“It’s all about where your mind’s at.” – Kelly Slater
There is a sleepy little beach town in North County San Diego, just north of Solana Beach and just south of Encinitas: Cardiff by the Sea. You can miss it if you blink, but it is a really cool place with lots to offer its residents and visitors. We go to Cardiff very frequently. It is a small town with just about 12,000 residents, and is officially part of Encinitas. But don’t say that to the locals! Cardiff is distinct in its style and culture and is definitely distinct from downtown Encinitas, which starts at Swamis Beach.
What are our favorite parts of Cardiff?’
Surfing and Sunning at the Beach
Cardiff beaches include a number of good surf and hangout spots that my kids love. I also enjoy walking on the beach or playing with the kids if we are waiting on a table at Las Olas, which is a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations.
Camping at the Beach
San Elijo State Beach allows trailer camping at the beach. This is a fun family alternative to staying in a hotel. I personally prefer tent camping on the beach, but this is a fun and “civilized” camping experience for the whole family. In fact, Bull Taco, a local dining spot, is actually located within the campground.
The Famous Seaside Market
Seaside Market is a local gourmet grocery store in Cardiff. They are well known in North County San Diego and offer online ordering and catering. They are especially well known for their marinated tri-tip, affectionately know as Cardiff Crack. Seaside Market now has a couple food stands at Petco Park, and we almost always get the Tri-Tip Nachos when we go to a Padres game. It is spectacular!
Sit Down and have a Little Breakfast…or Get it On-The-Go
There are a few good options for breakfast in Cardiff, and my favorite is Pipes Cafe. It is a quaint little surfer breakfast spot. They only accept cash, but they have an ATM machine on the premises. My kids love VGs Donuts, and they do not miss a chance to make a VG’s run if they have a celebration at school. I have to admit, the donuts are quite delicious, even by the standards of where I grew-up in the Midwest. My teenage daughter also likes the Sambazon Acai Cafe, which serves 100 percent Amazon fruit juices that are nutritious and delicious.
Our Favorite Places to Eat
Our favorite Mexican restaurant in San Diego is Las Olas, and they have a location right in Cardiff on the Coast Highway. As mentioned above, they don’t take reservations, but it’s right across the street from the beach, so we don’t mind. Another favorite spot for a more refined dining experience is Pacific Coast Grill. They have delicious food, great drinks, and wonderful ocean views. We also really like The Chart House and Cicciottis Trattoria Italiana & Seafood.
One of the best pizza places in North County is East Coast Pizza. It is hand-tossed NY style pizza. They specialize in pizza-by-the-slice, with approximately 12 different pie selections daily, so my kids love it after the beach.
Two other spots that we like a lot are Rimel’s Rotisserie and Zenbu Sushi. They are both being remodeled right now, and will have their grand reopening on Thanksgiving. I am really excited about this since I like the food, but the venues were definitely getting “long in the tooth”. Rimel’s is another place that has a location at Petco Park, and they serve up healthy, all natural, locally grown foods.
A Few Drinking Establishments
If you’re down for a more typical bar scene, The Kraken has live music several nights a week. Cardiff Beach Bar at Tower 13 is famous for their happy hour, and it is good sports bar. For a more refined experience, check-out Wine Steals Seaside Grotto. It is a wine store and restaurant. They have trivia night every Wednesday starting at 7:30pm, and they have live music on Thursday and Saturday.
Where to Stay
If you decide that trailer camping on the beach is too rough for you, there is a good hotel in town called Cardiff by the Sea Lodge. Check it out. It is a perfect little spot for Cardiff.
Have you been to Cardiff? What do you like about it? What are your favorite beach and surf spots?