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18 Best Things to Do in Encinitas

One of our favorite coastal towns

Encinitas offers travelers the chance to enjoy an authentic SoCal surf town experience with its rustic beaches, cool boutiques, and casual dining scene. We’re talking here about fun things to do in Encinitas, we’re including the communities that people often forget are also part of the Encinitas incorporated city which are Cardiff, Leucadia, and Olivenhain.

Spend the Day at Moonlight Beach (Top Pick)

Location: 400 B St, Encinitas, CA 92024

Moonlight Beach is a favorite of North County hotel concierges.

If you are ever at a loss for what to do in Encinitas, start at Moonlight Beach. It’s one of San Diego’s best beaches and many North County hotel concierges send guests here even if it’s a little further of a drive.

At this beach, you can play a game of volleyball, go swimming, or learn how to boogie board. There is also a fun playground for the kids and even a concession stand with pizza, burgers, and ice cream. If you prefer to lounge around on the beach all day, you can even rent a beach umbrella for the day to make your stay much more comfortable.


Go Surfing at Beacon’s Beach

Location: 948 Neptune Ave, Encinitas, CA 92024

Pathway down to Beacon’s Beach in Leucadia

Whether you want to try your hand at surfing or just want to watch the action, Beacon’s Beach is definitely the place to go. From sunrise on, you can spot adept surfers battling the waves and riding swell after swell.

You are also welcome to bring along your own gear and give it a try for yourself. If you do not have any of your own, head down Highway 101 to Progression Surf to rent a surfboard and other gear for the day or longer.


Explore the Tide Pools (and
Surf) at Swami’s Beach

Location: 1298 S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024

Sea creatures abound across this region and Swami’s Beach is where you can go to check out their activities during winter when low tides occur during daylight. It’s located in front of the Self-Realization Fellowship.

Head north toward the rocky portion of the beach to check out the local ecosystem in action. Here you will find rather unconventionally adorable sea hares, octopuses (keep an eye out because they’re quick), anemones and other interesting creatures moving around in these San Diego tide pools. To see fossils from nearly 45 million years ago, turn your gaze to the many large sedimentary rocks along the beach.  

Tide pools aside, let’s not forget that Swami’s Beach is so famous for surfing that it received a shout-out out in Surfin’ USA by the Beach Boys. You’ll find a lot of regulars here (it’s not the best place to go out as a newbie). Not a surfer? No worries, it’s fun to sit on the sand to watch the action.


Try to See a Green Flash Sunset

Location: Any of the many beaches and scenic viewpoints around town

A sun setting below the ocean horizon with a small green line on top... the green flash.
The setting sun changes colors as it passes through the layers of the atmosphere on the horizon.

The green flash sunset draws crowds from far and wide, as it is definitely a must-see to believe phenomenon (albeit a rare one). From any of the local beaches and scenic viewpoints, you can watch as the light refracts around the sun as it moves behind the horizon, creating a green light along the top edge. Although it only lasts a second, this is what it looks like and the vision will stick with you for a lifetime, making it well worth the wait if you can spot it.


Drive by the Boat Houses

Location: 726 3rd St, Encinitas, CA 92024

Invertzoo [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Nestled in a quiet neighborhood along F Street, you will find a truly magnificent sight: two rather large boats standing tall and proud between the beach houses. Dubbed the SS Moonlight and SS Encinitas, these boathouses have been an integral part of the city since the early 1920s.

During that time, they were brought to life to serve as a hotel and bathhouse for the locals. Since then, however, they have transformed into private dwellings for rent until they are paid off. Once that happens, they will transform yet again. This time into a museum for all to enjoy. For now, swing by and take a look because how often do you see something like this?


Take a Photo with the Cardiff Kook

Location: Chesterfield Dr. & S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92007

Flickr/ltobrooklyn, Creative Commons 2.0

In 2007, Cardiff Kook joined the list of must-experience things to do in Encinitas, California. Commissioned by the Cardiff Botanical Society, this sculpture was meant to show a surfer in all his glory performing a backside floater move.

Unfortunately, the funds generated for the project failed to cover the wave, leaving the surfer perched upon a surfboard on a rock. Despite that, the locals have made the best of it ever since, regularly dressing up the kook in wacky outfits. In recent years, this sculpture has bundled up for the winter, donned his partywear, and much more.


Walk the San Elijo Lagoon

Location: 2710 Manchester Avenue, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA 92007

For a glimpse at some of the most stunning landscapes in Encinitas, just head on over to the San Elijo Lagoon for a leisurely stroll along. While walking along the trails, you will encounter many different plant communities, including salt marshes and coastal sage scrubs.

 Within these areas, you may get lucky and see:

  • Quails
  • Brown pelicans
  • Great egrets
  • Desert cottontails
  • Long-tailed weasels
  • Side-blotched lizards
  • California kingsnakes (harmless)

While moving by the many waterways across the lagoon, take a close look to see crabs, fishes, and other extraordinary creatures going about their business. It helps to start at the Nature Center first to get the lay of the land.


Become Inspired at the Encinitas Temple

Location: 939 2nd St, Encinitas, CA 92024

101 Highway View of the Encinitas Temple

Operating as a branch of the Self-Realization Fellowship, the Encinitas Temple provides awe-inspiring insights through lecture services, readings, and meditations.

