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Encinitas

Head north of downtown San Diego to experience one of the best surfing cities in the world

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Encinitas isn’t just a city; it’s a vibe. Visit the coastal community 25 miles north of downtown San Diego and you’ll instantly get a sense of surfer-cool. To grab coffee in the morning is to witness legions of customers with hair still sandy from the surf. Home to wave-riding pros like Rob Machado and Tia Blanco, Encinitas is known as one of the best surfing cities in the world.

Highway 101, the main coastal road, is perpetually dotted with wetsuits and boards. Some of the best spots to test your skills include Cardiff Reef, marked by the famous Kook statue, and Moonlight Beach, which features beach fire pits, volleyball nets, and a playground for kids. Rent a board from Progression Surf or Concept Surf Shop, which offer lessons for newbies, too.

All that time in the water makes for a hungry community. Burritos (of the breakfast, lunch, or dinner variety) make up some of the area’s most popular fare—and every resident has her own opinion on who makes the best. Top contenders include Pipes Cafe for eggs and sausage, The Taco Stand for hefty carne asada, and La Especial Norte for sit-down style. Encinitas is also home to exceptional health-conscious options. Lotus Cafe and GoodOnYa specialize in vegetarian-friendly meals, while Fish 101 and The Fish Shop serve freshly-caught poke and seared seafood. 

Thanks to three distinct coastal neighborhoods (Encinitas, Leucadia, and Cardiff-by-the-Sea), the city is easy to explore by foot or cruiser bike. Head north to Downtown Encinitas to browse eclectic boutiques like Grounded and Salt Culture or to catch a movie at the historic La Paloma Theatre, one of the first to show “talkies.” Farther north, Leucadia has an authentically hippie style. Stop by Fully Loaded for cold-pressed juice and The Garden for a massage in a tropical landscape. But to live the beach life 24/7, head to Cardiff-by-the-Sea and nab a campsite next to the waves at San Elijo State Beach Campground, perched on the edge of a towering bluff. The family-friendly spot is home to the Eli Howard Surf School, which offers day lessons and multi-day camps, and is a short walk from Cardiff’s town center, filled with yoga studios, coffee shops, and the famous VG Donut & Bakery.

Nab an espresso at local roaster Zumbar Coffee & Tea and browse Patagonia’s puffy vests before strolling through the free gardens at the Self-Realization Fellowship. At Seaside Market, head straight to the meat counter and order a piece of burgundy pepper tri-tip to throw on your campsite grill.

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