Encinitas, the hippie-meets-high-class beach town in San Diego County, is all about catching rays, coastal rides, ohmming your way to self-realization, fish tacos, and totally relaxing in endless summer style. Local girl and Gentedimontagna contributing editor Juliana Jaoudi shows us around.
ENCINITAS, California – Encinitas is the raddest California beach city ever. And Cardiff-by-the-Sea, the village within the city of Encinitas, may be even cooler.
Locals just call it Cardiff, like the city in Wales. That's no coincidence: It was founded in 1911 by an Englishman (and his wife) who named the major streets after his homeland (see: Manchester Ave., Oxford Ave., Birmingham Drive). My brother, sister-in-law, and beloved niece and nephew live in Cardiff, and I grew up 40 minutes north in Vista. This is why, as much as I love to collect passport stamps, I still spend most of my holidays and loads of vacation time in this part of San Diego's North County, between tony beach towns like Del Mar and the military community of Oceanside, where Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton is located.
THE LOCAL SCENE
I come here for my family, but there's so much about this comfortable and delightful lifestyle to attract visitors. Encinitas is defined by its charmingly laid-back, authentic, and high-performing locals who surf, do yoga, train for triathlons, hike, fish, eat clean cuisine, meditate, play golf, farm organic vegetables, grow citrus, self-realize, watch the sunset, and raise their children with excellent public schools and architecturally stunning libraries with ocean views. The towns offer distractions aplenty, but their adjacency to luxury destinations also means you can experience the equivalent of high and low surf and turf.
The topography is a pleasing combination of rolling hills and Pacific coastline. The neighborhoods are lined with iconic palm trees; the homes are a mix of old-school bungalows with overgrown bougainvillea and modern structures with tasteful drought-resistant landscaping. Everyone dedicates space to their surfboards, paddleboards, bikes, and other sand and stay-fit gear. This is truly that place where the locals live an integrated life style.
Imagine summertime all the time. That's why you'd come to Encinitas.
WHERE YOGIS MEET SURFERS
Encinitas is known for the slightly counter-culture vibe it maintains alongside its affluence and comforts. Ashtanga yoga guru and Encinitas local Tim Miller started practicing here in 1978 with Sri Pattabhi Jois and his son, Manju. Over the years, Tim's Ashtanga teachers developed the dynamic yoga practice that has become the popular vinyasa style. If that weren't yogi enough, in 1937 Paramahansa Yogananda established the Self Realization Fellowship Ashram Center above the surf mecca that really is called Swami's Beach.
Encinitas and Cardiff are also home to champion skateboarders and surfers. (Encinitas made it onto National Geographic's list of the World's 20 Best Surf Towns.) Local community leader Rob Machado is one of the top surfers in the world. He's a goofy foot, which means he surfs with his right foot forward, instead of the more common left foot. (You'll want to brush up on your surf lingo.) Tony Hawk's skateboarding HQ in nearby Vista attracts young talent from all over, like Cardiff native Mitchie Brusco, who set the record for a Big Air 1080 (click to watch his trick in action).
WHAT TO DO
Hit the Beach
Learn to surf like the locals at Encinitas Surf Lesson's with Jason or Leucadia Surf School. They'll have you riding waves before you leave.
If you don't want to get on a board, go check out the tide pools and watch the surfers hang ten at Swami's Beach and enjoy the serene salt and freshwater estuaries at San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve.
When you're ready to swap a board for two wheels, tour the beach on a beach cruiser rented at RideCyclery.
Of special note for families is Moonlight Beach, for the volleyball courts, beach rentals, easy parking, playgrounds, a café, and restrooms.
Get a Workout
You'll feel the aerobic high from the locals training for triathlons or staying in shape. Running, biking, and swimming are all typical Encinitas pastimes. The stairs at Pipes Beach are a favorite ritual: You start at the north end and go south for five sets. Then you do them again on your way back. If this sounds like a killer one-hour workout, it is.
Golf, golf, golf! La Costa Country Club in Carslbad and Torrey Pines in La Jolla are gorgeous greens just a short drive away.
Yoga and More Yoga
As you might expect, the area has many, many yoga studios with countless class offerings. Vinyasa Arts has live music on Wednesday nights, Ashtanga Yoga Center has great specialty workshops, Core Power Yoga is the best hot yoga in town, and Yoga Six has great intermediate and beginner options.
Channel your inner Buddha at the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple, the meditation centeron the cliffs above Swami's. Beautiful gardens, a stunning setting: This may be the iconic Encinitas landmark.
Recharge Body and Mind
The best spas in the area are Rancho Valencia, La Costa Country Club, and Four Seasons Aviara.
For a dose of arts and culture, go see classic and indie movies at La Paloma Theater, or read a book and enjoy the view at The Encinitas Branch Library.
