15 Best Things to Do in Santee (CA)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Located just outside San Diego, and a stone’s throw away from the Pacific Ocean, Santee is one of California’s best-kept secrets. With a sunny climate and small-town vibe, the suburb has an estimated population of 58,000 and is a magnificent year-round destination.

The municipality is situated on the cross-county San Diego River Trail, a multi-use path that attracts hikers and bikers alike. But this scenic trail is only one of the suburb’s attractions. Santee is also home to a picturesque, 1,100-acre tree-lined riparian habitat and boasts over 7,000 acres of parks and open space reserves on its mountainous western flank.

Apart from the natural wonders the region offers, Santee is one of the liveliest destinations in California. It may not be known for its wine, but it is famous for its breweries, distilleries, entertainment centers, and high-end restaurants.

Below are 15 of the best things to do and see in and around Santee, California.

1. Explore the Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve

Santee Lakes Recreation PreserveSource: Gloria V Moeller / shutterstock
Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve

Located in the heart of San Diego county, the Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve is a privately owned park and campground that attracts outdoor enthusiasts from across the nation.

Open all year long, the park has something for everyone. From lazy beachgoers and enthusiast anglers to hikers, cyclists, and families with kids, there are a plethora of exciting activities to choose from.

Visitors can enjoy day trips or stay overnight in one of the numerous lake cabins. Tent camping, tailgating, and RV-ing are also possible. The park owners also organize many events throughout the year, including the fun Eggstravaganza Egg Hunt and the Movie and More by the Lake.

2. Hike the Mission Trail Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional ParkSource: Gloria V Moeller / shutterstock
Mission Trails Regional Park

The Mission Trail Regional Park is the largest urban open space park west of Mississippi, attracting hikers with over 40 miles of spectacular trails. Spanning over 14,575 square feet, the park is a destination for walking, hiking, biking, climbing, and even bird watching.

Besides enjoying postcard-perfect views over the San Diego River, here you can discover a piece of the county’s history at the Old Mission Dam.

One of the most important historical landmarks in California is the dam built by the Kumeyaay Indians in the nineteenth century, and that still preserves its original beauty. The Equestrian Staging area is another of the park’s highlights, or you could climb Cowles Mountain to admire the best view of San Diego, stretching to the ocean.

3. Hit the Green at Carlton Oaks Golf Course

GolfSource: Kati Finell / shutterstock

Santee might be a hiker’s paradise, but golf lovers are just as spoilt. The championship Carlton Oaks Golf Course is one of California’s most sought-after, impressing with its perfectly-manicured expanses of green and 18-holes.

Like all Dye-designed golf courses, you can expect a unique gameplay experience in a challenging and environmentally sensitive location. Private instructional areas and play zones suitable for different levels, make Carlton Oaks perfect for beginner and seasoned golf enthusiasts alike.

Golf aside, Carlton Oaks is also known for its luxurious lodging options and superb restaurant where you can relax after a full day on the green.

4. Beer Tasting at BNS Brewing and Distilling Company

BNS Brewing and Distilling CompanySource: BNS Brewing & Distilling Co. / Facebook
BNS Brewing and Distilling Company

In a California known for exquisite wines, Santee proves that beer lovers can find just as many places to go as wine aficionados. One of the best places to visit is the BNS Brewing and Distilling Company.

The brewery is famous for its craft beer and distilled spirits, spoiling visitors with plenty of tasting options. Visitors can join tasting classes to sample the company’s beverages and learn more about the beer brewing and distilling history.

Alternatively, you can stop by in the evenings to order one of the bar-grub specials and enjoy a fun night with other tourists and locals.

5. Climb the Santee Boulders

Santee BouldersSource: Rebel_Photography / Flickr | CC BY-ND
Santee Boulders

Well-known for its thin faces and mantels, the Santee Boulders climbing area invites all outdoor enthusiasts to a challenge. Located on the northern side of the city, the site offers a variety of climbing routes for experienced or new climbers.

6. Check Out the Creation and Earth History Museum

EarthSource: Dima Zel / shutterstock

Opened by the Institute for Creation Research, the Creation and Earth History Museum aims to prove that our planet is younger than believed and that humans and dinosaurs coexisted at some point in history. To do so, the center has set up exhibitions that tell the history of creationism, instead of evolutionism.

This is a perfect place for the youngsters to learn about divinity and religion, but also a great place for adults to explore who are interested in the creationism theories. The museum features an interpreted walk through the Garden of Eden, depicts the six-day Genesis, and even displays models of the Tower of Babel and Noah’s ark.

Christian religion aside, visitors can also admire a collection of pictures and biographies of scientists who believed in creationism or watch suggestive images of the stars and planets in the darkroom.

