Enjoy desert excursions, karaoke, comfort food and other family fun just a three-hour drive away.
by Mimi Slawoff
Borrego Springs, in east San Diego County, is a quiet little town surrounded by the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. In place of fast food chains and big resorts, the main drag, Palm Canyon Drive, boasts mom-and-pop boutiques, art galleries and diners.
Streetlight-free for miles, it is a Certified International Dark Sky Community and at night the sky blooms with stars and constellations. By day – late February through early March – the desert itself blooms with colorful wildflowers and cacti.
From L.A., it’s about a three-hour drive. Stop by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center on your way to watch a short video, see exhibits of local wildlife, plants and fossils, and stroll the quarter-mile nature trail.
A local favorite, Carlee’s Place (660 Palm Canyon Dr., 760-767-3262) is a laid-back diner on the main drag, just west of the Christmas Circle roundabout. Billiards, high-backed booths, a juke box, karaoke and a wide selection of comfort food for lunch and dinner make this a good dining option for families after a day of exploring.
Historic La Casa del Zorro (www.lacasadelzorro.com), originally opened in 1937, offers laid-back luxury with family-friendly rooms and amenities. Choose one of the posh poolside guest rooms and you can practically splash into one of five pools from your private patio. For more space and your own pool, consider one of the resort’s one- to four-bedroom rustic casitas. Landscaped walking paths with bridges cross a stream and lead to the resort’s library, restaurants, fitness center, spa and tennis courts. In summer, family activities include yoga classes, ping pong, cooking classes, poolside barbecues and stargazing programs. Kid-friendly games and contests take place at the main lobby pool.
• You could explore the desert on your own, but you’ll see and learn more on a guided jeep tour from California Overland Desert Excursions (www.californiaoverland.com). Kids will dig rumbling along rutted roads to dry washes, a dry lake bed, rock formations, slot canyons and palm groves. Two-hour, half-day, all-day and overnight excursions are available, and snacks or lunch are included depending on the tour. Guides make stops to point out mesquite trees, desert willows, plants and wildlife while sharing area history about early settlers (ask about the whiskey-drinking explorers). Kids are welcome to scramble up rocks and hills. Keep your eyes open for black-tailed jackrabbits, kangaroo rats, tarantulas and other desert critters.
• Giant metal mammoth, dinosaur, elephant, sloth and horse sculptures aren’t what you’d expect to see in a remote desert. But at Galleta Meadows Estate (www.galletameadows.com) off Borrego Springs Road on the outskirts of downtown, you’ll find 129 life-size and larger sculptures of prehistoric and imaginary creatures, desert wildlife and historical characters. The newest is a 350-foot long serpent that appears to dip in and out of the desert floor. Crafted by sculptor Ricardo Breceda, the sculptures are easily seen from the street or by driving up to them on dirt roads.
Let’s Go columnist Mimi Slawoff is a mother of three who writes about family adventures.