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12 Things to do in La Mesa
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12 Things to do in La Mesa

Bask in the friendly ambiance and experience the wealth of treasures that put the “jewel” in the Jewel of the Hills.

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5 min read

May 23, 2021

Roll down the windows and feel the breeze ruffle your hair as you cruise through scenic La Mesa. The mountain views, antique stores, and calming lake views will surely leave you cravin’ more. Especially if you’re a nature aficionado, you’ll soon be calling the Jewel of the Hills—located just nine miles east of Downtown San Diego—home. This means whatever things you decide to do in La Mesa, will involve window shopping, strolling through natural wonders, and jogging to the sounds of the crashing waves (does that sound divine or what).

Discover one-of-a-kind gems tucked away in tree-lined neighborhoods, bask in the friendly ambiance, and experience the wealth of treasures that put the “jewel” in the Jewel of the Hills.

Can’t-miss things to do in La Mesa

Want to view spectacular panoramas of La Mesa, El Cajon, Spring Valley, and beyond? Make your way to Mount Helix and trek to the very top.

1. Climb Atop Mount Helix 

Breathtaking vistas flood the top (and the bottom) of Mount Helix, one of the highest points in San Diego County. Unbeatable photo-ops of San Diego, Tijuana, and El Canyon await you at Mount Helix, making this one of the best hikes you’ll ever take in the area. Spend the day traversing rustic trails and linger around to catch that iconic SoCal sunset—La Mesa getaways don’t get better than this. 

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2. Enjoy Live Entertainment at the Lamplighters Community Theatre 

Ever since the late 30s, the Lamplighters Community Theatre has been home to the performing arts, attracting audiences from all over the region. This local gem hosts six-season productions every year, wooing theatergoers with quality comedies, dramas, thrillers, and musicals. Take a break from your everyday routine and immerse yourself in a big production with an even bigger impact.

Swami's Cafe in La Mesa is a low-key restaurant that serves burgers, sandwiches, and breakfast fare. Photo courtesy of Swami's Cafe La Mesa.

3. Eat at Swami’s Cafe La Mesa

Whether you’re craving a healthy breakfast or opting for those cheat-day delicacies, a trip to Swami’s Cafe La Mesa will satisfy your hankering. From the moment you walk into this charming eatery, the surfer-cool feeling takes over. The friendly staff serves a menu of fresh everything with all dietary preferences considered. Swami’s Cafe La Mesa has all-organic coffees sourced from the best beans worldwide. Grab a fresh-roasted cup and make this your go-to date spot. Since the cafe is only 30 minutes from the world-famous Swami’s Beach, it’s only fitting that you go surfing after. 

Lake Murray is located within Mission Trails Regional Park and happens to be one of the best places to go fishing in the area.

4. Fish at Lake Murray

If your idea of recreational heaven is a scenic reservoir hugged by a wide parkland, head over to Lake Murray for all that and more. Paved trails dot the entire area; morning jogs and evening strolls are always a delight. This is also one of the few Southern California locations to catch trout and largemouth bass in rustic solitude. Come by during sunset or sunrise—whichever suits your fancy—and reel it in at this primo Southern California fishing destination.

5. Explore Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park is one of those places that you have to visit at least once in your lifetime. At 5,800 acres, the park is the largest urban open space located west of the Mississippi—just imagine the hiking potential in this outdoor paradise. The 40 miles of spectacular trails wind all the way to San Diego’s valleys, offering rock climbing and mountain biking opportunities at just about every turn. Check out the park’s visitor and interpretive center, dip your toes in the nearby streams, and marvel at San Diego’s beauty.

La Mesa Antique Mall is a gold mine when it comes to rare and unique finds. Look for souvenirs and expand your antique collection right here.

6. Browse for Souvenirs at La Mesa Antique Mall

Vintage goods, comic books, antique glass, and furniture—these quirky trinkets await at La Mesa Antique Mall. Located in the heart of La Mesa Village, this mall keeps the 50s spirit alive through items you wouldn’t see in regular shops. Check out each of the 40 little stores; you’ll find something worth collecting. The rare finds here make for the perfect souvenirs. 

7. Stroll down La Mesa’s Walkway of the Stars 

Explore the town with the help of the La Mesa Walkway of Stars, a pedestrian paradise turned urban park. Get a sense of the local lifestyle as you stroll past murals showcasing art and culture, and let the stars guide you on your journey. The park’s theme honors the city’s outstanding volunteers, who have provided over 10,000 hours of service to La Mesa— their efforts are forever commemorated with shiny stone stars.

Don't forget to pamper yourself! Keep calm and get your spa day on at Avia Salon and Day Spa for a much-needed massage.

8. Rejuvenate at Avia Salon and Day Spa

When all that traveling and moving around finally gets to you, pay a visit to Avia Salon and Day Spa for the most wellness-centric part of your getaway. This fabulous day spa specializes in massages, melting your muscle tension away with relaxing deep-tissue reflexology. The 10 treatment rooms—including a sauna, steam shower, and relaxation center—welcome you to experience pure bliss. When you’re done relaxing and unwinding, you can discover the other top things to do in La Mesa.

9. Spend an Afternoon in Harry Griffen Regional Park

Harry Griffen Regional Park is one of La Mesa’s and San Diego’s best-kept secrets. Equipped with shaded picnic spots, horseshoe pits, and play areas, the park is an ideal place to spend a sunny afternoon. Traverse the grassy fields of this 53-acre wonderland and rest near picnic areas shaded by eucalyptus giants. If you visit during the summer, you can also find the 360-seat amphitheater making way for all kinds of performances.

Purchase the best local honey, fresh veggies, fragrant flowers, and exquisite baked goods at the La Mesa Certified Farmers Market.

10. Shop at the La Mesa Certified Farmers Market

Once a week, Allison Avenue floods with neighbors from Grossmont, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley, and El Cajon. The reason? La Mesa Certified Farmers Market. Spend hours walking past rows upon rows of vendors that sell everything from fruit to household ornaments. If you want to whip up homemade pesto, there’s a vendor from Jamul that sells deliciously fragrant basil plants. And if you want to take your love of Italian cuisine further, find the vendor whose fresh noodles perfectly complement all homemade sauces.

Experience top-notch service and the rich and authentic flavors of Italian cuisine at Antica Trattoria. Photo courtesy of Antica Trattoria.

11. Indulge in Deliciousness at Antica Trattoria 

Savor every bite at Antica Trattoria, an authentic Italian restaurant in the heart of La Mesa, San Diego. Since opening its doors in 2001, this dazzling location has displayed a unique approach to dining. Each dish is infused with the freshest ingredients. Antica Trattoria’s lunch and dinner menus include flavorsome appetizers.

Salads and main courses such as hand-cut pappardelle with roasted garlic, oven-roasted tomatoes, crispy brussels sprouts, and delicious eggplant parmigiana are all must-tries. Just one bite and you’ll be transported to the colorful streets of Italy, where cooking is a way of life.

12. Visit La Mesa Depot 

Travel back in time to the Pacific Southwest, where California’s oldest building exists in its original form. Imagine Robert W. Waterman, California’s governor in 1894, strolling La Mesa Boulevard and thinking about the need for a railway station. Waterman’s brainchild was the iconic La Mesa Depot—the sole surviving Cuyamaca and San Diego Railway station in existence.

Explore the steam locomotive and a string of freight cars at this glorious La Mesa train museum. Experience a slice of Golden State history through fascinating exhibitions.

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