Escondido is located just north of San Diego in a shallow valley ringed with rocky hills. The city's name, which is Spanish for “hidden”, can be attributed to its location. Escondido has a population of 140,766, making it the fourth largest city in San Diego County. The city is very diverse in terms of race, primarily due to its proximity to the Mexican border. The large Hispanic population is now accompanied by a greater number of African and Asian Americans than in recent decades. Arab-Americans and Pacific Islanders have also begun to establish a presence there. Once a primarily agricultural town, Escondido has grown throughout the 20th century in terms of community and economy. San Diego County's real estate boom forced outlying cities like Escondido to submit to the urban living pressures of suburban sprawl. This phenomenon accounts for soaring real estate prices and the disappearance of old neighborhoods due to new construction. Escondido has, however, managed to maintain some of its small town charm.
Downtown is a great place to begin your Escondido experience. Centered on Grand Avenue, downtown has experienced a renaissance in recent years, resulting in the opening of numerous restaurants, cafes, shops and galleries. In addition to the many galleries along Grand, a branch of the Mingei Museum, featuring handcrafts from around the world, has recently opened there. Art lovers must also go see Queen Califia's Magical Circle in Kit Carson Park. The Magical Circle is the last major international work by Niki de Saint Phalle, a French artist who was a colleague of Jasper Johns and Salvador Dali. Also visit-worthy are the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, the Escondido Children's Museum, and the Escondido History Center. All of these attractions are located in Grape Day Park, just one block off Grand Avenue. Many tourists also come to Escondido to visit the San Diego Wild Animal Park, featuring exotic animals in open habitat. Escondido is also well known for its three large lakes, including Dixon Lake, Lake Wohlford, and Lake Hodges. The lakes are popular for their fishing and boating opportunities.
Escondido has a rich history as an early agricultural community, and today there are still many farms and wineries in the area. The community of Valley Center, just north of Escondido, maintains a pre-colonial setting reminiscent of the times when California was a frontier to Mexico and New Spain. The community has a large population comprised of individuals of Spanish/Hispanic and tribal Native American descent. Valley Center is also home to a burgeoning casino industry, featuring large casino-hotels, spas, and golf courses.