BORREGO SPRINGS, Calif. -- Deep in the desert, hidden among the cacti, is a sight to behold. It’s in the Anza Borrego Desert, home to creatures of the present and ancient past. Giant birds, mammoths and raptors. Some of the animals once roamed these very lands; others are pure fantasy.
The main attraction is a 350-foot long magnificent metal monster with the tail of a rattlesnake, body of a serpent and head of a Chinese dragon. It took the artist, Ricardo Breceda, 3 months to design and another 3 months to install.
And it’s not the only desert leviathan.
Further south and after a little bit of off-roading, you’ll find a different group of apex predators, T-Rex and friends.
All of it done by a world-renowned metal sculptor from Temecula whose daughter asked for a dinosaur after watching “Jurassic Park,” and not wanting to let her down, he built his first metal sculpture. From there, his work took off and his now-grown daughter Lianna helps him manage his gallery in Temecula.
He also has sculptures along Interstate 215 in the Inland Empire but it’s his work in Borrego Springs that really made him famous. There he made at least 130 sculptures with incredible detail – fur, feathers, scales – all carved from metal to look like the real thing. Together the pieces are known as “Sky Art” and they were commissioned by the late Dennis Avery. Avery was a philanthropist and lived and raised his family in Borrego Springs. He bought land there that he held in conservation and kept it open to the public, calling the area Galleta Meadows.
World-renowned artist Ricardo Breceda stopped by the FOX 5 Morning News to show us some of his show-stopping metal sculptures featured in the Anza-Borrego Desert. Click here to watch.
BEHIND-THE-SCENES: Take a look at this behind-the-scenes video of FOX 5's desert shoot, including incredible drone video of the sculptures you won’t see anywhere else. FOX 5’s Kathleen Bade sits down with Executive Producer of Special Projects, Ruby Chen to chat about how she learned of this place and a look at the making of the story.
CARLSBAD, Calif. – Planes, trains and automobiles. Inside an unassuming building lies a treasure trove of miniature masterpieces.
The Miniature Engineering and Craftsmanship Museum in Carlsbad is home to a collection of more than 1,400 items, carefully crafted in metal, plastic and wood. Some items have historical significance, others are pure imagination realized. There’s even a dollhouse section with some of the most elaborate and detailed miniature homes you’ve ever seen.
There are mini machine guns that can lock and load and fire. You’ll also find a 1:4 scale of the plane that carried the Wright brothers on their first flight at Kitty Hawk. The oldest item is a handmade wooden clock from 1793. The smallest of the miniatures is a working wrench, nut and bolt made to 1:30 scale. And if that’s not impressive enough, the crème de la crème is the miniature Duesenberg, which took 10 years straight to make, runs perfectly and is the only one in the world.
In the back of this special museum is Santa’s workshop, where a master machinist builds, restores and maintains. For a few select hours a day, he opens up his machine shop to the public demonstrating all his gadgets and gizmos.
Spend any amount of time here and you’ll realize that what’s a hobby for some, is a lifetime of work for others, celebrating the little things in life.
So next time you marvel at giant feats of engineering, stop and remember that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
To visit the museum's website, click here.
King of the Missions
OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- Beauty, tranquility and history. For anyone looking to unplug and unwind, this is the place. Private rooms surround a rose garden, quiet enough to meditate. Or take a stroll through the labyrinth and let the sound of silence clear your thoughts.
So where are we talking about?
Old Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside was founded in 1798 and nicknamed the “King of the Missions” because it’s the largest in California. The grounds are full of history, from the oldest pepper tree in the state to the oldest cemetery in North County and also a centuries-old church standing since 1815 and still holding daily mass. Inside you’ll find original designs, famous paintings and a side chapel for prayer.
There’s also a museum with several artifacts, like an original document signed by President Lincoln giving ownership of the church back to the Franciscan Friars.
So whether you come for a day tour or a weekend retreat, be sure to not disturb the friars who live and study at this historic San Diego landmark.
Pretty in pink: Burlingame Historic District
SAN DIEGO -- It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, famous for its unmistakable pink sidewalks.
“You know you’re home when you see them," says Craig Blakey, who moved here earlier this year.
Welcome to Burlingame, a community busting with character – from the rose-stained sidewalks to the historic homes and much more. You won’t find cookie cutter houses here; rather homes of unique styles, each with a special story, nearly all built in the early 1900’s.
