Old Highway 80
Old Highway 80 in San Diego County is a remarkable remnant of the past. Before Interstate 8 was constructed Highway 80 allowed many to travel east and west across the country. At one point it was the most traveled freeway in the country. 1 It is similar to Route 66 in its expansiveness and its benefits to commerce and culture. In its prime it went from the coast at Point Loma 2,500 miles to Tybee Island, Georgia. This page will explore the drivable section of Old Highway 80 beginning in Descanso and ending in Jacumba Hot Springs as it stands today within the boundaries of San Diego County. Old Highway 80 can be found on Google maps and is able to be driven without much research into what streets and freeways have covered it or diverted from it.3 Over time newer and larger roads and freeways were constructed but a portion San Diego County’s tract still exists and is able to be visited and driven on. It makes for an interesting drive for those interested in the history or those just wanting an escape from the fast-paced Interstate 8. The drive is 43 miles and about 55 minutes according to Google Maps.
Old highway 80 is an important piece of San Diego history because it had major effects on the city. This highway has had major social and economic benefits to the growth and development of San Diego as a whole. The creation of Interstate 8 left towns along Old Highway 80 to stop growing similar to Route 66. This preserved them for us to explore and learn about the past through the towns themselves. In an interesting article published by East County Magazine that explores the history of this route, Old Highway 80 was known as the “Broadway of America.” Highway 80 was the first coast-to-coast highway in the U.S. Tracts of local Highway 80 began opening in 1917, using some paths stagecoaches used as a guide. 1 The highway was officially decommissioned from Texas to California once Interstate 8 was completed in 1972. 1
32.851976,-116.594283 to 32.6592°, -116.0999°
It begins in Descanso, and goes east through Pine Valley, a small gold-mining town at the base of Mount Laguna, it then heads south at Mount Laguna, through Live Oak Springs, south to Boulevard, then east to Jacumba Hot Springs, then ends at Desert View Tower. Similar to Route 66, when the larger interstate was built many towns Highway 80 intersected stopped growing, leaving behind time capsules where some people still live and people can visit to learn about the history. The towns along this highway are charming small towns. Descanso and Pine Valley harken back to the gold rush, Descanso being the stopping point for miners on their way to Julian and Pine Valley itself once having active gold mines. Jacumba Hot Springs was a place celebrities of the golden age of Hollywood would visit to get away from Los Angeles and luxuriate in the springs.
Descanso Old Highway 80 begins in a town called Descanso. A small town which was used as a connection point for miners heading north to the gold mines of Julian. Descanso has bountiful oak trees, a rustic main street, and many people who live on acreages.
Pine Valley Highway 80 is at the heart of Pine Valley, a quaint small town. Independent stores and restaurants line Highway 80 here and many use the highway as a place to bicycle. To the north of the town is a view of Mount Laguna. According to HiddenSanDiego Frosty Burger is a must try.2
Live Oak Springs
Jacumba Hot Springs It was once a resort town and desert reprieve on the outskirts of San Diego county where Golden Age Hollywood stars would vacation, people like Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich enjoyed the hotel and hot springs.2 Desert view tower offers an impressive view of the mountains of east county and was built between 1922 and 1928.2 It is 70 feet tall and can be seen from Interstate 8.
Highway 80 is a picturesque trip back in time. Beginning in Descanso one can experience the beautiful drive which uncovers the natural and diverse beauty of southern California. The bountiful flora and fauna along old highway 80 give the viewer a glimpse to a less developed San Diego County.
Exploring Highway 80 one can experience the vast array of Californian habitats. Most of the drive is through chaparral. Characterized by dry and hot summers, and mild, wet winters, this biome is bountiful in hard-leaved plants and shrubs meant to seal in moisture to survive long periods without rain4. These plants cover mountainous regions once mined for gold like in the Pine Valley area where large boulders dot the hills woven between blankets of brush.4 This drive allows people to experience various environments ranging from pine forest to desert.
Chaparral- Manzanita, Oak, Pine, sage, Chamise and many other shorter brush plants.
Southern Oak Woodland- Tall and short shrubs, Oaks, California Walnut Trees, Sugar Bush.
Yellow Pine Forest- Ponderosa Pines, Douglas fir, Manzanitas, shrubby oaks, California Black Oaks.
Creosote Bush Shrub Creosote, Box Thorn, Prickly Pear, and vibrant wildflowers that bloom during wet years usually around springtime.
Pinyon-Juniper Woodland -Pine nut producing Pinyon Pines, Juniper, Sages, Cat Claws and Manzanitas, and many beautiful wildflowers.
https://www.laspilitas.com/comhabit/a.htm is a great resource that allows one to research plant communities within California.
Fauna: Along Old Highway 80 there are many animals one could see-
Woodpeckers, mice, lizards, frogs, deer, mountain lion, coyote, squirrel, owl, hawk, bald eagle, and many more.6
In 2003 the City of San Diego designated Old Highway 80 as a historic route. 6 Now more of a novelty to travel on, parts of it are still used but it is not the primary way people travel west to east through, into, and out of San Diego. It is now used by locals and history enthusiasts wanting to understand what people of the past saw when traveling and see the small towns that are relics of the past. If interested in exploring San Diego County by car, Highways To History A Driving Guide to the Historic Places of the San Diego County Mountains is a great book by Chris Wray that details the history along some of San Diego County's historic routes with photographs, maps, and driving directions.