The Hamlett

East County is full of businesses, eateries, and adventures that make the San Diego region special. From La Mesa to El Cajon and Julian, there are a plethora of hotspots that celebrate the area’s history and sense of community.

Here are the top places to eat, drink, shop, stay and explore in East County San Diego:

The Pub, hero

Pub at Lake Cuyamaca

Food & Drink

Pub at Lake Cuyamaca

Nestled on the water, the Pub at Lake Cuyamaca serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with locally sourced produce. Pulling from the environment around them, the restaurant also offers a variety of Julian pies and local craft beers such as a lager from Nickel Beer, brewed just for the restaurant.

Jeremy’s On the Hill

Bringing great cuisine to the Julian mountains is Jeremy’s On the Hill. The family-owned restaurant, led by chef Jeremy Manley, is an American-style restaurant dishing up fresh seafood, steaks and burgers. They also offer vegetarian, vegan and allergy-free fare for those with dietary restrictions.

Coop's West Texas BBQ

Coop’s West Texas BBQ

Coop’s West Texas BBQ in Lemon Grove is known for its delectable brisket and mouth-watering pulled pork, thanks to owner Brad Cooper’s rich history in Texas-style BBQ. The pork ribs here are a favorite among patrons—tender and juicy with a well-seasoned skin and crust—they’re a must-have.

Mom's Pie House

Mom’s Pie House

When exploring the small town, a stop at Mom’s Pie House is a must. The now famous shop opened in the 1980’s and boasts quality bakes that people travel far and wide to enjoy. Add a scoop of cinnamon ice cream on top and you’ll be in Fall bliss (no matter the season).

Julian Pie Co.

Head to Julie Pie Co., a quintessential spot for a slice of pie with flavors ranging from classic apple to boysenberry. These, flaky, crumbly, aromatic pies are just what the doctor ordered when in the mountains.

Casa Gabriela

The newly-opened Casa Gabriela in La Mesa, helmed by chef Gabriela Lopez (formerly of La Doña in Ocean Beach), features fare inspired by Lopez’s Guadalajara and Baja roots. Guests can find elevated Mexican cuisine and family recipes such as her grandmother’s ranchero steak and sauteed shrimp burrito.

The Hamlett

Located in Lemon Grove, The Hamlett is a coffee shop, apothecary and community hub. Started by Zachary and Shacole Hamlett, the brother-and-sister duo wanted to create a space where Black-owned businesses could prosper while also lending support for other minority-owned groups and organizations.

Elevated Coffee and Confections

Elevated Coffee and Confections was founded by two female friends who had a shared passion: great coffee and delicious baked goods. Together, they created a space where guests can come and enjoy coffee blends made with ethically sourced ingredients. They also offer plenty of vegan and gluten-free dessert options for those with dietary restrictions.

Pink Rose Cafe

Pink Rose Cafe

Down the street from Casa Gabriela is Pink Rose Cafe—a charming cafe decked out in, well, pink. The Instagram-worthy space provides a fun, cheerful atmosphere to bring people together. The Latina-owned business was started by Nadia Zamora and features coffee shop staples, as well as refreshing lemonade flavors in the summer.

City of La Mesa


Historic La Mesa

Historic La Mesa is situated within five square blocks and features one-of-a-kind businesses, restaurants, antique stores, and cozy coffee shops. Many of the buildings on the main street remain as they did in 1912 when La Mesa was incorporated, and provide visitors the opportunity to support local and small businesses.

La Mesa Depot Museum

Free to the public, the La Mesa Depot Museum offers a glimpse into the community’s history and celebrates small town railroading. Guests can explore the steam locomotive, view the telegrapher’s station, and catch a glimpse of the passing MTS trolley.

Mount Helix Park

Mount Helix Park

A little outside La Mesa’s historic area is Mount Helix Park. Known as the ''Crown Jewel of East County'' with its large amphitheater, photo-worthy mountain peak, and beautiful views, the popular park is a must-visit for locals and tourists alike.

The Magnolia

The Magnolia

In El Cajon, the performing art theater The Magnolia has been recently renovated, and now features a reconfigured seating layout, new VIP lounge, a refurbished lobby bar, and elevator access for improved accessibility. The outdoor patio space is perfect for movie nights, festivals, or enjoying a bite from the on-site food trucks.

