Escondido is a city in San Diego’s North County region, 30 miles north of Downtown San Diego. When 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 balmy inland 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. 

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Fun Things to Do in Escondido

Sip Suds at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens 

People gathered at the bar and seated at indoor and outdoor tables on a busy day at Stone Brewing.
Photo courtesy of Stone Brewing

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 sprawling and pretty one-acre garden.

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. The huge onsite brewing facility at Stone Escondido, right next door to the restaurant, produces and packages their signature beers and distributes them in all American states plus 40 countries worldwide.

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. 

Visit Escondido Wineries

Rows of healthy vineyards with a small hill in the background in rural Escondido, CA.

Pick a couple of wineries and spend the day sipping wine in the 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 in addition to their days and hours of operation.

If you prefer someone to 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. And it’s won more than 1300 wine competition medals to prove it! 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.

The 70-acre estate 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 beautiful boutique winery is featured on prestigious ‘top winery’ lists both in the US and internationally. And Espinosa Vineyards and Winery has quite the storied history.

Grape vines were first planted on the property way back in 1893, and it became the site for one of the first commercial wineries in 1936. Converted to a machine shop 14 years later, the vineyards were left to lay fallow for decades until the old winery burned to the ground in the 2007 San Diego ‘Firestorm’.

Espinosa Vineyards and Winery was launched a year later and this family-owned operation has thrived ever since. They specialize in wine made from grapes native to Spain in addition to their own grapes. Their wines are only available at the winery and are very exclusive due to their limited production. You can enjoy tastings at tables under a canopy of Ponderosa Pines, and tasting reservations can be via their website. (Note: The winery reopens on February 10, 2024.)

Cordiano Winery

Rosa and Gerardo Cordiano moved from Italy to the US in the early 1990s before finally settling in San Diego in 1991. They opened many successful Italian restaurants along the way, but Gerardo’s first love was winemaking due to happy childhood memories of working in the vineyards of southern Italy with his father.

Eventually, Rosa and Gerardo sold their restaurants and Cordiano Winery was born in 2008. Gerardo named the wine Primo Amore (‘first love’ in Italian) for Rosa and says the name also signifies his lifelong passion for winemaking.

Given the couple’s culinary background, it’s no surprise that the winery is 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 a Tuscan experience right here in San Diego.

Deer Park Winery and Auto Museum

It isn’t a combination you see often, which definitely makes this Escondido attraction unique. The Auto Museum at Deer Park Winery has over one hundred 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 award-winning wine! You choose from two flight options for wine tastings.

Meditate at Deer Park Monastery

The main building with its copper-colored roof set in the middle of of a rural landscape.
Flickr/miheco , cc-by-sa-2.0

This Buddhist sanctuary was founded in 2000 and spans 400 acres of stunning landscape. The sanctuary hosts weekly events — including designated mindfulness days and overnight retreats — that are open to the public. You can also book overnight retreats.

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

Chris Doig [Public domain]

For a relaxing day out in a tranquil setting, head to Dixon Lake. The climate is pleasant and dry, the fishing is great, and there’s lots of opportunities for hiking, camping, and picnicking. Just note that wood fires are not allowed. You can also rent motorboats and pedal boats and cruise around the lake. 

There’s a great climbing area at Eagle Peak for advanced climbers, but you’ll need to fill out and bring a climbing permit application and, of course, sign a waiver.

Stroll Around Escondido Community Garden

Escondido has a great community garden program, 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 (Day Trip)

For a unique day out with a fun educational element, head to Palomar Observatory. It’s technically one-hour northwest of Escondido and located in the Palomar Mountain ranges, but I’m listing it here because it’s so worth a visit and easily drivable from Escondido.

The Observatory was founded almost one hundred years ago and has become a hotspot of astronomical research. Astronomers from Caltech and partner organizations come here to study the sky on clear nights using the three large active research telescopes.

The observatory is open to the public daily for self-guided tours most of the year. From April through October, public guided tours on the weekends include a chance to look through the 200-inch Hale Telescope. Tickets cost a bargain $5 per adult and $3 per child (5-12 years old).

Due to its mountain location, the observatory can be closed due to ice and snow on the roads, so check the website first if you’re heading there in winter.