The oldest home is on Maple, sold in 1912 for $7,500. Today’s it’s worth more than a million dollars and gets featured in tours and calendars.
Another home was owned by the original hat lady of the Del Mar races in the '30s.
These days residents proudly show off their place in San Diego history. They also put on elaborate holiday displays.
So while people might come to Burlingame for the pink sidewalks, it’s the charm of the homes and residents that keeps them from leaving.
Blakey says, “it’s kinda the neighborhood that so many of us remember when we were growing up as children.”
Untold stories of the lighthouse
POINT LOMA, Calif. – It’s one of San Diego’s most scenic and oldest landmarks. If walls could talk, there would be plenty to say about the Old Point Loma lighthouse, standing watch since 1855, keeping sailors safe and harboring secrets.
Its most famous keeper was Robert Israel, who lived here with his wife Maria and children for 18 years. Life was modest and lonely; they are what they grew and collected seashells for fun. They also hid a secret – Maria helped man the light, which was illegal back then since women weren’t allowed to work.
The drama doesn’t stop there.
After 18 years of faithful service, Robert was suddenly fired and no one knows why, though some believe he and Maria never truly left.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1891 after constant fog defeated its purpose. Today, it’s a museum with ranger-led tours. It’s part of Cabrillo National Monument and popular with tourists and school field trips. Twice a year, visitors can even climb to the top. So while the light has dimmed, the lighthouse still stands watch over San Diego Bay.
Magical maze garden
ESCONDIDO, Calif. – Nestled deep within Kit Carson Park in Escondido is a hidden gem not many know about.
A maze takes you from the real world to a whimsical garden.
This is Queen Califia’s Magical Circle – an homage to an Amazon warrior who, according to folklore, inspired the name of our great state.
She stands proudly on her favorite bird, guarding a golden egg under a bedazzled starry sky. You might notice the bird has five legs – and nobody knows why!
Eight totems surround the Queen, each with its own theme like “Bullhead” and “Yelling Man.”
The entire park is guarded by a wall of the friendliest snakes you’ll ever see.
All of this is designed by world-famous artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who brought stones, tiles and gems from around the world to complete her vision.
What used to be an empty lot is now a cultural landmark for all ages to enjoy.
The biggest beauty? It’s all open to interpretation -- so your imagination’s the limit.
Storybook cottage in Alpine
ALPINE, Calif. – It’s not every day you come across a home like this – a dwelling nicknamed “The Hobbit House.”
Every detail is carefully considered and crafted to highlight nature’s beauty. Take the upstairs window, for example, which, when open, floods the space with light, inviting the sounds and scents of Mother Earth.
“In the winter, you can see the Milky Way,” says Lynne Davidson, one of the original owners of the house.
The heart of the home is the fireplace, at the bottom of a steep staircase that takes skills to climb.
What’s more impressive is that Lynne and her husband Carl raised four daughters here – the girls sharing one room, one closet and the six of them sharing one bathroom!
“Yes, we had small closets and yes, we had a big family, but we all survived,” says Lynne.
The couple built this fairytale home in the ‘70s from ground up – with a lot of help.
They were inspired by another famous San Diego home – Ilan Lael, built by renowned architect James Hubbell.
And when the current owner, Chuck Samples, took over, he added his own backyard flavor.
“I just consider the whole house an art masterpiece really,” says Samples.
He also listed the home on Airbnb, so you, too can experience a night with nature – though he has strict rules to make sure this jewel of a home remains in prime shape for years to come.
Vintage trains, homes in Poway
POWAY, Calif. – If there’s one thing both adults and kids love, it’s trains. And there are four historic ones in San Diego still in operation – all at Old Poway Park.
There’s a vintage steam train, an original San Francisco cable car, a speeder car and a trolley from the 1900s upgraded with a corvette engine.
Conductor Bob Kaplan helped restore these treasures. “You’re never too old to play with trains,” he says.
He says a six minute ride wows the crowd and the reaction from the kids...priceless.
Aside from trains, Old Poway Park is a beautifully landscaped time capsule giving you a taste of what life was like in San Diego and California in the early 1900s.
The Nelson House, built in 1918, is one of the original houses of Poway with furnishings at least a century old.
The park also hosts holiday parties and is often booked for weddings and private photo sessions.
