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Suggested route from San Diego to Palm Desert

Sydney
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Suggested route from San Diego to Palm Desert

Our family are driving up from San Diego to Palm Desert in the last week of September and I was wondering if there is a scenic route which someone could suggest? We plan to stop in Julian, but as check-out time in SD is 10 am and check-in time in PD is 4 pm we will have plenty of time to take in the scenery. We only have two days in PD but really want to maximise the time checking out mountain and desert scenery after just having spent a week in San Diego and a week in Anaheim before flying home to Australia.

Also, advice on approximate driving time from PD to LAX (want to arrive around 4 pm on a Friday)?

Thanks.

Dom

San Diego
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1. Re: Suggested route from San Diego to Palm Desert

First of all, just because a hotel says check in is at 4 , it does NOT mean you canNOT check in before that. It only means that by 4PM they MUST have your room ready for you. We usually check in with hotels that are not busy by 1PM.

With that said, if you are going to Julian then you are already on the back roads to Palm Desert . You have a couple of choices depending on how much time you'd like to take. You can come back down the mountain from Julian and then follow 79(curves to the right at Santa Ysabel) to 371 . 371 is the usual designated scenic road over the mt. to Palm Desert.

You could also continue on 78 from your stop in Julian over the mt and down through Anza Borrego State Park (also a designated scenic route through the park) to 86 north , which will take you past the Salton Sea(inland salt lake) and then connect to 111 which will take you to Palm Desert.

I have not timed either of these routes. You might put Julian, Ca. into Google. When the map comes up you can use the route planning function to see what they say about mileage and time.

I'd leave at least 2 hours for your drive from PD to LAX. Perhaps err on the side of caution and go into LA earlier in the day to make sure you are closer.

Manhattan Beach...
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2. Re: Suggested route from San Diego to Palm Desert

We stay in Palm Desert quite frequently. It is about a two hour drive to LAX. However, on a Friday afternoon, everything changes. People get off work early and head out for long weekends in every direction. More traffic will be heading toward PS, but as you pass through some areas it will slow donw.

Best to allow 3 hours for the return trip to LAX on a Friday. You also have to drop off your car at the rental, and take the shuttle back to the airport.

We are usually lucky and are able to check in around 1 PM at hotels, or soon after.

Sydney
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3. Re: Suggested route from San Diego to Palm Desert

Thanks for the tip about Friday traffic in and around LA. Our flight is not until just before midnight so we have booked a hotel near to LAX to relax and freshen up. Sounds like the easiest way is leave PD around lunch time and take it easy driving back to LAX.

San Diego...
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4. Re: Suggested route from San Diego to Palm Desert

San Diego to Julian is about a 90-minute drive. There are 3 ways to get there. One is through Ramona and Santa Ysabel, but I think that's the least scenic and least interesting. Another way is Interstate 8 east to the exit for Highway 79 to Cuyamaca and Julian. You drive on Old Highway 80 for a couple of miles then turn left on 79 to drive through Rancho Cuyamaca State Park, past Lake Cuyamaca then on to Julian. This was a beautiful drive, but the Cedar Fire of October 2003 devastated Rancho Cuyamaca State Park and it is recovering only very slowly. It's still a pleasant drive but there are far fewer trees than before the fire and it has a little more of a barren look than the dense forest it used to be.

The third way, and in my opinion the best now, is to continue on Interstate 8 further until you come to Sunrise Highway, then turn left on Sunrise Highway and drive on that through the Laguna Mountain Recreation area. Most of it is still forest untouched by the fires of the recent years. When you get to the 6,000-foot level, the drive will give you spectacular views of the desert floor 6,000 feet below on the right, and if it's really clear you can see all the way to Arizona. There are a couple of turnouts with views and one has a platform. If you park along Sunrise Highway you must have the National Forest Adventure Pass which you can buy for one day for $5, you can purchase it at the Laguna Mountain Lodge or the visitor center nearby. There is also a scenic viewpoint close to Julian which does not require any parking pass to park at.

