See the hidden beauty of Santee

Ethan Bailey

Being a native San Diegan has treated me well. Sunny skies almost every day of the year, the beach within a few minutes’ drive and an awesome downtown area are only a few reasons why I love San Diego so much.

I’m from Santee. You may have heard of it, but chances are you’ve heard bad things. Whenever I talk to people and mention I’m from Santee, they get this semi-disgusted, semi-horrified look on their faces. You’d think I just told them I’d contracted some horrible, contagious disease and that I was about to sneeze on them. The way they say, “Oh, you’re from Santee,” insinuates the town is some barren wasteland past the borders of San Diego County where dinosaurs go to die.

Another common response to my Santee-ism is, “That’s so far away!”

It’s not. It’s literally about a 20-minute drive or 30-minute trolley ride from San Diego State. I can leave my humble Santee abode at 9:30 a.m., get to school, make a pit stop at either Starbucks or Peabody’s Organic Coffee and still make Mama C’s 10 a.m. Spanish class.

Of course, the stereotypical nicknames given to the jewel of East County don’t help its cause. “Klantee” immediately comes to mind, which really makes no logical sense whatsoever. In fact, the 1920s San Diego Ku Klux Klan branch operated out of a building located on Idaho Street and University Boulevard in, of all places, North Park. Take that, hipsters.

When people think of East County, cowboys, horses and whiskey come to mind. They think it’s a place where horses rule the roads and the law is handled from the barrel of a colt .45-caliber revolver. They think there’s sleaze everywhere and, at night, the streets are dark from the lack of streetlights.

But enough about Lakeside.

Santee is the quiet, comfy-bedroom community you’ve always been too scared to visit. It has nice homes, apartments and all the shopping and dining any San Diegan could ask for. Just to name a few off the top of my head, there’s a Chili’s, an Olive Garden, a Subway, a Jamba Juice, an Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing Company, Domo Sushi, three Starbucks and many delicious taco shops to name.

Oh, and there’s a Phil’s BBQ. Did I mention Santee has the only Sonic Drove-in south of Vista? Shopping includes Target, Tilly’s, Forever 21, Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy, Barnes & Noble and even a PetSmart for your furry friends.

When you’re done stuffing your face and blowing your paycheck, head to one of the many exercise facilities Santee has to offer. Less than a mile away from the Santee trolley stop, Sportsplex USA resides. If you play in any indoor soccer or softball leagues, chances are you’ve played at one of the other Sportsplex locations. It has multiple softball, soccer and football fields to play in, even a sports bar.

If you prefer to get swole at a gym, there’s a 24 Hour Fitness and a Chuze Fitness. I go to Chuze regularly because of its sweet $10 per month membership fee and lack of juiceheads.

If a more natural, outdoorsy adventure sparks your tinder, head to Mission Trails Regional Park. There are acres of dog-friendly trails for both hiking and mountain biking. You can even ride horses there, if that’s your thing. Just be careful of the mountain lions. And snakes. And coyotes. I hear they’re more prone to attack Santee’s haters than any other group.

Prepare yourself because the following may induce euphoria: Santee has a drive-in movie theater. It’s one of two in San Diego County, the other located in the South Bay. There’s something really cool about going to a movie at a drive-in theater. You get your seats, snacks and drinks all within the privacy of your own vehicle. The screens are huge and the price is pretty hard to beat at $8 for two movies. If you’ve never been to a drive-in, you need to experience it. In fact, as soon as you’re done reading this beautiful, well-crafted newspaper, hit up a few of your friends and tell them you’ve discovered a hidden gem in a mysterious oasis called Santee. Or better yet, call your special someone and set it up as a date. Fun fact of the day: Making out is way easier at drive-ins.

In short, Santee isn’t nearly as scary as people think it is. It’s a growing community where businesses pop up left and right to serve the hard-working, middle-class citizens living there. You don’t have to love Santee—I completely understand why East County has the stigma it’s associated with—but before you hate on it, make the not-so-long trip out and explore Santee for yourself. You just might like it.

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