Our guide to unique lodging and adventures in San Diego's beautiful backcountry.
Photo, left: Courtesy: Ayres Lodge Alpine
Photo, right, by Jonathan Goetz
Story and most photos by: Jonathan Ronald Goetz
June 10, 2018 (Alpine) – The Ayres Lodge Alpine is a friendly, well-maintained hotel with old West feel and modern appeal It’s located just off Interstate 8 at Tavern Road in Alpine, gateway to the Cuyamaca Mountains, Cleveland National Forest, local lakes and other backcountry adventure areas. Alpine is in San Diego's East County, within 30 to 45 minutes from downtown and coastal areas.
Alpine boasts of its “best climate in the U.S.A.” as rated by a WWI-era government report. The area has a rich history, first settled by the Kumeyaay Native Americans approximately 12,000 years ago. The area was renamed “Alpine” from “Viejas” by early white pioneer settlers, who began arriving in approximately 1860. (Learn more at the Alpine Historical Society)
In 1986, Don Ayres built what is now the Ayres Lodge Alpine at the corner of Tavern Road and Alpine Boulevard, and it is still in the family to this day. Recent renovations added class and large TVs to the rooms.
Photo: 50” flatscreen and desk standard in every room
The Ayres finished renovating each of its 97 rooms in March 2018, complete with 50” flatscreens, new carpet, lamps, tubs/showers, chairs, beds and drapes. These renovations happen every five to six years at all the Ayres family's hotels, according to General Manager Larry Clark.
New dark wood accents bring a touch of class and elegance to the woodsy, two story lodge.
What to do in Alpine
Walk into a world of books, or computers, not 500 feet from your room, in the world-class Alpine County Branch Library. There is also a bookstore, open to the general public, except on Sundays.
Photo: Alpine Library, 1752 Alpine Blvd, Alpine, CA 91901 (619) 445-4221
Within the Ayres Lodge Center, you will find Panda Machi Sushi Bar & Chinese Cuisine, Franco's Flapjack Breakfast House, Mañanas Mexican Food, Greek Village Grill, American Grill (breakfast, lunch & dinner), Little Caesar's pizza, Steph's Donut Hole and a deli at Country Wine & Spirits that is well reviewed online. Several stores are new, including Seek & Gather.
Across the street in another shopping center is a Baron's Market, CVS, Mediterraneo Restaurant and Rite-Aid. Heading east along Alpine Boulevard is a charming downtown main street, great for your local vacation.
A few blocks north on Alpine Blvd. is Janet's Montana Cafe (2506 Alpine Boulevard, Alpine CA 91901 (619) 659-3874) with great ambiance reminscent of a log cabin, and service if you're looking to stay with the country feel. Just look for the bear statue atop the building.
Photo by Miriam Raftery: Janet’s Montana Café
Alpine Beer Company on the south side of Alpine Blvd. has hand-crafted brews and an adjacent pub.
Across the highway is the Viejas Casino and Resort, which has a great steakhouse and buffet plus gaming, as well as the Viejas Outlets Center mall across the street from the casino offering factory outlet stores amid a charming setting with bronze wildlife statues, fountains and pawprints of local wildlife embedded in meandering walkways through the Southwest-themed property.
Viejas hosts numerous special events, too, such as summertimes concerts and movies in the park and in winter, the largest ice-skating rink in southern California.
Photo: Deer statue at Viejas Outlets Center
West of Alpine
On our way to Alpine, we stopped by Summers Past Farms in Flinn Springs for coffee, refreshments and specialty soaps. I announce some of their special events on 89.1fm, but this was my first time at the picturesque location.
Photo: Summers Past Farms (credit: Zaid Al-Mubarek), open to the public at 15602 Olde Hwy 80, El Cajon
Nearby, at Flinn Springs County Park, there's a playground for kids to play, picnic areas, a gazebo and more.
Photo: Flinn Springs County Park
Another attraction just west of Alpine is Lake Jennings, 9535 Harritt Road, with fishing and boating opportunities.
Photo: (Jonathan Goetz, Nital Meshkoor, Ronald Goetz, credit: Zaid Al-Mubarek) Lake Jennings
East of Alpine
A few miles east of Alpine, the Descanso/Highway 79 exit is the gateway to the Cuyamaca Mountains and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, where you can enjoy hiking at beautiful places such as Green Valley Falls. The falls are about five miles up state route 79 on your left, best seen in spring or early summer when the water is flowing and easily accessible with just a short walk. You can also visit Lake Cuyamaca, about a half hour away, with boating and fishing amid a pine forest.
Photo by Miriam Raftery: Green Valley Falls
In Alpine, if you follow Alpine Blvd. just north of town you’ll come to the ranger station for Cleveland National Forest on your left at 3348 Alpine Blvd.
The ranger station has information on rugged areas within the forest such as the Pacific Coast Trail which runs from Mexico to Canada, and multiple waterfalls accessible only by a steep and rugged half-day hike. Some require permits.
Choosing your room at Ayres Lodge Alpine
Basic rooms start under $100 most weeknights and $150 most weekends and include a desk, 50” flatscreen tv and tub/shower (except one Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] compliant walk-in shower).
There are two ice-makers on the ground floor, as well as a gas grill and koi pond in the garden. Deluxe rooms come with a mini-fridge and microwave.
Photo: King rooms are the same size as the double queen but include a leather couch/sofa bed and coffee table instead of a second bed. A nice touch if you're going to be spending much time in your room.
Quietest rooms face the garden out back, and the east tower.
Photo (Credit: Zaid Al-Mubarek)
You can play in the heated pool, relax in the spa, lift weights, jog or climb stairs in the small fitness room, or exercise with your kids during a picnic at one of the playgrounds at Flinn Springs County Park, located just a few miles west.
When asked about a review on Trip Adviser titled “Always Excellent – Always Welcoming” Clark tells us, “That comes from the Ayres family. It's their core value: they care about people.”
Clark continues “Ayres really puts money back in its assets. To maintain the hotels we have vigorous quality assurance inspections.”
Even now, construction is underway on a new elevator. It may be slightly inconvenient during construction, but once complete, will be of great service to those on the second story.
What about breakfast?
Breakfast is great, between continental and American, and included with your room. Your choice of coffee, apple juice, orange juice, milk, eggs, biscuits and gravy, jams, yogurt, cereal, either bacon or sausage (depending on the day) and do-it-yourself (or with help from one of the friendly breakfast attendants) waffle iron and bagel toaster.
The recently finished room renovations add a classy touch to the friendly, clean and well-maintained Ayres Lodge Alpine, making for a well kept, centrally located mountain retreat on Tavern Road in downtown Alpine.
Alpine Ayres Lodge
1251 Tavern Road
Alpine, CA 91901
East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the County of San Diego for providing a Community Enhancement Grant to support our “Backcountry Hidden Pleasures” weekend getaways coverage.