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Carlsbad and its neighbor Encinitas make up a noted commercial flower-growing region. The most colorful display can be seen each spring (March through early May) at the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, 5704 Paseo del Norte (tel. 760/431-0352; www.theflowerfields.com), just east of I-5 on Palomar Airport Road. Also popular is Weidners' Gardens, 695 Normandy Rd., Encinitas (tel. 760/436-2194; www.weidners.com). Its field of 25,000 tuberous begonias blooms from mid-May to August; fuchsias and impatiens show their true colors between March and September; and the holiday season brings an explosion of pansies and poinsettias, as well as the opportunity to dig your own pansies. Touring the grounds is free; Weidners is open to the public November 1 to December 22, and March 1 through Labor Day, 9am to 5pm (4:30pm in winter), and closed Tuesdays. In January and February, it's open Friday through Sunday, 9am to 4:30pm.

Even if you don't visit during the spring bloom -- or during December, when area nurseries shine with holiday poinsettias -- there's plenty for the avid gardener to enjoy throughout the year. In fact, North County is such a popular destination for horticultural pursuits, there's a North County Nursery Hoppers Guide in Encinitas. It's a comprehensive leaflet describing all the area growers and nurseries, including a map that shows where to find flowers; it's available at local visitors centers, or contact Weidners' Gardens for more information. Also, read on for information about the gardens at the Self-Realization Fellowship.

The hub of activity for Solana Beach is South Cedros Avenue, 1 block east of and parallel to Pacific Coast Highway. The Cedros Design District (www.cedrosavenue.com) is a 2-block stretch (from the train station south) that's the setting for many of San Diego's best furniture and home-design shops, antiques stores, art dealers, and boutiques selling imported goods. You'll also find The Belly Up Tavern, one of San Diego's most appealing concert venues.

If you've ever wanted to get a glimpse into the artistic process, get yourself to the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas, 1550 S. El Camino Real (tel. 760/436-6611; www.luxartinstitute.com). This unique facility, a work of art in itself, allows visitors to watch as an artist-in-residence paints, sculpts, or draws in a studio environment. It's open to the public Thursday and Friday 1 to 5pm, and Saturday from 11am to 5pm ($10, ticket good for two visits; free for those 20 and under). Every third Wednesday of the month is Lux@Night, a free wine-and-cheese reception from 7 to 9pm. Lux also has a retail component that features local artists and products.

The San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve encompasses coastal wetlands that were nearly lost to development. This 1,000-acre preserve features 7.5 miles of hiking trails and is home to some 700 species of plants and animals; the San Elijo Nature Center, 2710 Manchester Ave. (tel. 760/634-3026; www.sanelijo.org), interprets the flora and fauna. Free, naturalist-led walks on offered Saturday at 10am.

Everyone flocks to Moonlight Beach for good reason -- it offers plenty of facilities, including free parking, free Wi-Fi, a children's playground, volleyball nets, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and fire grates. The beach entrance is at the end of B Street (at Encinitas Blvd.). Also in Encinitas is the appropriately serene Swami's Beach. It's named for the adjacent Self-Realization Fellowship , whose lotus-shaped towers are emulated in the pointed wooden stairway leading to the sand from First Street. This lovely little beach is surfer central; it adjoins little-known Boneyard Beach, directly to the north. Here, low-tide coves provide shelter for romantics and nudists; this isolated stretch can be reached only from Swami's Beach. There's a free parking lot at Swami's, plus restrooms and a picnic area.

The Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat and Hermitage (tel. 760/753-2888; www.yogananda-srf.org) was founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda, a guru born and educated in India. The exotic-looking domes are what remain of the retreat originally built in 1937 (the rest was built too close to the cliff edge and tumbled to the beach); today the site serves as a spiritual sanctuary for holistic healers and their followers. Serene meditation gardens line a cliff; they're a terrific place to cool off on a hot day, and no disciples will give you a sales pitch. Enter the gardens at 215 W. K St.; they are open Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 5pm, and Sundays 11am to 5pm; admission is free. The Hermitage, where Yogananda lived and worked for many years, is also on-site and usually open Sundays from 2 to 5pm. A bookstore and gift shop that sells Fellowship publications and distinctive arts and crafts from India is nearby at 1150 S. Coast Hwy.

Carlsbad is a great place for antiquing and boutique shopping. Whether you're a serious shopper or seriously window-shopping, park the car and stroll the 3 blocks of State Street between Oak and Beech streets; there's a welcoming village atmosphere here.

What about those therapeutic waters that put Carlsbad on the map? They're still bubbling at the Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa, 2802 Carlsbad Blvd. (tel. 760/434-1887; www.carlsbadmineralspa.com), an ornate European-style building on the site of the original well. Step inside for mineral baths ($65 for 30 min.), massages, or body treatments in the spa's exotic theme rooms -- or just pick up a refreshing bottle of this "Most Healthful Water" to drink on the go.

Carlsbad State Beach (aka Tamarack Surf Beach) parallels downtown and has a wide concrete walkway that's a fine place to take a stroll. It attracts outdoor types for walking, jogging, and inline skating even at night (thanks to good lighting). Although the sandy strand is narrow, the beach is popular with bodysurfers, boogie boarders, and fishermen; surfers tend to stay away. Enter on Ocean Boulevard at Tamarack Avenue; parking is $2 per hour or $10 for the day. About 4 miles south of town is South Carlsbad State Beach (tel. 760/438-3143; www.parks.ca.gov), with almost 3 miles of cobblestone-strewn sand. A state-run campground at the north end is immensely popular year-round; and if you're within 150 feet or so of the lifeguard headquarters, you'll be able to pick up the free Wi-Fi. There's a $10 per vehicle fee at the beach entrance, along Carlsbad Boulevard at Poinsettia Lane; surfers favor the southern portion of the beach.

Just a stone's throw from LEGOLAND is a diversion for music lovers, the Museum of Making Music, 5790 Armada Dr. (tel. 877/551-9976 or 760/438-5996; www.museumofmakingmusic.org). Visitors go on a journey from Tin Pan Alley to MTV, stopping along the way to learn historic anecdotes about the American music industry; or try your hand at playing drums, guitars, or a digital keyboard. It's open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is $7 for adults; $5 for seniors, military, and children ages 6 to 18; free for children 5 and under.

San Diego's newest public golf course is the Crossings at Carlsbad, 5800 The Crossings Dr. (tel. 760/444-1800; www.thecrossingsatcarlsbad.com). Located about 1 mile inland, this $70-million, 18-hole championship course features a 28,000-square-foot clubhouse, restaurant, bar, and ocean vistas.

 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.