Best Surf Towns: No. 3 Encinitas, CA

Best Places in the U.S. to Eat, Sleep, Work, and Shred

| posted on April 05, 2009

One of the many beachbreak/reefs in Encinitas. Photo: Ghiglia

Almost all of Southern California’s oceanfront communities can be classified as “surfy,” but Encinitas seems to embody this spirit better than most. You’d be hard pressed to find a lineup—or a line at the local Starbucks—that isn’t occupied by some level of surf celebrity or industry insider. Add the fact that fun-to-excellent surf can be ridden here almost every day of the year—if you’re willing to drive the coast for 30 minutes in either direction—and that you’re plugged into a laidback microcosm that harbors all the best qualities of the greater San Diego surf community (without the snob-factor of La Jolla, the post-collegiate-party-factor of Pacific Beach, and the street-kid-factor of Ocean Beach), and you’ve got a surf town that stands out among a dense—and very inviting—pack.

There’s Seaside, Cardiff Reef, Swamis, and D Street if you’re looking for the obvious. And if you’re not, just show some ingenuity and scout out the miles of beachies, reefs, jetties and river mouths that all have their day. Outside of the official “Incorporated Encinitas” city limits, Blacks, the La Jolla reefs, and Ocean Beach to the south, and Oceanside and Trestles to the north are all easily within striking distance for even the most travel-challenged waverider. Crowds can be brutally thick in this part of the world, but, then again, it’s 100 percent possible to surf alone—if you’re motivated.

Some towns have “real” culture—you know, like plays and museums and stuff—and some towns have “beach” culture. Encinitas is loaded with the latter. Nearly every garage, in every neighborhood, west of the 5 freeway sits choked with boards. The roads bump with cars that bristle action-sport accoutrements and have floor mats caked in sand. The menus of local eateries list burgers, omelets, and burritos named after nearby waves. And the population, as such, looks and plays the part. If you’re looking for “real” culture, move to Paris. If you’re looking for surf culture, Encinitas is your place.

Quality of Life
Everyone raves about Southern California’s climate—for good reason. You know a place is perfect when 50-degree temps at dawn, the occasional spell of rain, or a few weeks of overcast skies come June are grounds for complaint among the locals. Plus, there are tons of great bars, restaurants, and eateries, and a “bro-ette” for every bro. The only real quality-of-life drawback: the crowds. But if you weigh the pluses (good weather, winds, and waves) with the minuses (too many people), the population density starts to make sense.

Average Water Temp: 63
Average Air Temp: 63
Median Income: $83,965
Median Home Price: $901,688
Population: 59,978
Most Common Industry: Professional, scientific, and technical services
Nearest city with pop. 200,000+: San Diego, CA (20.2 miles, pop. 1,223,400)
Premier Surf Spots: Cardiff Reef, Swamis, Seaside
Local Talent: Rob Machado, Joel Tudor
Odd Fact: The Cardiff Statue (a massive recreation of a kooky-looking guy attempting a floater, which sits next to the beach on the 101) has gone from being universally reviled by the Encinitas surf population to being a source of entertainment. Almost weekly, unidentified pranksters adorn the statue, and so far, he’s sported everything from a ballerina tutu to a Mexican wrestling mask…and sometimes both.

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  • Kenny

    Encinitas is among my favorite towns in SoCal, there’s one mistake in this article though: The waves are not that constant here, sometimes they just don’t break for some reason unless you bring a long board. When they break, they are beautiful and friendly. It is extremely crowded but the crowd is friendly and many are intermediate-level. The whole town is chill.

  • Kenny

    “San Diego surf community (without the snob-factor of La Jolla, the post-collegiate-party-factor of Pacific Beach, and the street-kid-factor of Ocean Beach)” It is so funny because it is so true!

  • Sivana

    Its’s Called the Cardiff Kook

  • Cocoaed

    It was great growing up there in the 70’s but, it’s way too crowded there now. One of the reasons, back then not everyone tried to be a surfer. Why is it now everyone there thinks they have to be one and have to try and be so cool? Used to be some red necks in Encinitas, lots of people with horses, etc.. That was part of its beauty, it’s diversity. Now everyone tries to be the same and it’s annoying. Also the traffic there now is horrible. Paradise lost. Glad I got to grow up there though before it got over run with yuppies.

  • Steve

    Born and raid in encinitas. Loved growing up ther now just filled with kooks with too much money. To bad the locals can’t afford to live ther.

  • Jay Krug

    Loved going to high school there. Almost wish I never left. I still go back for Juanitas Tacos shop.