This post was most recently updated on November 11th, 2021
I’m pretty sure Lakeside is overlooked by San Diego tourists, maybe even by most San Diego county residents. Which is a little sad, since it’s a small town with some rural character and some beautiful gems. If you were to make a list of things to do in Lakeside, it wouldn’t include beaches and theme parks, because there aren’t any. But what it WILL include is lakes and mountains, impressive parks, a historic main street, ranches, rodeos, and some great eats. And that’s just for starters. Did you know Lakeside’s motto is “A Friendly Place to Live”? Well, it’s just as friendly to visit!
Interested in my list of things to do in Lakeside? Just scroll down and enjoy!
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. Lindo Lake County Park
I’m starting with my favorite because this Lindo Lake County Park offers so much AND because this lake is truly the centerpiece of Lakeside (and the source of its name!). Lindo Lake is a beautiful lake and is the only natural lake in San Diego County. The park surrounding the lake includes a walking trail all the way around the park, plenty of parking spots, restrooms, a skate park, fitness stations, a dance pavilion, softball field, butterfly garden, horseshoe pits and tennis courts. A highlight of the park is the beautiful boathouse, built in 1887.
I enjoyed walking around the park and birdwatching, another great pastime here as there are lots of ducks, geese, pelicans, and herons. The view from the boathouse is beautiful, so be sure to wander down there, too. If you have children there, you’ll want to spend some time at the playground and the butterfly garden. Watch out for cute little chipmunks or squirrels who occasionally poke their heads out of the ground or scamper up a tree. And feel free to feed the ducks — only please don’t feed them bread. A posted sign suggests chopped lettuce, sliced seedless grapes, corn, peas, cooked rice, or bird seed. If you include a picnic, you could easily spend several hours here. And that’s if you don’t stop to visit with one of the friendly old-timers who like to hang out here and share their stories about Lakeside!
One more thing! I learned about this really cool Kids in Parks program that Lindo Lake Park participates in. Kids earn points for walking different tracks in parks, and the points can be redeemed for prizes.
2. Lake Jennings
Another lake gem in Lakeside! Lake Jennings offers picnicking, wildlife spotting, fishing, hiking, camping, and boating. Plus beautiful views. Daily entrance fees are charged, but it’s only $4 per person over 16. Lake Jennings is currently open Friday – Sunday.
Take a picnic and enjoy one of the beautiful coves or hike the 5.5 mile trail around the lake. (Shorter hiking trails can be found within the campground.) Once I explored the campground a little, I knew I wanted to return. They even have five Tipi camping sites, where you can camp inside an authentic-looking native tepee.
If birding is your thing, Lake Jennings is a must-visit. San Diego County has over 475 bird species, more than any other county in the United States. And most of them can be found here at the lake; click here for a list of birds you might see. You might also get to see deer, bobcats, raccoons, skunks, and coyotes. And while this might not be what you want to see, I nearly stepped on this little guy! (Don’t worry! It’s a King snake, not a rattler, and I didn’t hurt it!)
3. Downtown Historic Lakeside Maine Street
I’ve always been a sucker for a historic downtown district — they snag me every time! And Lakeside was no different. I wish every town would preserve their original main street and keep that old vintage vibe. I just figure every building has a story and it needs to be told!
On Lakeside’s Maine Street (and no, that’s not a typo), there’s a Lakeside sign that spans the street, along with a sculpture depicting a cowboy on horseback. And many of the original Maine Street buildings have been preserved, including a hardware store, a theater, a pharmacy, and several others.
One of the most well-preserved buildings is the First Presbyterian Church of Lakeside, buit in 1895. It now houses the Lakeside Historical Society, and it can be toured. They even still ring the old bell for special events. A self-guided walking tour of Lakeside is available when you’re ready to take in all of Lakeside’s interesting history.
If you do visit Lakeside’s Historic District, you have to make a visit to Mary’s Donuts, a staple of Lakeside, for sure. Look at these amazing donuts!
4. Historic Flume Trail
This 2.8-mile trail (trailhead at 13955 El Monte Rd.) winds along a small section of a 37-mile waterline built in the late 1800’s to provide water to the El Cajon Valley. You’ll see the pipeline, a pump station, information signs, and stunning views of the valley. I didn’t have time to make this hike when I visited Lakeside, so for more photos of the trail, see this post by Hidden San Diego. It’s a kid-friendly trail, although it does start out steep with switchbacks. Dogs are allowed if they are on leash. Bring lots of water on a warm day.
5. Barona Cultural Center and Museum
It’s not just settlers and cowboys with a history in Lakeside. There has always been a large Kumeyaay Native American influence. You can learn a lot more about this at the free Barona Cultural Center and Museum, 1095 Barona Rd. The museum includes hands-on educational resources, handmade pottery, paintings, arrowheads, a grinding stone, reed baskets, and the music of the Bird Singers. There are even free 40-minute guided tours for a more in-depth experience.
