El Cajon

El Cajon Travel Blog

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Beautiful El Cajon, California, about 20 minutes inland from the coast
It means "The Box" in Spanish, because it's a hot, airless box canyon in the summer. Usually the brunt of most San Diego redneck jokes, it's not the kind of place that's usually reviewed in a blog here...

But, I was thinking as I drove through today, if you're visiting from out of town, it would actually be a lot more interesting than the cosmopolitan coast. It's actually not bad in the winter, surrounded by mountains with a small town feel that's missing from the coast. Head out there if you want to see real America! This is what the 98% of the non-coastal country is like. It's the kind of city that gets stuck in a period of time... and in this case a series periods in time, from the western pioneer cities of the 1930s to the industrial development of the 60s and 70s, to the cheeziness of the 80s.
It all kind of looks like this..
.. all patched together here.

The demographic is a mix of ranchers and mullet-wearing jacked-up-pickup truck-driving good old boys, construction workers, the elderly, new immigrants, and basically people who can't afford to live in San Diego, one of the most expensive cities in the country.

I remember going out there in the 1980s and watching it degrade from a perfectly preserved transplanted rural town from the midwest - complete with a main street called... Main Street, with family groceries, vacuum cleaner repair shops, shoe repair places, livestock supply companies... - to abandoned storefronts and gangs. By the 1990s, Main Street was repopulated by "thrift stores" selling used clothing and donated goods, biker bars, hot-rodding garages, and surviving old dinners where the old folks could hang out.
And this...
Briefly they tried to promote it as "Antique Alley" where thrift shops sold out to crappy antique shops that basically sold old junk, but those died too and it remained sort of a wasteland.

I make it out there every couple years. Last time downtown was under redevelopment. They seem to have gone in and closed all the junk shops, used book stores, and thrift shops and torn down some of the buildings in the worst condition.

This time, they'd built a few brand new "business centers" that sort of don't fit with the rest of the town and renovated the old storefronts for new tenants. This newest version of Main Street has evolved into Little Bagdad! That's what I'm calling it anyway - so much better than the past iterations! There are Iraqi markets, halal meat shops, no less than six kabob/Iraqi restaurants, Iraqi layers, Iraqi hair dressers... Everything! I bought a whole carload of dates and Turkish coffee and spices and foods that I can't get anywhere else - I think I'll go out there more often now.

Anyway, if you come out to San Diego, you really should cruise out to El Cajon to see it if you have a car... It's straight out the Interstate 8 freeway, about 20 miles to the east.

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Beautiful El Cajon, California, ab…
Beautiful El Cajon, California, a…
It all kind of looks like this..
It all kind of looks like this..
And this...
And this...
Businesses along Main Street disap…
Businesses along Main Street disa…
Hells Angels - Dago Chapter!
Hell's Angels - Dago Chapter!
Pawn shops
Pawn shops
Thrift stores
Thrift stores
Liquor stores... lots of liquor st…
Liquor stores... lots of liquor s…
Mobile homes
Mobile homes
And something new since last visit…
And something new since last visi…
Iraqi meat markets, restaurants, g…
Iraqi meat markets, restaurants, …
But some things never change! : )
But some things never change! : )
Oh, and lots of military surplus s…
Oh, and lots of military surplus …
Something from my childhood, Wrang…
Something from my childhood, Wran…
Locals lining up for a Saturday lu…
Locals lining up for a Saturday l…
The highlight, the same guy, I swe…
The highlight, the same guy, I sw…
The same wagon wheel lamps, wester…
The same wagon wheel lamps, weste…
Who knows where these poor creatur…
Who knows where these poor creatu…
Its a little piece of the West in…
It's a little piece of the West i…
El Cajon
photo by: cneoridium