Off the Beaten Path, San Marcos

Off the Beaten Path, San Marcos

I would imagine that San Marcos, California doesn’t show up on many preferred vacation lists.  It is just some random city in Southern California.  However, it does have a lake and would you believe that it has a resort that was named in the top 25 hotels in the U.S. by Trip Advisors in 2014?

For us, it is more of a staycation, a one day visit that will take us off the beaten path to not one but two lakes, although one of them only covers about five acres and probably barely shows up on a map.

Education, Eats, and Electronics
The town of San Marcos has a population of about 95,000 and is situated in the North County part of San Diego County.  It is home to the illustrious Cal State San Marcos University and Palomar College.

There are plenty of modern shopping centers in the area plus a few stores only exclusive to San Marcos. I’m talking Fry’s Electronics where you could browse the television section for hours or gaze at the giant fish tank that greets you when you walk in the door.

The other is, the eclectic Hobby Lobby which is right down the road from Fry’s and where you will find all sorts of decorations for the home or patio plus brilliant ideas if you are so inclined to be creative.   There are not that many of these arts and crafts stores around Southern California, so San Marcos was

Just off of San Marcos Blvd sits Old Restaurant Row which features 14 different eating establishments and a huge movie complex.   From Sushi, to hot wings, to Mexican and much more, you should be able to find something good to eat!

Scenery and Serenity on a couple of Lakes
Away from the restaurants and the shops, we decided to head off the beaten path to visit Lake San Marcos and Discovery Lake.

Discovery Lake is a small lake right in the middle of a residential area.  Just off of the 78 freeway, you will have to use your GPS to find it, as it takes you through a neighborhood of homes until you end up in front of the parking lot.

You don’t even see the lake until you get out of your car and walk a little. This five-acre lake is surrounded by a park plus hiking, biking, and walking trails. Dogs are allowed with a leash.

The trails around the lake are paved and make it really easy for all fitness levels to enjoy the scenery.    There are other trails spread out beyond the lake with some that extend higher into the hills. If you huffed and puffed on the lake trail, maybe you will want to stay away from those.   The paved trails make it so easy to walk with your family, dogs, kids in strollers, and wheelchairs.

There is also a well maintained park with bathrooms nearby and a few benches to sit back and enjoy the scenery and the serenity.  If you close your eyes you’ll hear the pleasing chirping of birds, the wind rustling through the reeds, and ducks flapping around in the water.  It is so peaceful you could take a nap right there at the bench.

The only thing to pull you from your reverie is the cracking of gravel as someone walks by fresh off their hike or the sounds of children playing in the distance.

As we first walked up, we saw a young man pulling up a small fish which he promptly threw back. There are some fish in the lake but they do have a catch-and-release policy.

No swimming or wading is permitted and boating of any kind is not allowed, but there is a dock for fishing or to simply get closer to the numerous species of birds, ducks, and mallards.

If you like to get next to nature, this is a great place to visit.

A Much Larger Lake
Coming in at 80 acres, the much larger San Marcos Lake has a whole different feel.  The only resemblance is that this lake is also surrounded by homes, all 2,300 of them.    Even though that sounds like a lot of homes, they are spread out and there are still empty green hills in the distance.

The Lake House Hotel & Resort sits right at the edge of the picturesque lake and as mentioned above, was named in the top 25 hotels in 2014.

While staying at the resort, you can rent kayaks and paddle boards, or try your luck at fishing.   It also features a restaurant and bar, two pools, hot tubs, fire pits, spas, and tennis.   There are also a few golf courses nearby.


The Lake House Resort sits right on the lake.

The lucky residents around the lake get to enjoy the place year round but visitors can also take advantage of the offerings in the marina with boat rentals and sunset cruises.  I don’t want to mislead you as Lake San Marcos is not a huge lake, in comparison; the nearby Lake Hodges is over 1,100 acres.

A new addition to the lake is the arrival of the Decoy Restaurant and Dockside Bar.  This two-storied eatery provides serene lakeside views from both its elegant dining on the top story to casual dining and bar on the lower patio.

Near the resort sits a little walk-way with benches where you can sit down to enjoy the stillness and quietude of the lake.  Unlike Discovery Lake, boats are moored on docks and homes are lined up close to the water.  There were a couple of high streaming fountains in the middle where ducks, mallards, and beautiful white swans were continually swimming by.


It was a quiet scene only interrupted once in a while by the terrible playing of a trumpet nearby.  Was someone learning how to play?   On further inspection it wasn’t a trumpet, it was a deep resounding noise coming from the white swans who were calling out for who knows why.   They bobbed their heads up and down and then emitted a honk just like the instrument.   This time it didn’t seem as annoying since I discovered that it was a sound of nature, not the man-made blowing of a beginner musician.

Hear and see the honking Swans on this short video:

As I was leaving the lake, I thought how nice it must be to live there.    I would buy myself an electric boat for cocktails at sunset, and tool around on a paddle board during the day.   A nice retirement place it would be!    Maybe even learn to play the trumpet since you couldn’t tell if it was me or the swan.

It seemed like a great life.

So back towards the freeway we headed.  While passing by the large Fry’s building I gave a quick thought if I needed anything, sadly the answer was no.   Just as well, if I stopped, all I would want to do is buy a larger TV set.

It was a nice day in San Marcos, a perfect and leisurely staycation.    Even if San Marcos isn’t on your list of places to see, stop by some time and check out the shopping, the restaurants, and the lakes.

Definitely a good Sunday drive, especially if you go take time to go off the beaten path like we did.

