5. La Costa Resort "The kids have Legoland, but La Costa Resort [2100 Costa Del Mar Rd., Carlsbad; 800/854-5000 or 760/438-9111; www.lacosta.com; doubles from $240] is my theme park. This is where I'd stay if I were visiting town. I drop in as a member to eat, swim, have my hair chopped, do all the spa massage stuff, eat some more, and hit the gym to rehabilitate whatever part of my body is complaining. Meanwhile the kids go on scavenger hunts, try kayaking, and learn to hula at Camp La Costa. For the minis there's a shallow swimming pool with sandy entrances (the actual beach is two miles down the road). I'm told the golf and tennis facilities are among the best, but I'm no pro at those sports—the last time I played tennis I pelted my mom with balls.
"Two more hotel recommendations: If you want to be just steps from the sand, check into the Carlsbad Inn [3075 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad; 800/235-3939 or 760/434-7020; www.carlsbadinn.com; doubles from $178]; and for a serene, high-service getaway (plus more golf and tennis, and a great lunch buffet), there's the Four Seasons Resort, Aviara [7100 Four Seasons Point, Carlsbad; 800/332-3442 or 760/603-6800; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $395], situated on a wildlife preserve."
6. Encinitas "Just south of Carlsbad, Encinitas has perhaps the highest per capita rate of surf racks of any San Diego County town. Cruise down PCH, along the town's six miles of rugged beach, and make your first stop at the Richman Gallery [1650 N. Coast Hwy. 101, Encinitas; 760/942-2825] to peruse the vintage film posters, Rat Fink guitars, and serious surf art. Back in the car, keep a slow roll and watch for more Encinitas oddities. (Don't we all need carved tiki statues?) Next stop: Lou's Records [434 N. Coast Hwy. 101, Encinitas; 760/753-1382]. For almost 25 years I've been spending a decent chunk of my royalty checks here on elusive Clash box sets, hard-to-find Miles Davis CD's, and, lately, Thomas the Tank Engine DVD's. Everyone loves Lou's; you'll see guys wearing Dockers holding stacks of classical CD's next to Mohawked punkers with Ramones singles. Ask for a free store sticker on your way out.
"It's probably been at least 30 minutes since you last ate, so continue to downtown and head for the Lumberyard, an outdoor shopping complex. Fuel up at St. Tropez [947 S. Coast Hwy. 101; 760/633-0084], a French bakery and bistro. The almond croissants, or any of the pastries actually, will have you forgetting what that Atkins dude jabbered about."
7. Swami's "Now for a completely different Encinitas experience. From town, drive south on PCH about three-quarters of a mile; watch on the right for a temple with massive golden onion domes. The wooden stairs south of the temple lead down to Swami's, the famous surf beach that the Beach Boys name-checkedin 'Surfin' U.S.A.' If you time it right and arrive at low tide, the kids can dig around for sea snails and starfish in the tide pools. Behind the temple is a tropical garden run by the Self-Realization Fellowship [215 K St., Encinitas; 760/753-2888]—don't worry, no proselytizing done here. Garden walks aren't exactly my thing, but I can handle this place. The orange and gold koi that cruise around the two ponds have some sort of hypnotizing effect on kids. There are fan palms and hundreds of other plants I can't identify. An uphill stroll leads to a spot overlooking one of Swami's most popular breaks. So while everyone else smells the flowers, Riley and I kick back on a bench and watch the surfers, wishing we'd brought our boards."
8. Encinitas YMCA Skate Park "I've considered setting up a shuttle bus from my house to the Y because this is where I taxi Riley and his friends almost daily. Its skate park was just renovated and has a new street course and two of the best bowls around. Riley might as well sleep under the ramp. I join him for sessions whenever I can, but lately my son has been shaming me on the street course, so maybe I should go more often when he's at school. If you have older kids who can look after themselves, you can watch them get started and then have the after-noon free. It's like a day care center—one with smelly kneepads and bargain rates [$10 per person]. And there's a pretty good chance your gang will get to skate with some of the sport's top pros—several use the Y as a TF (that's training facility in skate lingo)." Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA, 200 Saxony Rd., Encinitas; 760/942-9622; www.ecke.ymca.org.
9. Balboa Park "This might be called a park, but it's more like a 1,200-acre island of culture just outside downtown San Diego. It's home to 15 museums, the Old Globe Theater, the San Diego Zoo, one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs, miles of grassy hills, and a merry-go-round—just to mention a few of the highlights. Good luck trying to cover the place in a day. To save time, skip the organ concert; it's guaranteed to be painful to anybody under 40. Instead check out the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Aerospace Museum, and, if you have a kid with train fever like Spencer, let him loose at the Model Railroad Museum. Send your sports fans to the San Diego Hall of Champions. It has interactive areas and lots of memorabilia and information about natives such as Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, and even the odd skateboarder." 619/239-0512; www.balboapark.org; Balboa Park multi-venue, multi-day passes, $30.
10. Wild Animal Park "I've avoided zoos ever since a certain school field trip when a monkey dropped a deuce and tried to peg a few members of my fifth-grade class. I make an exception, however, for the Wild Animal Park, the San Diego Zoo's offshoot in Escondido, about a 30-minute drive from Carlsbad. Try to get there early; the animals are more active then and your kids won't go into sun comas. You can take a train around the park or reserve the Photo Caravan Safari, where you ride in the back of a truck, feed apples to the rhinos, and study the giraffes up close. Watch out—you'll be within poop-chucking range of any creature with opposable thumbs." 15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd., Escondido; 760/747-8702; www.wildanimalpark.org; kids 12 and older, $26.50, 3-11, $19.50.
SEAN MORTIMER, a former member of the Bones Brigade skate team, collaborated with Tony Hawk on Occupation: Skateboarder (HarperCollins), Tony's best-selling autobiography.