After a couple of trips out to the backcountry over the last month, I am going to devote this week’s North County Insider to some of the cool little discoveries I made in San Diego’s hinterland.

1. Borrego

I spent the better part of Presidents Day hiking Palm Canyon in Anza-Borrego State Park with my two older sons, and I am happy to report the wildflowers are beginning to bloom like mad! Even the ocotillos are sporting bright red flowers. Now is the time to visit the park; the daytime temperatures are in the 60s to low 70s and the big crowds that typically arrive in their RVs aren’t due for another month or so. The Palm Canyon Trail (the trail head is in the campground, about a mile north of the visitor center) is a rugged three-mile, round-trip hike to a natural oasis, complete with dozens of towering palm trees and at least three waterfalls. I remember the trail from years ago, before the great flood of 2003-2004 all but obliterated it. Well, it’s back, and it’s never been more clearly marked, although especially as you get closer to the oasis you still have to look real hard to make sure you’re going the right way.

Palm Canyon Trail

Anza-Borrego State Park Borrego Springs

(760) 767-5311

http://www.parks.ca.gov

2. Ramona

For starters, downtown Ramona has become one of the county’s best spots for antiquing. Main Street is crowded with nearly a dozen antique dealers, from small, intimate boutiques to larger malls. One of my favorites is Ramona Antique Fair, an open-fronted mall with a big candy store in the front. I saw all sorts of interesting items, from books and 78s to old radios, toys and even a vintage washing machine from the Great Depression era—in full working order, I’m told. This is the largest antique mall in Ramona and one with an eclectic-enough mix of vendors to attract a wide spectrum of buyers, particularly those with a fondness for pop-cultural kitsch from the middle years of the last century. I also am a big fan of Charlotte’s Antiques, right on the corner of Main Street and Highway 78. It’s a pleasant little place you enter from the back, and there’s a great selection of vintage glassware, estate jewelry and household furnishings. Those two places stick out, but, really, you need to devote at least a full afternoon to visiting all the shops up and down the street. The common thread that links them all is that there is precious little junk; the owners obviously know what’s collectable and what’s not and do a better job of "sifting" than most.

Ramona Antique Fair

734 Main St.

Ramona

If I’m going to sing praises about Ramona for its antique shops, then I’ll certainly need to craft a similar tune for its Mexican restaurants. I ate at La Cocina for the first time on a return trip from a YMCA campout at Camp Marston with my youngest son, and he and I were both delighted. The chile relleno was absolutely perfect, not too soft and not too crisp, with just enough egg batter and cheese to complement the zestiness. Hunter enjoyed his nachos so much he declared them the best he’d ever had, and the service was about as attentive as you could ask for without being disruptive. What impressed me the most about La Cocina, however, is that this seems to be the place where all the locals go. The day we were there, almost everybody seemed to know everybody else, from retirees with shopping bags to young mothers with toddlers, from a smartly dressed older woman who just had to be a realtor to a table full of teenagers, all in baseball caps. I’ve always felt that if you wander into a restaurant recommended by locals, you can’t go wrong. That’s certainly the case with La Cocina.

La Cocina

681 Main St.

Ramona

(760) 789-8332

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