Falling in love with San Diego is easy. This summer, I lived in Cardiff by the Sea, surfed myself silly everyday. Overdid the yoga while healing myself and yes, I will keep on going back to this American paradise, because I have fallen in love, with San Diego.
Coastal North County of San Diego County
North County is the home to some of the most popular surfing beaches, such as, Cardiff By The Sea, Carlsbad, and La Jolla. It is also one of the most popular and expensive residential area to live in California. According to Wikipedia, the coastal geography of North County maintain two types of topography: the land is generally flat with low rolling hills; the beaches are sandy with occasional tide pools and rocky reefs popping out of the surf. In some cases the coast is dominated by bluff (none taken) type geography. The land meeting the ocean sharply drops into the sea with a short beach. In Encinitas, a whole city is bisected by a coastal foothill ridge. The city is therefore very hilly and mountainous.
Picturesque is the appropriate word to describe this hilly surf heaven. As one of the pioneer surfing beaches in the U.S.A, surfing emerged in San Diego and the rest of California during the beginning of the 20th century. Surfing becomes one of the best important industry in San Diego and it has been called the “surfing capital” by the locals.
As one of the healthiest and happiest places in the country, you can find great healthy alternative choices, all kinds of outdoor activities, healthy eating, and beautiful people everywhere in North County.
Cardiff Barneys/Suckouts/Turtle/ Pipe
Experience All Surfers
Type Beach Break
Surfboard Longboard mostly but shortboard as well
Bottom Sandy with rocky bottom by the shore
Power Fun, longboard outside, shortboard inside
Best Swell SouthWest, west
Best tide Low/mid tide and best movement is Falling tide
Crowd Crowded when good but it is an open face beach break, therefore, surfers can always move around to find empty waves.
Access Paid parking at the State parking lot, or street parking on San Elijo Avenue (highway) Public transit available. It is located right in from of San Elijo State Campground.
Note The beaches start breaking from ankle high. It is a fun and easy for beginners-advanced. When is Breaking bigger than 4’, the paddling might seem long and hard. Respect local surfers, they are friendly if you are.
La Jolla: Black’s Beach
Experience Advance surfers only
Type Beach Break
Power Hollow, Powerful and Fast, short
Best Swell SouthWest, west, southwest
Best tide Low/mid tide and best movement is Falling tide
Crowd Super crowded when is good
Access This is the tricky part. You can park in front of the entrance of Torrey Pines Gliderport. And walk a really windy and steep downhill road. But the scenic walk and the perfect wave is worth for you to walk down there! Better yet, just find someone with the key to the gate and drive down to the beach!
Note Unless you get lucky to find an easier day, this is a pretty deadly break to surf at. Most of surfers here have broken their boards. Paddling out isn’t the issue but the wave is very powerful. Late drop is the only way to get into the barrels here. According to wannasurf.com, the waves are very hollow and powerful due to the offshore La Jolla underwater canyons which make the shore go from very deep to very shallow. This accounts for the extreme hollowness and bigger size.
Localism This is a world class break, there are many people and mostly locals. Fights occur often because everyone here is pretty good. Just respect others and smile. They will tell you to leave if they don’t think you are good enough to surf here.
La Jolla: Wind and Sea Beach
Experience Experienced Surfers
Type Reef break
Best Swell Depending on the wind (it is somehow protected from north and northwest wind as it is situated and facing west/southwest)
Best tide All tide
Crowd Super crowded when is good, otherwise, there are always surfers surfing at this break
Access Drive from La Jolla Scenic Dr S, and turn into Nautilus Street. Park at the end of the street
Note This is a fun break when it gets big! Walk down from the surf shack out front of Nautilus Street. Paddle out at south of the surf shack. There are a couple other breaks next to each other with hollow barrels. Locals are nice here. You will surf with a lot of students as their mandatory class at their school.
These beaches breaks all year round since it breaks as little as ankle high. Summer can be small and mellow and winter can be big and powerful.
North and south swell, this is the season to be in San Diego!
