By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com San Diego Blogger
There are miles and miles of beaches and cliffs, a nature’s gift of seemingly endless beauty.
The North County communities of San Diego – Del Mar, Solona Beach, Cardiff by the Sea, Leucadia, Encinitas and Carlsbad – 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.
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.
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.
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 September).
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.
A hot spot for of activity is the lively and awesome Monarch at 15th & Camino Del Mar. This second-floor restaurant has a lively bar scene inside and out, the latter of which has expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.
Another restaurant to check out is the Americana Cafe. It’s certainly no Jake’s, but the wooden outdoor tables on the lower corner of 15th and Camino Del Mar across from Monarch 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
‘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 called The Kraken.
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 Tour.
The Encinitas Cafe, a few doors south of D Street, serves hearty breakfast and lunch dishes.