Loop De Luz: Take Mountain Byway through Avocado Groves

Among the twisting byways in our region, De Luz Road has to rate as one of the best. Winding over the mountains from Temecula to Fallbrook, it goes up and down over the peaks and valleys, past avocado groves and along the edge of breathtaking canyons.

What a great spot to test the road legs of a Subaru Impreza WRX hatchback.

Head north on Interstate 15 about 55 miles north from central San Diego (let’s say Qualcomm Stadium), allowing at least an hour, maybe more if there’s traffic. From the suburban clog in Temecula, head west over Rancho California Road.

The highway rises quickly, providing views of the Temecula valley and a bit of fun driving right away, rising about 1,000 feet in only about three miles of driving. After reaching the peak, be sure to check out the custom homes dotting the ridge tops. Looks like folks have built more than a few dream palaces in the hills.

There are also quite a few ranchettes in this area: large homes on an acre or more with room enough for horses. Moving west, this area of Riverside County is a point of land between Camp Pendleton to the south and the Cleveland National Forest to the north.

There are only a couple of ways in and out of here, and we’re driving one today. That makes the risk high for problems when there’s a brush fire; there are fire-danger signs posted along the route to educate visitors and residents alike.

Join up with De Luz Road and continue heading south. The road twists and turns, flies up and down … an extremely fun time. Don’t exceed the posted speed limit, mostly 45 miles per hour or less, as there are spots where one hairpin turn leads to another.

There are also residents and workers on these ranches. I saw several semis headed the other direction. During the harvest season, not only are there large trucks running up and down the roads, there are also stacks of packing crates along the side — and sometimes in — the road. In some ways, this is an industrial area and the industry is farming.

The Impreza WRX proved to be a very enjoyable ride on this most challenging highway. Equipped with the turbo and all-wheel drive, it ate up the curves. Quick shifting with the five-speed manual kept the RPM gauge running up and down, but the low speeds on the narrow, twisting road mostly kept the turbocharger from kicking in. The suspension is firm, so there was minimal lean around the curves, but not so firm that the ride is jiggly on the freeway. This wasn’t the STi showroom-to-racetrack version, but the base WRX’s wide body and 17-inch wheels keep the car glued to the road.

The spots that are both scary and delightful along De Luz are where the road dips into ravines, fording the streams that run through the area. Even in late spring, water can still be flowing across the road, which is what it’s designed to do. There’s only one bridge along this route and it crosses the Santa Margarita River. The rest of the dips in the terrain are followed by the road; they’re well marked, so pay attention. They’re usually under the canopy of natural oaks and other trees, which are a nice break during hot weather.

De Luz Road spends part of its life in the rugged and wide open northeastern edge of Camp Pendleton and another part in the Santa Margarita Open Space Preserve, two non-developments that have resulted in the area looking much as it did when European settlers moved into this area in the 1880s.

In the midst of this is the De Luz Nature Study Center, located in the old one-room De Luz School, which operated from 1927-1968. I didn’t have time to stop during my visit, but the center is open to the public. Call the center at (760) 723-7070 for details.

Leaving the mountains, De Luz Road makes one final sharp turn, then runs straight south into Fallbrook. Its quaint downtown is dotted with restaurants, art galleries and antique shops, making it a favorite with weekend drivers. If you have time, park and walk around.

It was along Main Street that I saw the first “Historic Route U.S. 395” sign. Recently added by the County of San Diego and spearheaded by the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce, the historic routing traces the original path of old U.S. 395, which wandered south from Temecula to Escondido through Fallbrook, Vista and San Marcos. (Update: There’s now a 395 Facebook page.)

Of course, it’s fun to retrace old highways, but it’s better to make your destination one of North County’s great burger stands: George Burgers in San Marcos. That it took me mostly over old U.S. 395 was just so much the better.

