Encinitas is a delightful North County coastal community located only 25 freeway miles north of downtown San Diego via Interstate 5. Its name, which means “live oaks” in Spanish, consists of five communities. Each one has its own unique small-town charm and interesting history, which makes each a rewarding discovery. They include Historic Encinitas, Leucadia, Inland Encinitas, Olivenhain and Cardiff-by-the-Sea. See map.
Historic downtown Encinitas is home to delightful little sidewalk cafés, wonderful shops and great restaurants. This historic corridor was once Highway 101, which was the only coastal highway connecting San Diego to Los Angeles.
Today, it’s an alternative route traveled by locals and out-of-towners, who enjoy a slower pace of life. The beautiful banners on the street light polls were donated by the thriving artists colony as part of Encinitas’ Streetscape project.
Other amenities are wide sidewalks, benches and a huge Encinitas sign stretching from one side of the highway to the other. Plus, old Encinitas is pedestrian friendly. Cars still park diagonally along its main thoroughfare, which is only two blocks from the ocean. Yes, this is a romantic beach town.
The outcome has been the preservation of the original flavor of historic downtown Encinitas. And the delightful revitalization of downtown Encinitas should rightly be attributed to the Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association, or DEMA (3) at 818 S. Coast Highway 101 (760-943-1950). A must-see event put on by this association is the annual Encinitas Street Fair (3) located on Highway 101 between D and J streets. Each year this event, which is held in April, comes alive with live music, food, kids’ rides and more than 450 arts and crafts booths. Don’t miss this fun-filled event.
For an update of what’s happening in Downtown Encinitas and to get the lay of the land, stop by their office. They offer maps of Historic Highway 101. Their hours are Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–5 p.m. From their centrally located storefront office on S. Coast Highway you can travel in any direction, on foot, and discover Downtown Encinitas. You can also visit their Web site [encinitas101.com] and download their excellent walking tour as well.
Without a doubt, a highlight of any excursion of downtown Encinitas is to stroll through the outdoor Seaside Bazaar (10), which takes place every Sat.–Sun. from 9:00 a.m.–4 p.m. (760-753-1611). Along the way you will get your fill of fascinating little shops to discover and lots of inviting sidewalk cafés.
Another must is to marvel at the historic La Paloma Theatre (10) at 471 S. Coast Highway 101 (760-436-5774). The theater was built in 1928 and hosted famous movie stars including Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, who lived in what is now Rancho Santa Fe. Some of the first “talkies” premiered here. The theater still shows movies to the public on a regular basis.
The newest attraction in Downtown Encinitas is the $40 million Pacific Station (8) at 687 S. Coast Highway 101, Unit 229 (760-633-1476) [pacificstation.net]. It’s a mixed-use shopping, dining and living complex extraordinaire, which is the talk of the town. On the street level is a new Whole Foods Market, a restaurant and several must-see boutiques.
Plus, every Wednesday there is a Farmers Market (2) in parking lot B at the corner of E Street and Vulcan Avenue from 4 p.m.–7 p.m.
Literally steps away, between F and I streets on S. Coast Highway 101, is a local favorite called the Lumberyard Shopping Center (19). It’s home to more delightful shops and lots of wonderful places to eat. Recommendations including 3rd Corner, which is a wine shop and bistro serving lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m. till 1 a.m. daily; St. Tropez Bakery & Bistro serving authentic French provencial cuisine and bakery goods for breakfast, lunch and early dinner with delicious desserts; and the Lumberyard Tavern & Grill, which is open till midnight.
However, the most popular restaurant bar on Encinitas’ main street is undoubtedly Union Kitchen & Tap (20) at 1108 South Coast Highway 101 (866-461-7408). You’ll be totally impressed with the casual yet sophisticated atmosphere, which features great food prepared by a talented chef, signature cocktails, vintage wines and local brews on tap. And all of this is set against the backdrop of a rugged eye-catching architecture highlighted with a 26-foot barrel-shaped roof.
Your next destination should be a visit to the world renowned Self-Realization Fellowship. It was built in the 1930s and remains a popular area attraction.