Continue on Sunrise Highway until it ends at the intersection of Highway 79, then turn right and go 6 miles to Julian. Before Julian you will pass that scenic parking area.

There are many places to eat in Julian but I happen to think the best apple pie is at the tiny Apple Alley Bakery, on the right (east side) of the street.

Which way you go to Palm Desert from Julian will determine which road you exit Julian from. If via the mountain route, you would go west out of Julian on the 79 towards Santa Ysabel. If via the desert route, you would go east out of Julian on the 78 towards Banner and Borrego Springs.

Julian to Palm Desert by way of Santa Ysabel, Warner Springs, Sunshine Summit, Aguanga, Anza and La Quinta is 90 miles, and is listed as 2 hours but I think it will take longer than that. Much of it is winding roads. It's pretty scenic too, so you may want to make some stops. You will pass the Santa Ysabel Asistencia mission with its picturesque graveyard, and another small, very old church that you can visit, I can't remember the name of it though. You will have a view of Lake Henshaw and a far-away view of Palomar Mountain. At Aguanga you get on the 371 towards Palm Desert. There is a tiny Indian-owned casino at Cahuilla if you are in a gambling mood. When you come to Highway 74 (the "Palms-to-Pines Highway" you would turn right on it to go to Palm Desert.

Julian to Palm Desert the other way, through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, north on the 86 past the Salton Sea and then into Palm Desert, is 112 miles, listed as about 2 hours 15 minutes. That route would be much more desert-like and will be considerably higher in temperature in September. If this was March or April I would suggest this route so you could stop and see the wildflowers in Borrego Springs. But in September, I would recommend the more mountainous route. The desert route would be kind of a long, hot, relatively boring drive. If you do take the desert route, don't bother stopping to see the Salton Sea at all.

While you are in Palm Desert, if you want to see more mountain scenery, you can drive back on Highway 74 (the "Palms-to-Pines Highway") past Lake Hemet and turn right at Mountain Center on Highway 243 to go up to Idylwild. This is a mountain resort town, much more crowded and developed than Laguna Mountain and Julian, but still pretty nice. A good place to eat there is the Gastro Gnome. It's more expensive than some of the other places there but I thought the quality of the food and service made it worth it. You can drive up to Humber Park and see Tahquitz Peak, a huge rock that southern California rock climbers practice on before going to Yosemite. You can leave Idylwild by the way you came in, or to make a loop trip out of it, just continue north on the 243 down the mountain to Banner, then on Interstate 10 east to Highway 111 south back to Palm Springs and then Palm Desert.

Another way to get to the mountains from Palm Springs is of course to ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which takes you from the desert floor up to Mount San Jacinto State Park, where it can be 30 degrees cooler than the desert. You would end up in the forest at the top of the mountain, not far as the crow flies from Idylwild and Tahquitz Peak, but no roads, only a long hike, connect the two so you have no choice but to take the tramway back down to the desert.

Sydney
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5. Re: Suggested route from San Diego to Palm Desert

Thanks for the advice. I checked the timings and the 'usual' route from Julian to PD via the 371 takes 1 hour 45 minutes, whilst taking taking the 78 and 86 via Salton Sea takes 2 hours and 4 minutes. Given that there is not much difference in the driving time, which route do you think offers the best scenery ( realise they are probably both scenic in their own way).

Cheers

Dom

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6. Re: Suggested route from San Diego to Palm Desert

In my opinion the mountain route is far more scenic. If it were March or April then you would have a reason to go through Anza-Borrego for the wildflowers. But the wildflowers are long gone by September. The drive through Santa Ysabel, Waner Springs, Sunshine Summit, Aguanga, Anza and La Quinta will provide a variety of backcountry scenery and a few historic sites. And it will be significantly cooler than driving through the desert. By "mountain route" I don't mean to imply that it's going to be forest the whole way. Most in fact is not forested but what I would describe more accurately as "rural," i.e., ranches and the like.

Edited: 7:43 pm, August 06, 2010
7. Re: Suggested route from San Diego to Palm Desert

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