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Travelers on a Mission

WEEKEND ESCAPE: SAN DIEGO COUNTY

Road trip to San Luis Rey and sister churches yields much history, some mystery

November 12, 2000|SUSAN JAMES | Susan James is a freelance writer based in La Canada Flintridge

It was getting late, so we checked into the Zosa Gardens Bed and Breakfast, about a 20-minute drive west, off Old Highway 395 in Escondido. This 22-acre hideaway in the hills was originally built as a private ranch house. Owned by the Zosa family for the last 10 years, the friendly, intimate B&B has 15 rooms and two cottages set among avocado and guava orchards. A beautiful garden gazebo and tennis courts with a view make this a real find.

We stayed in the Orchards Cottage, which has two bedrooms, a living room, bathroom, kitchen and its own outdoor hot tub. (Our cottage was $247.50 a night; rooms start at $139.)

Noli Zosa runs the place with the help of Filipina chef Celia Cabia. The atmosphere is more like a house party than a hotel, with wine and delicious Filipino hors d'oeuvres served at 5 p.m.

Our dinner later at Rio Rico Restaurant in the nearby town of Bonsall was disappointing. The atmosphere was nice, but the food was uninspired. Breakfast around the pool at Zosa Gardens the next morning more than made up for the previous night's experience. We especially enjoyed the fresh guava- and orange-juice blend, spicy quiche and just-out-of-the-oven cinnamon cake, all included in the nightly rate.

Back on the road, we traveled to our final mission, Santa Isabel, just beyond La Jolla Indian Reservation, 60 miles east of San Diego. Like Pala, this mission was founded as an asistencia of San Luis Rey.

At Santa Isabel, the cemetery is the oldest remnant of an 1818-built mission that served nearly 500 people living in the surrounding valley. After secularization of the missions in the 1830s, the church fell into ruins until nothing was left. It was rebuilt in 1924, but in 1926 its two bells, purchased by the local Indians in exchange for six burro-loads of grain, were stolen. Considered the heart of the mission, the bells are still gone; a statue marks their loss in the small courtyard beside the church.

In the town of Santa Ysabel, a historic place of white wooden false-front buildings at the crossroads of California Highways 78 and 79, we stopped at Dudley's Bakery--a local institution--to buy hot cheese bread, sourdough and sheepherder's bread. All the way home in the car, the three of us speculated about the lost Carolina Moreno of San Luis Rey and the missing bells of Santa Isabel, while the smell of freshly baked loaves kept us company.

Budget for Three

Zosa Gardens cottage, one night: $247.50

Lunch, Carrows: 18.58

Admission, San Luis Rey: 11.00

Dinner, Rio Rico: 41.00

Other mission donations: 6.00

Gas: 20.43

FINAL TAB: $344.51

Zosa Gardens Bed and Breakfast, 9381 W. Lilac Road, Escondido, CA 92026; tel. (800) 711-8361 or (760) 723-9093, fax (760) 723-3460, Internet http://www.zosagardens.com. Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, 4050 Mission Ave., Oceanside, CA 92057; tel. (760) 757-3651, Internet http://www.sanluisrey.org.

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More Weekend Escapes

* To see past Weekend Escapes, visit our Web site at http://www.latimes.com/travel. To purchase copies of past weekend articles, call Times on Demand, (800) 788-8804, Monday-Friday.

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