Note Worthy in Carlsbad

Note Worthy in Carlsbad
Cal Taylor of Hemet tries out the Roland electric V drums at an exhibit at the Museum of Making Music in northern San Diego County. (DON TORMEY / Los Angeles Times)
Where do you want to go for your birthday weekend? asked my husband, Lauren.

Carlsbad, I answered.

You're kidding; we live here, he said.

Yup, I said. And I never get to play tourist in my own town. I rarely walk on the beach or along the city's lagoon. I haven't been to the Museum of Making Music, which I've heard is wonderful.

And, I said, I want to spend the night in a hotel with a big swimming pool.

So we did.

We didn't have to phone my mom to say goodbye. We didn't stop the newspaper or board the dog. We simply tossed our overnight bag in the car one Friday morning in October and were on our way.

"We're not going to share the driving?" Lauren teased on the five-minute ride to the museum. His wisecracks continued: "How much farther? Are we there yet?"

After the last joke ("Need to stop for directions?"), the car climbed a hill to a magnificent view of the Pacific. One right turn later and we were at the Museum of Making Music.

The National Assn. of Music Merchants founded the museum for its members in 1998 and opened it to the public in 2000. The purpose: to celebrate the history of music and inspire future musicians.

Inside, the museum is a nostalgic walk through the last century with more than 400 vintage instruments, hundreds of audio and video clips, and instruments that visitors can play at interactive exhibits.

In the 1930s, we learned, companies sold instruments by offering free music lessons to children. We studied a photo of preschoolers hoisting oversized instruments--members of Billy Barty's accordion band, all younger than 7. Lauren could relate because he was forced to learn the accordion in the 1950s like so many other children, some at accordion "universities."

"Squeeze U.," Lauren said without missing a beat. It was time to move him along.

Next we studied exhibits on the birth of Sousa marches, jazz and swing, and the emergence of country, R&B and later rock 'n' roll. My favorites at the museum were the listening stations, where we selected tunes and videos of different genres. Lauren had to drag me from the Motown hits. ("From placid to acid," an exhibit sign said.) I could have stayed in the '60s forever, but we sampled everything--the Beatles, Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, jazz great Louis Armstrong and singing cowboy Gene Autry.

Lauren liked the array of old instruments: a 12-inch cornet made to fit into a pocket, valve trombones and a 1918 sousaphone from an oom-pah-pah band. There were classical guitars, slide guitars, Martins and Fenders. We ogled a trumpet played by Armstrong and a 1905 grand signed by Henry Z. Steinway, a descendant of the piano company founder.

One of the most unusual pieces was the 1927 theremin, invented by a Russian scientist as the first electronic instrument. When hands waved across the electrical field of two antennae, it made a whining noise like the mating call of a lovesick whale.

Another standout was the Rolmonica, a harmonica-like instrument that was loaded with a roll of music. Blow into it, turn a crank and voilà--a melody.

Music trivia also filled the museum: The tango and the fox trot were introduced by dancers Vernon and Irene Castle in 1913. In the 1920s, women were told that too much dancing would ruin their reputation. A decade later, they were considered a better prospect for marriage if they could play the piano. The factoids marched on through the years to the term rock 'n' roll, coined by New York disc jockey Alan Freed to identify a mix of R&B and country.

The final exhibit focused on the future, showing just how sophisticated electronic synthesizers have become. Computers can automatically vary a synthesizer's sound according to the output of other instruments. We left the museum wondering what's next. Even Lauren the Skeptic pronounced the museum a treasure.

Because it was my birthday, we had lunch at one of my favorites, the Argyle at the Four Seasons Resort Aviara, next to the clubhouse at the Aviara Golf Club. We sat outside on a sunny patio overlooking the golf course and Batiquitos Lagoon. Lauren ordered the orange ginger chicken salad, and I had the portabello and grilled vegetable tower. It turned out to be more of a stack than a tower, held together by a spear of rosemary. But it was delectable. For dessert we shared rich chocolate birthday cake, compliments of the restaurant.

After lunch it was time to check into our hotel, the Grand Pacific Palisades, near Legoland and the Carlsbad flower fields. Our room was $190 a night plus tax and parking, though rates have since dropped as low as $159 for some winter weekends. We had a view of the ocean, and lavender and roses grew in the garden outside the window.

I changed clothes to swim laps. To my delight, I was the only one in an Olympic-size pool. Other guests crowded the family pool across a parking lot, where children frolicked by waterfalls and colorful play equipment. That allowed another birthday indulgence: lazing in the sun and reading in peace.

Lauren and I ate a light dinner at Spirito's, a cozy spot in Carlsbad with good food and a crowd of locals. Ella Fitzgerald serenaded us over the stereo system as we dined on pizza and pasta fagioli soup. After dinner we slipped across the street to the pedestrian walkway and strolled along the ocean until the sun settled below the horizon.

The next morning we donned swimsuits and returned to the pool for 20 laps before breakfast at the Armenian Cafe. We sat on the patio beneath a sunny sky and watched cyclists and runners on Carlsbad's main boulevard. The food was fine: a Belgian waffle for Lauren, Cream of Wheat topped with pistachios and cinnamon for me.

From there we left for Batiquitos Lagoon, where birds twittered along the estuary on the south end of Carlsbad, near Leucadia. We ambled along the 11/2-mile trail, inhaling the scent of fennel, eucalyptus and coastal sage.

Each time Lauren and I walk the trail, we see different signs of life. On this day we spied rabbits, a red-tailed hawk and the rare savanna sparrow. Near the lagoon rested egrets, herons, red-winged blackbirds and pelicans. A pair of terns hovered, then plunged into the water for food.

We spanned the trail from end to end, made our way back to the car and began the not-so-long journey home.

Laurel Wasserman is a freelance writer based in Carlsbad.