Equestrian and hiking trails, art and avocados

Along the two-lane road that leads to rural Fallbrook, the cares of urban -- and even suburban -- life fall away.

The rolling hills of northern San Diego County, blanketed with avocado groves and ancient oak trees, seem to stretch forever. Poppies roll out a golden carpet, and equestrian facilities hugging the side of the road alert you that you've entered horse country.

In historical Fallbrook village, you'll find a town that appreciates art and nature in equal measure -- and where parking meters don't exist.

Avocado capital

Fallbrook's Mediterranean climate has nurtured its famed avocado crop for nearly a century. The town pays homage to its signature fruit this Sunday with the annual Avo- cado Festival ([760] 728-5845, www.fallbrookca.org). From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Main Street will buzz with all things avocado, including competitions for the best guacamole recipe and booths with such delicacies as avocado ice cream and deep-fried avocados. Can't make it to the festival? Stop in at Yesterdays (119 N. Main Ave., [760] 728-2691), a village gift shop selling local products such as flavored avocado oils and homemade avocado fudge.

Nature's playground

The area's parks, equestrian and hiking trails, and nature preserves make it ripe for outdoor adventures. At Live Oak Park (2746 Reche Road, [760] 728-1671), picnic under a canopy of majestic oak trees, enjoy recreational sports facilities, or hike alongside streams. Los Jilgueros Preserve ([760] 728-0889), on 44.5 acres just south of town on South Mission Road, is a boon for bird-watchers. More than 130 species of birds have been spotted.

Appreciation for art

Numerous art galleries, jewelry designers and the 1940s Art Deco Mission Theater (231 N. Main St., [760] 731-2278, www.missiontheater.com) can be found in the village. The Fallbrook Art Center (103 S. Main St., [760] 728-1414, www.fallbrookartcenter.org), housed in a 1961 Rexall Pharmacy building, hosts exhibitions of contemporary American art, while Café des Artistes ([760] 728-3350) serves up fresh Mediterranean fare at the former pharmacy's historical soda fountain.

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