Welcome to It’s Encinitas, a guide to what’s happening in one of the happiest, healthiest, and most up-and-coming cities around. Did we mention also that Encinitas, California is a surf capital of the world?
Encinitas’ beautiful beaches, funky surf culture, and incredible climate grab your attention immediately. Then it’s time to explore the top-tier restaurants, craft beer scene, and quirks of a flower-studded beach town that has a special kind of magnetism.
We write about the best restaurants, events, recreation, shopping and real estate news so you can get the most out of Encinitas. Plus, we cover who and what’s happening around town – to give you a deeper understanding of our fantastic city.
Whether you just got into town for your sun-filled sabbatical, or you grew up in Olivenhain and surf Pipes every day, we aim to keep you informed of the best and brightest Encinitas has to offer.
Encinitas is 25 miles north of downtown San Diego, and approximately 95 miles south of Los Angeles. Perched right above the Pacific Ocean, to say, “Encinitas is a mecca for surfers” would be an understatement.
What brought Encinitas to life was religion. In 1669, the Governor of Baja California, Gaspar de Portola, was traveling through California to build presidios where the population could attend religious service. As he was passing through Encinitas, he named it Encina Canada, which in Spanish means, “Hills of live oaks.”
Unlike majority of beach towns, Encinitas has left many of its historical buildings standing. When you drive through downtown, which fills the Highway 101 Corridor paralleling the beautiful beaches and ocean, you can easily imagine how the pioneers of surfing felt driving their woodies down the road.
Of Encinitas’ 20.0 square miles, 18.8 square miles of it is land and 1.2 square miles of it is water. The city lies on rugged coastal terrain bisected by a low lying coastal ridge that separates new and old Encinitas. In the north of the city, the coast rises in elevation forming many coastal bluffs. Encinitas is hemmed in by the Batiquitos Lagoon to the north and the San Elijo Lagoon to the south.
Encinitas consists of five communities that have their own distinct personalities: “Historic” or downtown Encinitas; “New Encinitas” which centers around El Camino Real; Cardiff-by-the-Sea which is made up of homes dotting hillsides above the ocean; Leucadia made famous for its giant eucalyptus trees; and Olivenhain which boasts open horse country and a more rural way of life.
Seasons? What seasons? Encinitas’ very mild, Mediterranean climate boasts an average daily high temperature of 72°F. The city sees an average of 150 clear days per year, and the average ocean water temperature is 63°F. It’s no wonder many Encinitasians look and act like Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
We admit it though – while it’s pretty much pure bliss year around, bouts of rain and marine layer (fog) are common in the spring. During May Gray/June Gloom, the average daytime temps fall to 65°F.
Many of Southern California’s oceanfront communities can be classified as “surfy,” but Encinitas captures this spirit better than most. Encinitas was recently named one of the “World’s 20 Best Surf Towns” by National Geographic, and was ranked third in the world for the same criterion by SURFER Magazine.
Encinitas takes the best qualities of San Diego surf communities and rolls them into one. All breaks considered – from Ocean Beach, to La Jolla, to Pacific Beach – most local surfers would agree that Encinitas stands out in the San Diego surfing pack.
Aside from the fact that Encinitas boasts fun-to-excellent waves that support a wide range of surfers, it also has some of the oldest and most well-respected surf shops in the country. There’s also La Paloma Theatre, which in its 87-year history, has premiered countless surf films.
Encinitas has also been home to some of the most important personalities to ever ride a surfboard. From Linda Benson, the first woman to ride Waimea Bay; to surfboard shaper and industry pioneer, Don Hansen; to Joel Tudor, one of the best longboarders in history; to world-famous professional shortboarder, Rob Machado, Encinitas has churned out some of the best and most influential surfers on the planet.
Encinitas is classic So-Cal beach culture with a Mexican twist. Our roads are filled with cars packed with water sports accoutrements. The menus of our local eateries list burritos and burgers named after nearby waves, and most every garage in each of our neighborhoods is filled with surfboards.
In Encinitas, you find a laid-back mix of counterculture from the New Age spiritualists, to the surfers, to the skateboarders. This means the community lacks the upturned nose vibe you get in some surf-side towns (we won’t name names).
Encinitas is home to a public community college called MiraCosta College; a non-profit liberal arts college called St. Katherine College; and the California Institute for Human Science, whose studies focus on the integration of science and spirituality.
Encinitas has 21 K-12 schools, including 12 public schools and 9 private schools. The local public schools divide themselves into three districts, Encinitas Union Elementary School District, Cardiff School District, and the San Dieguito Union High School District. In total, there are 13 elementary schools, 9 middle schools, 8 high schools, and 33 preschools in Encinitas.