Tour a Real Adobe

The Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead was established around 1870. Its farmhouse is one of the oldest surviving structures in North San Diego County and one of the few remaining adobes in the region. The house, museum, and exhibits offer a unique insight into the daily life of American settlers in San Diego County who farmed on land that once belonged to the native Kumeyaay during the era of Mexican California.

The farmstead is open most Sundays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. and you can make advance appointments, so contact them in advance of your visit.

Walk the Lake Hodges Bicycle Pedestrian Bridge and Trails

A view of the stress ribbon bridge over fall-colored foliage.

You can hike the Coast to Crest Trail on the north shore of Lake Hodges, which will take you to this beautiful bridge. The trail is 6.5 miles long, but it’s considered a relatively easy hike and takes roughly two hours to walk. It’s also popular with mountain bikers.

The bicycle/pedestrian bridge is the longest stressed ribbon-style bridge in the world, and the remarkable suspension-style design is an engineering feat. At 990 feet long, it features bearing cables embedded within the concrete deck, and three sections of the bridge span the large river, giving it a graceful ‘ribbon-like’ appearance. When the river swells due to heavy rains, the bridge can appear to float on the water.

You can walk or cycle across the bridge while spotting plenty of 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 area’s rich history. It’s home to the original Escondido Library building, a working barn, a working blacksmith shop (where you can book classes), a working wheelwright shop, a Victorian country home, a railway depot, and a real Pullman railroad car.

If you’re looking for things to do in Escondido, CA, with curious kids, definitely put the complex on your must-visit list. There are lectures, tours, and special events depending on the day.

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 from the 1950s 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, the Cruisin’ Grand car show features 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. Check the community events calendar before your visit to see what will be happening while you’re here. 


Escondido Attractions

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Guests standing on the bed of truck (protected by rails and a canopy for shade) feed giraffes in their enormous habitat.
Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park is one of the best things to do in San Diego for kids, though plenty of adults go for the safaris, to see the animals, and to learn more about conservation.

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 1,800-acre park, and you can see them from trams, golf carts, trucks, large helium balloons, and zip lines. Even regularly scheduled sleepover safari events are called ‘Roar & Snore.’   

You can go straight to the gate with discounted San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets and check my list of hotels near San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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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.

The Center hosts some of the biggest names in music, dance, and theater. Free community events are also hosted at the Center frequently, like the Jazz Jam Sessions and Música en la Plaza evening concert series, so be sure to check out the calendar to see what will be happening during your visit.

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle

Flickr/auntylaurie, CC by 2.0

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

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve lake on a sunny day.
Wiki metis [CC BY-SA 3.0]

You can hike, bike, and ride horses in this beautiful reserve 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. There’s a lovely stream that runs through the bottom of the reserve, and in parts, you can jump from rock to rock across it. Kids can wade around the shallow areas and there are lots of boulders to sit and enjoy the sun or shade. The park is open from 8 a.m – 5 p.m.

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. It’s a fun stop for both nature lovers and those with especially active imaginations. 

Daley Ranch

This 3,000-acre conservation area near Dixon Lake was established in 1996 to help preserve biologically unique habitats. Six trails totaling more than 25 miles are good for walking, biking, and horseback riding.

The Daley Ranch House, a redwood barn, and various historical outbuildings are just over one mile from the La Honda entry point. Rangers offer tours of the Daley Ranch House and its outbuildings every second Sunday. However, check the website in advance, as weather can affect the tours.


Escondido Activities for Kids

San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum

A little girl wearing face paint squeals with joy as a staff member holds a hedgehog near her.
Photo courtesy of San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum

Right across from Grape Day Park, you’ll find this great 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. Kids get to dress up, climb, pet animals, create and paint, and multiple building opportunities exist.

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 tea from Monday to Friday at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 4 p.m., and Traditional Full Afternoon Tea only on Saturdays.

There are more than 30 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. You enter via a lovely gift shop where you can buy all kinds of fun treasures and trinkets.

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. 

EcoVivarium

One of the museum's tegus being pet by a group of kids sitting on grass.
Photo courtesy of EcoVivarium

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 

A collage featuring various exhibits including kids making clay artifacts and staff holding up tools from years past.
Photo courtesy of 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 12,000 years, and there are several interactive exhibits just for kids.

Trapeze High

This is a great Escondido attraction for families with kids who 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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Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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