Remember the park around the corner--a swing or two, a picnic table, a soft patch of grass that encouraged some serious cloud-watching? It's still there.
A happy combination of geography, politics and planning has endowed North County with a full complement of municipal and county parks. Requiring neither an abundance of ambition nor an advance reservation, they invite us to simply kick back, have a sandwich and watch the kids run themselves into a nap.
Here's a subjective guide to some of the area's most accessible parks--some of which may already be among your favorites, but others that you may want to explore for the first time.
Listed by the communities in which they're located, each of them gets a Four-Picnic Basket rating. Unless otherwise noted, each has the four key ingredients that make for hassle-free fun in the summer sun: on-site parking; playground equipment; picnic areas and restrooms.
and Seagrove Park
15th Street and Coast Boulevard 5 acres You can't get much closer to the beach and come home with clean feet than with these sister parks, separated by the railroad tracks at the city's western edge. A luxuriant strip that provides the same million-dollar views as its neighboring residences, it also has plenty of walkways, a "tot lot" play area, scattered picnic tables and strategically located benches.
What it lacks, however, are restrooms and ease of parking (you can feed a meter, pay a lot attendant or go hunting through the narrow streets). If you can make do, you will be rewarded with salt air, the sound of crashing waves and the hypnotic moves of the surfers offshore.
Powerhouse Park is directly across from the Del Mar railroad station. Seagrove is at its southern end, just cross the street.
San Dieguito Park
1628 Lomas Santa Fe Drive. 122 acres Bring your car into this sprawling park, and it will cost you $1, but it will be the best buck you will spend all summer. Operated by the county of San Diego, San Dieguito is big and diverse.
A ranger staff oversees everything from the rustic playgrounds and duck pond to the hiking trails and sandstone formations. On any given Saturday this summer, you will probably see a wedding in progress in the more manicured lower park, not to mention volleyball games, day hikers, barbecue wizards and snoozers.
The upper park, given over to eucalyptus groves, chaparral and crumbling cliffs, offers more adventure. At its crest is Activity Hill, a hyperactive's dream come true with wooden suspension bridges, log ladders, balance beams and view towers.
Self-guided nature walks are recommended, and rangers are handy to answer any questions about whatever you may encounter--animal, vegetable or mineral.
San Dieguito Park is at the eastern border of Solana Beach, next to Rancho Santa Fe, at the end of Lomas Santa Fe Drive.
2149 Orinda Drive 2.5 acres This lush little swale, punctuated by statuesque pines, palms and peppers, is an old favorite of locals seeking refuge from the madding crowds of the nearby beaches. It's stocked with the requisite slides, swings and picnic tables, but Glen's biggest draw is its half-court basketball action; some of the most fiercely contested pick-up games in North County unfold here. A tennis court is also available.
For those with more pastoral pursuits in mind, there's a nice horseshoe pit (always BYO shoes), and the steep, grassy slopes are perfect for those epic, shoulder-to-shoulder downhill rolls.
The park is tucked in along Manchester Drive, just one block south of the downtown business district. Look for the tennis court and turn east on Orinda Drive.
Oak Crest Park
1140 Oak Crest Road 20.3 acres If one kid wants to swing, the other wants to throw a basketball, and you just want to spread out on some soft grass, then Oak Crest should fill the recreational bill nicely. Capping the hills that separate the bustling "new" Encinitas from the "old" coastal one, the park offers postcard views of familiar territory.
Playground aficionados will appreciate The Wobbly Things, a pair of less-than-stationary platforms set on springs just a harmless foot or so above the sand. A combination of paved and dirt paths among a stand of native chaparral gives strollers a good idea of what it all looked like before the developers came, as well as a chance to walk off lunch.
The main park entrance is on the south side of Encinitas Boulevard, about halfway between El Camino Real and Balour Drive. There is a second entrance on Balour Drive--a shared driveway with Oak Crest Junior High School.
Encinitas Viewpoint Park
Cornish Drive and D Street 2.4 acres Be forewarned. There are no restrooms here, but why omit a jewel on such a mundane technicality?