Wetsuit: Spring suit or 3/2 if you are afraid of cold. During the mid day, the area tends to get windy.
Water and air temperature is around high 60s fahrenheit in early fall to 15 going into winter.
North swell during the winter time. It is the biggest the season, colder and giant wave. 3/2 is a common suit people wear as the water gets as cold as 55 fahrenheit.
Spring is the worst season to visit since it is a combo swell time. 3/2 and transition to spring suit.
Summer has south swell, powerless and fun. Spring suit for dawn patrol or you can just bareback it. Air temperature can get as hot as 100 fahrenheit and water temperature is around 70s.
To San Diego Airport
It is a great option if you are coming from the Los Angeles Amtrak. According to San Diego Public Transit website, travelers headed to and from San Diego International Airport can connect with Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and the COASTER at Amtrak’s Santa Fe Depot train station downtown by using Metropolitan Transit System bus Route 992, which operates between 5:00 a.m. and 11:30 p.m., every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends and holidays.
The Train can get you to Encinitas Station takes you in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, where you can then simply walk to the Cardiff breaks mentioned above. Sorrento Valley Station gets you in La Jolla but you will need to take a cab to the breaks mentioned.
Flight during summer is the most expansive, otherwise you can get an airfare from NYC under $400 (into San Diego Airport).
Car rental will be your best option at this highway driven county. Renting a economy car from the airport starts from $30s!
San Elijo State Campground, Cardiff-by-the-Sea
If you like to camp, this is a great option to go. It’s cheap to park in the state park. It’s right next to the beach. It has showers and regular toilets in the public area. Electricity is available as well! The only thing is that you will need to book your camp ground as early as 3 to 4 months ahead. Summer is a popular season for families and tourists and early fall for locals.
This is my personal favorite way to surf and travel along the beautiful coastline!
I have seen great options on Airbnb but many of low options rooms are outdated, but is okay since we are there to surf!!!
Sea Side Market $$$
2087 San Elijo Ave, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA
This is a local’s favorite. An organic, clean eating supermarket offers a large selection of ready-made food after surf. You can order a freshly made sandwich and eat it by the Ocean across street. It is a pricier supermarket but it’s organic and the best of the best!
Swamis Cafe $$
1163 S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024
Whenever I visited Encinitas, every local will invite me to Swamis Cafe. Maybe it is because it is healthy and delicious, maybe it’s because it is in front of the famous break, Swamis, or, maybe this place is a landmark. I love its egg-related stuff and smoothies. It has bad review on yelp.com but I only have had great experience. Your call! If you have the time, after eating at Swamis Cafe, you should visit the Self Realization Temple across street. And Hansen Surf Shop
Juanitas Taco Shop $
290 N Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024
Suggested by a great friend, Juanitas Taco Shop is a great find! Not a fancy place but a authentic Mexican food with a good price. Homemade tortillas, yummy food and fast service! If you are looking for a great 5 star service, you might want to go somewhere else. Crowds’ favorite is Carne Asada fries with just guac, cheese and sour cream but I love my fish taco here!
Prep Kitchen $$$
7556 Fay Ave, La Jolla, California
The food here is so delicious! The setting is very cute with a small outdoor patio. It is intimate and fresh food close to WindandSea, La Jolla.
Bull Taco $$
2050 S Coast Hwy 101, Cardiff by the Sea, CA 92007
at Chesterfield Dr in Encinitas
Bull Taco has a great view of Cardiff beaches. The food is ok but THE VIEW IS GREAT! It is located right inside of San Elijo State park campground. It is just easy street food and good seatings! The menu is “unauthentic Mexican” food and also have Hawaii shaved ice, pretty awesome place to go and hang out to watch the beautiful sunset.
