San Diego’s North County coastal communities have a certain charm that must be experienced firsthand to fully appreciate. Yes, the pace is a bit slower than other areas, but locals prefer it that way. The North Coast’s many quaint pockets offer the best in boutique shopping, gallery hopping and beaches.
Del Mar’s celebrity status began more than 70 years ago, when the oceanside paradise became home of the Del Mar Racetrack (2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd.). Celebs Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien helped establish the track—and its track record for hosting the Hollywood elite at theThoroughbred Club. Ava Gardner, W.C. Fields, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Jimmy Durante and Mickey Rooney were among the regulars in the late 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Today, racing season runs from mid-July to early September (then returns for the month of November), but fun events are held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds year-round.
Jimmy Durante Boulevard—named for the famous entertainer who lived in Del Mar—paves the way from the track to the heart of the village. The intersection of Camino del Mar and 15th Street forms Del Mar’s center. The Del Mar Plaza has scenic fountains and sweeping ocean views, plus upscale shops like clothing boutiques Gerhard and Peaches en Regalia; Loghman Jewelers, with Italian jewelry and watches; and chains likeBanana Republic and Sunglass Hut.
There’s more retail along Del Mar’s main street, Camino del Mar, and the area can easily be covered on foot. The shopping district is lined with shops, including Carolyn’s (1310 Camino del Mar), with designer resale items, plus several casual cafés and eateries.
More great shopping is a short drive away. East of the fairgrounds, off I-5 on Via de la Valle, is the recently expanded Flower Hill Promenade (2720 Via de la Valle), where shops include trendy women’s boutique Van De Vort, men’s clothier Patrick James and Dallmann Chocolate Boutique.
At the end of the day, walk to Seagrove Park (Coast Boulevard at 15th Street) to enjoy a brilliant sunset. From the hush of the surf you can almost hear the echo of Bing Crosby, singing the famous jingle he wrote in honor of the celebrated track: Where the turf meets the surf, down at old Del Mar …
Solana Beach is home to some of the most chic stores in San Diego County. The Cedros Design District begins at South Cedros Avenue and Lomas Santa Fe Drive, easily accessible by the Coaster, the train that runs from downtown San Diego to Oceanside.
More than 50 shops spanning a quarter-mile feature fashion, home furnishings and antiques. Most of the boutiques on South Cedros are housed in renovated Quonset huts (iron warehouses shaped like a half-cylinder), giving the ‘hood an artistic feel.
Fuel up for your walking tour of the neighborhood at Claire’s (246 N. Cedros Ave.), across from the train station. It’s the kind of eco-conscious café that provides preferred parking for electric and hybrid cars. This stretch of Cedros is also home to Susan Street Fine Art, a contemporary art gallery (200 N. Cedros Ave.), and Tobi Blatt (152 N. Cedros Ave.), with women’s clothing from coveted labels.
Cross Lomas Santa Fe to explore South Cedros. We love Cedros Soles (143 S. Cedros Ave.) for the latest footwear; HIS (also at 143 S. Cedros Ave.), a store geared towards the style-minded guy; and Bixby & Ball (214 S. Cedros Ave.), with linens, home décor items and other coastal-lifestyle accessories. Linger long enough to smell the sweet aromas springing fromMistral (146 S. Cedros Ave.), a small bungalow with soaps and lotions imported from France.
You’ll also find hip home décor and art books at Solo (309 S. Cedros Ave.),and everything for the modern garden at color-splashed Chicweed (240 S. Cedros Ave.).
Nestled among the retail shops is one of the county’s top live music venues: the Belly Up, a Solana Beach landmark for more than 35 years.
Encinitas and Cardiff-by-the-Sea
Heading north on 101 from Solana Beach, you’ll pass through the surf community of Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Be sure to take a picture with the infamous “Cardiff Kook” sculpture.
As you continue north approaching downtown Encinitas, you’ll see a unique silhouette among the palm trees. The Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat and Ashram Center (215 K St.), with its lotus blossom–shaped towers, dates back to 1937. A portion of the grounds is open and free to the public. A stroll through the lush, cliffside gardens offers views of surfers at nearby Swami’s Beach (1298 S. Coast Hwy. 101), a popular break for longboarders. Stock up on gear and surfboards at Hansen’s Surf Shop (1105 S. Coast Hwy. 101).
Up the road, The Lumberyard’s two dozen or so shops include stylish clothier Reign & Clover, modern home-and-garden store Grounded and Chuao Chocolatier, whose gourmet sweets are made from the finest Venezuelan chocolate. Don’t miss DeepFling, with silver jewelry from Scandinavian designers. The Lumberyard also has an array of wine bars, eateries and cafés, many with outdoor seating (937 S. Coast Hwy. 101).
In the center of downtown, the historic La Paloma Theatre (471 S. Coast Hwy. 101) has anchored the district since the 1920s and still hosts concerts and independent films.
Boutiques and restaurants also line the strip. Boasting a sprawling Whole Foods, Pacific Station is also home to Icons boutique, with denim, tees, boho-chic blouses and more (687 S. Coast Hwy. 101).
North Coast Highway 101 runs through sleepy Leucadia, where it’s easy to speed right by gems like Lou’s Records (434 N. Coast Hwy. 101), with its selection of hip LPs and CDs, and Ducky Waddles Emporium (414 N. Coast Hwy. 101), with its excellent collection of books on all things artsy or bawdy.
A great cluster of shops is found at The Gold Coast (466 N. Coast Hwy. 101), whose tenants include stylish children’s boutique Daisy B. A short drive inland leads to San Diego Botanic Garden, a 35-acre treasure showcasing 3,000 rare and exotic plants.
Downtown Carlsbad is a picturesque seaside village. Along Carlsbad Village Drive, you’ll find famed local landmark Frazier’s Well (2802 Carlsbad Blvd.), where sea captain John Frazier discovered mineral water back in 1882.
Nearby is Carlsbad Village Faire, a shopping center that is home to several casual eateries and shops. Retail on nearby State Street includes antique stores and shops like Fairen Del (2940 State St.), with an assortment of fine leather goods, shoes, handbags, jewelry and other accessories.
A short drive east of the freeway on Palomar Airport Road leads to great outlet shopping at Carlsbad Premium Outlets, with brand-name stores like BCBG, Kenneth Cole and Michael Kors.
Continuing on Palomar Airport Road from the outlets will lead you to another cluster of attractions. LegoLand is 128 acres of kid-friendly entertainment that includes the Sea Life Aquarium. Nearby, theMuseum of Making Music is filled with musical memorabilia. Omni La Costa Resort and Spa (2100 Costa del Mar Road) is home to the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Two miles south of La Costa is The Forum, an outdoor, Spanish-style mall.
Click HERE for a detailed map of North Coast.