The community’s name was suggested by a resident in the 1880s who said that the environment reminded her of her native country of Switzerland.
The small commercial district along Alpine Blvd. has seen some suburban development in recent decades, and it is surrounded by large stretches of less densely populated rural areas that began in the late 19th and early 20th century. Horse ranches and small farms are still common, along with open chaparral hillsides and riparian canyons.
Before its modern settlement, the area was part of the home of the Kumeyaay Indians, whose ancestors had lived here possibly as long as 12,000 years.
It sits on both sides of Interstate 8 at the eastern extent of the California coastal region and the western extent of the Peninsular Ranges, about 30 miles east of downtown San Diego, at an elevation of about 2,000 feet.
The location of Alpine is not precisely defined since it is an unincorporated area. According to the United States Geological Survey, it is at 32°50′6″N 116°45′59″W (32.8350521, -116.7664109), which is near the intersection of Alpine Boulevard and Tavern Road. That is approximately where most maps place Alpine. Kumeyaay tribes are indigenous to the area, and the Ewiiaapaayp Band and Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians both have headquarters in Alpine.
According to the United States Census Bureau, it is at 32°50′4″N 116°46′14″W (32.834563, -116.770615), which is approximately 1,200 feet (370 m) west of the USGS location. According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 26.8 square miles (69 km2), 99.99% land and 0.01% water.
Viejas Mountain is the highest peak in the area, at 4,189 feet.