Things to do in San Diego: Mission Trails Regional Park

Looking for fun things to do in San Diego?

A visit to Mission Trails Regional Park is a must if you’re looking for things to do in San Diego!

things to do in san diegoAlong the Father Juniper Serra Trail in Mission Trails Regional Park are three must-see places that make for a fun and informative day in San Diego: the Visitors Center, Grinding Rocks and Old Mission Dam.

You can bring the kids for the interactive activities at the Visitor’s Center.  There’s a Rubbing Center well-stocked with crayons and paper to make colorful drawings of dogs, mules, deer, bobcats, mountain lions, raccoons, and coyotes.  Any excuse to color and we’re in!

For the truly scientific mind, there are scats from bees to turkeys and mountain lions to view. How do they collect bee scats? If you don’t know what a scat is, look it up; it’s not something we want to define.  The Kumeyaay Native American culture display showcases artwork and tools used by the people who lived here long before the missionaries came to San Diego.

You should be sure to climb up stairs for further information about the unique chaparral environment.  Also, venture out to the veranda for a gorgeous view of the park—nature abounds!

After the informative excursion to the Visitors Center, you can walk, bike or roller blade along the trail to the Grinding Rocks. You’ll want to get a Trail Map at the Center before you leave, as this is a huge park.  The Grinding Rocks are located just off the paved trail and there is a boulder marking the entrance to the short steep walk to the creek.

things to do in san diegoHere you can allow your imagination to bring you back to the days when the rocks were used to grind the acorns for use as flour.  You can find the indentations on the flat surfaces of the boulders where the Kumeyaay women and children prepared this important staple to their diet.

As you ponder how life was decades ago, you can relax beside the bubbling creek which provides background music for the many songbirds overhead in the wide oak tree. The creek provides an oasis in the middle of the dry surroundings.  There are thick cattails, short marsh grasses, swaying trees, darting dragonflies, butterflies and mayflies. You may even catch sight of a lizard or two.

Once you’ve had your fill of the past and are back on the trail, look across the road and up above your head. Locals come from all over the county to climb these rocks. It’s fascinating to watch other people sweating it out to scale boulders while we sip cool water and let them do the hard work.

The walk from the Grinding Stones to the Dam is do-able, but hot! Only attempt it if you are in really good shape and have plenty of water. We always head back to the car and drive the rest of the way.

things to do in san diego

Biking the Trail!

You should definitely make the effort to go the Mission Trails Dam, regardless of how you arrive.  It was built by the indigenous people under the direction of the missionaries.  The politics of how this was accomplished is one we will stay out of; for now, it is a peaceful, timeless relic that is wonderful to gaze upon. It has been left alone from the time of its creation so that it is currently broken in the middle, and offers the mesmerizing sound of constant water flowing through the crack.

As with the Grinding Stones, the surroundings are natural and the insects are plentiful.  There are many dirt trails to follow from here that will take you from grasses to fields to riverbeds. The level of the creek that runs from the dam varies dramatically based on the season.

Enjoy your time at this popular regional park.  We didn’t go into the fabulous Cowles Mountain also located here—that’s an intense hike for another visit to the park. Visitors to San Diego often stick to the coastline and miss out on the wonders and beauty of East County nature.  You can enrich your vacation in San Diego by being a part of an entirely different landscape and our lovely Mission Trails Regional Park.

For more fun things to do in San Diego, visit us online at!

By: Heather Leigh

Edited by: Dawn-Renee Rice

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