Located just a half hour’s drive from Downtown San Diego, Encinitas is one of those beachside communities that seems like another world. Encinitas runs along an unspoiled six-mile stretch of coastline, an unspoiled reminder of what a beach used to look like perhaps half a century ago.
Known for its surfing culture, Encinitas’ eclectic downtown has long drawn surfers and hippies with a unique and dynamic blend of San Diego’s top surf shops, and coffeehouses. Head inland and you’ll find the San Diego Botanic Garden with over 37 acres of exhibits. You’ll love the Encinitas shopping district, where you’ll discover dozens of cool shops and boutiques.
Encinitas is an intriguing, eclectic beachfront city you’ll love.
Encinitas sits on the coastline of the Pacific Ocean and is embraced by the Batiquitos Lagoon to the north and the San Elijo Lagoon to the south. The first inhabitants were Indians called the San Dieguitos, the La Jollans, and the Dieguenos. It was the Diegueno’s group who was mission converts and helped to build the Spanish Missions. In 1669, the Governor of Baja California, Gaspar de Portola, led an expedition throughout the San Diego and Monterey areas. His mission was to build several “presidios,” establishing a teaching base for schools and religion. When the expedition made its way through Encinitas on the El Camino Real, he named the area for the small oak trees on the surrounding hills. He named this area “Encina Canada,” Spanish for “Hills of Live Oaks.” The area changed governmental hands from Spain to Mexico and in the 1800s the Mexican government issued land grants to ranchers who would establish settlements in the San Diego area and who were willing to be under Mexico’s rule.
In 1881, Jabez Pitcher settled in Encinitas and is considered to be the father of the town. Pitcher came to San Diego and filed a claim for 160 acres on a mesa near the railroad tracks where the Encinitas Civic Center is now located. In 1870, a few miles north of the railroad tracks, English spiritualists named their settlement Leucadia after one of the Greek Isles. The name means “Isle of Paradise” or “Place of Shelter.” The five-acre tracts were named after Greek gods and mythical figures.
The modern history of Cardiff began in 1875 when the McKinnon family homesteaded on the north shore of the San Elijo Lagoon. In 1909, J. Frank Cullen bought a large tract in San Elijo, had it surveyed, and established streets and lots. He named his town in 1914, calling it “Cardiff-by-the-Sea,” after Cardiff, Wales. The “Olivenhain” portion of Encinitas was established as a community in 1884 by a small group of German immigrants. The old Olivenhain Meeting Hall is still used today for social events and meetings.
The City of Encinitas is now made up of five communities that take pride in their own distinct personalities. Historic Encinitas fills the Highway 101 Corridor that parallels the beautiful beaches and ocean. New Encinitas centers on El Camino Real (“The Kings Highway” founded by the early missionaries from Spain). Cardiff-by-the-Sea is made up of quaint homes dotting the hillsides overlooking the sea. Leucadia is famous for its giant eucalyptus trees that line the main thoroughfare on the Coast Highway. Olivenhain (which means “olive grove” in German) boasts plenty of open horse country, pastures, and a rural way of life.
• The Wavecrest Woodie Meet takes place once a year on the third Saturday of September at Moonlight State Beach. It is the largest rally of wooden bodied vehicles in the world and it is free to the public and to participants.
• The Annual OktoberFest is held the third Sunday in September to coincide with the start of the Oktoberfest celebrations in Germany. This is the only community event in Encinitas that takes place in “new Encinitas.”
• The Annual Fall Festival, formerly known as the Poinsettia Festival, is held each November in downtown Encinitas.
• Encinitas is the largest poinsettia grower in the world.
Things To Do
San Diego Botanic Garden—Explore four miles of garden trails, enjoy restful vistas, flowering trees, majestic palms, and the nation’s largest bamboo collection. Thanks to San Diego’s mild climate, plants from all over the world thrive here. The diverse topography provides a variety of microclimates giving visitors a sensation of going from a desert environment to a tropical rainforest, all within 37 acres. Located in Encinitas, San Diego Botanic Garden features numerous exhibits, including rare bamboo groves, desert gardens, a tropical rainforest, California native plants, Mediterranean climate landscapes, succulent gardens, an herb garden, firesafe landscaping, a subtropical fruit garden, and native coastal sage natural areas. In June of 2009, we opened the Hamilton Children’s Garden, the largest interactive children’s garden on the West Coast. San Diego Botanic Garden is open daily from 9am – 5pm. Admission is Adults: $12, Seniors/Students/Active Military: $8, Children Ages 3-12: $6 and Members/Children 2 and under: FREE. Visit www.sdbgarden.org for more information.
Moonlight Beach—is one of the most visited beaches in Encinitas, both by tourists and residents. It has been referred to as the epicenter of recreation and social life in the town. It is a great family beach, appropriate for both children’s and adults’ recreation. It offers all the fine beach perks that make for a nice day on the beautiful Pacific Ocean, including picnic areas with tables, lifeguards, restrooms, fire rings, volleyball courts and public parking. The “moonlight” in the name of this beach comes from the fact that local residents used to come to the area for midnight picnics early in the early 1900s. Many San Diego residents look forward to the Summer Sunday concerts at Moonlight State Beach featuring different musical styles. Located west of I-5 on Encinitas Boulevard in Encinitas.
San Dieguito Heritage Museum—was founded in 1988 to preserve artifacts, records and stories pertaining to the history of the communities of the San Dieguito River area. The founders had deep roots in the local communities and cherished the uniqueness of the history in the area. They sought to preserve and share this history through a combination of hands-on history experiences as well as traditional exhibits. The San Dieguito Heritage Museum welcomes groups to tour the museum exhibits, both indoor and outdoor. Spend your day learning about the San Dieguito history from the Native American era to modern day suburban life. Located at 450 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, CA 92024. www.sdheritage.org
Lux Art Institute—Visit the Lux Art Institute where the museum experience is being redefined to make art more accessible and personally meaningful. At Lux, you don’t just see finished works of art; you see the artistic process firsthand, engaging with internationally recognized artists in a working studio environment. Located at 1550 S El Camino Real in Encinitas. Admission is $10 for adults. Open to the general public Thursday - Friday from 1 to 5pm and Saturday 11am – 5pm. www.luxartinstitute.org/
In addition to all the beautiful scenery Encinitas has to offer, the city has a variety of cuisine. The delectable and desirable combination of fresh, authentic cuisines have put Encinitas restaurants on the map throughout the state. Due to the seemingly perfect weather that inhabits all of the San Diego area, many Encinitas restaurants provide customers with patios on which to dine and soak in some rays. Below are a few top restaurants Encinitas has to offer: