It’s one of the most interesting and quirky state beaches on the West Coast—and though it may be named for the capital of Wales, Cardiff-by-the-Sea is solely Californian in heart, soul, and spirit. Located in San Diego County near famous surfing spots such as Swami's and Cardiff Reef, this easily overlooked Encinitas community is all about the beach—and surfing, too!
The popular north county coastal surf spot produces smooth, consistent waves that both professional and novice surfers can enjoy all year round, especially when a flat rock reef extending fifty yards from shore reveals itself when the tide gets low. Tide pool exploring is also a super fun activity for visitors of Cardiff, especially along those long stretches of soft sands that are surrounded by dramatic coastal bluffs. Whether you want sun, sand, surf, or just a relaxing summertime scene to retreat to, this Encinitas community is a marvelous spot to visit and to enjoy.
Though small in land size, Cardiff-by-the-Sea truly is a treasure trove of things to do. Surf, swim, sail, snorkel, beachcomb, paddle board, boogie board, scuba dive, spear fish, picnic, or walk amidst sunny S.D. County weather at one of many oceanfront campgrounds in and around the area like, Cardiff State Beach, Pacific Coast Hwy 101, and San Elijo State Beach, which is home to a bluff top campground and Pipes, one of the county's best surf breaks. There’s even the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve Boardwalks on the north side to check out, as well as an extensive trail system on the south side—take one of those free guided walks offered every second Saturday of the month.
Don’t miss out on snapping a photo op with the Cardiff Kook surfer statue, an iconic and goofy town pride (and/or embarrassment). Families with kiddies will love Cardiff Reef, a pleasant little beach park and surf spot on the south end of the campground where the cliffs end, or George's Beach- a popular spot near the 'Restaurant Row’ of restaurants, which include the Chart House. Fashionistas will love shopping over at Patagonia Cardiff, the company's first surf-specific shop located inside one of Cardiff's oldest buildings. Surf competitions and festivals are also always happening in Cardiff State Beach, so get into full on surf mode while chowing down at foodie spots such as Ki's, for the health conscious, Las Olas, for taco lovers, or VG Donut & Bakery, a third-generation local family bakery and North County institution that’s famous for its chocolate old-fashioneds.
Just north of Cardiff, explore and adventure under towering palm trees and inside lotus-shaped domes at one of San Diego County's most distinctive sanctuaries, the Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat Hermitage and Meditation Gardens, a popular spot to get that Zen on. You might also want to revel in even more tranquility by escaping into the gorgeous bluff-top gardens located nearby that are laced with koi ponds and waterfalls. Discover a Garden of Eden-esque space offering commanding coastal views and a legendary surf site.
Then dead on south to stare at lagoons where serpentine channels wind through some of the county’s best wildlife habitats, especially during the autumn bird migration. Nature unites all around Cardiff so don’t miss any fun by trekking outside town for a day.
Looking for the perfect place to stay in Cardiff won’t be difficult, as there are a wide range of options in the area that can fit any mood or occasion. Whether it’s a last minute road trip with the buds, a full-on family vacation, a weekend romantic getaway, or a business trip, there are spaces to unwind at within Cardiff that will shower you with charm and complete comfort. Try out Holiday Inn Express Encinitas near the Cardiff Beach area or the Cardiff by the Sea Lodge. For quainter options, rent out a snazzy coastal cottage by the sea or a nice Cardiff by the Sea retreat.
Conveniently located just twenty miles north of downtown San Diego, Cardiff is easy to get to and even easier to get around. The freeway system is uber simple to navigate and traffic is typically pretty manageable (other than during morning and evening rush hours). From I-5, exit at Birmingham Dr. and head on west to enjoy this beautiful beach community!
If you plan to do some major local exploring, rental cars might be the best option, but if you’d rather stay put in the city center-- or just relax along the coast-- public transportation is the name of the game. San Diego International Airport actually just opened its Rental Car Center in January 2016, providing travelers of all sorts with a one-stop shop for easy and reliable vehicle renting. For something different, try out the round-trip or One-way shuttles via the Roadrunner Shuttle or SuperShuttle, or unleash that inner wild by exploring the region by rail using bus or trolley via the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. And for the water-bound, don’t forget to try out a water taxi! Biking is also a stellar choice in the county, as San Diego is famous for DecoBike, it’s citywide bike share program that provides almost two-hundred solar-powered bike sharing stations and more than 1,700 bicycles. Let’s get rollin’.
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