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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE: Lake San Marcos

A leisurely pace in north San Diego County

Unincorporated Lake San Marcos doubles as a residential and resort community, with views of the golf courses and water. It's a popular destination for retirees.

February 21, 2009|Irene Lechowitzky

Lake San Marcos, a mellow north San Diego County enclave, has long been a draw for its leisure lifestyle. Golf carts share the road with automobiles, and one is far more likely to see a paddle boat on the lake than a speedboat. Perhaps it's the water's calming influence -- golf, tennis and swimming are the community's preferred "action" sports.

Beginnings

A dam was built at the south end of San Marcos Creek in 1946 to create a 40-acre lake used for irrigation. The Frazar brothers (Don, Bob and Gordon) bought some 1,600 acres in the area in 1962, and development plans were quickly put in motion. The Frazars, experienced home builders in Riverside and San Bernardino, hired two design firms to come up with a master plan that doubled the lake's size and eventually won state and national "best planned community" awards.

The quail became the symbol for Lake San Marcos after artist Frank Vecchio, who did the development's advertising brochure, saw hundreds of quails rushing up from the fields.

There are now about 2,500 houses and condo units within Lake San Marcos, which is in an unincorporated area of the county. The Frazar family heirs sold the lakeside hotel and country club in 2004 to the La Jolla Development Group, which plans to upgrade the resort facilities.

What it's about

Lake San Marcos is both a residential and resort community, with the lake as its centerpiece and golf courses and tennis clubs as a big draw. Its small business center includes the resort hotel, a country club and a few stores.

Hidden away in San Marcos, which is a separate city, the community of Lake San Marcos is surrounded by mature trees, lush landscaping and green rolling hills -- a few topped with avocado groves.

Year-round residents are drawn by the same things that attract vacation-homeowners: The lakefront homes with private boat docks; the views of the lake and the golf courses; the tree-lined, winding roads.

It's a popular retirement destination, says resident Jacque Baker, president of the Lake San Marcos Community Assn. "The area doesn't draw many young families because of the absence of tot lots and because the average home has two or fewer bedrooms."

Insider's view

"I've lived in Lake San Marcos since 2001 when my husband, John Steever, and I happened upon this little paradise," Baker says. They plan on "spending the rest of our lives in our 'secret wonderland' community," she says. "The lifestyle is relaxed, the pace slow, the neighbors all know each other and share similar values . . . everyone smiles and waves as you go by. People come from all over the country, so they bring different experiences with them and are open to others' ideas."

There are more than 25 social organizations, including yacht, card, art and garden clubs as well as political groups. "These clubs are the social fabric of our community," Baker says, "and are the basis for many friendships."

What's new

The new owners of the resort "have made an effort to change the image of the community to appeal to younger people and families," says Bryan Devore, an agent with Prudential California Realty. But the current economic downturn may slow change down. Case in point: The Lake San Marcos Barn Burner restaurant -- the second in a chain founded a few years ago in Pasadena by Blair Salisbury, whose family started El Cholo -- opened in late 2008 and recently closed.

Baker says that the village center will soon boast new shops and services and that a 150-unit independent living condominium facility is scheduled to open in 2010. But, she points out, Lake San Marcos has mostly been built out, "so there won't be much further development taking place."

Housing stock

Homes include one-bedroom condos and large hilltop estates. The majority of the older homes are single-level, Devore says, and are priced from "the $400,000s to the $600,000s." Homes in Varadero, a gated community, range from $700,000 to $800,000. There are "premiums for golf-course and lake views, and then an even higher premium for being lakefront with a dock," he added. "There are also custom homes priced over a million dollars on the ridge top, overlooking the lake."

Among recent listings, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,911-square-foot remodeled French Normandy-style single-family home was priced at $649,000. The asking price for a four-bedroom, five-bathroom, 3,915-square-foot home with views was $1,182,000.

Making the grade

Most pupils in Lake San Marcos attend Discovery Elementary, which scored 880 out of a possible 1,000 on the 2008 Academic Performance Index Growth Report. They may move on to San Marcos Middle School (753) and San Marcos High School (773).

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Sources: TheDevores.com; realtor.com; California Department of Education, cde.ca.gov; quailcall.com.

home@latimes.com

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