Let me start this blog series by telling you that I have a really hard time sitting still in my free time.
Money burns a hole in my pocket.
The combination doesn’t do so well in terms of saving, especially when you like to travel and explore new places and new food.
Aside from the money I must spend to afford rent and electricity, I love to experience different atmospheres, drink a few cold beers and try local favorites. I never knew that almost 5 years ago, visiting Encinitas, and the surrounding North County, San Diego, would change my life forever.
My first time in Encinitas was almost dreamlike. I fell in love. I was heading down the coast with my buddy Craig, searching for waves on a trip after graduating High School. We stumbled upon Encinitas after making a stop at Lower Trestles, thinking we would head south to Black’s after. Looking for grub, we stumbled upon this strip of coastal highway, with a welcoming “Encinitas” archway, surrounded by restaurants, surf shops, and happy people. We found a side of the highway we could park, and walk straight out to the waves.
The city of Encinitas just has that perfect mix of sleepy surf town with a bit of modernity. There are as many old-school VW vans along the coast as new BMW’s. There are parts where you could envision it being no different in the 1970s, and parts that have obviously been retouched, having that Orange County feel to it. I’ll keep it brief and include just “Old Encinitas”, which is strictly west of I-5, and “New Encinitas” being on the other side of the freeway, packed with strip malls and chain stores. Old Encinitas, Leucadia, and Cardiff-by-the-Sea is where you will find the charm, the beach, and the priceless sunsets.
Growing up and surfing in Northern California, beach access is a little more remote, and takes more driving time (AND neoprene). This is not the case in most of Southern California. This convenience of access with the incorporation of the city of Encinitas was almost surreal. There were actual paved ways down to the beach, or a set of stairs, rather than the rugged trail I’m used to heading out on. I still was in awe I could casually surf in trunks basically May-September, and be able to walk across the street and grab a burrito and a cold one.
When asked, most will refer to the longboard spot Swami’s or Cardiff Reef as the go-to (and you can tell by the daily crowds), but there is so much more packed into the tiny coastline of the city, you don’t need to be where the crowds are. I prefer to surf on a peak less crowded than scratch for waves against 25 other people.
There are many different sandbars and reef spots like Boneyards, Pipes, Turtles, and Tippers, that if you head out on the right day, you might just get a peak to yourself.
Longboards are always an excellent call in Encinitas. Take an Ultimate to fit in some smooth long turns. Go with the Ladle if you're more focused on footwork and noseriding. If you like a more compact ride, pack in more waves than everybody else by wielding the Poacher. Most reefs get are fun but need a little more foam up through chest high... go with the Codfather.
Groveler type boards will work better when there is slightly more size, or if you time the tide right. Keep your skinny boards with heavy rocker at home until it gets above shoulder-high. The wave type is a little less hollow, but is still rippable on a 1-3 foot day.
Surfing in North County is less aggressive than say Orange County or even south of La Jolla, you will find different types of surfers out in the lineups from old salty sailors, to Moms and Dads, to teenage rippers or learning groms at any given time surfing any kind of board. The longboards aren’t always with the old dudes, and you can catch older guys ripping on performance boards. Everyone is pretty respectful out in the water and laid back, which follows along with the character of the city.
There are plenty of hidden eats along the 101 in Encinitas, which is the main strip, so take your time driving through downtown. Local gems will not be as easy to spot. If you’re looking for something easy and authentic, your best bet is ALWAYS Mexican. Juanita’s up in the community of Leucadia (North of Encinitas Blvd) doesn’t look like it would be anything special, but the tacos are a great bang for your buck, and don’t skip out on flavor. Raul’s on D Street right below the Encinitas welcome arch is another local favorite. El Callejon makes the strongest Margaritas in town (and they pair well with a few street tacos)past the famous La Paloma Theater.
Let's talk about La Paloma Theatre for a moment. Not only is this quaint divey theatre a great place to catch a local play or cult classic film, but if you do your research, you could sit alongside your surfing hero while attending a surf film premiere. Surf films must make it through La Paloma to be considered a complete premiere. Hands down. Ask Taylor Steele, all the best of the best come down to Encinitas when his films hit the La Paloma screen.... ok, back to food.
If in doubt on what to order, California Burritos from all of these places have my stamp of approval, with Chicken Tacos being the next best. They all might seem a little minimalistic looking, but that’s where you will find the best Mexican here, and that’s the way we like it.
There are also great places that serve different food, like HapiFish Sushi in Leucadia. It has a great coastal California vibe with its modern layout and décor, and the service is super friendly. Manhattan Giant Pizza is a local staple with is GIGANTIC pizzas that you and 5 friends could attempt to devour. Immediately next door, try Kaelani's for a delicious Hawaiian mixed plate. There's nothing more satisfying than sticky rice, teriyaki and macaroni salad after a scorcher of a session. If you’re looking for just casual drinks with friends, try Encinitas Ale House, Bier Garden, Beachside Bar, or Union. All have outdoor type settings, open air, and good ambient noise so you can actually hold a conversation, or watch the game.
Later in the night Encinitas will turn to a different type of bar scene, but my favorite is happy hour time after a good surf session. I know I will get flack for leaving out certain places, but these are just a list of some of my favorites as I’ve casually discovered Encinitas' local charms over the past few years. If you’re in the San Diego area, you have to check out North County and Encinitas specifically. It provides a coastline that is unlike most of Southern California. As a NorCal born and bred kid, it convinced me that Southern California has some elements that remind me of home, and not so much the hectic scene of LA. If you ever make your way down to Encinitas, you can find me at the bar by the TV with a cold IPA in hand, and maybe a few tacos.
Do you have a place you'd like to know more about? Tell us about it below and we may just feature it in our next installment.