While the crowd heads to San Diego Zoo Safari Park just east of Escondido, linger in the city’s historic downtown, where a cultural and retail revival is remaking the once-sleepy town. This city of 148,000 has become a great place to detox from stress and aggravation—and retox with a sea of craft beer and restaurant choices. Start on Grand Avenue with a shopping expedition, beer crawl, walking tour, or, from April through October, enjoy the Friday night vintage car show during Cruisin’ Grand Escondido. You’ll spot hot rods year-round, and parking often is free.
Take in jazz, acrobats, ballet, or a museum exhibit at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. From the center, cut across Grape Day Park for a stroll through Grand Avenue’s art galleries, charming shops, and distinctive restaurants. Shop for vintage glassware and midcentury collectibles at the Escondido Antique Mall, outfit the family in rockabilly chic from Pin-up Culture, or take a 3-mile walking tour of downtown public art. At Kit Carson Park, left, the newly added Queen Califia’s Magical Circle by artist Niki de Saint Phalle offers a memorable, magnificent mosaic snake wall and totem pole sculptures.
You won’t want to miss Bellamy’s Restaurant, where Michelin-star chef Patrick Ponsaty turns seasonal produce into magical meals. Weekday lunch features a creamy, crispy, savory smoked salmon sandwich with béchamel and Emmenthal ($15), and the wild mushroom ravioli with Parmesan and port wine sauce ($17). At dinner, splurge on the cote de boeuf for two ($96) and a spicy Escondido mojito ($12). The bamboo-and-rock-framed Zen beer garden at Stone Brewing co. world bistro puts 36 specialty beers on tap and brew-friendly organic fare on plates. A $7 tasting flight of four beers pairs well with $9 soft pretzels.
Welk Resorts ($199 to $599), developed by the late bandleader and TV personality Lawrence Welk, offers rentals of its timeshare condos. One-, two-, and three-bedroom villas come with kitchens, cookware, and dining rooms. And, for relaxation, you’ll find pools, fire pits, golf courses, and a theater. When you need to reset your balance, the Golden Door Spa ($8,850 per week) retunes a maximum of 40 guests who focus on fitness, nutrition, and mindfulness in weeklong, on-site programs. Orange groves, organic gardens, pools, and private hiking trails dot the Japanese-inspired property.