Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in La Mesa, CA

  • Published 2023/02/13

La Mesa, California, is a great place to visit in Southern California.

Located in San Diego County and just a sub-20-minute drive from central San Diego, La Mesa is a charming suburb that brings together nature and the laid-back Southern California vibe.

Its name is the Spanish word for “table.”

Likewise, the city got its name from the plateau in inland Southern California.

La Mesa is an excellent location with its proximity to California’s beaches.

It’s also less than an hour from the Southern border of Mexico.

Ready to explore La Mesa, California?

Here are 20 things to do in the city:

Take in the View at Mount Helix Park

Scenic view from Mount Helix Park

Jon Bilous /

Found east of La Mesa is Mount Helix Park.

At this picturesque destination, visitors can see the gorgeous views of the San Diego area while enjoying nature and Southern Californian sunshine.

To enjoy the beautiful La Mesa views, visitors can hike the half a mile route from the park’s lower area to the memorial cross located atop the park’s highest point.

Once you get to the top, it is a great place to snap photographs of the overlooking views of La Mesa and a bit of neighboring San Diego.

Steps leading up to Mount Helix Park

Sherry V Smith /

Visitors can also traverse the Yawkey Trail while basking in the park environment.

Furry friends are also welcome at Mount Helix Park.

Visitors and locals can bring their pets as they explore the different trails and elevations.

Apart from hiking the trails and seeing the views, Mount Helix Park hosts a few pop-up community events in La Mesa, such as flea markets, outdoor exercise sessions, and mini-concerts.

Cross memorial at Mount Helix Park

rpac78 /

Look Back on California’s Old West at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum

Located downtown along Spring Street is the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum, an ode to the old Western railways that sprung from the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.

The museum has two locations in Campo, about an hour away from La Mesa.

The La Mesa location is the oldest surviving building in the city and the only station from the original San Diego and Cuyamaca Station remaining.

Visitors can browse the old memorabilia from the golden age of California railroads.

It is an excellent destination for history buffs or people interested in the beginnings of trains and railways during the Industrial Revolution.

Admission to the museum is free, and they are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Take a Sip of California Wine at San Pasqual Winery

A proudly California establishment, San Pasqual Winery serves up bottles of vino made right in San Diego County.

Visitors can hop over to their tasting room located in downtown La Mesa to sample their selection of bottles on display.

Visitors can choose their flight selection to sample the different wine varieties.

The tasting room also offers pairings that elevate the test of handcrafted wines.

If you want to see the process of brewing and creating wines, then go to La Mesa Wine Works in the La Mesa Industrial Area.

See how your favorite drinks are made and bottled before enjoying them with family and friends.

San Pasqual and the Wyatt Oaks Winery make up the San Diego Winery Cooperative, becoming a space for San Diego wine connoisseurs and uplifting the craft in the area.

Grab a bottle or two of San Pasqual’s selection of wines, including unique fruit and dessert ones, to savor your knowledge of San Diego vino.

Spend a Family Day at Harry Griffen Regional Park

An over 50-acre expanse sitting in the heart of La Mesa is the Harry Griffen Regional Park, a great place to spend an outdoorsy day.

Visitors can spend either an active or relaxing day with family and friends here, with the park’s expanse containing trails for people to walk, jog or bike on.

Enjoy treats under the Southern California sunshine with lunch at the park’s picnic areas.

Harry Griffen Regional Park also hosts selected events in the neighborhood, with a 360-seat theater located within the grounds.

For little kids, there are numerous playgrounds and sandboxes available to use.

Adjacent to the park is the Canine Corners Dog Park, where visitors can take their furry friends to enjoy La Mesa’s outdoors.

Bask in the Southern California Sun at Briercrest Park

Located along Wakarusa Street is the small peaceful expanse of green known as Briercrest Park.

Right next to a busy expanse of La Mesa’s highways, Briercrest Park offers a slight reprieve for locals and tourists alike looking for a place to relax and slow down.

Visitors can enjoy the three-acre gardens by bringing mats to have small picnics and chit-chats with friends and family.

Walkways are also spread out throughout the park for those wanting to get a quick walk or jog in.

The park is adjacent to the Grossmont Healthcare Library, and the park also serves as the perfect lunchtime hangout for their employees.

Follow the La Mesa Walkway of the Stars

If Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles has the Hollywood Walk of Fame, La Mesa has the La Mesa Walkways of the Stars.

Located in an urban park in downtown La Mesa, the walkway pays tribute to volunteers who have developed the city of La Mesa.

Councilmember Ruth Sterling began the walkway initiative, recognizing residents clocking in over 10,000 hours or more of service to the City of La Mesa.