Encinitas is also in the midst of a Renaissance of sorts. It has always been one of the healthiest, surfiest, and happiest places in the country, but in recent years, a bevy of amazing restaurants, coffee shops, and bars have opened up, too.
With oldies but goodies, like Pannikin Coffee & Tea and Yu Me Ya Sake House, and new spots like Solace and the Moonlight Lounge, Union Kitchen & Tap, and Lofty Coffee Co. to name a few, Encinitas has evolved into a foodie-destination in recent years. Which basically makes it perfect.
Nightlife in Encinitas ranges from fine dining and craft cocktails at places like Solace and the Moonlight Lounge, to the diviest of dive bars like Daley Double Saloon (known to locals as “The Saloon”).
For wine aficionados, locals’ favorite wine bars include 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro and Wine Steals on San Elijo. For beer-lovers, Encinitas Ale House – with its over 350 bottled beers and 32 German and Belgian beers on tap – is a must-try. Veteran brewpub, Pizza Port, is another best beer bet.
Due in large part to the Self-Realization Fellowship at its city center, Encinitas is also a very spiritually-focused community.
Yoga is huge here, and some of the biggest yoga movements in the country got their start in Encinitas. Paramhansa Yogananda completed his Autobiography of a Yogi here in 1945, giving birth to a spiritual legacy that continues to thrive through the Self-Realization Fellowship.
Additionally, in 1975, David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff brought Sri K. Pattabhi Jobs here on his first trip to the United States, essentially anointing Encinitas as the birth place of Ashtanga yoga in America.
With some of the best beaches in the world – surfing, paddle boarding, and sunbathing are some of the most popular activities in town. One of the best-loved beaches is Moonlight Beach for its proximity to downtown, easy access, and all-are-welcome atmosphere.
Many people don’t know this, but the single largest industry in Encinitas is the growing of ornamental flowers, particularly poinsettias. Correspondingly, the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas is one of the biggest and most beautiful in the world. At 37 acres, it includes rare bamboo groves, desert gardens, four miles of garden trails, and nearly 3,000 varieties of plants. For a first-time trip to Encinitas, the San Diego Botanic Garden is a must-visit.
Another point of interest, and one of the most beautiful sights along the coastline, is the Self-Realization Fellowship. Though the grounds are not public, behind the beautiful Golden Lotus Temple is the Self-Realization Fellowship Hermitage and Meditation Gardens. Free of charge, visitors are allowed to meander up through the gardens to a beautiful look out point with breathtaking ocean views.
Just steps away from the Self-Realization Fellowship and named for SRF’s founder, Swami Paramhansa Yogananda, is Swami’s surf spot. Made famous in part by The Beach Boys when they referenced it in “Surfin’ USA,” Swami’s is one of the most legendary breaks in the world. While we don’t recommend that inexperienced surfers paddle out there, on a low tide, Swami’s has some tide pools that are definitely worth checking out.
It’s a privilege to live in San Diego, and nowhere is that privilege more evident than when you live in Encinitas. From beach cottages to multimillion dollar seafront properties, Encinitas has it all when it comes to real estate.
The Encinitas real estate market is vibrant, especially with its most in demand neighborhoods overlooking the sea from Beacon’s Beach to Cardiff. With luxury estates on acreage a little further east in Olivenhain to newer home developments near Encinitas Ranch, there are beautifully planned neighborhoods and gorgeous homes for sale throughout the city. And definitely don’t miss The Boat Houses, two 1920’s houses shaped like giant boats on Third Avenue near the heart of downtown.
If you’re interested in calling Encinitas home, click here for a list of established realtors.
One cannot survive on surfing and California burritos alone. Sometimes, you’ve got to go shopping. And whether you’re in need of a designer date night outfit or you just feel like gazing into pretty windows, Encinitas is bursting with retail treasure troves that run a colorful gamut.
What is surprising about Encinitas’ shopping is its diversity. Encinitas’ best boutiques range from surf shops like Hansen’s, to thrift meccas like Flashbacks, to high-fashion venues like Pink Lagoon. From antiques, to home and garden, to surf wear, our favorite stores hit every price point and occasion to shop.
Just a few miles south in neighboring Solana Beach is the Cedros Avenue Design District, a two and a half block pedestrian shopping zone filled with 85 one of a kind shops, restaurants, day spas and more. And don’t forget The Forum Carlsbad, which houses some of the world’s favorite retail brands like Anthropologie, the Apple Store, and H&M among many others.
