Spain controlled the land from the late 18th century to the early 19th century, and established many missions in California to convert the indigenous people. When Mexico gained its independence from Spain, the local land was divided into large ranchos. Most of what is now Escondido occupies the former Rancho Rincon del Diablo ("Devil's Corner"), a Mexican land grant given to Juan Bautista Alvarado (not the governor of the same name) in 1843 by Governor Manuel Micheltorena. Alvarado was a Regidor of Los Angeles at the time, and the first Regidor of the pueblo of San Diego. The southern part of Escondido occupies the former Rancho San Bernardo, granted in 1842 and 1845.
Escondido was primarily an agricultural community, growing muscat grapes initially. After a dam was built in 1894-5 to form what is known today as Lake Wohlford, orange and lemon trees were planted in large numbers, as were olive and walnut trees. By the 1960s avocados became the largest local crop. Since the 1970s, Escondido has lost most of its agricultural land to housing developments.
Escondido's easily accessible location and variety of retail options make it the perfect place to shop. From eclectic one-of-a-kind boutiques Downtown to major national stores, variety abounds for all ages, tastes and budgets. Westfield North County regional shopping center is a shopping destination. The Center is planning a significant expansion to its already one million plus square foot space, providing even more retail options in the not-too-distant future.
- Escondido City Hall. Completed in 1988, City Hall was the first phase of the Escondido Civic Center. The building won many prestigious awards, including the Urban Land Institute Award for Excellence in 1989. City Hall represents innovative, functional, state-of-the-art, cost-effective solutions to many specific City needs. City Hall was designed with an anticipation of the future, as well as an appreciation of the past, and is a superb example of how architecture can reflect the heart of the community and inspire civic pride.
- California Center for the Arts. The Center Museum, widely recognized as one of San Diego County’s premier visual arts venues, features three galleries, a sculpture court, secure collections storage and receiving areas, administrative offices, and a Museum Store. The Museum’s indoor exhibition space totals 9,000 square feet. Each gallery has varying ceiling configurations and heights ranging from 19 to 35 feet, skylights with controlled access for natural light, and 24-hour computerized environmental and security controls. The Center Museum’s program of traveling and original exhibitions includes thematic and historic shows, as well as solo artist and group shows. This range of contextual exhibitions helps visitors see how historical works relate to present-day artistic and cultural concerns, and vice-versa. Since 1994, The Center Museum has organized more than seventy-five exhibitions and published thirteen catalogues.
- Daley Ranch is located in the northeastern portion of the City of Escondido, north of Dixon Lake and west of Valley Center Road. Access is provided via La Honda Drive to the south, Valley Center Road to the east, and Cougar Pass Road to the west. The hills and valleys of what is now known as Daley Ranch were frequented for centuries by Native Californians of the Kumeyaay, Luiseño, and other local tribes. Evidence of their passing can be seen in the soot-stained ceilings of boulder caves where these early Californians took refuge from the elements. Metates and morteros, holes ground into boulder tops, give evidence of food preparation by women who gathered together to grind seeds and acorns. The first European settler to arrive in this valley was a young English immigrant named Robert Daley. He settled into this valley in 1869 and built a small log cabin. This cabin now sits at the bottom of one of the ranch's ponds. After a federal survey of the land in 1875, Robert Daley's claim to the land was reaffirmed and he was granted two officials claims of 1,600 acres each. A few years later, he moved to a small tongue and groove pine house, which still stands on a knoll across from the existing Daley ranch house. The Daley family farmed, raised horses, and continued to acquire land.
- Queen Califia's Magical Circle is the only American sculpture garden and the last major international project created by Niki de Saint Phalle (born France, 1930-2002). Inspired by California's mythic, historic and cultural roots, the garden consists of nine large-scale sculptures, a circular "snake wall" and maze entryway, sculpturally integrated bench seating, and native shrubs and trees planted within the interior plaza and along the outer perimeter. The garden bears the brilliant, unique mosaic ornamentation that is an unmistakable part of Saint Phalle's later work. Queen Califia's Magical Circle is situated within a 12-acre natural habitat in the Iris Sankey Arboretum in Kit Carson Park on a parcel of land donated by the City of Escondido. The park's entrance is located five minutes from I-15 (Via Rancho Parkway Exit) at the corner of Bear Valley Parkway and Mary Lane.
- The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park, is a zoo in the San Pasqual Valley area near Escondido. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in San Diego County. The park houses a large array of wild and endangered animals including species from the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. The park is in a semi-arid environment and one of its most notable features is the Africa Tram which explores the expansive African exhibits. These free-range enclosures house such animals as antelopes, giraffes, buffalo, cranes, and rhinos. The park is also noted for its California condor breeding program, the most successful such program in the United States. The park, visited by 2 million people annually, has an area of 1,800 acres (730 ha) and, in 2005, housed 3,000 animals of more than 400 species plus 3,500 species of unique plants.