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Encinitas / Cardiff By The Sea

Five diverse communities may call Encinitas home, but first things first: This is the quintessential Southern California surf city with serious waves and a cool vibe.

Located about 30 minutes north of San Diego, Encinitas boasts beaches and bluffs not to be beaten. At its southern end, wetsuits and surfboards are a common sight on San Elijo State Beach, Cardiff State Beach and north to Swami’s Point. This stretch of coastline, with towering cliffs and big swells, has the best surfing anywhere. At the city’s northern end, Moonlight State Beach attracts families and picnickers. This pretty, peaceful place has undergone a major renovation and now features a concession stand, fire pits and great park for kids.

Just blocks away from the beach lies the city’s historic downtown, often called “historic Encinitas” and preserved by a dedicated group of merchants, property owners and community activists. Situated along the Highway 101 corridor, its sidewalks invite newcomers and natives to linger at its outdoor cafes, restaurants, boutiques, clothing and specialty shops. The locals favorite is The Lumberyard Shopping Center. Spend time at this pretty plaza, which is home to restaurants, boutiques and eclectic shops. The flagship store Birkenstock of San Diego sells it classic sandals, while shops like Savory Spice Encinitas sells hundreds of fresh herbs and spices to enhance every meal. A major attraction is the La Paloma Theatre built in 1928 and still playing and host to community functions as well as movies, concerts and stage productions. Signature downtown events include the April Street Fair, Fall Festival and Wavecrest Woodie Meet. For an easy way to reach downtown, hop on the scenic north-south COASTER commuter train, serving eight stations between Oceanside and downtown San Diego (including a stop at D Street and S. Vulcan Avenue in Encinitas), or the east-west SPRINTER hybrid rail, connecting Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido, serving 15 stations along the Highway 78 corridor. Visit for fares and schedules.

North of downtown is Leucadia, a truly eclectic seaside burg with eucalyptus trees, yoga studios and quaint cottages. Pick up everything from tikis to used CDs to antiques and plants here. Sip tea at the Pannikin Coffee & Tea (formerly the historic Santa Fe Railroad Station), or grab a burrito at one of the authentic Mexican food eateries.

South of downtown, where the coastal highway dips, is Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Named after Cardiff, Wales, the streets bear British names like "Birmingham,” "Chesterfield" and "Manchester.” Surfing tops recreational activities here, with cycling and bird-watching not far behind. Up a small hill and sitting on a plateau, a half-dozen or so fine restaurants all have a front row to the Pacific.

To the northeast, the area called “New Encinitas” has settled in. Anchored by the commercial “El Camino Real Corridor,” this part of Encinitas contains residential neighborhoods dotted by soccer and baseball fields and a championship golf course. Families shop and dine in New Encinitas and often work out at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA, named for one of the city’s early philanthropists.

Nearby, the colony of Olivenhain features a rural setting filled with winding roads, ranches, horse corrals and large homes nestled in the hillsides. At the heart of the community sits the one-room Olivenhain Meeting Hall, built in 1895 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hall is still used for annual celebrations and town meetings.

Uniting this quintet of distinct Encinitas communities are wonderful attractions. On the coast, the Self-Realization Fellowship Center’s meditation gardens provide commanding ocean views amid koi ponds and flora. Just east of downtown and equally beautiful is the San Diego Botanic Garden, a stunning 37 acres of bamboo groves, tropical rainforest, Mediterranean climate landscapes and California native plants. Take in nature and find peace of mind at these tranquil venues. Also visit the San Elijo Lagoon and Ecological Reserve, with miles of hiking trails, and the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, a journey through the area’s past.

With so much culture, history and breathtaking scenery, visitors flock to Encinitas city year-round. Take time to discover this charming destination.