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Explore the craft breweries, culinary scene, and adventurous outdoors of this unique San Diego County city

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About 30 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, Escondido is the best little town you’ve likely never heard of. Historically, visitors have flocked here for a couple major draws—San Diego Zoo Safari Park (sister property to the world-renowned downtown zoo) and Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens, one of the largest craft breweries in the country. But those two attractions are just scratching the surface of this eclectic city on the rise.

I came up with the tagline, ‘Come for the wildlife, stay for the culture,’” says Katherine Zimmer, Escondido’s tourism and marketing administrator. “The Safari Park is the wildlife, and the brewery also offers a kind of wild life, and then we’ve got this great culture.”

Founded in 1888, Escondido boasts an Old West charm—especially apparent in its historic downtown architecture—that melds with a dynamic arts scene. The California Center for the Arts, a visual and performing arts complex that includes a concert hall, theater, and modern art museum, serves as a vibrant cultural hub, and numerous galleries around town showcase art from local and international artists. There’s also the popular Patio Playhouse Community Theatre, which first opened in 1967. Art lovers (and kids alike)  enjoy Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, a whimsical sculpture garden in Kit Carson Park featuring works by renowned French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle.

Escondido’s culinary scene is just as inspired. In addition to established eateries like Vintana Wine + Dine (located above a Lexus dealership—but it works) and Bellamy’s Restaurant, newer spots like The Wooden Spoon (try the Banh Mi sandwich) and Burger Bench are serving up inventive fare using locally sourced ingredients. There’s no shortage of options to satisfy your thirst for good craft beer, too. There are dozens of beers on tap at Stone Brewing HQ, and the tap rooms at Jacked Up Brewery (known for its killer porter) and Plan 9 Alehouse are two hot spots. Wine lovers will be equally satisfied here—a growing number of local winemakers are harvesting their grapes in Escondido, which has a long agricultural heritage due to the temperate Mediterranean-like climate. Sample the local urban winemaking trend at the Vesper Vineyards tasting room and the BK Cellars Urban Winery & Tasting Lounge.

In addition to the burgeoning wine scene, the area is also becoming known as a place to get your nature fix. With three major lakes (Dixon Lake, Lake Hodges, and Lake Wohlford) and more than 20 miles of trails at Daley Ranch, the area is a playground for hikers, horseback riders, fishermen, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts. For another kind of natural bliss, check out Deer Park Monastery, one of three Buddhist monasteries in the United States. People come to the sanctuary from all over the world to take classes on meditation and mindfulness.

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