Photos and story: Debbie Colwell

Parting shots:
A small man made waterfall at Discovery Lake

Hear and see the honking Swans on this short video:

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Leo Carrillo State Park


Leo Carrillo State Park

I was invited up for the day to visit some friends that were camping for a week at Leo Carrillo State Park.  It is just outside of the main part of Malibu so from Oceanside I was thinking it might be an hour and forty- five minute drive.  On a Tuesday morning however, it actually took two and a half hours and that was virtually with no traffic. As I was driving back home later in the evening, I thought to myself that it was well worth the drive!

Leo Carrillo State Park can be easily accessed from Southern as well as Central California. As I was nearing the park entrance, I noticed a sign that said 21 miles to Oxnard.  I didn’t realize how far up the coast I had traveled.

Driving north through the main part of Malibu past Pepperdine University and Zuma Beach, the state park could go unnoticed unless you were actually looking for the sign. Obviously some people know all about this place as the campground was full and even though it was mid week, there were scores of people on the beach. Even if you are not camping, you can use the day use parking for $12.00 a day.

The Campground
The campground sits amongst the Malibu hills and the campsites were surrounded by every type of tree imaginable. If you really stretched your telephoto lens, you could also see a few sizable mansions way up in the hills.


Besides having some of the largest campsites I have ever seen, the park also provided a picnic bench,a fire pit, and a cute little store was on the premises.

There were plenty of birds in the trees and you could hear them squawking from far away. They added to the wonderful sounds of nature that went along with the frogs and crickets at night. It is nature’s ambient music at its best.


The trees also provided much needed shade to the campsites

Relaxation is what these campgrounds are all about, however, with the beach so close it allows for playtime too.

After a great lunch it was time to take the short walk to the beach. We crossed through the parking lot and walked under the  Highway 1 bridge. Colorful marine life paintings greeted you on the walls and columns of the bridge as you made your way to this popular sand playground.


The road to the beach

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The Red Bull Soapbox Race, Los Angeles 2017

The Idea
The last time Red Bull had a soapbox race in Los Angeles it was 2009. I was lucky enough to be a participant in that event as we built an elaborate treasure chest soapbox car and were feisty pirates in our first attempt at the race.

As is the case now, we didn’t win but we found the best part was the participation and weeks of building or designing with friends. The designing, testing, and camaraderie can’t be beat.

Skip ahead 8 years to Los Angeles 2017 and we were accepted into the event yet again! This time some of the first participants like myself, chose to let a new crop of newbie’s participate. So this time, it will be a new batch of participants in another of Staycationer JoJo’s master adventures.

The first step to getting accepted is to come up with an design idea and then draw or sketch it out for the Red Bull application. From there you fill in the information about the design, costumes, skits, etc.  Yes, you have to perform a skit for 30 seconds before the race starts. They want to know all about it including costumes, design, etc. This event isn’t all about racing and attempting to get the best time, it is also about showmanship, creativity, costumes, and construction.

We floated around a few ideas and the Beatles Yellow Submarine seemed to be the favorite, so it was a done deal. The naming of the team was next and of course they wanted a catchy title, so after much deliberation , “ 5 Buds and a Sub” was chosen.

With an allowed team of five, everything would be twisted as the four girls would dress up as the Beatles and the lone guy in the group would dress up as a crazy female fan. The vehicle would be a Yellow Submarine inspired from the 1968 Beatles animated movie of the same name.

The skit would be the Beatles dressed in colorful attire just like the animated movie and acting as if they are coming out for a concert. With guitars and microphones in hand, they would be waving to the crowd until a crazed female fan appears with a blond wig, hippie attire and a ”I love Paul” sign in her hand.

Luckily for us, our guy friend was comfortable in his masculinity to be able let us dress him up in this wild attire. The idea was that we wanted him to look like a man dressed up as a girl because it looked funny. At least to us it did. So we encouraged him to keep is mustache and goatee.

Once he…er…she enters the stage and spots Paul and Paul spots her, a chase ensues until Paul attempts to hide in the sub to get away from the fan, but the fan follows. The other Beatles lock them in and push them down the hill. Well, that was the plan but on race day and nerves flying around, it didn’t quite translate.

From Bicycle to Soapbox in 53 Days

Constructing the base of the soapbox fell on our male/crazy fan. He took two normal bicycles and used their braking system for front and back. He hooked up the steering and formed a crash bar on top. The vehicle had to be constructed by the parameters set by Red Bull so we could only make it so big. Plus we wanted it to hold two people. The base was made out of wood and he used metal to hold everything together. In addition, they had to be mindful of the final weight as there was a limit.


Once the steering and brakes were complete, it went out for its first test run on one of the quiet streets nearby. We tested on a steep hill that got the cart going about 30 miles an hour. Happily, the brakes held and the steering worked, just a few minor tweaks and that part of construction was done.

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California Coastal Eddy Sunsets

California Summer Sunsets

At least in Southern California, the best sunsets are fall and in the winter. That is when you get interesting clouds or clear skies that can make for dramatic sunsets.

In the summer you have to contend with a coastal eddy that creeps in and out during the summer months. If you are lucky it passes by and lets you enjoy a warm sunny day at the beach.

However, in late afternoon hours, it eventually and slowly moves back inland looking like a huge cloud of ugly gray.

From Point Conception to San Diego marine layers are common. If windy, it can blow the eddy aside for a little while making for a nice sunny day at the beach. If you are really lucky it stays away all day.

However, when it comes back in, you see it coming and you know soon the sun will be hidden and the boring hues of gray will engulf the sky.

It doesn’t make for fun sunset photo taking either. Sometimes only a small sliver of orange sun can be seen between the clouds.

Despite the challenges of summer sunsets in Southern California, you can still manage to get something interesting.

Here are a few from this summer and last summer in California.