Are there other things to do in Lakeside?
Short answer: Yep! There was more than I could possibly do in a day, but I thought you might like to see what is available, so here’s a list of more Lakeside activities you can choose from, plus a few sites just outside of Lakeside you might want to check out, too.
- Want to spend more time outdoors exploring? Then you’ll enjoy the Oakoasis County Preserve at 12620 Wildcat Canyon Rd. This area was ravaged by the 2003 Cedar Fire but has grown back and is a very scenic area. You’ll see black trunks contrasted against new growth and vibrant green grass with interesting rock formations. Views of the San Vicente Reservoir are gorgeous. In the spring, there are lots of wildflowers blooming, too.
- Discover some of Lakeside’s ranch and agricultural background with a visit to Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs, 11329 El Nopal. At this family farm, operating since 1942, you can buy fresh cage-free eggs, artisan jams, cheeses, milk, and honey.
- Louis Stelzer County Park is yet another Lakeside park with lots of hiking trails, playgrounds, a horseshoe pit, barbecues, and a thick canopy of old-growth trees to provide shade. This park also participates in the Kids for Parks program.
And just outside of Lakeside…
- Flinn Springs County Park includes ballparks, playgrounds, a seasonal stream, picnic areas, restrooms, hiking trails, and a pretty little gazebo with roses blooming. Parking is $3.00.
- Mary Etta’s Cafe has been around more than 70 years. And from the newspaper articles and photos on the wall, there are lots of stories to tell here. I just wanted a take-out lunch to take with me as I explored Lakeside, and they were happy to accommodate that with a delicious BLT sandwich. But I probably should have stayed to join the local diners. I think I would have been well entertained!
Bonus: Things I didn’t know about Lakeside
- Lakeside has a bigger spot in San Diego County history than one might think. People wanted to come to Lakeside, to visit the original Lakeside Inn and the natural lake here. It was a resort and tourist attraction, and the railroad even built a line from downtown San Diego to Lakeside that cost 85 cents one way. The train ride was only 90 minutes, compared to an all-day wagon ride!
- The historic Lakeside Inn rivaled the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego for luxury and elegance. The owner even built a racetrack around Lake Lindo and racing records were set there. But when the citizens took the owner to court for restricting their access to the lake and won, he got angry and re-wrote his will to require the Inn to be destroyed upon his death. It was dismantled a few years after he died.
- Lakeside has a wonderful Rodeo tradition, with the annual Lakeside Rodeo held at the El Capitan Stadium at the end of August. (With rodeo royalty and special events, too!)
I hope you enjoyed this rundown of things to do in Lakeside, California. If you’re in the San Diego area, I recommend you make a visit, especially if you want warm, sunny days with plenty to explore!
Love camping at Lake Jennings!
Those donuts look amazing!
We’re going to have to go see how they taste!
Lake Jennings looks gorgeous!! And I’d go to Maine street just for those scrumptious looking donuts.
Right?! It was hard to just take pictures and not order any!
This guide to Lakeside is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!
I have wanted to travel out West for a very long time now. California looks absolutely beautiful and there is so much to do and see. Maine Street looks so fun because I too love a good historic town. Definitely would make sure to make a pit stop at that doughnut shop while there!
We have visited San Diego several times and never heard of the Lakeside area so this will be a new place to explore on our next visit. Hiking paths and lake views would certainly be a draw for us. Especially if I knew donuts were waiting for me! Interesting to read about the history and the fact that the Lakeside Inn once rivaled the Hotel Del Coronado. Sad that it was destroyed.
I was sad the hotel was destroyed too — what a waste!
Wow seeing a King snake next to the campsite. That would freak me out for sure. Having said that I have seen snakes at campsites. I have never been to Lakeside but surely want to add it to my list now. That lake looks stunning and a walk around that would be great.
I didn’t know that there’s only one natural lake in San Diego County. And that King snake surely makes me think about visiting Lake Jennings though. I would like to eat lunch at Mary Etta’s Cafe. It reminded me of the 70s movie.
I’ve been to San Diego a couple of times and visited amazing places. However, didn’t know about Lakeside otherwise I would have certainly visited. It look truly amazing and I love exploring lush nature.
I like beautiful places with a combination of nature and history. So I am sure Lakeside is one of the places in southern California I would visit. Great that there is the Barona Cultural Center, dedicated to preserving the Native American culture.
I haven’t been to Lakeside, but I would like to visit it. Especially Barona Cultural Center and Museum seems to be an exciting place. I also add Mary Etta’s Cafe as a must-do stop during my next trip to California.
You are right – I have been to San Diego and never heard of Lakeside. Its such a pity, I would not associate San Diego with lakes and mountains; like most other people, I think beaches! It’s really interesting to know that there is a part of San Diego that’s actually nature & landscapes rather than just coastal.