San Diego is one of the world’s greatest cities (truth). It’s home to arts, entertainment, historic parks and museums galore. There are so many amazing things to do in San Diego, it really just comes down to what you’re looking for.
If you’ve got young’uns in tow, America’s Finest City showcases many popular attractions for the whole family to enjoy. Some of these include LEGOLAND California (just a few miles north in Carlsbad), Sea World, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, San Diego Safari Park, Balboa Park, and the Cabrillo National Monument.
Slightly more adult-themed must-sees include the Gaslamp Quarter, whose 16 square-blocks feature stunning Victorian architecture and some of the best restaurants, pubs, nightclubs and retail shops in the entire city. Another best bet for the over-21 is the Del Mar Race Track, where during the summer (mid-July through early September), spectators can wager on their favorite horses as they participate in one of the city’s long-standing traditions.
Art and Galleries
When you walk through Encinitas, pops of color grab your eye from a few gallery windows, and to be sure, Encinitas’ art scene is vibrant and alive. One of the most destination-worthy spots for art-lovers is the Lux Art Institute. Notably, this multi-facility arts institution brings in artists for monthlong residencies during which visitors are able to watch artists at work. To satisfy a surf photography fix, visit Aaron Chang’s gallery in Solana Beach or the Surf Hut Art Gallery in Leucadia which has incredible ocean-themed prints, photography and sculptures for sale.
For the die-hard cinephiles among us, head to the historic La Paloma Theatre for a flick and an unforgettable movie experience. This Spanish Colonial Revival-style silver screen option shows everything from lesser-known indie films to timeless classics to the latest surf and skate pictures.
Health & Fitness
With a wealth of amazing outdoor activities and a blissful Mediterranean climate, it’s not a huge surprise that Encinitas has been rated one of the healthiest cities in the country. Cycling, hiking, golfing, and of course, surfing, are all easy day excursions that keep our residents physically fit… and really, really good looking.
For a triathlete, Encinitas and neighboring Solana Beach rank at the top of the list for training opportunities. From the quality gear shops like the triathlon temple Nytro Multisport, to the training infrastructure of the city itself (well-maintained and popular biking routes, a world class swimming pool at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA) pros from all over the world flock to Encinitas for more than just the perfect weather.
Encinitasians also have some of the best healthy restaurants, farmer’s markets, and grocery stores in all of San Diego. Health-conscious locals love the premier nationwide vegan chain, Native Foods Café, the zenned-out Lotus Cafe & Juice Bar, and the surf-inspired Swami’s Cafe for brunch on a weekend.
Family & Kids
Encinitas is like a mega-suburb filled with award-winning public schools, amazing recreation opportunities, and safe sprawling neighborhoods. It’s for this reason that Encinitas has always been known as one of the best places in San Diego to raise a family.
Encinitasians are lucky to have the ocean so close, and it provides a host of activities the whole family can enjoy. Visits to the tide pools at Swami’s surf spot or Cardiff State Beach are perfect family day trips. The Encinitas area is also home to a number of state and county parks, such as Moonlight State Beach, Cottonwood Creek Park and Torrey Pines State Reserve just a few miles down the road.
Around town, you’ll also find an abundance of public swimming pools, camping grounds, hiking trails, gardens and family-friendly restaurants that provide opportunities for families to spend time together.
There are many young families in Encinitas, which means it has a nice selection of child-oriented activities and venues. With everything from Junior Lifeguards; to camps run by the Magdalena Ecke YMCA; to the plethora of surf schools and skateparks around town, there is plenty for kids to do year around in this coastal hamlet.
Encinitas is the getaway of a lifetime. No question. But if you’re planning to visit, you’re going to need a place to stay. Thankfully, with lodging options in every category and every budget, this seaside vacation destination has something for everyone.
Many locals don’t know this, but our part of town has the only five-star hotel in San Diego – the Grand Del Mar. This over-the-top Del Mar hotel, the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, and the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort are luxe options that provide that classic ‘cation experience.
If you’re looking for a bed and breakfast, try the Pelican Cove Inn, which is perfectly situated in the heart of downtown Carlsbad. Other best bets include the surf-themed Cardiff-by-the-Sea Lodge and the Kate Stanton Inn.
For bargains, there’s the West Inn Suites in Carlsbad, the Best Western Encinitas Inn & Suites at Moonlight Beach, and the Moonlight Beach Motel. For vacation rentals, visit VRBO or airbnb for more information.