This post was most recently updated on April 28th, 2022
If you’re looking for things to do in La Mesa, CA, I hope this will help. It may be overlooked as just another bedroom community of San Diego, but you can’t spend all your time at the beach! There’s so much more to do and it’s worth the time to explore inland. So…what makes La Mesa a fun place to visit? Read on to learn about at least 8 things to do in La Mesa — great for individuals, couples, or families.
And to make it even better, this article has been converted to a GPS-embedded guide on GPSmyCity. Use it without internet or data to follow my footsteps! (I will receive a small commission if you purchase the guide — thank you!)
1. Drive to the top of Mt. Helix
No doubt, it’s much easier to drive than to hike to the top of a mountain! Mt. Helix Park is a major landmark in la Mesa, at 1370 ft. At the top, you’ll find a nature preserve with amazing views, walking trails, an outdoor amphitheater, and even some parking. Mt. Helix is well-known for its Easter Sunrise service, Halloween Festival, Christmas caroling, and various musical performances held at the amphitheater. There’s also a 35-ft tall cross that can be seen from quite a distance.
I recently visited with my grandchildren. They loved walking the trails and climbing up and down the outdoor amphitheatre. But their favorite was climbing a pile of boulders they found!
2. Visit the historic La Mesa Depot Museum
La Mesa’s historic Depot Museum is actually California’s oldest building in its original form (built in 1894). That alone would make it noteworthy, but it’s also the only surviving San Diego and Cuyamaca Railway Station. These days, you can visit it free on Saturday afternoons from 1:00-4:00 pm. You can check out a steam locomotive and string of freight cars on the nearby track, see the ticket/waiting area, telegrapher’s station, and a small exhibit area in the baggage room.
3. Shop the historic La Mesa Village
Many of the buildings in La Mesa Village remain as they were in 1912 when La Mesa was incorporated. You’ll even find placards with photos of the original buildings on building walls, so you can compare. The Village is located on La Mesa Blvd, between Normal and Cypress Streets. There are lots of fun boutique and antique shops to visit, an art alley, and several great places to eat. My favorite store is The Corner Store at 8360 La Mesa Blvd.
You might also note that La Mesa Village hosts some spectacular events throughout the year, including weekly Friday night Farmers’ Markets, Back to the 50’s Car shows on Thursday nights in July and August, and a Christmas in the Village event the first Saturday in December.
Another interesting thing to do in the Village is to stroll La Mesa’s Walk of Fame — just look for descriptions of important La Mesa citizens printed on the sidewalk. You can learn a lot about the people who shaped La Mesa!
4. Get a bite to eat at Sheldon’s Service Station
Sheldon’s Service Station is a novel place to grab a bite because of its history (plus the food is delicious too!) This place used to be (yep, you guessed it!) a gas station, built in 1920. They serve breakfast and lunch with menu items like french toast, breakfast burritos, avocado toast, and a bunch of amazing sandwiches. Enjoy!
This isn’t the only place you can enjoy a meal or snack, however! Just in La Mesa Village, these restaurants also get rave reviews: Farmer’s Table La Mesa, Swami’s Cafe, and Surf Rider Pizza Company.
5. Take Instagram photos at the Rose Pink Cafe
Taking pics at a photoworthy place is such a trend these days, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention this delightfully pink cafe in La Mesa! But don’t just take photos — be sure to buy something to eat as well. I personally loved the lemon popyseed scone I picked up! Here’s a few of my own captures of the Rose Pink Cafe!
6. Discover Briercrest Park
When I choose a fun park to take my grandchildren to, I look for shade, restrooms, something unique to do, and plenty of parking. Briercrest Park has all of that! We recently packed a picnic lunch and headed to Briercrest Park on a hot summer day. I was amazed at the difference all the shade trees made! My grandchildren liked playing all of the outdoor musical instruments that are part of this park’s allure. But they were also equally entranced with the little “troll” bridges, a climbing rock, and sandbox. The nature path with a mosaic butterfly in the sidewalk adds to the experiences children and adults can enjoy here.
7. Play at Mesita Park
Mesita Park is a large park filled with blooming jacaranda trees in the spring, a new playground/tot lot, open grassy areas, ball fields, tennis courts, and a skate park. Parking is easy to find and picnic tables and shade structures make it nice for planning picnics or special events.
8. Explore Lake Murray
Lake Murray is a manmade reservoir within the acclaimed Mission Trails Regional Park. At the very least, drive through just to see this gem and enjoy a peaceful setting. But parking is plentiful, and it’s nice to walk around a bit, see the birdlife, and the sunlight sparkling on the water.
If you’re interested in spending the day here, you can also fish from the shore or take your own boat out on the water. Boats are also available for rent. You cannot, however, swim in this lake, as it is part of the San Diego County water supply. But you may bicycle, rollerblade, picnic, or go for a jog!
9. Take a hike at Mission Trails Regional Park
There are an abundance of hiking trails for all skill levels in Mission Trails Regional Park, and even a few mountains to summit. Cowles Mountain, at 1594 ft, is the highest peak in San Diego city. It is also one of the mountains in the 5-Peak Challenge — a challenge to hike to the top of all five mountains within Mission Trails.
If you’re looking for a milder activity, be sure to stop by the Mission Trails Visitor & Interpretive Center (currently closed due to the pandemic but should be open soon). The Visitor Center has a stunning view of Mission Gorge and houses exhibits on the history, animals and plant life of the area.
Now I hope you have a greater appreciation for all the things to do in La Mesa, CA. This will give you a headstart exploring!
We love La Mesa!
And I loved showing it to you!
We have been to California a lot and I had to look to see were La Mesa was! Yet one more spot to visit when we finally get back. We would definitely start with a visit to the top of Mt Helix for those views. We too would be taking the car! Love locals spots with history to eat in. But I probably would not want to miss the pink cafe either.
What a fun day trip! So much to see and do.
La Mesa looks like a real gem!
I’ll have to add La Mesa to our list of places to visit!
I would love to check out some of those shops and places in La Mesa Village. I love historic places and artsy things.
Making a day trip to Mt Helix sounds like my kind of thing. An open amphitheater sounds so cool and all the walking trails, the views, would be amazing. Also, Lake Murray looks so beautiful and peaceful!