From Fallbrook, I headed south through Bonsall to the sometimes traffic-clogged Pala Road, east over the San Luis Rey River (looking for the old Bonsall Bridge to the west), over East Vista Way to Escondido Avenue and South Santa Fe Avenue. From there, it was east, following the old Santa Fe railroad tracks (route of the new Sprinter light-rail passenger service) and into San Marcos. A right turn at Palomar College and we’re at 217 N. Las Posas Avenue.

George Burgers has been operated since 1976 by the George Papoutsis family, where things have been upgraded a bit since they were relocated up the street in 2004 after state Route 78 was widened. They have a huge menu, including many Mexican and Greek items, but it’s the burgers I love.

From here, head south a block or so to state Route 78; east is Escondido and I-15, while west goes to Oceanside and I-5.

If burgers aren’t your passion, it’s OK to finish your San Diego day trip at Pala Road, making a left to go back to I-15 and home. But a George’s #1 Combo with cheese had my name on it, so I wound 12 miles through the traffic in Vista and San Marcos for George Burgers.

Not a bad way to spend the day.

Along De Luz Road.
Watch the curves on De Luz Road.

Route and Info

  • From May 2007

Distance

  • About 44 miles from Temecula to San Marcos.

Difficulty

  • Challenging through De Luz. Traffic on Pala Road and through Vista and San Marcos.

Directions

  • Interstate 15 north to Temecula.
  • Exit I-15 at Rancho California Road. Turn left onto Rancho California Road.
  • Left onto Rancho California Road.
  • Left at De Luz Road.
  • Continue onto De Luz Murietta Road.
  • Left at De Luz Road.
  • In Fallbrook, continue onto North Pico Avenue.
  • Left at West Mission Road.
  • Right at Main Street.
  • Right at Ammunition Road.
  • Left at South Mission Road.
  • Right at Pala Road (SR-76).
  • Left at East Vista Way.
  • Left at Escondido Avenue.
  • Left at South Santa Fe. At Rancho Santa Fe Road in San Marcos, road changes name to Mission Road.
  • Right at Las Posas Avenue and SR-78.

Web Sites

WRX enjoyed the curves.

Golfing Through the Dene: A Great Drive, Plus Links, North of Escondido

North of Escondido is some of the most rugged terrain in San Diego county.

Among the peaks and valleys the some great roads on today’s itinerary. And, of course, there’s just a bit of history along the way. Our route twists over peaks and ravines, past avocado groves, a gaggle of golf courses and ends up crossing a graceful, award-winning bridge.

So gas up the bike, convertible or sports car, and come along for a great San Diego day trip.

After exiting Interstate 15 at El Norte Parkway in Escondido, cut through the suburban mishmash and head north on Broadway past Escondido High School and the Reidy Creek Golf Course (the first of five we’ll pass today). Turn left to a real hidden gem, the community of Jesmond Dene.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the name — Jesmond Dene. As a kid cruising around in the back seat of my parents’ Pontiac, I always though there was something funny about the name. To a six-year-old, Jesmond Dene became Jimmy Dean, the country singer and sausage maker Jimmy Dean. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Turns out, the name comes from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in northeastern England, reports Leland Fetzer in his book, “San Diego County Place Names A to Z.” Two guys named W.G. Morgan and W.G. Moore developed it as a “cabin subdivision” in 1927. They hoped the image of green, rolling hills and Olde England would help sell homes in rugged, dry San Diego county.

And by the way, dene is a British English word for valley, according to Merriam-Webster.

“Downtown” is marked by the Moose Lodge (No. 1874), where there’s not only a hall, but a small campground out back for members.

The winding, sometimes tree-shaded road terminates at the northern end of Centre City Parkway at the Thunderbird Driving Range, (760) 746-0245 (we’ll count it as golf course No. 2), which is the old U.S. 395 — the highway that preceded today’s Interstate 15.

Along here, it’s not much more that the freeway’s frontage road, but it connects to our next turn, Mountain Meadow Road.

