The coast of southern California is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. The drive from San Diego to one of its northernmost suburbs, Carlsbad, is absolutely breathtaking! If you drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll make your way through little beach towns and catch incredible views of the Pacific Ocean along the way. A recent drive took me from the Mission Bay area of San Diego, through La Jolla, Torrey Pines State Reserve, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Cardiff by the Sea, and Encinitas, before making it to Carlsbad. It’s only about 35 miles from the San Diego International Airport to Carlsbad, but budgeting a little extra time to take the scenic route instead of the interstate is well worth it. Today, I’m sharing some of my favorite places along the southern California coast in San Diego County.
Mission Bay and Mission Bay Beach
This is a popular area in San Diego. You’ll find the world-famous San Diego Zoo here, as well as Sea World, several parks, and some other tourist attractions. Running along the shore, from Mission Bay Beach to Pacific Beach, is the Strandway. It’s a paved boardwalk of sorts, lined with shops, condos, restaurants and bars, and a rollercoaster. The beaches in this area are crowded and wide, with designated areas for surfing and swimming. You’ll never run out of things to see or do here, but keep in mind it’s quite touristy and busy. If you wander a few blocks off the coast, you’ll notice little alleys lining the main roads, filled with adorable cottages – some of which are available for vacation rentals. You’ll be able to walk to the Bay or the beach from these rentals, as well as a number of restaurants and bars.
This is a gorgeous and upscale area. You’ll find great shopping and dining in the Village at La Jolla – shops like Ralph Lauren and Lululemon, and upscale restaurants and boutique hotels. You’ll also find the La Jolla Tennis Club, which happens to be open to the public. La Jolla is set a little ways up from the ocean, so the views are absolutely incredible. You’ll find beaches that are occasionally visited by sea lions here, as well as beaches that are great for swimming, due to the curvature of the coastline providing cove-like pockets of calmer water.
This little village-like town is adorable. You’ll find restaurants and hotels overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean, with views to die for! It’s a pretty small and compact little town, which means everything is within a decent walking distance. I’d recommend staying at the L’Aburge Del Mar Resort and Spa, which is a beautiful and quiet boutique hotel and spa, set right in the middle of everything. It has private beach access and is well within walking distance to both upscale and casual restaurants. It’s nearby to popular public beaches where you can watch surfers, or give it a try yourself.
This area seems to be a little flatter (not set so high up on the cliffs), and has quite a few good-looking public beaches. It seems pretty busy, so I’m not sure I’d want to stay in this area for vacation, but there is plenty of access to busy beaches. As a bonus, most of these beaches appear to be dog-friendly, as far as I could tell!
Cardiff by the Sea
Another cute little coastal town. This area boasts a couple restaurants that are right on the Pacific Ocean. It’s hard to find restaurants with killer views that aren’t associated with hotels or resorts, but there are several in Cardiff by the Sea. This town also has a great dog park, if you’re traveling with your fur babies.
This was my favorite coastal town I visited. It has a strip of excellent restaurants, shops, and beaches. If you (or your man) are a golf lover, you can find the Scotty Cameron Gallery here – which is where players can be fit for tour-quality putters. The facility is quite impressive and worth a look, even if you’re not much of a golfer. It’s incredible to see what is taken into account when fitting players with a putter (dominant eye, height, range of motion, etc… it’s really cool!). Hansen’s Surf Shop is a cool store to visit – filled with everything from beach wear, to sandals, to home décor, to surfboards. The dining options are endless. My favorites included the Fish Shop (for excellent fish tacos), Lotus Café and Juice Bar (for a healthy lunch), Better Buzz coffee (try the iced honey latte with almond milk…yum!), or the Bier Garden for happy hour. Just 2 blocks off the main road is the Pacific Ocean. You can find breathtaking views from the cliffs, high above the coast. You’ll see countless surfers waiting for the perfect wave. It’s truly spectacular to see from a “bird’s eye view.”