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Day Trip: Encinitas, a California town with international roots

This beach town 25 miles north of downtown San Diego is made up of several neighborhoods, including Leucadia; Cardiff-by-the-Sea; and Olivenhain, whose German roots are celebrated each September during the city’s Oktoberfest.

Regardless of when you visit Encinitas (Spanish for “little oaks”), you’ll find delicious food, breathtaking views, and that perfect beachy vibe. For maximum fun, bring or rent a bicycle and coast up and down Highway 101.

Enjoy a nice cup of tea or coffee

Outside seating area of Pannikin Coffee & Tea

Pannikin Coffee & Tea has been serving freshly roasted coffee and imported teas out of a charming yellow house (originally a Santa Fe Railroad depot) since it moved to this spot in the late 1970s. Enjoy ample indoor and outdoor seating and a wide selection of breakfast items, including goods baked on-site.

Try a gluten-free snack

Veggie pesto egg scramble

Nectarine Grove, a gluten-free café and bakery, offers organic produce and keto, vegan, and vegetarian options. Try the veggie pesto egg scramble (pictured) with nut-and-seed bread or their paleo pancakes.

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Hit the beach

A pair of Griff Electric bikes

Moonlight State Beach has volleyball courts, a playground, a concession stand, bathrooms and showers, and free parking. Take a surf lesson or rent a bodyboard at Concept Surf Shop and spend some time in the water. 2-hour group surf lesson, $120 per person. Bring your 2-wheeler or rent from local retailers like Griff Electric Bikes. Bike rentals start at $40 for 2 hours.

Find some inner peace

Koi pond

Visit the Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens for peaceful contemplation. Opened in 1937 by Paramahansa Yogananda, who is widely credited with introducing yoga and meditation to the West, the gardens include a large bonsai shaped from an old Monterey pine, koi ponds, and sweeping ocean views. Free; closed Mondays and on rainy days.

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See the local sculptures

Swami's Beach wooden Easter Island head sculptures

Watch surfers bobbing in the waves at Swami’s Beach. Don’t miss the Easter Island heads by local woodworker Tim Richards: The first replica was carved in 2011 from the stump of an 80-year-old Torrey pine that once stood in the park above the beach; a second head was added in 2018.

Travel about a mile south to see what’s known as the “Cardiff Kook” (its official name is Magic Carpet Ride), a sculpture of a goofy-footed surfer that’s often decorated for local events.

Try a Tijuana-style taco

Taco served with street corn plus a side of chips and guacamole

For lunch, make your way to The Taco Stand, where Tijuana-style tacos are served on handmade corn tortillas. Try the spicy shrimp taco with corn on the cob and chips and guacamole on the side. For a sweet treat, grab some colorful paletas (frozen fruit pops) or house-made Rosarito-style churros.

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See 2 unique houses

Encinitas Boat Houses

Stop by the Encinitas Boat Houses, which date to the late 1920s and resemble dry-docked boats. Architect Miles Kellogg used recycled lumber from a bathhouse and the 1888-built Moonlight Beach Dance Pavilion to construct the 2 houses, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Encinitas Preservation Association owns and rents out the SS Encinitas and SS Moonlight as private homes.

Have a cold one

Grab a beer or nonalcoholic seltzer at Culture Brewing Co. and watch passersby from the open-air facade. The brewery features a different local artist’s works on its walls each month. Yoga-and-beer events are held most Saturdays. (Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.)

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Enjoy the sights

Alila Marea Beach Resort cocktails

Take in the views at Alila Marea Beach Resort, a luxury hotel perched on a bluff at Ponto State Beach. Upstairs at Vaga Restaurant & Bar, watch the sunset as you sip a fireside cocktail. Try the Told You So (with gin, absinthe, citrus, and Strega) or the Perfect Timing (with mescal, pear, and citrus).

Have a nice relaxing dinner

Servings of oysters and yellowtail

Wind things down at Herb & Sea for dinner. Celebrity chef Brian Malarkey’s restaurant combines art deco touches with coastal ambience, and features fresh seafood and handmade pizza and pastas. Start with oysters on the half shell or the hamachi crudo, followed by shrimp linguine and a butterscotch budino for dessert. Reservations recommended; closed Mondays.

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