The two big attractions in south Encinitas are both world famous. One is Swami’s Beach and the other is the Self -Realization Fellowship. When you see the majestic gold-domed towers at the the corner of S. Coast Hwy. 101 and K Street you will have found the Self-Realization Fellowship (21) (760-753-2888). Their peaceful gardens are open Tues.–Sat., 9 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sun., 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Stroll the serene paths with colorful flowers, koi ponds and lush vegetation. Take time to view the expansive blue Pacific from the cliff top. This is a great place to unwind.
Obviously named in recognition of its location being next to the Self-Realizaton Fellowship is Swami’s Beach (22), Here is where you will find a grassy park high on a cliff, providing an excellent ocean view. The ocean below is a popular location for excellent surfing. Bring your camera.
Encinitas’ six miles of beautiful beaches are definitely worth discovering, too. Its eight public beaches are a haven for surfing, swimming, skin diving, fishing, ocean kayaking, sunbathing and walking. In fact, Surfer magazine rated its beaches among the top ten best in the world.
Encinitas’ most popular beach is Moonlight Beach (9), which is at the foot of Encinitas Boulevard. Newly improved with 14,500 sq. ft. of increased open sand and beach area, new restrooms, concession stands and fire rings is perfect for sunbathers, surfers or swimmers, the beach also has volleyball courts, picnic facilities and free parking.
Just offshore is a California State Marine-Life Refuge. This underwater park is a favorite with scuba divers and snorkelers.
On the third Saturday of each month the Encinitas Historical Society (760-753-5726) offers a free tour of old Encinitas (17). The 90-minute historical tour begins at the 1883 Old School House at 10:30 a.m. which is at 390 West F St. (760-942-9066). See Map. You’ll see over a dozen historic sites within a radius of 10 blocks. Reservations are not necessary.
Included on this informative tour are the Boat Houses (31) at 726 and 732 Third St. in downtown Encinitas. They were built in 1928 by Miles Kellogg out of recycled material. These historic homes, which are not open to the public, are examples of vernacular architecture tied to U.S. Highway 101.
You should also plan to visit the San Dieguito Heritage Museum (7) at 450 Quail Gardens Dr. (760-632-9711). It’s open noon–4 p.m. Thurs.–Sun. It covers the time span from 10,000 B.C. to the present with artifacts, photographs, exhibits and fascinating archives.
Local art is on view at the Off Track Gallery San Dieguito Art Guild (19) at 937 S. Coast Highway 101 (760-942-3636). Some 100 artists have their work on display, from paintings to sculpture and crafts.
For more information about all that Encinitas has to offer, contact the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center (32) at 527 Encinitas Blvd. (800-953-6041) or (760-753-6041) [encinitaschamber.com]. Their office is open Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
Residents of Encinitas are rightfully proud of their world renowned San Diego Botanic Garden (11) at 230 Quail Gardens Dr. (760-436-3036) [sdbgarden.org]. This hidden treasure is home to one of the most diverse and botanically important plant collections in the world. You’ll see more than 3,500 species of plants on 37 beautifully landscaped acres of scenic walks and trails.
But it is more than just a one-time place to visit. The San Diego Botanic Garden is one of the most active and engaging attractions in the region. Their many educational programs place a strong emphasis on children, the future stewards of the earth. They offer tours, exhibitions, exotic plant sales, bird watching, plant shows, concerts on the lawn and more. Every Thursday in the summer is Family Fun Night featuring live entertainment, crafts and more for the whole family. The garden is also the perfect venue for birthdays and kids parties, weddings and receptions and special events galore.
If you have ever thought of joining some civic organization, this should be it. Visit their website at sdbgarden.org and get involved in a great organization.
It’s open daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m. As a special savings, be sure to use their discount coupon in this book for $2 off adult admission and $1 off a child admission up to 4 persons. Admission is ($12) for adults; ($8) for seniors 60 and over, students and active military; ($6) for children 3–12; and children 2 and under are admitted free. Active military free in the summer.
Their Hamilton Children’s Garden, is the largest interactive children’s garden on the West Coast. Since opening in 2009 it continues to inspire people of all ages to connect with plants and nature. This one-of-a-kind exhibit is a magical place where children can come close to nature.