Initially built with just the stars on a pedestrian walkway in the early 2000s, the walkway now features a park with murals and artwork made by local La Mesa artists.

The murals embody the whole spirit of volunteerism, with the artwork’s themes channeling the idea of “people helping people.”

Visitors can spend a few hours relaxing in the park while playing a little tribute to the citizens who keep La Mesa a well-oiled machine.

Join La Mesa’s Community at MacArthur Park

Situated along Memorial Drive in the heart of La Mesa is MacArthur Park, a 20-acre area where visitors can come and experience the spirit and people of La Mesa.

The park has various amenities perfect for spending a day out in the city and getting to know the area better.

Within the park’s expanse is lush greenery, perfect for both the outdoorsy types looking for sports and active play and those looking for a chill day out in the sun.

Visitors can enjoy a barbeque and picnic out in the warm Californian sun.

The park also has a baseball field if you want to play.

The park is also great for those with children since there are playgrounds and play areas available throughout.

Your kids can meet and play with other locals and visitors in the neighborhood.

The La Mesa Community Center is also within the park’s radius, with amenities such as swimming pools and a spa ready for use.

The community center is also a preferred venue in the area for moderate-sized gatherings of local La Mesa residents.

Feel the community vibe here when you put MacArthur Park on your list of places to drop by when in La Mesa.

Check Out Vintage Finds at the La Mesa Antique Mall

Located on Palm Avenue in downtown La Mesa is the La Mesa Antique Mall, a small shopping center featuring over 40 little shops selling quirky antiques and vintage keepsakes.

The mall has operated since 1998, the perfect place for those looking for unique, timeless pieces to bring home or give as gifts to loved ones.

Furniture is a crowd favorite here, with most stores specializing in Victorian furniture.

Some pieces proudly made of American oak also fetch high prices.

Besides the bigger pieces, visitors can also find items such as toys, original art, vintage radios and phones, and other fun collectibles.

The La Mesa Antique Mall is an excellent destination for a quirky shopper or someone who’s down for the thrill of a unique find!

See Southern California’s Natural Beauty at the Mission Trails Regional Park

Lake murray at Mission Trails Regional Park

Sherry V Smith /

The Mission Trails Regional Park is just a short drive from downtown La Mesa.

Located on the edge of Lake Murray, this park offers visitors incredible views, the best of what San Diego offers.

The entirety of the park spans over 8,000 acres and over 65 miles of trails spreading over different cities in San Diego County.

Visitors can enjoy the great outdoors through various activities such as hiking, fishing, and biking.

The views of Lake Murray from the park’s grounds also make the perfect backdrop for pictures to commemorate your stay in Mission Trails!

Have a Shopping Day at the Grossmont Center

Opened in 1961, the Grossmont Center is a staple destination for locals and tourists in La Mesa.

Located centrally in the city, Grossmont Center is a one-stop-shop for visitors looking for a place to eat, shop and spend some family time.

The mall contains both national chains and locally-owned shops and brands.

Besides shopping and dining options, the mall has a movie theater where visitors can enjoy a film or two.

Grossmont Center occasionally hosts local events in La Mesa, from play activities with kids to local government or community initiatives.

Taste San Diego’s Best at Swami’s Café

Proudly family-owned, Swami’s Café is a favorite in the San Diego area and is a must-try in La Mesa.

Located downtown, Swami’s offers an array of dishes using fresh, local ingredients.

Owner Jaime Osuna is a staunch believer in providing healthy options for people in the San Diego area.

Visitors can try their offerings, such as omelets, breakfast burritos, pancakes, waffles, and French toast.

Swami’s also offers salads and fruit smoothies, acai bowls, and fresh juices for those looking for lighter options.

Catch a Show at the Lamplighters Community Theater

Founded in 1937, the Lamplighters Community Theater is a proud La Mesa institution that has operated for over 80 years.

Lamplighters is a great place to enjoy quality theater productions by local and visiting acts.

The theater features rotating performances from different artists and troupes.

For aspiring actors, the theatre also holds auditions for select roles in local productions so people can take part in the shows.

Stop by the Lamplighters Community Theater on a visit to La Mesa and experience the community’s thriving theater scene!

Support Local Farmers at the La Mesa Certified Farmer’s Market

For those looking for the best food and produce the city offers, a stop at the La Mesa Certified Farmer’s Market is a must!

Open every Friday afternoon, the market features many vendors selling goods such as local fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats, and homemade confections.

Besides food, vendors sell handcrafted items from candles, clothing, knitwear, and more.

Bring your family and friends down to the market to go around and taste the different offerings on sale, and bring a little basket or bag for all the fresh produce to take home.