Services run daily from noon to 4 p.m. with many other opportunities for self-reflection all day Sunday. Even if you do not want to engage in their programming, it is worth the time to stop by to check out the garden oasis. It’s a very welcoming space to visitors so do stop in.


Tool Around the Encinitas Skate Plaza

Location: 429 Santa Fe Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024

Boasting more than 13,000 square feet of space, the Encinitas Skate Plaza gives locals and tourists alike a place to blow off some steam and strut their stuff on their wheeled vehicles of choice. It is also a wonderful place to sit in the spectator seating and watch everyone blast around on their skateboards, rollerblades, and more, trying out all their favorite tricks. To inspire organic tricks, the plaza mostly features street elements, like rails, stairs, and banks, though it does have a bowl shaped like a backyard pool.


Visit the Local Farmers’ Markets

Location: 185 Union Street, Encinitas, CA 92024

Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can stop by the Leucadia Farmers’ Market to experience all of the wonderful flavors of this region. In addition to nearly every organic fruit and vegetable imaginable, this farmers’ market regular features fresh fish, baked goods, wildflower honey, live plants, dog treats, candles and more.


Tour the Iconic Lux Art Institute

Location: 1550 S El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024

For an inside look at how all your favorite works of art are made, you can visit the Lux Art Institute. With your price of admission, you will be treated to an up-close and personal artistic experience, giving you a chance to see how artists approach the creative process.

They have new traveling artists visiting every month with a variety of mediums represented. During your visit, take the time to walk along the plant-lined path to see additional awe-inspiring works face to face. If you’re a local, check out the available art classes and programming for kids, teens, and adults.


Check Out the Butterfly Farms (Seasonal)

Location: 441 Saxony Rd, Encinitas, CA 92024

The best time to visit Butterfly Farms, a California nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of our pollinators is between April and November when the Vivarium is open. Visitors can take self-guided tours of this 3000-square-foot butterfly habitat though docents are on hand to answer questions. Depending on when you visit, you may see anise swallowtails, painted ladies, and the coveted Monarch butterflies flitting about.

They also sell the plants you need to attract butterflies to your own yard, year-round, and provide plenty of education about all the species they support.


Stroll Through the San Diego Botanic Garden

Location: 230 Quail Gardens Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024

Waltz through the San Diego Botanic Gardens, to experience the beauty of 29 themed gardens spread across 37 acres. You can always expect to be wowed by greenery and to be inspired about how to make your own garden water-wise or suit your design tastes, but do check the calendar events to see what is on during your visit. It’s a fantastic way to spend a day in San Diego with kids because of the Hamilton Children’s Garden with its interactive displays. Many San Diego kids even host their birthday parties here.

You will also have plenty of time to stretch your legs as you traverse across their four miles of trails, though shorter loops are available as well.


Spend Quality Time at Solterra Winery

Location: 934 N Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024

Whenever you start hankering for tasty food and sophisticated drinks, head on over to the Solterra Winery, a popular urban San Diego winery, to see what they are cooking up. In making their wines, they source their grapes locally from vineyards across northern and central California.

Then, they sell their creations by the half-glass, glass, or bottle to best suit your needs. To complement their wines, they serve Mediterranean-style tapas, including sunchoke hummus, plus many amazing lunch and dinner dishes.


Play a Few Rounds at Encinitas Ranch

Location: 1275 Quail Gardens Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024

When you want to keep your eye on the prize and test your skills on the green, you can treat yourself to a few rounds at Encinitas Ranch. As you make your way through their 18-hole golf course, you will not only have truly fun and rewarding time but also catch amazing views of the ocean beyond.

They also have a pristine driving range available to those who want to perfect their swing before going for birdie on the main course. For a break between games, you can stop in the full bar and café to enjoy your favorite beverages, appetizers, and full meals.


Go Shopping on 101

The main street through Encinitas, California: Highway 101.

Location: All along Highway 101

Whenever you have a spare minute on your trip, you can fill the gap by taking a stroll down Highway 101 and checking out all the fantastic shops, restaurants, and other venues. Since they are mostly locally-owned and operated, you can shop and dine to your heart’s content — and feel good about it.

While here, you can visit antique stores galore, all filled with treasures held over from yesteryear, or simply fill up your belly with tacos made fresh at Karina’s.


Stop by the Heritage Museum

Location: 450 Quail Gardens Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024

For a glimpse into the storied past of Encinitas, plan a visit to the Heritage Museum. Across the lands housing this museum, you can see many restored buildings that were originally built by modern settlers.

They also have many fun exhibits exploring different aspects of the region’s history. You can learn all about Al’s Barber Shop, for example, which served as an iconic local hangout or look back at the many generations of surfing enthusiasts. They are always adding new stuff, so make sure to swing by regularly so you do not miss anything.


Catch a Show at the La Paloma Theater

Location: 471 S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024

Mikefairbanks [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

At the La Paloma Theater, you can catch a showing of interesting movies while soaking in the old-timey atmosphere. This theater was built in Spanish Colonial Revival style in the late 20s and has remained much the same ever since. In addition to movie showings, they regularly host live concerts by local musicians along with many special events throughout the holidays. If you eat before you arrive, make sure to leave enough room for popcorn, which is made fresh all day and evening long.


As you identify all the key things to do in Encinitas, CA allow for a little exploration in between, just in case you see something that strikes your fancy. That way, you have enough time to stop in and experience all you want to see. But then again, if you do not get a chance to see it all, that just means you can plan another fun trip in the near future.

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