7. Get a History Lesson at Edgemoor Farm – Santee Historical Society Museum

Edgemoor Farm - Santee Historical Society MuseumSource: Somewikistuff / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0
Edgemoor Farm – Santee Historical Society Museum

Once upon a time, the Edgemoor Farm was the greatest breeding farm of purebred stock worldwide. It was also one of the last farm homes established in the USA before the Great Depression, and finally becoming the Edgemoor Geriatric Hospital in 1955.

Economic difficulties over the decades, and modernization, led to the destruction of all buildings of the old farm, except for the Dutch gambrel roof barn. An edifice built in 1913 and that now houses the Edgemoor Farm – Santee Historical Society Museum.

Here, you can learn more about the town’s history and its strong bonds with the farming world and find out how a stock farm led to the construction of Santee’s hospital.

8. Chill Out at Santee Drive-In Theater

Drive-In TheatreSource: J.D.S / shutterstock
Drive-In Theatre

Over the past years, Netflix and smart TVs have shown they are here to stay, but nothing can take away the charm of watching a movie in a drive-in, open-air theater. And Santee is the perfect place for a retro night out.

The Santee drive-in theater is open seven nights a week, 365 days a year, and welcomes cinema enthusiasts of all ages.

Not only is the screen huge, but the place gives off a fun yet nostalgic vibe that will make you feel like you’ve just leapt back in time.

9. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Mary’s Donuts

DonutsSource: AlexeiLogvinovich / shutterstock

Whether you’re looking for a place to fill your belly with goodies after the movie or want a donut for breakfast, Mary’s Donuts is the place to be.

The nook may have limited sitting, but it has the most exquisite range of donuts, apple fritters, bagels, and coffee.

Baked options include fluffy cinnamon rolls and other sweets, and you can also choose from a wide range of meat or vegetable sandwiches.

10. Watch a Game at Santee Sportsplex

SoftballSource: EHStockphoto / shutterstock

Wondering what to do in Santee if it rains? What about playing some indoor soccer or softball at Santee Sportsplex? This recreational center boasts tournament-quality fields and has the capacity to accommodate all teams.

If you’re not a player or don’t have enough buddies to play with, you could always buy some tickets and watch a game. The facility hosts numerous sports events and matches throughout the year and after the fun on the field is over, you can have a beer and watch some more sports in one of the post-game sports pubs.

11. Paint a Pet Rock and Join the Santee Rocks Movement

Painted RockSource: Jody Wiele / shutterstock
Painted Rock

If you are the artsy kind, always looking for something to paint or craft, the Santee Rocks movement is a fun way to entertain yourself and your kids. The concept is simple. All you have to do is paint a pet rock, post a picture of it on the movement’s Facebook page, and hide it somewhere.

While strolling through the town’s streets or outskirts, keep your eyes open for painted rocks. If you spot one you can’t bear to part with, you’re free to adopt it – just make sure you replace it with one of your own creations.

Created to spread kindness and increase the spirit of community, Santee Rocks is undeniably one of the cheapest yet best things to do in the town.

12. Stroll Around Santee’s Farmer Market

Farmers MarketSource: Arina P Habich / shutterstock
Farmers Market

Markets have always provided the means for people to get together and bond, and Santee’s farmer market is no different.

Open every Wednesday afternoon, this is where you can find fresh local produce and taste some of the best fruits and vegetables in the country. Besides buying healthy produce, the market is also fun and educational for the whole family.

13. Enjoy a Show at Off Broadway Live

MicrophoneSource: Andrey Armyagov / shutterstock

Santee isn’t a big city, but its evenings soak in big city vibes at Off Broadway Live. An evening here is all about fun, whether you decide to watch a play, enjoy a concert, or have fun with one of the nation’s stand-up comedians.

More than watching performers on stage, Off Broadway Live is a full cabaret-style theater with tables and chairs, and a range of fine dining options to choose from. The perfect venue for a date or evening with friends.

14. Taste the Local Cuisine

BBQ RibsSource: MN Nice Photography / shutterstock
BBQ Ribs

No matter what your favorite activities are or what your perfect vacation looks like, you can’t visit a place without tasting the local cuisine, and Santee is no different.

The town has an impressive number of eateries. BBQ and burger restaurants are the most popular, but you can also enjoy pizza, seafood, or vegetarian dishes. Rest assured a night out in any of Santee’s best restaurants will be the cherry on top of your sumptuous vacation.


15 Best Things to Do in Santee (CA):

  • Explore the Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve
  • Hike the Mission Trail Regional Park
  • Hit the Green at Carlton Oaks Golf Course
  • Beer Tasting at BNS Brewing and Distilling Company
  • Climb the Santee Boulders
  • Check Out the Creation and Earth History Museum
  • Get a History Lesson at Edgemoor Farm - Santee Historical Society Museum
  • Chill Out at Santee Drive-In Theater
  • Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Mary's Donuts
  • Watch a Game at Santee Sportsplex
  • Paint a Pet Rock and Join the Santee Rocks Movement
  • Stroll Around Santee's Farmer Market
  • Enjoy a Show at Off Broadway Live
  • Taste the Local Cuisine