Encinitas is a beach city in Southern California, famous for surfing, and regularly chosen as one of the best places to live in both California and the USA.

The Pacific Ocean from EncinitasThe Pacific Ocean from Encinitas

Encinitas is the Spanish for 'Little Oaks', though this city of just over 60,000 people has far more palm trees these days than oak trees. It's a very laid-back kind of a place, typical of these surf towns south of Los Angeles. It's also one of the best - and most expensive - places to live in California, if not the USA.

Palm Trees at Sunset in EncinitasPalm Trees at Sunset in Encinitas

Where Is Encinitas?

Encinitas is in Southern California, about a 30-minute drive north of San Diego, if you take I-5, or just over an hour if you take the prettier route along the Pacific Coast. If driving from Los Angeles, or from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) then it's about 90 minutes to two hours south to Encinitas, depending on the traffic.

Sunset in EncinitasSunset in Encinitas

When to Visit Encinitas?

Encinitas has a mild Mediterranean climate, which means you can visit at any time of the year. Most rain falls from January to March, and with very little rain from April to October.

From November to March the average temperature is 45-50F (about 7-10C). Remember, though, that these are average daily temperatures so it will be cooler than this at night but warmer than this during the day.

Summer temperatures are usually in the high 60s to high 70s (roughly 19-25C), though the record high is 108F (42C) for August, and it has been as high as 90F (32C) even in February. Temperatures can get down below freezing at night in winter, though normally they don't.

Surfer at Sunset in EncinitasSurfer at Sunset in Encinitas

Annual Events in Encinitas

Thanks to its mild climate, events happen in Encinitas all-year-round. Some of the highlights include:

April The season really gets going when the annual Spring Street Fair takes place downtown.

May-Sept: Classic Car Cruise Nights take place on the third Thursday of each month, when cars line the Pacific Coast Highway, which goes right through downtown Encinitas.

July: Early July at Moonlight State Beach is the Switchfoot Bro-Am. This free surf competition and music festival includes the world's only Surf Jousting competition.

Sept: On the third Saturday, watch for the Wavecrest Woodie Meet. This is the longest-running get-together in the world of those wooden automobiles so beloved of surfers, the Woodie.

Surfing at Sunset in EncinitasSurfing at Sunset in Encinitas

Things to Do in Encinitas

Encinitas Historical Society

This is located inside the city's 1883 Schoolhouse, and worth seeing for that alone. This one-room schoolhouse was the school for all of the Encinitas children back in those days, with all of eight pupils! There are historical items and photographs, oral histories, and docents who are happy to explain how this once-small community of farmers and fishermen turned into one of the most expensive places to live in the USA.

The Boathouses in EncinitasThe Boathouses in Encinitas

Don't miss the remarkable sight on nearby 3rd Street, a minute's walk away, of two boathouses. These are boats that have never been to sea but were purpose-built in the 1920s as homes for people.

Sunset in EncinitasSunset in Encinitas

Lux Art Institute

This museum of contemporary art wants visitors to appreciate not just the art itself but also the creation process. There are changing artists in residence and also a focus on art activities for children.

Old Encinitas

If you're driving the Pacific Coast Highway and you see the green Encinitas sign over the road, pull over. Near here and right on PCH you should see the La Paloma Theatre, which was built in 1928 in Spanish Colonial Revival Style and is still very much in active use today. Wander round here and you'll see plenty of other old buildings in this historic downtown district.


San Diego Botanic Garden

Despite its name this 37-acre garden is in Encinitas, on the east side of I-5. It includes an amazing range of gardens, from desert gardens to a sub-tropical fruit garden to tropical rainforest. In all, there are over 5,000 species of plants, making it one of the best gardens you'll find along the Pacific Coast Highway. It also has the largest interactive children's garden on the entire west coast. 

San Dieguito Heritage Museum

This history museum opened in 1988 and displays historical artefacts, photographs, stories, and even buildings from Encinitas and the whole San Dieguito area, which also includes Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Del Mar, Leucadia, Olivenhain, Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach, and parts of southern Carlsbad and northern San Diego. You'll find it close to the San Diego Botanic Garden.

Surfing Madonna

This mosaic depicting the Virgen de Guadalupe on a surfboard was installed by two artists in 2011 underneath the train bridge on Encinitas Boulevard near its junction with the Pacific Coast Highway. It caused a great deal of controversy at the time as the city council dubbed it graffiti, but there was also a lot of support for it, and it's still there although it's been moved across the street.

Google map showing location of Surfing Madonna in Encinitas

Swami's Beach

Fans of the Beach Boys will want to see Swami's Beach, a famous surfing beach which gets a name-check in the Beach Boys' hit, Surfin' USA. The Pacific Coast Highway goes right by it, and it's just south of the turning for W K St.

Where to Stay in Encinitas

Some other California Coast pages

  • Eureka Inns

    Of all Eureka inns, The Carter House Inns are the most romantic and historic, with one of the best restaurants in Northern California.

  • Dana Point

    Dana Point in California is the official start or end of the Pacific Coast Highway, and its attractions include whale watching, and Doheny State Beach.

  • Crescent City

    Crescent City is on the Pacific Coast Highway in northern California and noted for its crescent-shaped beach, Ocean World sea park, and nearby redwoods and state parks.

  • Coastal California Guidebook

    Lonely Planet's Coastal California guidebook is the ideal travel guide for driving or cycling the Pacific Coast Highway from the Oregon border to Mexico.

  • Carlsbad

    Carlsbad is a beach city north of San Diego in southern California famous for its flower fields, LEGOLAND resort and water park, surfing and SEA LIFE Aquarium.

  • California Coast Guide

    One of the best California coast guides is the California Coastal Access Guide, describing the coast’s beaches, National Parks, State Parks, with many maps.

  • Bodega Bay

    Bodega Bay is a small California coastal town on the borders of Marin County and Sonoma County, and the filming location for Alfred Hitchcock's the Birds.

  • Bixby Bridge

    Drive the Pacific Coast Highway and you have to cross Bixby Bridge in California, ten miles north of Big Sur and 30 minutes south of Monterey.

  • Whale Watching in California

    Whale watching in California is one of the most popular things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway, inplaces like San Diego, San Francisco and many more.

  • Oceanside

    Oceanside is a typical southern California beach town with a surf culture and with the Pacific Coast Highway running right through it.

  • San Clemente California

    San Clemente in California is a small city on the Pacific Coast Highway midway between San Diego and Los Angeles, noted for its beaches and surfing.

  • Santa Monica, California

    Santa Monica in California is famous for its pier, and beaches, and is one of the best west coast vacation spots, with hotels, restaurants, surfing, museums.

  • Santa Monica Pier

    Santa Monica Pier is just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica near Los Angeles, with an amusement park, an aquarium and many other attractions.

  • Vagabond's House Inn

    Historic and romantic Vagabond's House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Carmel is a great place to stay with free wine and cheese and generous breakfast.

  • Malibu

    Malibu is a beach city north of Los Angeles famous for the celebrities who live there in expensive homes and the Pacific Coast Highway runs through it and there are beaches and hikes for all to enjoy.

  • Visiting Hearst Castle

    This Visiting Hearst Castle page gives all the practicalities including location, types of tour, length of tours, how long to allow, and much more information.

  • Unique Inns on the Pacific Coast Highway

    Unique Inns on the Pacific Coast Highway include some of the best independently-owned boutique hotels, spas, and lodges in California, Oregon and Washington.

  • Top Wildlife Spots on the California Coast

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel recommends some of the top wildlife spots along the California coast.

  • Stanford Inn by the Sea Mendocino

    The Stanford Inn by the Sea in Mendocino on the California coast is an eco-resort with yoga classes and the award-winning Ravens Restaurant.

  • Santa Cruz

    Santa Cruz on the Pacific Coast Highway in California has its famous boardwalk, beaches, wine tastings, Surfing Museum, Mission, and Marine Discovery Center.

  • Santa Cruz Downtown Wine Tastings

    There are plenty of Santa Cruz downtown wine tastings including Beauregard Vineyards,Storrs Winery and Pelican Ranch Winery,all with tasting rooms.

  • Santa Barbara

    Standing on the Pacific Coast Highway in California, Santa Barbara is an attractive resort with a historic downtown, sandy beaches, a mission, and good museums.

  • San Simeon

    San Simeon is a tiny town of a few hundred people close to Hearst Castle on the California coast midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

  • San Luis Obispo

    San Luis Obispo in California is half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, on the Pacific Coast Highway and with lots of things to do and see.

  • Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel and Monterey, with photos

    A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.

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