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Cardiff is one of our absolute favorite spots in San Diego.
Nestled just south of downtown Encinitas, Cardiff-by-the-Sea is a sleepy little beach town that epitomizes all that North County of San Diego has to offer: two kid (and surfer) friendly beaches, beautiful parks, and tons of great spots to eat and relax.
Lately, we’ve found ourselves choosing Cardiff over downtown Encinitas or Solana Beach simply because it’s less crowded and easier to manage with the girls in tow. It’s relatively easy to locate parking, grab a bite to eat, and find a place to settle on the beach.
Today I’m sharing our Cardiff travel guide and all of our favorite places to eat and hang out here.
Cardiff Travel Guide
San Elijo State Beach
This beach sits right below the campground on the cliffs. We like this beach because it doesn’t get overly crowded. We park right on PCH if we can snag a spot and then walk through the campgrounds and down the stairs to the water. We use the bathrooms in the campground, and there’s a shower at the top of the steps too.
We’ve never actually camped here but it looks SO dreamy. Apparently sites are very difficult to come by and you have to book way in advance (more info here), but this is definitely on my bucket list.
Cardiff State Beach
I love this spot. It does get crowded during the summer, but it’s perfect on weekdays or if you get there early enough in the morning. You can park on PCH or across it in Cardiff, but we’ll pony up for the day-use parking fee if things are touch-and-go with the girls at all.
This is one of my favorite beaches in San Diego because there is a really big sand bar that makes wading in the waves super fun for Char. She loves to splash and jump around and it makes it a little bit easier on us because the waves are so shallow.
Dogs are allowed at Cardiff State Beach, if you care about that sort of thing.
This park is amazing. It has basketball courts, a really nice playground, and a huge grassy hill to hang out on (we celebrated a friend’s engagement there a few months ago and it was so much fun!).
Coastal Rail Trail
There is a portion of San Diego’s Coastal Rail Trail project that runs through Cardiff and up towards downtown Encinitas. This path was just recently completed and provides a huge, safe walking space for power-walkers, strollers, and scooter-lovers like Char. We love this little path.
Walk from Encinitas to Cardiff on PCH
This isn’t as safe as the rail trail, but this walk is one of the most scenic in the county. One of our favorite things to do is to grab a coffee from Philz in Encinitas and walk south towards Cardiff. The coastline and view of the Pacific on this walk are absolutely stunning.
Where to Eat in Cardiff, San Diego
Seaside Market: This bougie little market is what millennial dreams are made of. The prices are in line with what you’d expect from a place called “Seaside Market,” but we love it anyway. We like to swing through after a morning on the beach and grab something to make for dinner later–usually it’s their famous Cardiff Crack Tri-Tip (and by “usually,” yes, ok, I mean “always). This stuff is SO good. The deli here makes the most amazing sides, and they have a great beer and wine selection, too.
Pipes Cafe: Tyler and I have been getting breakfast burritos from Pipes pretty consistently since we moved to San Diego three years ago. It’s just so good. We love to bring guests from out of town here when they visit. Our favorite thing to do is order a couple of burritos to-go (ask for extra salsa, just trust me) and carry them over to the beach for a little foggy morning picnic. The black coffee here is really good, too.
VG Donuts: I’m not really a donut person, but everyone I know loses their minds over VG’s, so I’m including it on this list.
Lourdes Mexican Food: With an unassuming exterior, you’d never guess that Lourdes was home to the most iconic chicken soup in the county, but it is. If I even detect a hint of a sniffle coming on or a SPECK of rain just so happens to escape from the sky, my mouth immediately dries up and starts craving that spicy broth. IDK guys, there’s just something about this soup. There’s a location in Escondido, too, which is near where my parents live. Our entire family/friend network relies on this soup as the go-to bad day/sick day drop off gesture.
Waverly: This is a trendy new restaurant with the most amazing boho decor and fabulous food and cocktail menu. I ate brunch here with my girlfriends a few months ago and have been dying to go back.
Bump Coffee: Come for the iced coffee, stay for the show-stopping empanadas. We love this place.
Zumbar Coffee: This is another great little spot to grab a cup of coffee before a morning walk on the beach.
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