Great Press for Visit Escondido! Thanks U-T San Diego


Escondido means ‘hidden,’ but not for tourism coordinator

U-T San Diego
By Tom Pfingsten, 2:21 p.m., Feb. 21, 2015

Great Press for Visit Escondido

Katherine Zimmer, Escondido’s tourism and marketing administrator, spends her days trying to persuade the travelers of the world to visit a city whose name means “hidden.” ……. Photo: Tom Pfingsten

— Tucked inside a Grand Avenue storefront shared with the occasional Escondido Police deputy, Katherine Zimmer spends her days as the one person paid to promote the city as a tourist destination.

It is, quite literally, Zimmer’s job to persuade the rest of the world to visit a city whose name means “hidden.”

“Everybody knows the Safari Park, Stone (Brewing) and Legoland are the top three attractions in North County, and two of them are here,” Zimmer told me on Thursday, when we sat down together in the small lobby separating her desk from the sidewalk on the south side of Grand. “But the difficulty comes when people go straight to the Safari Park and then leave.”

In her frequent email bulletins under the “Visit Escondido” banner, she promotes a variety of local businesses — often restaurants and the wineries that are sprouting on every rural hillside in Escondido.

She posts nearly 1,000 local events a year to the website that is her lifeline to the outside world — — and keeps a close eye on the number of virtual tourists, as well. ( boasts more than 9,000 unique visitors a month and climbing.) For the businesses here that benefit whenever a stranger sets foot within the city limits, Zimmer is a rare and precious resource, someone who will tirelessly promote their events and stop in to consult on marketing plans.

She hasn’t yet had to charge for her services, thanks to a modest budget from City Hall, to whom she reports, and grants that have funded initiatives like a map of the city’s wineries and breweries that she recently finished.

“We were hit hard by the crash, and the businesses don’t need one more entity saying, ‘Give me an annual fee, and I will do this and this for you.’ I wanted the playing field to be level,” she said. “I wanted to be completely inclusive, and not have to ask them for money constantly to get anything done.”

Before coming to Escondido in November 2012, Zimmer ran marketing efforts for the Napa Chamber of Commerce, so she arrived in North County steeped in wine-country experience.

That has proven especially useful in recent years, as agricultural land in Escondido continues to shift from avocados to grapevines.

“Even just in the two and a half years I’ve been here, (the wine industry) has changed dramatically,” she told me. “You have the veterans who’ve been here for a while, and then you have all of these grass-roots up-and-comers. It’s amazing to me how they’re springing up and coming together. I think this area has the potential to be a really unique wine-country area. We don’t want to be Temecula, we don’t want to be Napa Valley. Every wine region has its own personality, and I think that’s pretty cool.”

In her first days as the tourism coordinator, Zimmer coined a catchphrase that she still sees as an accurate reflection of the city’s dual nature: “Come for the wildlife, stay for the culture.”

When I asked where she would point a first-time visitor who wanted to see something other than the Safari Park and Stone Brewing, she did not hesitate to recommend Queen Califia’s Magic Circle in Kit Carson Park and the California Center for the Arts.

Even though she previously lived in San Diego, has family in Escondido, and had visited numerous times, she said, “I had no idea that all of this existed. I mean, it’s almost 150,000 people, and yet it has this small community feel. I was very surprised to discover that there was so much going on here.”

If she has a philosophy of tourism, she said, it’s this: “When you create a place where visitors want to come, you’re just organically creating a place where people want to live. And if you do that, you attract businesses and it kind of turns into an economic development thing. Tourism and economic development are very closely aligned.”

City officials seem to agree, at least on paper. In a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy published in February 2013, promoting “Culture, Entertainment and Tourism” was one of the top priorities when members of the committee were polled.

A Bay-Area native, Zimmer spent her earlier career working for a cruise line and the digital research company LexisNexis — a job that had her selling services to Las Vegas casinos and San Fernando Valley film studios.

But now that she is at the helm of her own visitors bureau — hectic as it is — she is happy to be promoting the businesses that populate downtown Escondido.

“I’ve always been very drawn to the tourism side of things — I usually live in tourist areas, I’ve traveled a lot, and I love the idea of marketing (to motivate) people to visit places and see cool cultural things that are unexpected,” she said.

Know anyone with an interesting job, history or outlook on life? Contact Tom Pfingsten at

© Copyright 2015 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.

Link to the full article on