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A Hidden Gem in San Diego: Lemon Grove
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A Hidden Gem in San Diego: Lemon Grove

Lemon Grove is a hidden gem in San Diego. Discover the giant lemon, hidden murals, Berry Street Park, and the plaza of this town.

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4 min read

December 29, 2021

Only a few miles away from America’s Finest City lies the idyllic community of Lemon Grove. This eclectic mix of more than 26,000 residents basks in the charms of small-town living and take advantage of all the conveniences of big-city proximity. A town with unique historic roots, community pride, and infectious spirit, Lemon Grove boasts about having the best climate on earth—in fact, it has actually been their motto for about 100 years.

Uncovering the History of Lemon Grove

A small town with a weird name may be the first impression you get, but Lemon Grove has a history so interesting you'll want to learn more.

It Began as an Idea 

In the late 1800s, sheep rancher Robert Allison realized that citrus-bearing trees grew well in the rich soil and temperate climate of this area. Credited with coining the city’s slogan in 1925, merchant Tony Sonka called it the ‘Best Climate on Earth’—a San Diego fun fact to definitely be proud of.

The railroad first arrived in 1888, and developing orchards made great economic sense. Joseph Allison built the first flume in 1891, bringing plenty of water to the rich land. A year later, he flew a subdivision map for Lemon Grove. A packing house, a train station, a store, and a post office quickly followed suit. By the time 1895 rolled around, Lemon Grove in San Diego was completely blanketed by sprouting citrus trees.

Building Lemon Grove’s Community

Residents of the area who were linked by common enterprise banded together and built a community. Soon, early organizations were founded, with the list including (but not limited to) the Lemon Grove Fruit Growers Association and the Lemon Grove School District. The first church building—Atherton Chapel—was erected in 1897.

And while the community was growing bit by bit, there were no municipal services for Lemon Grove, San Diego—the County of San Diego was the only government the town had and it was based many miles away. It wasn’t until 1903 that Lemon Grove’s first constable was appointed. 

Interesting fact about Lemon Grove: this town was the location of the nation’s first successful school desegregation case in 1931.

Lemon Grove San Diego: The Good Era

From 1915 to 1930, Lemon Grove had a seat at the table—resident Charles L. Good was a member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Handsome and personable, Dr. Good was a natural when it came to politics; no wonder he held office for 16 years. During his time, he was very aware of the need for better roads and bridges. Good traversed his district by wagon and automobile and experienced what he called the ‘spine jarring’ state city roads were in. By 1918, he had overseen the construction of 34 bridges, miles upon miles of roads, and declared that on his watch, all of the roads would be kept in the best shape possible. His campaign slogan was “Good’s good roads.” And thus commenced the good era of Lemon Grove, San Diego.

A rise of community organizations was especially rampant at the time, with the first annual Lemon Grove Products Exhibit organized by the Civic League. With all of this going on though, there were only six telephones in town.

The idea to name Lemon Grove in honor of the citrus crop is credited Tempa Waterman Allison, rancher Robert Allison's wife.

How San Diego’s Lemon Grove Got Its Name

The post-World War II era brought prosperity and change to Lemon Grove. Orchards were plowed under, and suburban development came to take their place. The United States Navy became a force in the natural harbor of San Diego, making many young sailors and marines put down roots and stay. 

By the early 1970s, Lemon Grove’s pioneers were gone. The torch was already passed to the doctors, businessmen, and community boosters of the post-war era. In April 1975, the Citizens for the Incorporation of Lemon Grove was formed. Led by a retired Navy Chief and local business owner Dell Lake, the community’s efforts finally paid off in July 1977 when Lemon Grove officially became California’s 414th city. It ceded lands north of Highway 94—this land was once home to the Waite family farm and the old stone fairy—all the way to beautiful La Mesa.

Flash forward to today, and the City of Lemon Grove is a vibrant community to its 26,000 residents. Exhibiting small-town charm in the midst of bustling metropolitan of San Diego, it pays homage to its past in a myriad of ways. There’s still a small lemon orchard next to city hall, and the iconic 1928 ‘Big Lemon’ is a must-see all on its own.

Attractions in Lemon Grove Worth Checking Out 

A 3,000-pound civic lemon statue sits in the center of Lemon Grove. It's around 10 feet long and six feet wide.

The Giant Lemon 

A lemon weighing an astonishing 11 pounds and 9.7 ounces was discovered on January 8, 2003, by Aharon Shemoel on his farm in Kefar, Israel—it officially became the world’s largest lemon. However, that lemon has no game against the tourist attraction found a little east of San Diego. This enormous lemon is about ten feet long and several feet high; it lies inside a small lemon grove near the Orange Line trolley tracks. And, of course, its concrete base sports the words “Best Climate on Earth.”

The Hidden Murals of Lemon Grove

Tucked away behind an unassuming set of shops is an artistic world you’d initially never associate with Lemon Grove, San Diego. Vivid shades of purple, yellow, and blue weave a stunning tapestry of murals by Sydel Howell and her mother. Alongside five additional muralists—Beth Emmerich, Gloria Muriel, Alex Banach, Maxx Moses, and KJ Ashley—Howell created a lasting testament to the artistic accolades of the endlessly inspiring Golden State. Containing various themes of nature and images that appear to be pulled from an enchanting dreamscape, the Lemon Grove Murals are one of the lesser-known but equally impressive Instagrammable spots in California.

Lots of trees, dog park areas, and plenty of space to run around; Berry Street Park is a fun spot for a picnic in Lemon Grove.

Berry Street Park

With ample shade and endless greenery, Berry Street Park is Lemon Grove's outdoor recreation haven. People come here to relax with their children, enjoy the famed climate, and frolic around with their four-legged best friend. The park is also pretty close to St. John of the Cross Lemon Grove, a catholic parish with magnificent architecture.

Lemon Grove Plaza

If you want to get a little bit of shopping done on your trip, Lemon Grove Plaza is always an excellent choice. Offering great visibility from Highway 94, the shopping center is great for hop-in-hop-out kind of purchases—you can grab your necessities and get back to exploring.

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