The sign says “no outlet,” but it’s worth looping around. A more recent suburb, Hidden Meadows, is up the hill at an elevation of 1,500 feet. Neatly kept homes pepper the hills, surrounding the Meadow Lake Country Club (golf course No. 3). Enjoy the drive through this lovely neighborhood; information and history is available online.

Maps will show connections west other than Mountain Meadow Road, but they’re all blocked by gates… at least the ones I was able to find. Still, I had fun driving around the hills.

Back at old U.S. 395, we head north, where it’s now called Champagne Boulevard. The section is named after the Welk Village Resort and surrounding developments, which were started by late bandleader Lawrence Welk. His bubbly “Champagne Music” continues to be a TV staple in PBS reruns but started back in the 1950s when his show was called the “Dodge Dancing Party.” Sometimes old postcards show up on eBay with Welk standing next to a swell ’61 Dodge convertible… but that’s another story.

I didn’t visit the village during my drive, but it includes a restaurant, theater and golf course (No. 4).

Take a right at Circle R Drive to the Castle Creek resort (and golf course, No. 5), where I stopped for lunch. I never learned how to play the game (always figured I had enough problems), but I have found that golf courses usually have nice restaurants.

When you’re out on the road, there are usually only a few places to stop to eat. A gas station/convenience store might have a deli, but chances are they’ve only got those factory-made sandwiches designed for long shelf life. Possibly better than a military MRE, but not by much.

A road house restaurant with a gaggle of motorcycles parked out front is a must those of you on two wheels. But another option: San Diego county is covered with golf courses and their “19th hole” eateries generally have good food with a better view than either the gas station or road house. Most are open to the public.

The restaurant at the Castle Creek Country Club didn’t disappoint. Aptly named “The View Restaurant,” it has a vista of the greens, surrounding homes and hills. The food and service weren’t bad, either. In addition to the golf course, Castle Creek has a spa and hotel.

From there, it was back to the twists and curves. Circle R Drive quickly climbs the hills, providing rich views back to I-15 and over to Valley Center, depending on which side of the hills you’re on. The twists and turns are even more enjoyable as traffic can be light, especially if you’re lucky enough to take your cruise on a weekday.

Circle R meets up with West Lilac Road and continues west, through stables, groves of avocado, a few greenhouses and fields growing a variety of crops. Ranchettes here have a few acres and a large home. Where I-15 meets West Lilac Road, engineers blasted through the ridge to reduce the grade as the freeway heads south from Pala Road. There’s no interchange at West Lilac, but a graceful, single-arch bridge that’s a local landmark. Driving across the bridge, you don’t realize its beauty, but from the freeway, do check it out.

The 695-foot span won several awards when it opened in 1979, according to Caltrans spokesman Hayden Manning.

Reaching Old Highway 395 (so signed in this area), I turned left to return home. Rather than entering the freeway a mile or so south, I opted to cruise back down the old highway as far as Mountain Meadow.

North County’s jagged terrain has some real gems for roads, not to mention some hidden communities and lots of golf courses. I’ll waive to all you duffers as I’m cruising by.

Teeing off on one of today’s courses.

Route and Info

  • From June 2006

Distance

  • About 20 miles.

Difficulty

  • Moderate; lots of hills and twists.

Directions

  • Interstate 15 to El Norte Parkway.
  • East on El Norte Parkway to Broadway.
  • Left on Broadway.
  • Left on Jesmond Dene Road.
  • Right on Centre City Parkway.
  • Right on Mountain Meadow Road. At Hidden Meadows Road, turn left to stay on Mountain Meadow Road.
  • Right at Meadow Glen Way East.
  • Continue onto Granite Ridge Road.
  • Continue onto Hidden Meadows Road.
  • Right at Champagne Boulevard.
  • Right at Circle R Drive.
  • Continue onto West Lilac Road.
  • Left at Old Highway 395. Return to Interstate 15.
Lawrence Welk sells a full-size Dodge Dart back in the day.