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La Mesa at a Glance
  • Population: 53,990
  • Median price single-family home: $390,000
  • Median price single-family luxury home:
  • Land area in square miles: 9.3
  • Residents per square mile: 5,828
  • Distance from Downtown San Diego: 12 miles
  • Solds: 470 (2008)

  • Points of Interest

    Lake Murray


    Depot Museum

    The Jewel of the Foothills
    This settled, stable suburban city offers a close-in location, great services, and a villagey charm. The motto of this popular residential community and commercial and trade center 12 miles east of the ocean and downtown San Diego is "The Jewel of the Foothills." Originally developed on flatlands to the west of the present city center, La Mesa lies at the top of a series of plateaus that rise steadily from the coast. It's no surprise that the city's name translates from Spanish as "the tabletop."

    The founder of La Mesa (known as La Mesa Springs at the time) was Robert Allison, a rich man originally from Iowa who came in search of a more healthful climate. He purchased 4,382 acres in the area. A year after he passed away in 1892, the railroad came to La Mesa Springs. The town was known for growing lemons and oranges. In 1912, the town's 700 residents voted to incorporate. Like the city of San Diego, La Mesa experienced tremendous growth in the World War II years.

    "When I was a young boy, hiking into downtown La Mesa was a big thrill," says a resident now in his 50s. "Some of those same people doing business 40 years ago are still doing business today. In fact, much of La Mesa is the way it was 40 years ago and that's a compliment."

    La Mesa Homes and Residents
    Most La Mesa homes are at least 30 years old and 50 and 60-year-old houses are common, as well. Especially pretty older neighborhoods can be found on the palm-tree-lined drives near La Mesa's downtown. Newer estates have been built on Mt. Helix and a luxury home community was built a few years ago on the hill above the town's venerable and popular Helix High School. There are numerous lush condominium complexes in the Lake Murray area.

    La Mesa attracts many professionals who work in downtown San Diego (just a short trolley trip away). The community is also popular with professors and students, since San Diego State University is just a couple of miles west. There's also a large population of retirees who still occupy the homes they bought years ago. Over the last decade or two, however, many of these have sold their homes to young families who are moving in and adding on.

    Though some of the city lies north of Interstate 8, most of it occupies the land between I-8 south to Interstate 94. The town is bordered by the College Area and Del Cerro to the west, is just south of San Carlos, and has El Cajon as its eastern neighbor.

    Mt. Helix
    One of Southern California's most exclusive addresses, this East San Diego County landmark offers spectacular views. The view from the very top—near the 35-foot white cross and the amphitheater—is undeniably, irrefutably incomparable! No other high point in the county comes close to Mt. Helix in terms of providing spectacular panoramas no matter which way you turn. To the south, you can see to the hills of Mexico. To the west, you look across La Mesa, Mission Valley, and the heart of the big city all the way San Diego Bay. And to the north and east lie the El Cajon Valley and the rugged peaks of the Cuyamacas.

    People live up, down, and all around this mountain, which is about 14-1/2 miles east of downtown San Diego. Part of Mt. Helix is in the city of La Mesa; another part is in El Cajon; and the third part lies in an unincorporated area of the county.

    Most of La Mesa's million-dollar-plus homes are in the Mt. Helix area. It's best known for narrow, winding lanes and big custom-designed estates of varying architectural styles. Some of these homes are nearly hidden in the dense vegetation of the area, and they betray their presence only when a backyard deck juts from the hillside to maximize a view. Liberally sprinkled through the community are small touches that make for an eclectic, pleasing mixture of both the homespun and the regal—like classy, customized mailboxes, handmade street signs, and noble antiques to light the lawns.

    La Mesa/Mt. Helix Shopping
    Grossmont Center is an eclectic mall with everything from Wal-Mart to Macy's to Pier One Imports. But for a really charming shopping experience, you need to visit downtown La Mesa, called the "Village," which has successfully retained the comforting feel of an old-time "Main Street." Centered around La Mesa Boulevard from Spring Street east to 4th Street, the Village has a delightful mix of specialty shops amid one of San Diego's largest and best antique districts. The Village hosts one of the biggest Oktoberfests in the U.S. (attracting more than 200,000 visitors), an old-timey "Christmas in the Village," Thursday-night car shows, and an annual Flag Day parade. Nearby Allison Street is the site of a popular farmer's market every Friday afternoon.
    House Prices
    The median price for a single-family home was $390,000 in 2008. The median price for a single-family luxury home is $1,500,000. Please note that our "Home Price Points" are based on the luxury market.
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    Story by Jacqueline Shannon
    Photography by Latara Dragoo


    Print Date: 10/24/2020
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