Encinitas, a charming coastal town located in San Diego County, is known for its stunning beaches, world-class surf breaks, and a captivating blend of cultures. Spanning approximately six miles of picturesque coastline, this idyllic destination is just a short 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego, and is considered one of Southern California‘s best surf towns. Before the arrival of European settlers, Encinitas was inhabited by the Payam Kuicham and Kumiyai people, honoring the rich indigenous heritage of the area. Encinitas officially became incorporated in 1986, uniting the vibrant neighborhoods of Leucadia, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, and Olivenhain. Today, Encinitas is renowned for its scenic beauty, a storied past, a thriving arts scene, culturally diverse events, and a delectable culinary landscape that is sure to delight any visitor.
10 Best Things to Experience in Encinitas, California
Here are the top 10 must-see attractions for your next visit.
1. Moonlight State Beach.
Moonlight Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Encinitas among locals and visitors. This beach has a wide sandy shoreline with views of the Pacific Ocean and it’s perfect for sunbathing, picnicking, swimming, playing beach volleyball, or even tennis. It’s known for its family-friendly atmosphere with a large playground and a picnic area. There is a concession stand and equipment rentals and the long Sandy Beach is good for walks and it’s an ideal location for swimming, bodyboarding and surfing. The beach was named Moonlight Beach because of its popularity in the early 1900s as a spot for people to go for midnight picnics. Today, you could still use the designated fire pits for moonlight bonfires under the stars. Just next door is Dave’s Rock Garden. The public art installation was created by Dave Dean in 2015. He transformed a disregarded dirt lot into a community place where people could enjoy plants and artwork. the city initially rejected the project, but the community came together to decorate and hand paint the stones that now align the gardens. Today, it has become an attraction representing the spirit of Encinitas.
2. The Self-Realization Fellowship (Mediation Gardens)
The self-realization fellowship is a serene place with Meditation Gardens, koi ponds and a view overlooking Swami’s Beach. The garden is open to the public and offers a peaceful and inspiring setting for meditation and prayer with numerous trails and peaceful places to sit. The Golden Lotus Temple was dedicated on January 2nd, 1938. designed by Paramahansa Yogananda. The temple received thousands of visitors who traveled to the temple to study the teachings of the yogi. Yogananda was credited with introducing westerners to meditation through his book ‘The Autobiography’ of a yogi. In 1942, erosion of the shoreline in Cliffs caused the temple to become unstable and collapse. The temple had to be removed and today you can still see the remnants of the structure. This is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Encinitas. I highly recommend it!
3. Explore the Tide Pools at Swami’s Beach
The beach was named Swami’s which is a Hindu spiritual teacher. Swami’s Beach is an internationally renowned point break surf spot popularized in the song ‘Surfing USA’ by The Beach Boys. It is well known as a high performance wave for both long boarders and short borders. During low tides, you can visit the tide pools. At the point just north of the staircase, you will discover tide pools during low tides. When the tide is not excessively high, you can take a walk southward into San Elijo State Beach for a considerable distance.
4. Go shopping on the Highway 101
Downtown Encinitas is a vibrant strip along the highway 101 with restaurants, shops, bars, saloons, sidewalk cafes and art galleries, all within walking distance. You’ll know you are there when you see the iconic Encinitas sign. Adjacent to Leucadia Pizza, is the Surfing Madonna, a mosaic art piece created by artist Mark Patterson that depicts the Virgin de Guadalupe riding a cresting wave with their hands in prayer. The art piece was covertly installed by Patterson and his friend Bob Nichols who passed as construction workers during the installation. The city ordered its removal but community support preserved the art piece. This area is the commercial hub of old Encinitas and you could spend days exploring the shops, restaurants and bars.
5. San Elijo State Beach
San Elijo State Beach is a well-liked camping destination that provides opportunities for swimming, surfing, picnicking, and even showers. Positioned on a bluff with a picturesque view of the Pacific Ocean, it boasts 165 campsites. Below the bluff, there is an expansive stretch of sand, and when the tide recedes, fascinating tide pools and rocks are unveiled, showcasing captivating marine life such as sea stars and sea urchins. Notably, distinctive lifeguard towers stand on pillars, enabling lifeguards to maintain close proximity to the water. H
6. Sights and View Points
Encinitas has amazing sights and stops you can enjoy. One of the most popular attractions are the Encinitas boat houses called the SS Encinitas and SS Moonlight. The homes were built in 1928 by Miles Kellogg. Surprisingly, the homes are not actually boats, but were built using timber salvaged from a demolished Hotel. The homes are a celebrated attraction, part of a historical walking tour and subject of several YouTube videos. Just a stone’s throw away is the Encinitas Historical Society housed in a historic schoolhouse that dates back to 1883. This building holds the distinction of being the oldest structure in Encinitas and serves as a repository of photographs, exhibits research papers and a team of knowledgeable docents. Just appeal from the main strip, you’ll find the Encinitas Library. This facility is not only a great place for studying and reading but also offers one of the most breathtaking ocean views.