Most of the residents who reside in Encinitas live east of Interstate 5, and the major thoroughfare is El Camino Real. See map. Along this commercial byway is a bonanza of shopping centers, shops, restaurants and services galore.
Residents are also proud of their fabulous ocean-view Encinitas Ranch Golf Course (5) at 1275 Quail Gardens Dr. (760-944-1936). This scenic and challenging course is nestled among rolling hills on both sides of Leucadia Boulevard.
There are lots of places to shop, but one you should not miss is a classy upscale lifestyle shopping center, which is everybody’s favorite and a shopper’s dream come true. It’s called The Forum Carlsbad (15) at 1923 Calle Barcelona (760-479-0166). Getting there is a little tricky, so be sure to follow the map. Featured are the who’s who in top name-brand stores including Chico’s, Coldwater Creek, Talbots, Victoria’s Secret and more.
As for dining you absolutely must dine at the famous Diane Power’s Casa de Bandini Mexican Restaurant (15) (760-634-3443). They feature strumming mariachi musicians, who stroll throughout the restaurant serenading happy diners. The festive atmosphere is second to none.
Not far away is Olivenhain, which was established in 1884 by a small group of German immigrants. The original name was “Colony Olivenhain.” Today, it is an exclusive community where Old World charm and upscale homes intermingle.
If you take a left on Rancho Santa Fe Road from the intersection of Encinitas Boulevard and Rancho Santa Fe Road you will be able to see the Old Meeting Hall (12) on your right. The building is a historic attraction and is still used for public functions.
For the best tasting pancakes you have ever tasted, do what the locals do and eat at the The Original Pancake House (13) at 160 S. Rancho Santa Fe Rd. (760-943-1939) They are open daily until 3 p.m. If you drive by you’ll notice that the parking lot is always full. So you know that this place has got to be good. See Restaurants.
Cardiff-by-the-Sea is the southernmost of the communities that make up the City of Encinitas. It was founded in 1910 by J. Frank Cullen. He named the town after his wife’s ancestral home of Cardiff, Wales. Cullen sold bungalow lots measuring 25 by 100 feet for ($30) each. As you might imagine, these same lots sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars each in today’s residential market.
As you pass the first long stretch of beach at the south end of Cardiff, you’ll undoubtedly notice a host of impressive restaurants along the seashore ahead (30). Cardiff-by-the-Sea is the home of North County’s premier coastal restaurant row. Stunning ocean views and tantalizing cuisine at the shore’s edge make dining here a must.
A top countywide oceanfront dining recommendation with valet parking is the Chart House Restaurant (30) at 2588 South Coast Highway 101 (760-436-4044). Their floor to ceiling windows provide a breathtaking oceanfront setting with an inspiring view of the pounding surf. Combined with their impressive seafood selection, the Chart House is second to none. It’s perfect for any occasion be it a romantic meal for two, an anniversary, a rehearsal dinner or a business meeting. See Restaurants.
Up the road is San Elijo Beach State Park (25). It offers camping facilities almost on the beach. For campsite reservations call (800-444-7275).
Equally impressive is the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve (29) (760-436-3944). It’s the largest coastal wetland in North San Diego County and is home to more than 300 species of birds and seven and a half miles of hiking trails. Plus, they offer free public walks through the lagoon every second Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. Be sure to bring your camera and binoculars.
A half mile north is Cardiff proper. To get there, take a right on Chesterfield, followed by a quick left onto San Elijo Avenue.
Where to Stay
On a hill overlooking picturesque Moonlight Beach and beyond (9) is the stunning Best Western Encinitas Inn & Suites (1) with accommodations from ($139-$199). It is the best accommodations available. It is located at 85 Encinitas Blvd. (760-942-7455) or toll-free (866-362-4648). The hotel features 94 rooms with large private balconies and 29 suites with kitchenettes and conference room for up to 50 people a heated outdoor pool and complimentary high-speed wireless Internet access. They also offer a complimentary deluxe continental breakfast each morning. This hilltop location is also excellent for wedding and meetings with many ocean views. Pet friendly rooms are available. Credit cards: AE, DC, DISC, MC, VISA.