You will feel the community vibe when you visit the La Mesa Certified Farmer’s Market!

Play Fun Outdoors at La Mesita Park

Located north of downtown near Fletcher Hills is La Mesita Park, a 13-acre park near the city’s suburbs.

Situated next to the Parkway Middle School, La Mesita Park is an excellent place for kids and adults alike to play and have fun in a grassy expanse in the heart of La Mesa.

The park is excellent for those looking for active things to do, with over three lighted tennis courts and a skate park.

Within the park’s expanse is Junior Seau Sports Complex, which has amenities such as lighted ball fields and football/soccer fields for visitors and locals to use.

Like any other outdoor park, La Mesita Park is also a great place to gather family and friends for a quick picnic or an outdoor barbeque.

Play Arcade Games while Sipping on Beer at Coin Haus

Need a reminder of what retro casual gaming was like?

Then, you shouldn’t miss a visit to Coin Haus.

Coin Haus isn’t your usual beer den; this facility brings the arcade out of beercades!

This entertainment facility features a wide variety of self-served and specialty beers within a vintage bar-style center.

And while you’re sipping on a tasty beer, why not try your hand at the arcade games the center has onsite?

Join trivia nights and game tournaments if you’ve got the time, too!

To get to Coin Haus, drive along Allison Avenue.

Go on a Strenuous Hike up the La Mesa Secret Stairs

One of La Mesa’s well-kept outdoor fitness facilities is a set of stairs.

Known as the La Mesa Secret Stairs, this set of public stairways specializes in steep ascents and a serene surrounding ideal for some peaceful exercise sessions.

The 254-step stairway has been thought to have existed for at least 100 years!

It passes through Mt. Nebo and offers broken-down sets for short breaks in your trek up and down the staircase.

Peaceful and adventurous—this is what the La Mesa Secret Stairs promise!

Get to the La Mesa Secret Stairs on Windsor Drive.

Start a Historical Excursion at La Mesa History Center

It’s never too late to learn more about La Mesa’s astonishing history with a trip to La Mesa History Center.

Incorporated in 1975, this organization has been the home of various archives, artifacts, and historic memorabilia.

Most of its object collections pertain to the early periods of 1902-1920.

It also features a yearly tour of the city’s oldest buildings and mansions.

This is a hit among history buffs and first-time La Mesa visitors.

Make your trip to the past more exciting by joining a walk managed by La Mesa History Center.

You can find this historical site on the building of McKinney House & Museum on University Avenue.

Celebrate German Culture at La Mesa Oktoberfest

Annually, La Mesa gets the community together with the celebration of La Mesa Oktoberfest.

This city-wide tradition aims to shine a light on German heritage and Bavarian festivities.

What once was a street fair in 1973 soon turned into one of San Diego’s famous three-day festivals.

One of the highlights of this event includes live music, German craft beer servings, and unique races, like Glücklich Games.

The German Kinder Karneval has also been a staple addition to the festival, with its interactive carnival attractions and family-friendly competitions.

La Mesa Oktoberfest invites you and your whole family for a day of fanfare and entertainment!

Join the fun by heading over to La Mesa Boulevard.

Feel Inspired by Art Displayed at Porter Hall

Get your daily dose of artistic inspiration when you come by Porter Hall.

This unassuming art gallery showcases monthly art exhibits of artists both local and national.

It also hosts the November-celebrated “Wildlife in Art”, which presents Southern California in a new light with unique art interpretations.

The Foothills Art Association, Inc. manages the events and exhibitions of this gallery.

Porter Hall is on Memorial Drive if you would like to give it a visit.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Explore Lake Murray

The waters of Lake Murray

Sherry V Smith /

Adjacent to Mission Trails Regional Park is Lake Murray, a reservoir in the greater San Diego area.

Formed in 1984, the reservoir was once the La Mesa Reservoir.

Through the years, it underwent different changes in usage and management until its managers handed it over to the City of San Diego in 1932.

A picnic table near Lake Murray

Sherry V Smith /

It serves as a functional reservoir for the nearby residents and a great place to visit and spend time whenever one visits the La Mesa area.

Visitors can enjoy the peace at the lake through activities like fishing and boating.

Visitors can also lay a mat and take a picnic on the nearby shores, admiring the fantastic views of Lake Murray while basking in the brisk sunshine.

Fishing pier of Lake Murray

Sherry V Smith /

Final Thoughts

La Mesa is more than just a city adjacent to nearby San Diego.

The town also has a lot to offer.

La Mesa brings together the beauty of the natural landscapes of Southern California with a community that celebrates everything local.

Don’t pass up the chance to visit La Mesa, California, on your next trip out West!

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