7. Leucadia (North Encinitas)
The northernmost part of Encinitas is called Leucadia. Unless you’re driving along the 101, it’s easy to overlook this part of Encinitas, but it has some of the most amazing beaches and destinations. The Alila Maria Beach Resort is a luxury hotel at the northern border of Encinitas overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Carlsbad. It is known for the modern design, gardens and oceanfront view rooms. Grandview is a popular beach access point in Leucadia State beach with wooden stairs leading down the bluff. The area is good for walking but the absence of a restroom means it’s not ideal for a full day at the beach but there’s plenty of parking.
8. San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve
The San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is one of the largest remaining coastal wetlands in San Diego. It is a 721-acre reserve with a nature center that offers visitors a chance to learn about the Lagoon’s ecology and history through interactive exhibits and educational programs. The reserve is bordered by Solana Beach, Cardiff By the Sea in Rancho Santa Fe with over nine miles of hiking trails. One of the popular trails in the area is called Anistro. The short hiking trail leads to a unique slot canyon with mushroom caves along the way. The hike is considered a local gem and generally considered an easy route, taking about an hour to complete. The 1.8 mile long trail has a total of 470 feet of climbing and a maximum elevation of 270 feet.
9. Parks and Gardens
The San Diego Botanical Garden is a 37-acre garden. Established in 1970, it features 29 uniquely themed areas that represent 15 different regions and many habitats from around the world. The garden includes rare bamboo groves, desert gardens, a tropical rainforest, California native plants, succulents and a mediterranean landscape. It is home to over 5000 varieties of plants from all over the world. With four miles of trails, there’s plenty to see. Nearby is Encinitas Community Park which features ball fields, a soccer field, pools, a recreation center and a covered playground. Opened in May of 2021, Olympus Park is a 3.1 acre park that has playgrounds, a skate park, half court basketball court with dog parks, a botanical garden, and a signature zipline.
10. East (New Encinitas) & Olivenhain
Moving inland on the east side of the 5 freeway is new Encinitas. The area blends in well with the surrounding ranch communities of La Costa and Rancho Santa Fe. This region is known for the planned and private communities and hiking trails and equestrian facilities. The Encinitas ranch golf course is an award-winning 18-holecChampionship golf course, with a ranch design and ocean views for many holes. At 6812 yards long, the par-72 course provides quality golf to local and visiting golfers with over 75000 golfers visiting just last year. Encinitas is also known for hot air balloon rides that provide breathtaking views of the area. Some of the local companies include compass balloons, sunrise balloons, Linda Moore and sky’s the limit balloon adventures.
Is Encinitas, CA expensive to live?
Encinitas, like many coastal cities in Southern California, is known for its desirability and high quality of life. However, it does come with a relatively higher cost of living compared to some other areas. Housing prices in Encinitas tend to be above the national average, making it challenging for some individuals and families to afford. The cost of renting or buying a home can be quite expensive, particularly in popular neighborhoods near the beach or downtown. Additionally, other expenses such as groceries, dining out, and entertainment also reflect the area’s higher living costs. Despite the expense, many residents find the benefits of living in Encinitas, including its beautiful beaches, vibrant community, and pleasant climate, to be well worth the investment.
When is the Best Time to visit Encinitas?
San Diego County is renowned for its abundant sunshine and consistently pleasant temperatures throughout the year. The summers are warm and dry, while the winters are cool yet comfortable. Temperature extremes are rare, with lows seldom dropping below 44 degrees Fahrenheit and highs rarely exceeding 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, the weather hovers around a mild and enjoyable range of 50 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, varying slightly depending on the time of year.
While any time of the year can be a wonderful opportunity to visit, the period from July to November is particularly ideal for those seeking delightful beach days. It is worth noting that if you’re accustomed to the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean tends to have cooler temperatures, resulting in colder water. This distinction is why surfers utilize different wetsuits for various seasons, including winter and summer suits.
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