As a North County San Diego local, I’m pretty knowledgeable about all this area has to offer, and I would like to share it with you! When people visit San Diego, they often end up staying downtown or in one of the beach communities closer to downtown. That’s great, and there are a lot of really cool places in that area, but I would argue that there is something to be said for staying in the North County Coastal region instead. Not only is it quieter, but the beaches here are really, really nice, so if you’re looking for a beach getaway, you’re probably going to want to stay in North County.
It’s only about a 30-40 minute drive downtown, so if you want to spend some time exploring areas like Balboa Park, La Jolla, the San Diego Zoo, and the Gaslamp District, it’s not too hard to do. Plus, there is great public transit to get you downtown from North County, which makes it an even more appealing option. Today we’re going to explore the beach communities from Del Mar to Oceanside to show you just how much North County has to offer.
Del Mar is a more upscale community so staying here may get a little pricey. Look for vacation rentals, however. You might find a deal! In Del Mar, you’re just minutes away from the Torrey Pines State Reserve, which is an awesome place to hike along dramatic ocean cliffs. This is also the home of the famous Del Mar Racetrack, where at certain times of year you can go to the horse races. There are also concerts and events there year-round. In the summertime, you can check out the San Diego County Fair as well, which is a fun day for the whole family. As is the case with all of these towns, they have a great beach. You can also go on a hot air balloon ride out of Del Mar. There are also some fabulous restaurants in Del Mar, including Jake’s Del Mar where you can have a wonderful meal with an ocean view.
Just North of Del Mar is Solana Beach. This is a lovely little beach town. Explore Fletcher Cove and catch a show at the Belly Up Tavern. Solana Beach is home to the Cedros Avenue Design District, a street with lovely shops, boutiques, and galleries. Solana Beach is also home to some great restaurants, including Crush, the Pillbox Tavern, and Station Sushi.
There is a Coaster stop in Solana Beach, so you can take the train up and down the coast from here. You can also take the Amtrak North to Orange and Los Angeles counties from here.
Cardiff-by-the-Sea is a cute little beach community between Solana Beach and Encinitas. There are several hotels in this area, as well as a campground for both tent and RV camping right on the beach if you’re looking for less expensive accommodations. Cardiff has a great beach. A gem that can be found here is Bull Taco, which is an inexpensive taco shop attached to the campground with an awesome view over the ocean cliffs. While you’re in town, head over to Sambazon Cafe and get yourself one of the best Acai bowls in town. You can even take a surf lesson at the Eli Howard Surf School right there at the campground.
Encinitas is my absolute favorite North County beach town. It has some of the most dramatic, sweeping coastline, and a very walk-able downtown area full of interesting shops and so many of my favorite restaurants. While you’re there, make sure to visit the Meditation Gardens, which are gorgeous and also free and open to the public. Grab a coffee at Better Buzz, and you’ll be on your way. Don’t miss the fish tacos at the Fish Shop, which are so good there’s always a line out the door. For dinner, grab yourself a Monk’s Stone Pot at East Village Asian Diner, a Korean fusion restaurant. Slightly inland, check out the San Diego Botanical Gardens before having an awesome dinner at Sabor De Vida Brazilian Grill.
There is a Coaster stop in Encinitas, so you can take the train up and down the coast from here.
Carlsbad not only has some of the best beaches in the county, but it’s also home to Legoland California, so it’s a great choice if you have kids with you. Carlsbad Village is a great area with a lot of little shops and restaurants and is quite walk-able. When you’re in town, skip the touristy Mexican restaurants and head up to Harding street for an inexpensive meal at Pollos Maria, which is some of the best Mexican food in town. Grab a peanut butter and banana smoothie at Beach City Smoothies before you take a walk down to the beach walking path to Tamarack Beach. If you are looking to rough it, South Carlsbad has a campground on the beach that is suitable for both RV and tent camping. In the springtime, check out the Flower Fields, which always attract people from all over. If you’re looking for somewhere to try out some water sports, why not rent a kayak or a stand-up paddle board from Carlsbad lagoon?
There are two Coaster stops in Carlsbad (one at Carlsbad Village and one at Poinsettia street), so you can take the train up and down the coast from here.
If you’re looking for a less expensive beach vacation, Oceanside might be a good bet for you. The area is still on the up and up, so deals can be found here. The pier area is fun to walk around. While you’re there, don’t miss a meal at Harney Sushi. Along Coast Highway, there are several new restaurants that are making names for themselves, including the Bagby Beer Company and the Privateer Pizza. I also recommend you check out Panca Peruvian Rotisserie. In South Oceanside, grab yourself an affogato at Revolution Roasters coffee before taking a yoga class at Black Sheep Yoga.
Oceanside is the Northernmost town in San Diego County before you get to Camp Pendleton, so it might be a good bet for you if you’re wanting to visit both San Diego and Northern areas such as Orange County. There is a Coaster stop in Oceanside, so you can take the train up and down the coast from here. You can also take the Amtrak and Metrolink North to Orange and Los Angeles counties from here.
Wherever you end up staying, I hope you enjoy my little area of the world. Do feel free to ask me questions if you’re planning on coming to town. I would be happy to provide additional recommendations.