Descanso (Diegueno: Wataay) is a small census-designated place in the Cuyamaca Mountains, within the Mountain Empire area of southeastern San Diego County, California.
Descanso is located east of Alpine and west of Pine Valley. The population was 1,423 at the 2010 census. It is in California's 50th congressional district.
The community's name is a Spanish word meaning "rest from labor". At a 3,450 feet (1,050 m) elevation, it is located at the south entrance to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and also borders Cleveland National Forest to the west and east.
The area was heavily threatened by the 2003 Cedar Fire. The community consists of many small ranches and newer homes of San Diego commuters. Horseback riding and hiking are frequent pastimes due to the proximity to San Diego's back-country recreation areas. It is approximately a 50-minute commute from downtown San Diego.
The Descanso Fire Station of the United States Forest Service is home to the Laguna Hotshots. Descanso is home to many firefighters, and many local teenagers join either the Forest Service or the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (which also provides direct fire and EMS protection to the community).
Descanso is a small community where the majority of residents generally commute to San Diego as the local job market is limited, the only local employers being the various fire protection agencies listed above as well as the Descanso Junction restaurant, The Perkins Store and Deli, a couple small antique shops, a fruit stand, Factory Built Homes of Southern California (a local contractor), a feed store, Grandpas Mountain Nursery, and the local U.S. Post Office.
Community radio station KNSJ operates out of Descanso.
The ZIP Code is 91916 and the community is inside area code 619.