East County San Diego is as varied demographically as it is geographically.
From the winding heights of Mt Helix to the broad fairways of Singing Hills Country Club, this wide-ranging area is home to San Diego State University and the surrounding College Area–as well as ranches and farms.
Room to Grow in San Diego
San Diego’s East County lies east of San Diego and includes, for our purposes, cities of El Cajon, La Mesa, Santee, and Lemon Grove. It also includes much unincorporated land, suburban tracts, and small communities such as Jamul, Spring Valley. Alpine, and Lakeside.
Much of this San Diego territory is described as the “Mountain Empire” and would encompass the communities along the State Route 94 corridor like Jacumba and Potrero. Also covered would be the Interstate 8 communities of Descanso and Pine Valley. Julian, Borrego Springs, and Ramona are generally included although Ramona is often grouped into the North County groupings.
The bulk of the population in this region is clustered in the valleys east of San Diego and in the strip of land adjacent to the coastal ranges. The Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains are part of East County along with Palomar Mountain which houses the famed 200 inch Hale Telescope which held the record for world’s largest telescope for much of the 20th century. Overlooking Lakeside and Santee is the large domed geological formation known as El Capitan.
El Cajon is the largest city in East County with nearly 100,000 residents. La Mesa comes in second at around 57,000 with Santee close behind at 53,000. Lemon Grove is the smallest incorporated city at just over 25,000 inhabitants. Several unincorporated districts are larger than that including La Presa and Spring Valley with Rancho San Diego not far behind. Lakeside and Winter Gardens fall around the 20,000 residents level. Despite being a relatively arid area, East County contains the Santee Lakes, Lake Cuyamaca, and the Sweetwater Reservoir.
El Cajon is the premier city in East County both in population and its large size of 14.44 square miles. Its name means “big box” or “drawer” in Spanish–and El Cajon is set in a low mountain valley. It is bordered by San Diego and La Mesa to the west. It is south of Santee and north of Spring Valley. To the east is unincorporated territory. El Cajon has several distinct neighborhoods such as Rancho San Diego, Fletcher Hills, and Bostonia.
El Cajon enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild winters that see the bulk of the year’s rain fall. Summers are generally cooled by ocean breezes. Climate can vary, though, within the city limits creating a series of micro climates. Generally, the further east one goes, the more extreme the weather will become with higher highs and lower lows. Still, most summer days remain in the 70’s while winter highs average 55 degrees. The city gets about a foot of rain per year.
The land comprising the city was part of a Mexican land grant made in 1845 to Maria Estudillo and her husband Miguel Pedrorena. Amazon Lord Know built a hotel in the region in 1876 to serve the growing number of prospectors and miners working the recently discovered gold deposits around Julian. El Cajon was incorporated as a city in 1912.
The far reaches of East County San Diego boast miles of rugged and wild terrain, while populated areas include some of the following long-established communities and towns: