San Diego’s explosive growth has been concentrated in North County, formerly an area of wide-open spaces. Prosperous hi-tech, biotech, commercial, and financial businesses have relocated here and play a major role in the city’s development. Over one million people live in communities with distinct identities, from the high-end rural estates of Rancho Santa Fe to the more modest housing of Marine Corps families in Oceanside. Travel through fabled beach resorts into laid-back surfer towns and active Camp Pendleton Marine Base, or head east from Oceanside past flower farms and avocado groves, filled with blooms and fruit.
500 Sea World Dr, Mission Bay • 619 226 3901 • Open daily • Adm (special prices online) • www.seaworld.com/sandiego
Opened in 1964, SeaWorld covers 150 acres (60 ha) of Mission Bay and allows visitors to see many ocean creatures up close. Its family-oriented thrill rides can compete with those of most adventure parks. It also has a rehabilitation program for stranded marine animals. However, less positive aspects of SeaWorld have come to light since the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish. The park has come under strong criticism, seeing a downturn in public opinion and visitors.
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido • 760 747 8702 • Open 9am–5pm daily (mid-Jun–mid-Sep & mid- to end Dec: to 9pm) • Adm
Many people prefer the Zoo Safari Park to its sister zoo in Balboa Park. By monorail, zipline, or a range of safaris, experience African and Asian animals roaming freely in enormous enclosures. Don’t miss the Tull Family Tiger Trail, which takes you up close to Sumatran tigers. A successful breeding program works with more than 165 endangered species, including rhinos and lions.
4050 Mission Ave, Oceanside • 760 757 3651 (ext. 117) • Open 9:30am–5pm Mon–Fri, 10am–5pm Sat & Sun • Adm • www.sanluisrey.org
Named after canonized French king Louis IX, this mission was the last established in Southern California. Relations between the missionaries and the indigenous population were so successful that when Father Peyri was ordered by the Mexican government to return to Spain in 1832, the Native Americans followed him to San Diego Harbor. Today’s restored mission has displays on life and artifacts of the mission era and also offers popular retreats.
Surrounded on three sides by ocean bluffs and beaches boasting spectacular views, this gorgeous enclave is noted for upscale shops, boutiques, and fine-dining restaurants. Often cited as having the most expensive properties in the country, it is also home to several prestigious educational and research facilities (see Brain Power). Torrey Pines offers a number of hiking trails and the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course.
Residents here enjoy an endless summer climate and easy-going lifestyle. Life revolves around Garnet Avenue’s nightclubs, cafés, late-night restaurants, and shops. The street ends at the 1927 Crystal Pier, a great spot to see surfers, or spend a night in a tiny cottage. Come early to claim a fire ring on the beach and cook up some marshmallows, or cycle the boardwalk to Mission Beach.
35899 Canfield Road, Palomar Mountain • 760 742 2119 • Open 9am–3pm daily (to 4pm Apr–Oct)
Atop one of North County’s highest mountains, the dome of the observatory has an otherworldly look. Part of the California Institute of Technology, Palomar is home to the 200-in (508-cm) Hale Telescope, the largest optical instrument of its kind when installed in 1947. Its moving parts weigh 530 tons, the mirror 14.5 tons. Thanks to computer technology, no one “looks” through the telescope anymore. Self-guided tours offer a look at the telescope itself.
230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas • 760 436 3036 • Open 9am–5pm daily (exc. Christmas Day) • Adm
This is a treasure-packed expanse of nearly two dozen gardens on well-marked pathways, with viewpoints, sculpture exhibits, garden shops, and plenty of opportunities for bird-watching. Dedicated areas display Australian, African, Mexican, and Central American gardens; succulents and dragon trees; and the country’s largest bamboo collection. There’s also a Native Plants and Native People trail.
Thornton Winery: 32575 Rancho California Rd; 951 699 0099 • Callaway Vineyard & Winery: 32720 Rancho California Rd; 951 676 4001
During the mission days, Franciscan friars recognized that San Diego’s soil and climate were ideal for planting grape vines. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that wine was first produced commercially. Now over two dozen wineries stretch across rolling hills studded with oak trees, most of them along Rancho California Road. Wineries offer tastings for a small fee, and many of them operate restaurants and delis. Two of the most popular wineries in the area are Thornton Winery and Callaway Vineyard & Winery.
This well-kept secret enclave, about 5 miles (8 km) east of the coast, harbors exquisite estates for the wealthy. Home to around 3,000 residents, in 1989, The Covenant of Rancho Santa Fe was designated a California Historical Landmark as a historic planned community. Responsibility for this honor rests with architect Lillian Rice, who designed it in 1921. It is a lovely place to explore and dine in.
The California beach scene struts in full glory along a narrow strip of land filled with vacation rentals and beachwear shops. Skaters, cyclists, and joggers whiz along the Strand, while surfers and sun worshipers pack the sand. Sometimes the streets become so crowded on the Fourth of July weekend that the police have to shut the area down. A block away, Belmont Park is an old-fashioned fun zone with a vintage roller coaster.
Beneath San Diego’s “fun in the sun” image is one of the country’s most educated populations. With one of the nation’s highest incidences of PhDs per capita, 30 percent of residents hold college degrees, and 20 percent of adults are in higher education. La Jolla boasts some of the most prestigious research facilities: the Salk Institute, Scripps Research Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and UC San Diego.
Begin by looking out the front door of the landmark La Valencia Hotel. Turn left onto Prospect Street and walk past restaurants and art galleries. Before you reach Coast Boulevard, a stairway to the left leads to the Sunny Jim Cave, a fascinating, ocean-carved cave, named by L. Frank Baum. To the left of the entrance, a platform overlooks the caves. Continue along Coast Boulevard, admiring views of Torrey Pines and Scripps Pier. Pass through Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Beyond the end of the park is Children’s Pool. Check out the seals and sea lions. Turn left on Cuvier Street and left onto Prospect Street. You’ll now be at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Check out the exhibits or have a snack in the café. Louis Gill designed the original museum and the older architecture in this area. Walk back toward the village and peek inside 780 Prospect St; the cottage dates back to 1904. Cross Prospect at Fay but keep on Prospect. Pass through the Arcade Building to Girard Avenue. Turn right and window-shop along La Jolla’s main street. Of note is Warwick’s (7812 Girard Ave; La Jolla), a stationer and bookstore, and R. B. Stevenson Gallery (7661 Girard Ave; La Jolla). Go north on Girard for a block and a half, and then finish your walk with one of the freshly baked delights at Girard Gourmet.
5704 Paseo del Norte, Carlsbad • Adm
In spring, the hillsides explode with brilliant-colored blossoms of the giant tecolote ranunculus. The Carlsbad Ranch harvests 6–8 million bulbs for export.
1 Legoland Dr, Carlsbad • 760 918 5346 • Adm
This theme park and aquarium is devoted to the plastic brick. Kids enjoy the hands-on activities, waterpark, and models.
The wealthiest community among North County’s beach towns, Del Mar is filled with sidewalk cafés and shops.
At this popular beach town, Cedros Design District shops and cafés are two blocks from Fletcher Cove; check with lifeguards before you swim.
Surfers enjoy the reef break at Cardiff, while RV campers kick back at a beachside campground. The San Elijo Lagoon offers hiking trails through an ecological reserve.
The 21st century hasn’t yet hit this sleepy town with a small beach and shops, restaurants, and galleries.
In the 1880s, Captain John Frazier discovered that the water here had the same mineral content as a spa in Karlsbad, Bohemia. Today, this pretty village still draws visitors with its beaches, resorts, and shops.
California Surf Museum: 312 Pier View Way; 760 721 6876; open 10am–4pm daily; adm
Town fortunes are tied with adjoining Camp Pendleton. The California Surf Museum shows a history of the sport.
Endangered species and abundant wildlife thrive at the largest US Marine Corps base and amphibious training facility in the country.
Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat and Hermitage: 215 W. K St • San Diego Botanic Garden: 230 Quail Gardens Dr; adm
Highlights in Encinitas include the Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat and Hermitage and the San Diego Botanic Garden.
230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas • 760 436 3036
Set in a public garden with more than 4,000 plant species from around the world, these shops sell unique home and garden decor, books, locally made jewelry and more. There’s also a selection of plants, most propagated from species found in the garden.
5556 Copley Dr • 858 279 4400
The go-to store for all your outdoor and sports needs, REI also provides equipment rental for biking, camping, and more. In addition, it organizes activities such as full-moon hikes and offers rock-climbing lessons.
6123 Calzada del Bosque, Rancho Santa Fe • 858 756 3184
The Chino family farm and its store cater to famous chefs and lovers of superb fruit and vegetables.
459 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas • 760 753 1611
This year-round open-air market offers unique antiques and home decor, arts and crafts, and various other delightful surprises.
