Dude, The Surf’s Always Up In San Diego’s North County

del mar north county san diego

If you want a taste of quintessential California beach culture, complete with a heaping dose of surf, sand and tacos, head north of San Diego to North County. When I’m in Southern California, I don’t mind soaking up the cliché tourist experience: I want to be on the beach, gazing out at the limitless Pacific Ocean, watching the surfers, preferably with a taco or three in hand. Here’s an idea for how to spend a totally epic day in North County and La Jolla, dude.

Start the day at Pipes Café, a killer breakfast spot very close to the beach in Cardiff by the Sea. Step up the counter and order the #1 breakfast burrito ($5.95), which comes with sausage, avocado, cheese and, get this, five eggs. Five eggs for God’s sakes! When my bad boy arrived, the beast took up the entire basket (see photo) and I practically needed a forklift to get the damn thing up and into my mouth.


I’m a total glutton, but I couldn’t come close to finishing this frightening, but very tasty creature. I liked it so much that I couldn’t help but ask some locals sitting next to us about the feasibility of moving to the area with my wife and two little boys.

“Well, North County is really expensive,” said the guy who would have looked right at home in a J Crew catalog. “Basically, the closer you get to San Diego the more expensive it gets. Oceanside isn’t too bad, then Carlsbad, Encinitas and Solana Beach will be more expensive than that and things really get crazy in Del Mar and La Jolla.”

My hopes of moving to North County dashed, I knew we’d have to make the most of our visit, so we drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway, taking in peeks of the Pacific when it wasn’t hidden by large homes, shopping and hotels along the way.

I worked off about 5% of my ridiculous breakfast burrito with a short walk in Encinitas’s attractive little town center followed by a longer walk on the beach in Del Mar, a pristine beach community if ever there was one. I watched the surfers, who were out in force on a day when the waves were up to a gnarly 8 feet, and fantasized about winning the next Powerball drawing and moving to this fine place of soaring palm trees, trendy restaurants and stunning Pacific vistas.

Before I knew it, it was lunchtime and since I tend to follow an all taco & burrito diet when I’m in California, we backtracked north a couple miles to Rudy’s Taco Shop, a hole-in-the-wall place in a strip mall in Solana Beach that specializes in carne asada. I was ready for a siesta after scarfing down two of their salty, melt-in-your mouth carne asada tacos, but summoned the energy to press on south to La Jolla, which means “The Jewel” in Spanish.

La Jolla is filled with pricey shops, but we were in town to soak up the natural splendor of the place so we headed straight for the waterfront. I don’t think there are many more scenic places for a stroll anywhere in the country than the area around Scripps Park in La Jolla. There’s a long walkway set up high above the crashing waves of the Pacific below, flanked by neat rows of soaring palm trees.


We walked down to Seal Beach and my sons, ages 3 and 5, got a huge kick out of seeing dozens of seals lying comatose on the beach as though they were sleeping off hangovers. Every few minutes one of them would decide they wanted to change their spot and would hop around awkwardly as the assembled paparazzi fired off shots of them.


A local, who told me I was standing too close to the seals, also mentioned that the seals give birth right on this beach each year from January through March. After my kids had their fill of the seals, we walked a half-mile north to gawk at a colony of sea lions that were all huddled up on top of each other on a huge rock.

There’s been a huge controversy over the supposedly foul smell of bird crap in La Jolla, with many merchants claiming that the smell is scaring away customers, but I didn’t even really notice it other than for a brief moment when we pulled into town. Anyone who dwells on bird crap in a place this beautiful is a little jaded, if you ask me.

After a few hours wandering in La Jolla, we repaired to Bull Taco, a taco stand located up on a bluff above the Cardiff State Park beach that advertises itself as “inauthentic Mexican.” It only seemed fitting to wind down my culinary day the way I started it – with a tortilla in hand. This time, I had three tacos – shrimp curry, sea bass and a lobster, chorizo and bacon beauty. Inauthentic? Maybe, but damn good as well.

We drove further north and enjoyed an extravagant sunset at South Carlsbad State Park beach. On a late Saturday afternoon in December, the beach scene in North County was magical for a cold weather family like us.


