Rustic charm in Ramona

Enjoy hiking and comfort food in this small-town ranching hideaway northeast of San Diego

Debbie K. Hardin

Rustic old west style meets turn-of-the-century charm in Ramona, at the foot of San Diego County's Cuyamaca Mountains.

Large horse and pony ranches ― and one of the only camel dairies in the country (that's right, we said camel dairies) ― still dot the outlying hills, while in town, friendly antiques shops and family restaurants are the order of the day.

Spend the cool morning hours hiking nearby Mt. Woodson, which is plenty green this month, before heading for the pleasingly uncrowded sidewalks of Main Street.

GETTING THERE

Ramona is about 35 miles northeast of downtown San Diego. From I-8 east to I-15 north, exit east on Scripps-Poway Pkwy. and continue on State 67 north to Ramona.

NEARBY

March is an excellent time to tackle the Mt. Woodson East Trail for panoramic views of the Cuyamaca Mountains in full spring glory. Pick up the marked trailhead 5 miles southwest of town along State 67, just a few yards from the forest-fire-station sign. A quarter-mile dirt pathway meanders through an oak grove before joining the main asphalt trail to the summit. Climb past California buckwheat and manzanita and around smooth boulders the size of SUVs. The moderate-to-strenuous, out-and-back trail to the top is 3.6 miles and gains more than 1,000 feet in elevation ― but even a half-mile up-and-back jaunt will reward you with unparalleled views.

Camp San Diego
Down by the Oceanside
70 perfect miles

GO

Guy B. Woodward Museum The centerpiece of Old Town Ramona, with a picturesque collection of 19th-century pioneer structures set amid cactus, blooming citrus trees, and roses. Peek into the town's original one-room jail or a real cowboy bunkhouse. INFO: 1-4 Thu-Sun; $3; 645 Main St.; 760/789-7644.

SHOP

Squash Blossom Trading Co. An antiques store with colorful Native American and Mexican folk art. Pick up whimsical vintage postcards or chunky hand-carved furniture. INFO: 738 Main St.; 760/788-2353.

Original Old Town Ramona Candy Company The fun candy shop at the front of the antiques mall has huge wooden barrels overflowing with nostalgic treats like Abba Zabba, Necco wafers, and wax lips. INFO: 734 Main St.; 760/789-0574.

EAT

La Cocina Come early to claim a lunch table inside the cozy Mexican cafe, and try authentic favorites like the juicy shredded-beef flautas, menudo, and albóndigas soup. INFO: $; 681 Main St.; 760/789-8332. Packards Relax on the outdoor patio with oversize lemon-poppy seed scones and lattes at the quaint gas station-turned-coffee shop. INFO: 680 Main St.; 760/789-4262.

Ramona Cafe A homey spot serving up huge plates of comfort food like meat loaf, burgers, and chicken-fried steak. Try the famous cinnamon rolls. INFO: $; 628 Main St.; 760/789-8656.


MORE: Get dozens of other great trip ideas in California »