Be One with Nature
San Diego Botanic Gardens, formerly known as Quail Gardens, is a beautiful spot to sniff exotic flowers from the farthest corners of the world.
Go hiking through the winding trails within the cliffs of Torrey Pines State Reserve for gorgeous views of Torrey Pines State Beach below.
Discover the Local Colors
Go see great music and have a drink at Belly Up, Encinitas' best live-music venue.
Make a bet on the horses at the Del Mar Race Track if you're in town during the seasons, July through August and November.
Go to the San Diego County Fair (formerly known as the Del Mar Fair) in June and July. It's just as fun for the kids.
WHERE TO STAY
If you want the true beach town experience, your best bet is to rent through VRBO or AirBnB and live like a local.
Cardiff by the Sea Lodge is a funky and romantic boutique hotel where every room is decorated in a different style. For the luxury experience, check into Rancho Valencia. Four Seasons Aviara and La Costa Country Club are also lavish choices worth the splurge, if you don't mind the 15-minute drive from Carlsbad. San Elijo State Campgrounds is great for families who camp.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Budget-Friendly and Awesome
One of my favorites for the best fresh fish in town, the cool outdoor architecture, and the delicious homemade ice cream.
Macrobiotic, vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian. Includes a juice bar.
Pannikin Coffee and Tea
A local favorite for breakfast, lunch, and brunch, located in an historic train station.
Lofty Coffee Co.
Above Moonlight Beach, serving crafted coffee and natural food. The centerpiece is the Japanese cold drip machine that makes Kyoto-style coffee.
Zumbar Coffee and Tea
They roast their own beans and make excellent coffee.
Blue Ribbon Pizzeria
Delicious artisanal pizza.
VG Donuts and Bakery
A very good ("VG") bakery with a 40-year history serving delicious cinnamon rolls, specialty cakes, and old-school baked goods. A fun spot for dessert after dinner.
Where the not-quite-slumming-it San Elijo Campground campers get their supplies. Excellent fresh fish, local produce, gourmet prepared foods to go, and the famous Cardiff Crack: marinated flank steak prepared on the grill in the parking lot on the weekends. My favorite: sashimi salad rolls.
Excellent for breakfast and lunch. Varied menu including vegan and vegetarian options. Named for the Self-Realization fellowship and the Swami's surf spot across the street.
Some of the best Mexican on the cliffs of Cardiff. Go for the fish tacos.
Owned by the same folks who own Bull Taco. Unique pizzas and gluten-free options.
Breakfast and lunch only. Outdoor seating makes it really fun for the kids.
Hulahoops and outdoor seating: Talk about family-friendly. Cruise up on a bike and check out the extensive menu.
Claire's on Cedros
A LEED-certified building that's as delicious as it is environmental.
Encinitas Wednesday Farmer's Market
Great local food vendors for a dinner spot. Open from 4-7 p.m. in the summer and 5-8 p.m. and the winter.
Worth The Splurge
A killer open-air cocktail lounge that turns into a chic, LA-like scene after 10 p.m. If you really want a full night, reserve in advance.
Solace and Moonlight Lounge
My other favorite. A LEED silver certified mixed-use project with killer architecture and an excellent locally sourced menu. Delicious duck breast and vegetarian entrees like toasted quinoa and roasted vegetables. The bar area is beautiful, too.
Flat Rock Eats & Drinks
Killer fish tacos and cilantro slaw. Great for breakfast, brunch, and dinner.
A truly local and vertical spot. The owners grow their own meat and do their own fishing.
Excellent sushi and locally sourced fish. Same owners as Rimel's Rotisserie next door.
Get your Peruvian fix.
A great wine list and California cuisine.
Priority Public House
A popular Gastropub with craft beers.
In Carlsbad, have brunch at Four Seasons Aviara and drinks and dinner at La Costa Country Club.
In Del Mar, stop at Del Mar Plaza for its indoor and outdoor restaurants with great ocean views. Or at the classic hotel L'Auberge Del Mar for drinks, brunch, or lunch on the beautiful outdoor patio and firepit.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
How to get there: Fly into San Diego Airport (SAN), rent a car, and drive 35 minutes north to Encinitas, or connect from a major city to smaller, regional Palomar Airport (CLD) in Carlsbad. I recommend San Diego airport since it's so close and major airlines like United, Delta, American Airlines, and JetBlue fly directly into the city. For those in-state, it's an easy, just-under-two-hours drive from Los Angeles and a one-hour flight from San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC), and Oakland International Airport (OAK). Renting a car is definitely a must — it's California.
When to go/weather: The weather in Southern California is pretty perfect year round, but my favorite is summer time — July through September is the sunniest time of year, and you'll miss the "June gloom". January through May are pretty amazing too, especially if you're keen to escape a cold winter. November and December can be a bit rainy, so check the forecast before you fly.
See all the locations mentioned in this story. (Google Maps)