Toddler time

Alex Pham and her son, Felix, 3, ate breakfast at The Cottage Restaurant in La Jolla, CA, and later stopped to smell the sunflowers and play at the Farmer's Market down the street. (Alex Pham / Los Angeles Times)

Entertaining kids can cost parents a fortune.

But it doesn't have to. My son and I discovered some inexpensive simple pleasures near our San Diego home on a recent Sunday that gave the two of us three solid hours together with no beeping cellphones, buzzing BlackBerrys or dirty dishes to interrupt our morning.

Here's how we pulled it off.

Our first stop was the Cottage, a small, family-run restaurant on Fay Avenue in La Jolla that serves a homey breakfast. Our waitress, Sandra, knows us well, and she greeted us warmly and commented on how big my son had grown. Sandra set us up with crayons and coloring paper, a simple but key feature for keeping my toddler amused while we waited for our breakfast to arrive.

I ordered a giant oatmeal pancake (a steal at $1.50), a cup of low-fat milk and a fruit plate with blueberries, strawberries, bananas and grapes for my son, Felix. I got a mocha and a King Kong muffin, which, as the name implies, is a colossal muffin served warm with butter. The total, with tip: $15.

With leftover pancake in hand, we trotted up to Girard Avenue to the La Jolla Farmer's Market. Although it's a relatively small affair with a limited selection of produce, it has the great advantage of having two playgrounds and an enclosed grassy area that gives Felix plenty of room to run, which he did with glee after he tackled the slides and we indulged in a giggly game of hide and seek in the jungle gym.

With $10 burning a hole in my pocket and a toddler who was tuckered enough to be content with holding my hand without darting off, we toured the tiny market. I let Felix take the initiative in deciding what we would take home.

He chose well -- a basket of organic strawberries for $4 and a $2 cactus plant that looked so odd it made him laugh. I thought this tiny succulent could serve as his very own plant that he could care for all on his own.

Our last purchase was an indulgence I couldn't resist, a small bouquet of red roses, white daisies and purple statice for $3.

We took our loot home, where I was able to fashion a tidy lunch for Felix with the farmers market strawberries and leftover pancake. And that extra dollar? I'll try not to spend it all in one place.

-- Alex Pham