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.