festivals, fairs, carnivals, farmers’ markets, and more. Be sure to check the community events calendar before your visit to see what will be happening while you’re here.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Large free-range enclosures are designed to closely mimic the natural habitats of exotic animals like rhinos, camels, cheetahs, gorillas, giraffes, lions, tigers, warthogs, wild cattle, and zebras.
More than 3,000 animals representing 300 species roam freely throughout the park, and you can see them from trams, golf carts, trucks, large helium balloons, and zip lines. There are even regularly scheduled sleepover safari events.
You can go straight to the gate with discounted San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets.
California Center for the Arts
This cultural hub was designed by Charles Moore and opened in 1994. It includes a contemporary art museum, a 1,500-seat concert hall, a 400-seat theater, artists’ spaces, dance studios, and a conference and event space.
There are free community events hosted at the Center frequently, like the WOW First Wednesdays performances and Jazz Jam Sessions, so be sure to check out the calendar to see what will be happening during your visit.
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle
In Kit Carson Park and the Iris Sankey Arboretum, you’ll find this magical sculpture garden created by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle. There are nine huge sculptural works, plus a maze and a 400-foot-long undulating snake wall decorated with colorful mosaics.
The star piece in this unique art garden is the sculpture of Queen Califia riding on the back of a five-legged eagle. Note that the sculpture garden is not open when it’s raining.
Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve
You can hike, bike, and ride horses on 11 miles of trails set on 784 acres of natural woodland. There are picnic areas and scenic spots, and the reserve is staffed with docents and park rangers who give guided tours and share ideas for self-guided activities.
That’s not all that brings people to this Escondido attraction, however. It’s said that the Elfin Forest with its curving paths and twisted trees is haunted — supposedly because it was once the site of an asylum or possibly burial grounds. It’s a fun stop for both nature lovers and those with especially active imaginations.
This 3,000-acre conservation area near Dixon Lake was established in 1996 to help preserve biologically unique habitats. There are six trails totaling more than 20 miles that are good for walking, biking, and horseback riding.
Rangers offer tours of the Daley Ranch House and its outbuildings every second Sunday.
Escondido Activities for Kids
San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum
Right across from Grape Day Park, you’ll find this cheerful indoor/outdoor museum for kids and families. There are fantastic hands-on educational exhibits at San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum designed to help kids learn about science, art, and the wider world through imagination, exploration, and experimentation.
The exhibits in the museum’s four main areas (Imagine, Explore, Experiment, and Discover) change frequently, but there’s always plenty to see and do.
Children’s Tea at The Grand Tea Room
Children who love everything fancy will adore taking tea at The Grand Tea Room, which serves traditional afternoon teas for kids 10 and under at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 4 p.m.
There are more than 40 varieties of tea available, though kids are welcome to choose milk instead, and they also get tea sandwiches, scones and cream, fresh fruit, and petite desserts. A stop here is a wonderful way to make a visit to Escondido with kids feel extra special.
Willow Creek Archery
If you’re looking for indoor things to do in Escondido that are a little different, check out this archery training center. Willow Creek Archery offers beginner, intermediate, and advanced archery instruction in a fun and safe environment.
If your children love hands-on experiences and interacting with real live animals, check out this museum/conservation center that’s home to reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods.
All the animals that call the Ecovivarium home are rescues that have been rehabilitated (and in some cases, trained) by staff.
San Diego Archaeological Center
San Diego Archaeological Center is dedicated to preserving and showcasing regional archaeological artifacts that tell the story of San Diego County’s past.
The main exhibits feature tools and pottery dating back 10,000 years, and there are several interactive exhibits just for kids.
This is a great Escondido attraction for families with kids that need to blow off some steam. It’s North County’s only trapeze school, and kids as young as 7 can take a class that will teach basic swinging techniques, tricks, and dismounts.
What are your favorite things to do in Escondido?
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*Top photo is courtesy of Stone Brewing