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Ballena North County Neighborhood Guide

Ballena Aerial View

The rural community of Ballena is an unincorporated area located east of Ramona in the Ballena Valley in North County San Diego. It is primarily home to farms, ranches and vineyards, including Oasis Camel Dairy, which is the first camel dairy farm in the country.

Primarily known for producing wine and racehorses, Ballena is the type of place where you can enjoy the tranquility of country living just a short drive from the town of Ramona and the cities of Escondido, Poway and San Marcos.

Ballena Area History

The Ballena Valley area was first inhabited by Native Americans until it became the home of white settlers around 1857. Ballena was used as a stop between nearby gold mining camps beginning in about 1870. Ballena means whale (in Spanish), and the area takes its name from Whale Mountain, which was originally called Epank, which means whale in the Ipai language.

Between 1870 and 1894, Sam Warnock opened and operated a post office and general store here.

To learn more about the area’s history, head to the Ramona Pioneer Historical Society and Guy B. Woodward Museum located at 645 Main Street in Ramona. Here, you can see a blacksmith shop, bunkhouse, the Verlaque House and the Casey Tibbs Memorial Exhibit. You can also explore historical exhibits and the research library.

To see the final resting place of some of the first white settlers in this area and their descendants, you may also want to visit the Ballena Cemetery for a local history lesson.

ballena neighborhood guide

Ballena Housing

Ballena is a rural area with low-density housing. Properties here are large parcels that are home to horse ranches, vineyards and farms. While properties do occasionally come on the market, there is never much of an inventory in this area. This means that folks looking to relocate to Ballena will need to keep an eye on the market or work with a local real estate agent who can alert them when something is listed.

I found just two Ballena area homes for sale at the time of this writing:

  • Three bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,800-square-foot home with two parcels totaling 112+ acres listed at $2,537,000
  • One bedroom, one bathroom, 587-square-foot house on 10 acres listed at $1,200,000

ballena restaurants

Ballena Shopping, Dining & Entertainment

The larger cities of Escondido, Poway and San Marcos are near enough to conveniently run errands and accomplish larger shopping trips, but most of what you need can be found just down the road from Ballena in Ramona.

In the shopping district on and near Main Street, you will find Kmart, Stater Bros., Rite Aid Pharmacy, Kahoots Feed & Pet Store, Ransom Brothers True Value hardware store, Livery Feed & Ranch Supply, AutoZone, Sears Hometown Store, Dollar Tree, Elston Hay & Grain, gas stations and banks. You will also find some local favorites, such as the local butcher, Bisher’s Quality Meats.

Ramona also is home to a good variety of eateries that include Ramona Valley Grill, Ramona Café, Cheers of Ramona, Amerient, La Cocina, El Michoacan, Thai Time, Boll Weevil, Molly Malone’s, Mama Rosa and Nuevo Grill & Cantina. There are also lots of well-known options, including Starbucks, Domino’s, Rubio’s, Subway, Denny’s, McDonald’s, Quiznos, Pizza Hut and Jack in the Box, which shows that living in Ballena allows you to enjoy the country without sacrificing your fast food faves or your need for a Starbucks fix.

There is also the San Vicente Shopping Center located at 23670 San Vicente Road, which is home to a handful of essentials that are handy to have nearby, including a dental office, medical office, dry cleaner and two restaurants. It is also home to Country Wine & Spirits, which is more than just a liquor store offering groceries and a popular lunch spot to grab some BBQ. There is also an Ace Hardware on San Vicente Road.

Another dining option that is not to be missed is The Oaks Grille at the San Vicente Resort, which has been voted best family restaurant and one of the best places to get breakfast or dinner in Ramona by locals. You will also find the Par Lounge at the San Vicente Resort, which locals voted as the best bar or night spot in Ramona.

Entertainment options in the area include Barona Casino, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, wine tasting and the live events held at Ramona Mainstage. For a more unique experience, you may also want to schedule a tour or visit one of the open farm days at the Oasis Camel Dairy where you can ride and learn about camels or purchase products made with camel milk.

ballena recreation

Ballena Parks & Recreation

Ballena residents enjoy hiking, mountain biking and trail riding on miles of trails and dirt roads in and around the area. While most folks can enjoy trails very close to home, they can also make the short drive to Swartz Canyon County Park, William Heise County Park, Hellhole Canyon Preserve, Ramona Grassland Preserve and Mt. Gower Open Space Preserve for lots more options.

Visitors to Ramona Grasslands Preserve have the use of a staging area with horse trailer parking, picnic tables and miles of trails, including a popular, four-mile loop trail. At Mt. Gower Open Space Preserve, visitors will find a staging area, primitive campgrounds, restrooms and about eight miles of hiking trails.

There is also the Dos Picos County Park in Ramona that offers a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities, including fishing, hiking, horseshoe pits and a soccer field, as well as campsites and cabins for overnight stays.

The Ramona Parks and Recreation Association offers extensive community programming, including youth sports and senior programming, such as bridge, computer classes, bingo, exercise classes and craft classes, at the Ramona Community Park and Ramona Community Center.

There are, of course, lots of equestrian centers and stables in Ballena and the surrounding area if you are need of a trainer or prefer to board your horses away from home.

For golfers, the closest options are the courses at San Vicente Golf Resort and Mt. Woodson Golf Club. By driving a bit farther, your options expand to include Maderas Golf Club, The Vineyard at Escondido Golf Club, Reidy Creek Golf Course and Oaks North Golf Course.

ballena schools

Ballena Schools

Ballena is located right in the area where the boundaries of the Ramona City Unified School District and the Julian school districts meet. This means that public school students here may attend schools in the Ramona district or in the Julian Union Elementary School District and the Julian Union High School District.

Elementary schools in Ramona include Barnett Elementary School, Hanson Elementary School, James Dukes Elementary School, Mountain Valley Academy, Mt. Woodson Elementary School, Ramona Community Montessori School and Ramona Elementary School. Ramon middle schools include Olive Pierce Middle School and Mountain Valley Academy. High school options in Ramon include Ramona High School, Mountain Valley Academy, Montecito High School and Future Bound.

Schools in the Julian districts include Julian Elementary School, Julian Junior High School, Julian Union High School and Julian Charter School.

Private schools in this area include Ramona Christian Academy, New Life Christian Academy, Montessori Children’s House and Ramona Lutheran School. If you do not mind driving a bit farther to Escondido, your options include Escondido Adventist Academy, Escondido Apostolic Christian Academy, Summerhill School, Escondido Christian School, Grace Christian School and Balboa City School.

Ballena Boundaries

Ballena is in the northeastern section of North County San Diego and is located south of Mesa Grande, west of Santa Ysabel and Julian, east of Ramona, northeast of San Diego Country Estates and north of Swartz Canyon County Park.

Nearby North County Neighborhoods


Demographic and real estate information gathered from and Photo Credit: INEGI 2016/Google 2016

AJ Davis-Varela: AJ is a freelance writer and blogger at Articles by AJ specializing in travel, real estate, natural wellness and green living. She is a magazine columnist, a former San Diego newspaper columnist, has been published in a variety of print and online publications, and regularly contributes to several websites and blogs. You can connect with AJ on LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+