Whether you’re a history buff, train lover or just looking for a place to relax, Ranger Craig Winger has this message for you: “We want to make the community have a great time every time they come to this park.”
Julian's Wolf Sanctuary
JULIAN, Calif. – They look like dogs, sometimes even act like them. But make no mistake, these are wolves -- wild animals -- and they’re highly misunderstood.
“I think the biggest misconception is that they’re going to attack us. Wolves are actually afraid of us," said Heidi Pankratz, animal care manager at Julian’s California Wolf Sanctuary.
Nearly two dozen wolves live at the sanctuary. The first time you notice is their size – huge paws and teeth.
Pankratz says some of the most common things she hears is, “oh my gosh, a wolf! Look how big it is!”
They’re also stealthy, sneaking up behind us several times -- not in a menacing way, but cautiously curious.
FOX 5 hid a GoPro in some bushes and it didn’t take long for Wintu, the most curious of the pack, to figure it out and scamper away.
“They don’t want much to do with us," Pankratz said.
But people sure do love them. The sanctuary is often booked for public tours.
“Kids are great to have here...a lot of them have never seen a wolf before and they get really excited," Pankratz said.
FOX 5 also learned wolves are obsessed with puppies. digging big dens for their young.
The sanctuary is renowned for its breeding program and hopes visitors leave with new respect for the majestic wolves.
Bonsai bonanza in East County
EL CAJON, Calif. -- Timeless, ageless and mesmerizing, the centuries-old art of bonsai takes root in the backyard of an El Cajon home, known as a hidden gem in East County.
Cindy Reed runs Kuma Bonsai and has been perfecting her craft since the late ‘60s. Her backyard is home to hundreds of bonsais, including a 3-inch tall tree that’s 35 years old, to a mini white cedar tree nicknamed ‘people catnip’ due to its leaves giving off an amazing scent.
The centerpiece is a 25-year-old bonsai dug up from the old KCBQ radio station lot. Cindy calls it “her baby.”
All of the plants are meticulously trimmed and arranged by Reed, whose love of nature has turned into a business. She operates San Diego’s only bonsai nursery, supplying bonsais to several places including Balboa Park’s Japanese Friendship Garden and San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
To Reed, bonsai is a way of life – a passion she shares through open workshops.
“Oh my gosh, the kids love it...I’ve had kids come back two years later and show me their trees,” Reed said. “I hope they come away with a little bit of peace,” she said, referring to adults who need to unplug.
She’s even met the man who did all the bonsais for the “Karate Kid” movies.
Reed says there’s no such thing as the perfect bonsai and anyone can pick it up. All you need is to open your mind and let the bonsai guide the way.
Magical mountain playhouse is historical landmark
SANTA YSABEL, Calif. – If art is the soul’s way of communicating, then this Santa Ysabel mountain retreat has a lot to say.
Tucked in the mountains and inspired by nature is Ilan-Lael, Hebrew for “A tree that belongs to God” and brainchild of renowned San Diego architect James Hubbell.
Ten buildings dot his sprawling 40 acre plus property – bedrooms, a workshop, meditation space, a dazzling pool, Jacuzzi and more.
The most eye-catching is the two story bedroom and playhouse he built for his kids, complete with a spiral wooden staircase, ornate features and a mosaic domed bathroom.
Brick by brick, James and his wife Anne started building their dream home more than 50 years ago. When the 2003 Cedar Fire burned it down, the decided they weren’t going to be victims.
“The fire gave us space we could do new things,” said Hubbell.
Four kids and six grandkids later, their home is a historical landmark and once a year they open it up for public tours.
“It’s not Disneyland, it’s a place where people can talk to nature and talk to themselves,” is how Hubbell described his magical home.
College students even come from around the country for hands-on internships.
Clare Knecht, a sophomore from the University of Cincinnati said, “Messing up is the beauty of his work.”
And after a lifetime of work, Hubbell said fame doesn’t compare to the feedback from a little boy – “Mr. Hubbell makes houses that trees aren’t ashamed to stand next to.”
And he has this advice.
“If you know where you’re going, you’re not going anywhere.”
Secret Swings Overlook Pacific Ocean
SAN DIEGO – Perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean is a hidden spot perfect for couples and families -- call it a romantic mystery in the woods. Two swings are hidden on the vast University of California, San Diego campus.
