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Exploring Encinitas: 8 Things to See and Do
Last winter, I enjoyed a short visit to the Southern California beach town of Encinitas. One of the few stops on the Coaster train's coastal route, it's an easy—not to mention gorgeous—journey from San Diego by train.
February in San Diego is the low season and a bit cooler, but I lucked out and enjoyed a beautiful time with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures. A well-priced overnight stay made it easier to fit in several scenic stops and some good food and drink (which I mostly fell upon by chance).
It was nice to explore this surf town with a lack of crowds. It had a chill, tranquil vibe, but still offered plenty to keep me interested. All of the stops noted here are located either in Old Encinitas or Cardiff-by-the-Sea and are within walking distance or a short drive of each other.
1. Catch a Flick at La Paloma Theatre
One of the first sights and sounds that greeted me during my stop in Encinitas was this retro theatre with its eye-catching marquee. The gentle sound of music could be heard from a guitar player standing just outside. La Paloma theatre—one of the first theatres in the country to show talking pictures (aka ‘talkies’)—was built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style.
This local landmark opened its doors way back in 1928, and Hollywood starlet Mary Pickford attended its debut. I imagined going back in time to experience the excitement and atmosphere of the day—what fun! This theater is still a great place to catch the latest films. Parasite, the acclaimed Oscar-winning film, was playing the week I was in town.
I recommend strolling along South Coast Highway 101, where the theatre is located; there are many other places worth stopping to check out.
2. Enjoy a Sweet Treat at Gelato 101
Gelato is always a good idea on a warm, sunny day—even better when you are in a city where the middle of winter feels like a glorious spring day. This was one of my first stops in Encinitas, and it was memorable because it helped make the experience of arriving in a new place more welcoming. Between a craving for the comfort that gelato provides and the atmospheric building and charming outdoor space, Bottega Italiana Gelato 101 was calling my name.
The quality of the delicious and refreshing treat reminded me of being in Italy, where quality gelato can be found on almost every corner. But this stop in this Southern California beach town was just as wonderful.
3. Grab a Cuppa at Better Buzz Coffee
After checking into my hotel (the Best Western at Moonlight Beach) for a quick stop, I needed a bit of a pick-me-up for some energy before I was to meet a local friend for dinner and catching up. Always in search of coffee shops while traveling, I was absolutely drawn in by this quirky, lively spot.
Over some energetic and eclectic background music, I took a break and enjoyed a smooth and strong cortado and the atmosphere at Better Buzz Coffee. The coffee certainly lived up to the shop's name!
There are several locations of this small-batch roaster to check out. I do wish I would have tried the avocado toast, which looked amazing. There were lots of great menu items to choose from.
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4. Take a Stroll Along Moonlight State Beach
Located just a few away minutes away from my coffee stop, I took a stroll along Moonlight State Beach to finally see the Pacific Ocean again up close (it had been way too long). It was approaching late afternoon and there was a pretty glow on the water and a serene vibe in the air. The seagulls were taking it in too. It was just a beautiful time to be out there enjoying the gorgeous view and taking a short walk along the sandy beach in the cool but pleasant air.
5. Sip on Some Craft Beer
Since I still had some time before dinner, I made the spontaneous choice to check out Modern Times craft beer at the Far West Lounge. The place was buzzing, and the beer was cold and refreshing; my favorite selection was a hoppy tropical pale called Fortunate Islands. Modern Times beer can be found in several locations and is California’s first employee-owned brewery.
I also enjoyed an early afternoon stop the next day for a couple of samples at the cool open-air tasting room at Culture Brewing, one of three locations for this young brewery.
6. Savour a Seafood Dinner With a View
Enjoying some delicious, fresh seafood in Encinitas is an excellent choice, especially at a waterfront location as beautiful as Pacific Coast Grill. The menu is impressive, the views are gorgeous and the atmosphere is laid-back. My friend and I enjoyed a nice night out in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, and our meal was another unplanned choice that worked out wonderfully.
7. Enjoy Lunch at a Trattoria
As I continued my walkabout in Encinitas, stopping to browse at some shops and for some small craft beer samples, a charming, cozy-looking Italian joint with an adorable patio caught my attention and put me in the mood for a leisurely lunch. The sounds of traditional music in the background sealed the deal to encourage me to stay.
Trattoria I Trulli was a terrific stop for a hearty penne dish along with a fresh salad and a glass of crisp white wine. I was glad there was another train leaving an hour later than I had originally planned to go back to San Diego; I didn’t want to miss the view—it was one of the reasons I made the trip in the first place!
8. Visit Swami's Beach and the Self Realization Meditation Garden
These dramatic views were definitely a highlight. Swami’s Beach is a well-known surfing spot (and noted in The Beach Boys' classic "Surfin USA"), but I was just there for the views and the vibe. I was hoping to spot some surfers, and just as expected (but actually exceeding my expectations), the cliff views from the wooden staircase leading down to the beach were stunning.
Located just a few minutes away, the Self Realization Fellowship's Meditation Garden is a great place to enjoy some peaceful moments in meditation nooks and admire the beauty of koi ponds and incredible ocean views. And best of all, entry is free.
All too soon, it was time to head back, pack up my bags and board the Coaster train for my last night in San Diego, which I was looking forward to as well. I am so grateful to have enjoyed such an excellent time in Encinitas, a city I would love to explore more in the future.
© 2020 Nella DiCarlo