Small Places Can Be Big Fun

Small Places Can Be Big Fun

When you hear the phrase, “field trip,” what comes to mind? Many people will give answers like a trip to the zoo, attending a play, visiting the local aquarium or museums. A few might mention their most popular local historical sites. In California those would be the missions, in Washington D.C. of course you have the monuments to visit, and in Texas there’s the Alamo. You get the idea.

While those are all great field trips, what many people overlook when choosing a field trip are the many lesser known historical spots there are to explore. These places usually have much smaller budgets focused almost exclusively on the preservation of the sites themselves with little or nothing left for advertising their existence. So it may take a bit more research to find them, but they are almost always worth the effort. They may be lesser known, but they are rich with history just waiting to be explored.

Here are 5 of the lesser known historical sites my family has explored in our hometown area of San Diego County:

Rancho Los Penasquitos

  • Los Penasquitos Rancho


LOCATION:  12122 Canyonside Park Drive, San Diego, CA 92129

CONTACT:  858-484-7504

COST:  FREE (donations appreciated)


Adobe Grounds and Trails:  8 a.m. to sunset, 7 days a week

Adobe House Museum:  9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., Friday – Tuesday

Guided Adobe House Tours:  11 a.m. on Saturday, 1 p.m. on Sunday (and by request)

Self-Guided Adobe House Tours:  9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., Friday – Tuesday

My boys and I have visited Los Penasquitos Rancho with its adobe home, natural springs and hiking trails many times. There is so much to see and do there from hiking, to nature observation, to agricultural lessons and, of course, learning about the local history. We keep coming back for more.

Bancroft House - cropped

  • Bancroft Ranch House Museum


LOCATION:  9050 Memory Lane, Spring Valley, CA 91977

CONTACT:  619-469-1480

COST:  FREE (donations appreciated)


1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Friday – Sunday

Call to arrange group tours.

Built in 1863, this quaint little ranch home is the oldest adobe in east San Diego County. Unlike most of the historical ranch sites in our area, this land was never part of a Mexican or Spanish land grant but was first claimed by Augustus Ensworth who valued it for the natural springs located on the property. Now it is so surrounded by urban sprawl that you can easily miss it if you don’t know it’s there.  Still, it has managed to withstand the test of time thanks to the tireless efforts of the Spring Valley Historical Society. When my boys and I visited they especially enjoyed learning that the local Native Americans (known as the Kumeyaay) made many of their arrows from obsidian which reminded my boys of their favorite video game, Minecraft.


La Mesa Train Station & Museum w-Trolley passing





La Mesa Depot Museum


LOCATION:  4695 Nebo Drive, La Mesa, CA 91941

CONTACT:  619-465-7776

COST:  FREE (donations appreciated)


Tours: 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday

Sometimes it’s easy to miss those things which are hiding in plain sight. The La Mesa Depot Museum is one example of this. Located on a busy street in old La Mesa, commuters can drive right past this museum every day without ever realizing what a special place it is. However, God saw fit to bless me with three boys who insisted on knowing why those trains were sitting there in the middle of the city and never moved. So our family made the time to stop and take a look. My boys were fascinated as I read aloud the plaques which explained how it was once a working train station, why it no longer ran, and what was so special about the engine and train cars on display.

Dr Nichols House

  • Nichols House


LOCATION:  2116 Tavern Road, Alpine, CA 91903

CONTACT:   619-659-8740

COST:  FREE (donations appreciated)


2 p.m. – 4 p.m. last weekend of each month

Built in 1896, the Nichols House was the home and office of Dr. Sophronia Nichols, Alpine’s first doctor who arrived in the area in 1888. Later, a one room schoolhouse was added to the back of the home. My boys were most interested in a unique display of antique local farming equipment out back.

Gaskill Stone Store Cellar vertical

  • Gaskill Brothers Stone Store Museum


LOCATION:  31130 Highway 94, Campo, CA 91906

CONTACT:   619-663-1885 or 619-478-5566

COST:  $2 donation per adult requested

HOURS: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (call to confirm) or weekdays by appointment

Gaskill Stone Store front door

This building was built in 1885 and there is a fascinating story behind its fortress-like design, which includes an infamous gunfight. Only recently open to the public, this little known gem of San Diego history was a delight for my boys to explore. They especially liked the stone-lined cellar dug directly into the hill behind the store and connected to the main building via a short tunnel.

Don’t know where to find the lesser known historical spots in your area? Start by contacting your local historical society. I promise they will be thrilled to direct you.



kathleen denly

Kathleen Denly writes stories to entertain, encourage, and inspire readers toward a better understanding of our amazing God and how He sees us. She lives in sunny Southern California, with her loving husband, three young boys, two cats, and too many fish to count. As a former foster parent, children in need are a cause dear to her heart and she finds they make frequent appearances in her stories. When she isn’t writing, researching, or caring for children, she spends her time reading, visiting historical sites, hiking, and crafting.
Always happy to hear from her readers, you can email Kathleen at, visit her blog at, and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest


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