Swinging on one of them sends you soaring above the bushes, spying on cars zipping below on the way to the Birch Aquarium.
And it’s not the only secret swing there. Further down a dirt trail is an even more hidden one – a swinging bench that shows off La Jolla Shores and the Cove. This one is more secluded than the other -- an added bonus for couples looking for alone time.
For the adventurous lovebirds, there’s also a tee pee hideaway, along with a primitive tree house taking you high up the eucalyptus.
Finding these places isn’t hard. You can access the trail from two parking lots – the UCSD graduate housing parking lot on Discovery Way or the Birch Aquarium parking lot. Just go to the end and the trail is on the left.
As for who built them and when, now that’s a mystery. But just recently, a third set of swings was taken down, leaving behind a bench and a reminder to enjoy these hidden gems before they go away.
Pucker Up for a Camel Kiss
RAMONA, Calif. – Arabian camels in San Diego’s backcountry have been entertaining families since 2002.
Eighteen camels live at Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona and are cared for by camel whisperers Gil and Nancy Riegler. Once a month, the couple welcomes the public for tours and camel rides. During the summer months, they offer several different shows and even take their beloved camels on the road.
“Kids don't want to just see a show. They want to be the show, they want to interact, and the camels get right in there and interact with them," Nancy told FOX 5.
Cyrus is the baby of the bunch. Then there's Natalie and alpha male Sampson.
As for the stereotype of being grumpy? Not at all. These camels are playful and love giving kisses.
Most of the camels are females. There are only a handful of males and just one bull camel, Zohan. He’s the only male in the herd allowed to breed the females, whose milk gets made into lotions and soaps. The Rieglers do not offer camel milk for the public but they do sell camel milk chocolate imported from Dubai.
The Rieglers do not offer camel milk for the public but they do sell camel milk chocolate imported from Dubai.
There are other animals on the ranch – birds, turkeys, horses, sheep and more. But the camels are the ones that really steal the show and peoples’ hearts.
Click here for their tour schedule.
Desert View Tower in Jacumba
JACUMBA, Calif. -- Way out east on Interstate 8, where the mountains meet the desert, is a historic landmark many lifelong San Diegans don’t even know about.
At five stories tall, the Desert View Tower in Jacumba was built in 1920 and is the only functioning roadside attraction between San Diego and Yuma.
Several dogs roam the tower, which is filled with trinkets for sale. At the center, a spiral staircase leads to the top, where you’ll find an incredible panoramic view of the Salton Sea, sand dunes and more.
If adventure is what you’re after, across from the tower is the entrance to Boulder Park. The park is filled with caves and 18 animals carved out of the granite – a snake, alligators and some scary faces – not to mention really tight squeezes.
The carvings have been standing proud since 1933 but recently, a surprise was added at the end of the trail -- you'll just have to go see for yourself.
The Munchkin House in La Jolla
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- By looks alone, it’s just another Mount Soledad home with a gorgeous view. But this house on Hillside Drive is actually one of San Diego’s biggest urban legends.
“I was riding up here one day and some construction workers were telling me the munchkins had owned it and that it was a legend," a nearby resident told FOX 5.
The story goes, the munchkin actors from the “Wizard of Oz” built four small homes to accommodate their needs. Only one remains.
Its smaller size isn’t obvious, but an average 5’5” woman can easily touch the roof and a 6-foot man has to squat to look at the peep hole.
The current owner bought the home 10 years ago and kept every original detail. He wasn’t home but did invite FOX 5 to explore, so we followed the not-so-yellow brick road to the courtyard, onto the back deck where we saw something greater than Oz – the Pacific Ocean.
As for the legend, it’s not true at all. The home was built by a famous architect and the short stature is mostly an optical illusion. Still, that doesn’t stop people from believing the munchkin myth. Besides, it sure does make for great conversation.
Graffiti is art at Writerz Blok
SAN DIEGO -- What’s an eyesore to some is art to others, in a raw form capturing the essence of Southeast San Diego.
Writerz Blok in Chollas View is the only place in San Diego and one of the few in the nation where graffiti is legal and even encouraged. Founded in 1999 by one of the original muralists of Chicano Park, Writerz Blok has helped reduce vandalism by 75 percent.