Families were taking their Christmas card photos on the beach, no doubt to taunt their cold weather friends, surfers of all ages were emerging from the crashing surf, raving about the “epic” waves and people who drive posh sports cars happily mingled with surf bums living in beat up old camper vans with rusted old California plates. In the fading light, we beat a retreat, intoxicated from a day of Pacific delights, not ready to go home but determined to return one day to this idyllic little corner of America.

[Photo and video credits: Dave Seminara]

Del Mar Turf Club: your chance for access

del mar turf clubHorse racing’s annual Triple Crown may have concluded without a new winner yet again, but that doesn’t mean that racing season has ended. Starting in mid-July, the luxe Park Hyatt Aviara resort is offering an exclusive partnership with the historic Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, a member’s only establishment that’s typically only been accessible to a select few.

Frequented by celebrities of both yore (think Bing Crosby and Ava Gardner) and today (Gwen Stefani, Owen Wilson), the turf club is opening its gates to guests of Park Hyatt Aviara Resort as part of a new overnight package offering.

The tony Turf Club is a genteel place from which to view some of Southern California’s best races. The Club includes amenities like private betting windows, food, and a bar.

Be advised a dress code is strictly enforced, including suits or daytime dresses for ladies a mandatory suit or sport jacket for gentlemen. Collared shirts are required, and short sleeved shirts are permitted only if the shirt is buttoned to the top button.

Sun soaked: Southern California’s secret beach spots

You’ve probably walked Venice Beach, played volleyball on Manhattan Beach and spent a lazy day in Malibu, but have you scoped out SoCal’s secret beach spots? Of the many things California is known for, its beaches are always at the top of lists. Here a few of the best kept secrets along California’s coast:

Coronado, California: Savvy sun-soakers pay to park at the Hotel Del Coronado, then dine and sunbathe on premise in between ogling the Navy SEALS jogging the beach. This flat, mica diamond-studded beach has low tides so you won’t be surfing the waves anytime soon, but you will enjoy the R&R while watching stingrays and napping in the sand. When you’re done with the beach, stop in for a boutique beer at Coronado Brewing or catch some p.m. blues and brews at McP’s.

South Mission Beach, California: This is the ultimate partyspot in San Diego, and parking is a premium. Come early, stay late and throw your bike or roller-blades and a party frock in the car for beach bar bumming when the sun goes down. You can kayak the bayside on this isthmus, or surf and body slam on the Pacific side – both within walking distance. At night, the Pennant and Beachcomber rock, especially during the summer and Over The Line in July. The old-fashioned roller coaster, video arcades and Wavehouse occupy the mini-pints and the sunset is best of show.

Del Mar, California: In addition to Torrey Pines State Park and Dog Beach, the artsy village of Del Mar serves up two beach hang-outs not to miss, Powerhouse and Seagrove Park near the Fifteenth Street surf break. Surfing can be gnarly here, and the view of the Pacific as you wind off I-5 and around the lagoon stops your heart–as do Del Mar’s coastal cuisine–Roberto’s tacos, Il Fornaio’s wood-fired pizzas and enoteca, Pacifica Del Mar’s seafood specialties and Del Mar Plaza’s whimsical terrazza shops and breakfast nooks. South of the Del Mar Racetrack, the beach south of the Brigantine on PCH1 is hard to park at, but worth walking into. Better yet, bike on over.

San Onofre, California: Real surfers know that this hangs better than Malibu and it’s the quintessential California campground where for a small fee at the gate, you can pretend you are in Hawaii. Play volleyball, loll in a grass hut with your cooler of cocktails and snacks, compare long-boards and tales of catching a South swell at the three main breaks: the Point, Old Man’s and Dogpatch. It gets crowded on weekends, so arrive early with the blenders and pick up a few of Pedro’s fish tacos in North San Clemente for the ultimate alfresco breakfast.

Catalina Island, California: Here, the sand is your boat. Moor in Avalon or sail around to beautiful Emerald Bay, offering 99 moorings and anchorage for 5-10 boats, a perfect day trip. Catalina Express runs daily boats over to Avalon from San Pedro or Long Beach, and a Key West bacchanal is the catch of the day every weekend during summer. In addition to swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling, Catalina offers kayaking, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, hiking, biking and even a Zipline. Explore the Avalon beaches by golf cart, or just sun from your boat.

The above was contributed by Nanette Wiser, a Seed.com writer.