7825 Fay Ave
La Jolla, CA 92037
b/t Prospect St & Silverado St in La Jolla
This is a cheap but yummy sandwich place
1105 S Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA
Started by Don Hansen, one of the earlier surfers who came to California from Hawaii in 60s. From it’s website, it explains that since 70’s Hansen’s transitioned into a retail business and quickly became one of the most popular and well-known surf shops in Southern California. Our single location in Encinitas is now the largest surf shop in San Diego County! It has one of the best selection in surfboards and footwear.
Torrey Pines State Reserve – Razor Point Trail and Yucca Point Trail
12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037
Hike length: Razor Point, 1.3 miles; Yucca Point, 1.25
Estimated duration: 1 hour each
Located north of picturesque La Jolla, the Razor Point and Yucca Point trails are easy, relatively short and can be enjoyed by anyone. The two paths share the same trailhead, and both offer views overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The beach is accessible from the Yucca Point trail, which has an elevation change of about 200 feet. Razor Point’s change in elevation is comparable, making both hikes nearly identical in difficulty. It could even be said there is lack of much difficulty at all.
La Jolla Cove
1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037
at Girard Avenue in La Jolla
It is a beautiful cove where you can see a group of sea lions play and yell at each other. Come here at night. It is beautiful. A romantic place to be.
215 K St, Encinitas, CA 92024
You cannot miss this big structure when driving by. It is next to the famous Swami’s beach and across from Swami’s Cafe. Southern California is the spiritual center in USA, and Cardiff is definitely the place to go if you want to meet like-minded peaceful warriors. The Self Realization Fellowship is a spiritual space that you can simply enjoy the beautiful garden or just meditate at this peaceful space. You can also look out to incredible terrain of Swami’s beach.
8008 Girard Ave, La Jolla, CA 92037
Found this place from yelp.com and loved it. It is one of the best gelato experiences that I had with great service and delicious gelato! Great selection and how can you not eat an ice treat when you are at the sunny California!! If you want to avoid the tax, just tell them it is to go! 😛
Local SurferMy name is Bjorn Grubelich, I’m originally from Michigan, but live in Carmel Valley just off I-5. I work for Qualcomm, a big tech company in Sorrento Valley. I love surfing, photography, surfboard shaping, and exploring new places. I see surfboards as tools. And by tools I mean more along the lines of a paintbrush than a hammer. It all depends on the wave, and the surfer I think. Depending on the wave and condition I ride all different types of boards. Longboards, midlengths, shortboards, and retros. But living in San Diego where the surf is generally on the smaller side, I’ve found a proper log, to be the most fun and consistent type of board to ride. Specifically 9’6″ to 9’10”, greater than 23″ wide, heavy volan glass job, pulled in nose, and most importantly single fin. I surf La Jolla Shores, Cardiff reef, Pipes and Swami’s. I’ve surfed other spots in north county, but I’ve found those to be the most consistent and have learned what swell/wind and tide they work best on. As far as recommendations, it depends what you like. Cardiff can be very good, and works off just about any direction swell. It can be good on a rising tide when the swell is lacking and everywhere else is flat. However, like anywhere in north county it can be crowded on weekends or big swells. Seaside is fun little A frame shortboard wave that breaks consistently. Also can be crowded. Overall, I’d say pipes is probably the best all around north county spot. Good longboard wave, also good on a shortboard at low tide. Mellow vibe, somewhere between a beach break and a reef. There are plenty of waves to score, and is a fun from 1-ft, to 1-ft overhead. For food, lots of options there. There is pretty much something for everybody. For Mexican, Rudy’s in Solana Beach down Steven’s off Loma’s Santa Fe makes a mean burrito. For the more health conscious, Lotus cafe in downtown Encinitas is prime, with good vegetarian options and their Acai bowls are one of my favorite. As far as hanging out in north county, there are plenty of shops to check out, and several good bars to go out to, but for me its simply the beach. Even if the surf is small, everyone seems to gravitate to the beach to hangout. I think that’s what makes North County unique to San Diego. Not only does it have some of the best beaches in San Diego county, but the surrounding neighborhoods, and towns scattered along the PCH embody the laid back beach lifestyle.
Travel: Soul Searching at North County, San Diego
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