Kids, teens and adults come from around the county, nation and world to paint here. It’s so popular, the non-profit even gets commissioned for murals and partners with museums.
It’s free and open to the public, because after all, your imagination is the limit.
SoCal is home to many things, including a UFO farm
SAN DIEGO - When it comes to extra-terrestrials, the truth might be in Jacumba.
Along a mysterious road called In-Ko-Pah Road is a cosmic collection of flying saucers, alien figurines and VIP parking for our guests from galaxies far, far away.
A guy who lives in the area started putting aliens on display, building a sci-fi stockpile over the past 10 years.
Curious fans come from near and far helping the display grow over the years with various donations.
Channel your inner Fox Mulder and boldly go to where the welcome mat is rolled out for the universe.
The Salt Mines of Chula Vista
CHULA VISTA -- The salt mines of Chula Vista have been around since the 1800’s, yet very few know about them or what they do.
South Bay Salt Works produces tons of commercial salt used in livestock feed, jet fuel and to soften water.
The factory uses the sun's energy to extract salt from the ocean -- a process that takes about six months and hasn't changed much since 1870.
The salt ponds of what’s called the second oldest business in San Diego County have created a wildlife refuge for endangered and threatened species to thrive, which is why the land is protected by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
The bike path at Swiss Park is the best way to explore this gem.
The Bridges of Bankers Hill
Two bridges more than a century old lie tucked between homes in Bankers Hill.
The Spruce Street Bridge, built in 1912, is held up by steel suspension cables. It connects Spruce Street between Front and Brand streets and overlooks Kate Sessions Canyon.
A couple of blocks south lies the even older Quince Street Bridge, between 3rd and 4th avenues spanning Maple Canyon. Built in 1905, it was deemed a city landmark and re-opened after once being set to be demolished.
Mushroom House on Black's Beach
Though Black’s Beach in La Jolla is best known for its nude sunbathers, there’s another showstopper on the sand.
Nicknamed the mushroom house, this strange-looking structure was built as a guest home in 1968 with concrete walls meant to withstand tidal waves, rock slides and earthquakes.
It was built right on the beach and may boast the best oceanfront views in all of San Diego. But even more unique is the tramway behind, running almost 300 feet up the cliff and connecting to a multi-million dollar mansion above on La Jolla Shores Lane.
The best way to see the mushroom house is to walk north from Scripps Pier during low tide.
Secret Stairs Hidden In The Hills
Hidden in the hills of La Mesa lie three sets of secret stairs.
Each one is tucked between homes in the exclusive Mount Nebo/Windsor Hills area. The longest staircase starts at Windsor and Canterbury Drive.
The City of La Mesa built the steps between 1910 and 1930 as shortcuts to connect the hillside neighborhood but they have since become part of the city's "urban walking trail."
At the top of a hill sits a home unlike any other in San Diego.
More than 50 topiaries line the hillside -- whimsical creatures in different shapes and sizes.
All of it was designed by Edna Harper, whom her family lovingly nicknamed "Miss Scisshorhands." With the help of her husband and gardener, they turned Edna's drawings into a dream garden, delighting the neighborhood since 1997.
Thousands Of Bodies Buried At Pioneer Park
Behind a school where children play and people sunbathe is a park where thousands of bodies are buried.
Pioneer Park in Mission Hills is hallowed ground steeped in history, dating back to the late 1800s. It used to be calvary cemetery, one of the earliest graveyards in San Diego.
Plaques in the center of the park have names of nearly 2,000 people whose headstones were removed, but their bodies remain underneath the green grass.
Musical Treasure Hidden In Plain Sight
A giant carillon that plays a tune when struck in sequence was built on a San Diego bridge in 2003 and remains relatively unknown.
The large musical instrument can be found on the 25th Street corridor between F and G streets in Golden Hill.
Forbidden Falls Nestled In Urban San Diego
Deep down a canyon, nestled between Del Cerro and San Diego State, lies a hidden and forbidden treasure.
Adobe Falls is one of the only year-round waterfalls in San Diego County. It's been here for ages, even before Interstate 8 was built.
It used to be a picturesque picnic hot spot. Now, it's littered with trash, drug paraphernalia and graffiti, which has tripled in the past year.
San Diego State University owns the land and is not shy to cite or even arrest trespassers.
Stories by Executive Producer, Special Projects Ruby Chen