Water Conservation Garden

Heading a little south, you’ll experience a garden that’s a leader in water conservation. Located on the Cuyamaca College campus and opened in 1999, the Water Conservation Garden features nearly six acres of themed gardens, displays, and exhibits. They also host wellness events and children educational programs.

Sky Falconry

Sky Falconry

East County provides residents and out-of-towners many opportunities to connect with animals and learn more about efforts to keep them safe. In the mountains of Alpine is Sky Falconry, a licensed falconry school that works to preserve the ancient art and educate the public. Visitors can experience flying a trained bird on a glove and learn about one of the oldest hunting traditions.

Lions Tigers and Bears

Elsewhere in Alpine and also animal-centric, the Lions Tigers and Bears animal sanctuary and educational facility gives a home to abused and abandoned exotic animals. Established in 2002, the 93 acres are home to more than 60 rescued animals and 19 species, and those interested in learning more about this safe haven can embark on guided educational visits.

California Wolf Center

Roughly 30 minutes north in Julian and founded in 1977, the California Wolf Center strives to educate the public on the importance of wolves in our ecosystem. San Diego County’s only wolf reserve houses North American Gray and Mexican Gray wolves, with multiple tour options that allow visitors to see the wolf packs.

Santee Drive-In

Santee Drive-In

If movie nights are more your speed, visit the Santee Drive-In, that’s preserving a bit of theater-going history. A Santee staple since 1958, the drive-in shows four feature films per night across two screens and is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year!

Hidden Murals of Lemon Grove

The Hidden Murals of Lemon Grove bring color and vibrancy to the East County community at 7846 Broadway. Located in a small back alley, the murals were completed in 2018 by Sydel Howell and her mother after being inspired by the Wynwood Art District in Miami. The pair worked with four muralists to work on the project: KJ Ashley, Alex Banach, Maxx Moses, and Gloria Muriel.

The Formula Skin Lab

Just north of the murals, The Formula Skin Lab excels at self care, skin treatments, and care for darker skin tones. The beauty bar, opened by esthetician Stephanie J, prioritizes providing the best skincare experience for all clients.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

If you’re looking for a more outdoorsy East County experience, check out Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The largest state park in California, it features 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, hiking trails, and plenty of opportunities for adventures.

Sky Art Metal Sculptures

If you’re headed to Anza-Borrego, don’t miss the Sky Art Metal Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda. The 130 large metal sculptures include dinosaurs, horses, and a 350-foot sea dragon scattered throughout the desert.

Hunter's Nursery


Hunter’s Nursery

Hunter’s Nursery, San Diego’s oldest continuously family-owned nursery, first opened as a citrus orchard and plant nursery in 1919. To this day, they continue to offer the best plants and produce, whether you’re tending to your home garden or you’re a professional landscaper.

Small Batch

If you’re looking for one-of-a-kind gifts from artists and makers, swing by Small Batch, a one-stop gift shop in La Mesa. From contemporary jewelry, to top-of-the-line beauty products, to creative stationery, Small Batch places an importance on stock quality over quantity. Hence, the store name!

Sagebrush Boutique

A short distance away is Sagebrush Boutique. With boho-inspired gifts, apparel, and accessories, the boutique brings easy and effortless style to customers. You can shop this small business in person at the Grossmont Public Market, which features a collection of artists and local vendors.

Cradled Boutique

Cradled Boutique

Out in Alpine, taking cuteness overload to the next level, is Cradled Boutique. The baby boutique has adorable and excellent products for your little one, from darling onesies to teething toys.

Carlton Oaks Lodge


Carlton Oaks Lodge

Offering up beautiful scenic views in Santee is the Carlton Oaks Lodge. The boutique hotel features an outdoor pool and hot tub, a full-service restaurant, and easy access to the Carlton Oaks Golf Club.

Vineyard Hacienda

Vineyard Hacienda offers guests a tranquil and serene getaway in Spanish-style lodging. The Spring Valley property includes a two-acre vineyard, and is perfect for a nights stay, wedding, or wellness retreat.

Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel

Just north of the Mexican border is the small town of Jacumba Hot Springs that’s been undergoing a recent face lift. Part of those renovations include the Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel, that’s estimated to fully open in early summer. In the meantime, they host a monthly flea market and music shows at the Jacumba Bathhouse, and post-show drinks at the hotel bar.

Jordyn Berg is a freelance writer whose favorite topics include food and travel. A Pacific Northwest native, she delights in exploring the best of San Diego, by searching for hidden gems, experiencing must-try restaurants, and soaking in the city’s amazing views.

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