Fallbrook doesn't look avant-garde. Main Street is a brick time capsule of 1950s California, where you can whistle the tune from The Andy Griffith Show as you buy envelopes, shoes, bike tires, and Bazooka gum. But for the last 10 years, the charmingly retro stores of this northern San Diego County town have been filling up with art, so you can dine, shop, and browse the galleries without once needing your car.
There are two places to eat and browse simultaneously. En Pico Café ($$; breakfast and lunch Tue-Fri, Sun; 121 N. Pico Ave.; 760/451-3663) is west of Main in a cottage with a large patio, an all-white garden, and paintings on the walls (some for sale, some not). For a later lunch or a weekend dinner, try the Café des Artistes ($$; closed Sun; 103 S. Main St.; 760/728-3350), home to two salon-style dining rooms and Fallbrook's reincarnated drugstore soda fountain. If you want an authentic New York egg cream, New Yorker Michael Calvanese will make you one with the original, gleaming soda pulls. Then again, you can drink Cabernet with grilled wild salmon panini here too.
In the same building, you'll find the Art & Cultural Center at Fallbrook. The center was born in 1996, when the Fallbrook Village Association, a local boosters group, sought to revive downtown business by adding art. Since then the association has brought 10 bronze sculptures, 4 murals, 2 parks, and more than a dozen exhibitions a year to the downtown area, including this month's Sculpture Spectacular (10-4 Mon-Sat, 1-4 Sun Oct 10-24; $5 donation; www.fallbrookartscene.org or 800/919-1159).
As you stroll down Main, don't miss the Brandon Gallery (closed Mon; 105 N. Main; 760/723-1330), the county's oldest art co-op; the Blue Heron Gallery (open Thu-Sat; 113 N. Main; 760/731-9355), a little place packed with Arts and Crafts furniture, paintings, and ceramics; or Chubby Chix Floral Adventures (closed Sun-Mon; 109 N. Main; 760/723-0334), a coffee shop specializing in fresh flowers, retro candy, and tongue-in-cheek humor: The bathroom itself is a work of public art.
Fallbrook is about 40 miles north of San Diego. From I-15, take the Mission Rd. exit and follow the signs west. From I-5, take State 76 east to River Village Shopping Center, go north (left) on Mission Rd., and bear right onto Main St.