Welcome to San Diego's North
La Jolla Cove provides
swimming and snorkeling in a Polynesian setting.
There are miles and miles
of beaches and cliffs, a nature's gift of seemingly endless beauty.
The North County communities of San Diego La Jolla, Del
Mar, Solona Beach, Cardiff by the Sea and Encinitas are small
patches of civilization wrapped around some of the most spectacular
coastal scenery in the continental United States. Within their boarders
are vivid vistas, waves of outdoor adventure, riveting restaurants and,
yes, even a bit of nightlife.
A journey here can be accomplished during a day from San Diego. It's
only a 15-minute jaunt up the freeway from downtown and the small cities
are but a few miles from one another. However, some people might be
motivated to toss out the anchor and stay a while.
And while there are access exits off I-5, the only real way to travel
here is along the coastline. Directions are a bit complicated because
there are several serpentine roads and urban sprawl often rears its
prominent head, especially in and around La Jolla.
So, we'll leave it to "The
Bartender" (our roving party animal) to provide navigation
in his unique prose: "The best way to travel in the North County
is along the coast. It's not always easy because the roads often turn
inland, suddenly putting you at a strip mall instead of a sea-sprayed
cliff. Upscale as these shopping spots may be, they cannot compare to
what nature has created.
"So you must sense the coastline, feel it in your veins.
Follow it's cues, peer through openings of trees and buildings, move
along confidently and, when misdirected, turn right if headed south
and left if headed north. The scenic rewards are spectacular."
The Jewel is appropriately named because La Jolla is just that.
Going North from San Diego, La Jolla is the first jewel on the route
(La Jolla actually means "the jewel"). It is a finely polished
jewel, at that, with the sand of neighboring Pacific Beach giving way
to mild but dramatic cliffs. Waves crash hard into the land, exciting
area surfers who flock to the break at its southern shores. Just to
the North, landlovers love the large, palm tree-framed park and beachside
benches for reading, watching or snuggling. Some climb down to the rocks
for sunning and relaxing.
Free street parking is available, though the spaces can seem really
sparse in the summer.
The highlight for those who like to get wet is beautiful La Jolla
Cove. It's a small swimming hole, and snorkeling through the thick
kelp bed is a truly relaxing experience. Occasionally, big swells make
snorkeling difficult, but swimming is always possible. Dry off on the
small beach, which attracts people throughout the morning and afternoon.
La Jolla also has a small nude sunbathing section called Black's
Head up to Prospect Street for shopping, lunch or dinner.
It's here that La Jolla's upscale nature culture really reveals itself.
That is, if the zillion-dollar homes along the ocean weren't already
a tip-off. Galleries, boutique hotels and elegant restaurants line the
Even in these surroundings there are a few cozy places to stop in for
a few drinks. Regulars will give newcomers a curious look because the
places are strong local hangouts. Jose's is a small bar that's
been there forever, Monzou and George's at the top of
the Cove are good spots and Moondoogie's is the lone sports bar.
Still, this part of town pretty much rolls up the sidewalks after dark.
A much livelier scene exists across the freeway. A courtyard of upscale
bars at La Jolla Village Drive are thriving Tapango is
a trendy sushi bar and Donavin's and Michael's in the
Hyatt are part of the scene. Thursdays are the best nights. Sports
City is a huge sports bar on the West side of the freeway in a shopping
center. Keep reading for more North County bars and clubs.
In the summer, enjoy Concerts by the Sea, June thru the first of Sept.
The corner of 15th
and Camino Del Mar is the heart of Del Mar.
Heading north from La Jolla, locate La Jolla Scenic Drive and turn
north on Torrey Pines Road (this can also be accomplished off Gennessee
from I-5). For a few tree-lined moments, the road passes through Torrey
Pines, home of one of the PGA's first tour stops of the year, the
Scripp's Aquarium and Torrey Pines State Park, a super spot for swimming,
surfing, hiking and hanging out.
Looking down on the sea from a small park, steps from downtown.
Down the hill, the pines open up to a broad sea. (For a knockout of
a workout, run, bike or rollerblade UP the hill.) A few minutes later,
one of the cutest towns in California greets drivers. Del Mar is only
a few of blocks, but it packs in the action one of San Diego's
best restaurants, Hollywood celebrities to a famous sporting venue and
a live music club famous throughout California.
The beach has sand so soft it can tickle tender feet. It is overlooked
by a small park and runs parallel to the Coaster, a train that makes
frequent treks between Los Angeles and San Diego. It stops across from
Jake's Del Mar, one of the finest seafood restaurants in all
of Southern California. In the summer, the Coaster is full of people
from Los Angeles coming down for a day at the Del
Mar Fairgrounds for the horse races (late July thru early
The Del Mar racetrack, known as where "The Turf Meets the Surf",
has been a hot Hollywood hangout since Marlyn Monroe threw a legendary
post-pony beach party back in the 60s. Today, the celebrities still
come, as do thousands of others, turning an otherwise quiet neighborhood
into a a galloping see-and-be-seen scene.
Another restaurant to check out is the Americana Cafe. It's
certainly no Jake's, but the wooden outdoor tables on the corner of
15th and Camino Del Mar is perfect for reading a book, the paper or
this PubClub guide on a sunny day. Primarly for breakfast and lunch
try the Lina's Breakfast Sandwich but also open for dinner
with a full bar.
Solona Beach/Cardiff by the Sea/Encinitas
The wide beach and
mild surf in Encinitas is a perfect Pacific playground.
While Central and Northern California receives most of the publicity
for possessing the state's most scenic coastal drive, Southern California
has quite a bit to brag about, as well. One look at the Solona Beach
area proves the point.
It's a different kind of beauty than the stunning cliffs of Big Sur
and the tidepools and rocks of Monterey
Bay. At Solona Beach, the adjacent town to Del Mar, the beach
rolls along seeming never to end. At its north end, where it merges
into Cardiff by the Sea, it opens up like a treasure chest. There's
a couple of restaurants and a super dive bar on the right (there's also
a Chart House on the beach side of the highway).
A few minutes later Encinitas comes into view, a small
town with a small-town friendly attitude. C Street provides access to
a wide beach and park, making it an ideal spot for swimming. Visitors
might also get a glimpse of some professional women volleyball players
practicing for the AVP
The Encinitas Cafe, a few doors south of D Street, serves hearty
breakfast and lunch dishes.
Del Mar's Bars & Nightlife Guide