1147 Prospect St, La Jolla • 858 456 8134
Colorful, comfy womenswear epitomizes the region’s laid-back lifestyle. The pieces here flatter most shapes and sizes. Also stocked are bags, hats, and other seaside needs.
1211 Garnet Ave, Pacific Beach • 858 272 7235
This market sells imaginative salads, a wide variety of cheeses, wine, and fun ethnic food that you won’t find in a regular supermarket.
5620 Paseo del Norte, Carlsbad
Shop for bargains in one of the most pleasant outlet centers around. Gap, Bass, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Jones New York are all here.
Cedros Ave, Solana Beach
This former warehouse district has been transformed into a shopping street full of design stores, furnishings, and boutiques. The 100 shops at the Leaping Lotus offer ethnic goods, clothing, and furniture.
1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
Italian home accessories, estate art, and well-known chains such as Banana Republic and White House/Black Market can be found here.
Most wineries in Temecula operate gift shops that stock unusual cookbooks, entertaining supplies, and home decor items. Additionally, many have delis where you can find picnic food to accompany that bottle of wine you just bought.
143 S. Cedros Ave, Solana Beach • 858 481 9022 • Adm
One of the best live music venues in the county. Old Quonset huts have been acoustically altered to showcase bands.
1044 S. Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas • 760 943 7180 • $$
Popular for burgers and ales, this cozy place has 32 taps rotating Belgian and German beers, craft beers, and international microbrews.
143 S. Cedros Ave, Solana Beach • 858 720 9000 • $
Come here for lunch, served outside or under structural beams. Dinner time tends to be hectic.
1235 Coast Blvd, La Jolla • 858 454 7393 • $$
This historic place offers breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and fabulous views. Choices include seafood and steak.
510 N. Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas • 760 436 5824 • $
Don’t miss this coffeehouse located inside a Santa Fe Railroad Depot. Sit upstairs or outside on a shady deck.
1010 Prospect St • 858 459 1187 • $
Grab a back table at this hip coffeehouse in upscale La Jolla to enjoy a million-dollar view.
1 Oceanside Pier, Oceanside • 760 433 7829 • $
Walk 1,942 ft (591 m) out to the pier’s end and order a salad or burger and a malt at this 1940s-style diner.
106 Aberdeen Drive, Cardiff • 760 753 2400 • $
This local favorite offers dozens of variations of wedding cakes, pastries, bear claws, bagels, fresh hot donuts, cookies, and much more.
765 S. Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas • 760 479 1977 • $
Lotus is especially appealing to vegetarian and vegan diners, but meat dishes are also offered. Juices are freshly squeezed.
7825 Fay Ave, Suite 180, La Jolla • 858 459 5326 • $
The organic offerings here include wraps, salads, and smoothies, as well as vegan and gluten-free items.
1555 Camino Del Mar, Suite 102, Del Mar • 858 755 2669 • Closed Thanksgiving Day & Super Bowl Sun • $$
Book in advance for this popular modern Chinese restaurant, which also lists more than 100 wines.
1670 Coast Blvd, Del Mar • Closed Thanksgiving & Christmas Days • 858 755 9345 • $$
The patio here is great for lunch, dinner, weekend brunch, and cocktails at sunset.
1270 Prospect St, La Jolla • 858 459 5500 • $$$
Fresh seafood and meat dishes. Every table has a view of La Jolla Cove, and there’s live jazz nightly.
631 S. Coast Hwy, Oceanside • 760 722 5220 • $
Since its 1928 beginnings as a roadside diner, folks passing through have enjoyed the home-style comfort food.
3709 Convoy St, Kearny Mesa • 858 565 6888 • $$
Favorites here include crispy Peking duck and tender filet mignon.
2000 Spindrift Dr, La Jolla • 866 644 2351 • $$$
Ensure that you bring a big appetite for the Monday Maine Lobster night!
4529 Mission Bay Dr • 858 270 5670 • $$
Considered the best spot for sushi in town, connoisseurs come to Sushi Ota for the day’s freshest fish transformed into tasty works of art.
1955 W. Morena Blvd • 619 275 2094 • $$
Enjoy traditional veal, seafood, and pasta here, along with your choice of wine from an extensive list.
6009 Paseo Delicias, Rancho Santa Fe • 858 756 3085 • $$$
The most acclaimed restaurant in San Diego County provides a culinary feast. Fireplaces, fresh flowers, and tapestries complement the exquisite and beautifully presented food.
2943 State St, Carlsbad • 760 434 2500 • $$
Classic antipasti, soups, and substantial servings of pastas and entrées are crowd-pleasers here, as is the daily happy hour.