Presto change-o; now you see it, now you don't. If you're looking for an undiscovered, secluded escape hidden from view yet minutes from the bustling center of San Marcos and its restaurants, bars and entertainment, Lake San Marcos is for you. My husband hurt his back last month and wanted a slow-paced weekend to relax. We came to the right place: Leisure is king in this mellow enclave tucked away on a lake in a quiet residential neighborhood in northern San Diego County. Here, paddle boats rule the lake, and golf is the preferred "action" sport. The tab: My husband and I spent $139 for a night at the Lakehouse Hotel & Resort and $75 on food and drink.
The Lakehouse (1025 La Bonita Drive, San Marcos;  744-0120, http://www.lakehousehotelandresort.com) was a lovely surprise. It recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation that has tastefully transformed the run-down Quails Inn. Reopening in June, the lakefront property has a spruced-up exterior and amenities, which include two pools and hot tubs as well as fire pits where you can roast complimentary s'mores on Saturday nights. The renovated guest rooms are modern and comfortable; most have a patio or balcony. I liked the rain-shower feature in the bathroom. The resort has golf, tennis and boat rentals. We enjoyed sitting on our patio on sunny yellow Adirondack chairs, sipping coffee from the Keurig machine in our room.
As part of the ongoing renovations, the resort's restaurant has been gutted and will reopen in mid-2014 as a sports bar and steakhouse right on the lake. For now, you can eat at the Grill at the St. Mark Golf Club, a throwback to the Eisenhower era. Opt for the patio; Sunday brunch includes Champagne. San Marcos' restaurant row is a five-minute drive, and on Saturday night we met our friends Jo Ann and Byron at Sublime Alehouse (1020 W. San Marcos Blvd.;  510-9220, http://www.sublimealehouse.com).
San Marcos is home to several top craft brewers, including Sublime; we were looking forward to some brews, homemade meatballs and truffle oil mac 'n' cheese, but there was an hour wait. Too hungry, we went to a San Diego County institution, Phil's BBQ (579 Grand Ave., San Marcos;  759-1400, http://www.philsbbq.net ) for inexpensive, satisfying ribs, chicken, slaw and fries.
Thanks to a tip from the desk clerk, we discovered Discovery Lake (650 Foxhall Drive, San Marcos), another hidden gem a few miles from the resort. It's small and tucked against a mountain in back of a housing tract; its 0.8-mile loop trail is mostly flat and just the right size for a leisurely stroll or to run some laps. There's a small kiddie park and a dock where the little ones can feed ducks.
Paddling a paddle boat is harder than it looks. My thighs still hurt just thinking about it.