Back-yard vacations have some real advantages: they don't cost much money and they don't take a lot of time.
"We're afraid to spend too much money these days, and we can't go too far because of horrendous gas prices," said Martha McDonough, an Escondido housewife with three children under the age of 12.
McDonough and her husband, a computer programmer, say the family will take day trips during the Christmas holiday. "We'll finally see what's in our own back yard," said Jim McDonough.
Community attractions--such as museums--are sometimes slow to be discovered by the people who live near them.
"Locals take all this for granted," said Guy Woodward, curator of the Guy B. Woodward Museum in Ramona. Woodward, 81, is referring to the turn-of-the-century museum that carries his name and is considered tops by historical societies in the state. "We've been judged twice as the best backcountry museum in California."
Up the road a bit is the Julian Pioneer Museum, visited by more than 75,000 people a year, most from outside the area. "Not a day goes by that we don't see somebody from a foreign country," said curator Mabel Carlson.
The typical North County museum differs from the larger, more traditional museum where the atmosphere is formal and collections are perfectly arranged, enshrined and guarded. Hometown museums are family-oriented, educational and lively places that offer something for young and old.
For instance, at the Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas, there is a tour for 3- and 4-year-old children, designed to teach young minds how early man survived off the land; the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center in Borrego Springs has an audio tape of sounds and conversations recorded during the 1968 Borrego earthquake; and at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in Vista, mechanical buffs examine restored, operational farm equipment, such as a hillside harvester built in 1917 with gears that cranked manually and required a crew of 5 to run.
No rules or regulations govern the formation of a museum, community-based or otherwise, although most have nonprofit status and are affiliated with a historical society. Some receive support from local, state or federal agencies. On a day-to-day basis, they tend to be managed and staffed by dedicated, knowledgeable volunteers.
There are a number of good museums in North County that cost little, if anything, to enjoy. Most request donations, though. The museums that aren't right in your neighborhood are probably within a 60-minute drive from home.
GUY B. WOODWARD MUSEUM
645 Main St., Ramona
(619) 789-7644 Open 1-4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday; c losed holidays.
When Guy Woodward and his wife were vacationing in Hawaii some years ago, members of the Ramona Historical Society took a vote and changed the name of their museum. "Darned if I didn't come home to find they'd named the museum after me," said Woodward, who dresses in Western attire, looks every bit the cowboy part, and is undoubtedly the perfect volunteer.
Although several wooden structures dot the museum property, the centerpiece is a beautifully restored 1886 French Provincial home called the Verlaque house, named after its original owner. Authentic interior furnishings include a baby grand piano made in Austria in 1870 for the king of Austria. The library serves as an ongoing historical data center and is used by faculty and students from several area universities. A gift shop is in the basement, along with memorabilia from famed cowboy Casey Tibbs.
Outside are authentic Western buildings that were relocated and restored with help from the California Conservation Corps. An 1880 medicine wagon, once pulled by a team of horses, now has a 1926 Chevrolet engine and is fully operational. According to Woodward, children love the 7-ton jail where prisoners were once kept. "If they were like that today, these people wouldn't be so anxious to get back into them," said Woodward, a former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
JULIAN PIONEER MUSEUM
2811 Washington St., Julian (619) 765-0227 Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, legal holidays (except Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year's Day). Open daily from April 1 through November. May be closed due to snow. Inspired by the Julian Woman's Club and a large number of civic and political organizations, the Julian Pioneer Museum opened its doors in 1952.
The building was originally a brewery and later a blacksmith shop. After two restorations, it has now been restored to its original turn-of-the-century configuration. Bursting with artifacts donated by local Julian pioneer families, the museum consists of a three-room structure.
The oldest artifact is a small wall sampler from the 1700s. Carlson said the Weber square piano dating back to the 1880s is a favorite and catches everyone's eye. And the museum's collection of lace is "one of the best around."