How to Spend a Day in Encinitas

Encinitas at sunset
Encinitas at sunset | © Katie Watkins
Photo of Katie Watkins
11 April 2018

A notorious surf town, Encinitas hones a laid-back beach vibe.

Beyond the sand and waves, it’s also home to relaxing gardens, a historic movie theater, and trendy restaurants. Situated in San Diego’s North County, Encinitas is about a 30-minute drive from the downtown area. This guide will help you get started on what to eat, do, and see while visiting the coastal city.

Meditation Gardens

The Self-Realization Fellowship’s golden domes are one of the first landmarks visitors spot when driving to Encinitas from downtown San Diego. Founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda, the Encinitas temple teaches Kriya Yoga, a spiritual practice from India. The meditation gardens are adjacent to the temple and open to the public. Featuring lush plants, koi ponds, and benches that overlook the ocean, they are a relaxing place to explore or meditate. There is, however, a strict no-talking policy.

The golden domes of the Self Realization Fellowship | © Ricardo / Flickr

La Paloma Theater

Opened in 1928, La Paloma became one of the first theaters in the country to show Talkies. Today, the historic theater plays current movies, as well as classic favorites and surf films. Every Friday at midnight they feature The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The box office is still cash only, and all tickets cost $10.

The historic La Paloma movie theater | © Joe Wolf / Flickr

The beach

A trip to Encinitas wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the beach. Swami’s is a renowned surfing spot that gained international attention after it received a shout-out in the Beach Boy’s “Surfing USA” song. The benches at the top of the staircase leading down to the beach make for a scenic place to sit and watch the surfers.

For the non-surfers, nearby Moonlight Beach is ideal for laying down a towel or going for a swim. It also has volleyball courts, a snack bar, and fire pits.

Moonlight beach as seen from the cliffside | © Chad McDonald / Flickr

Botanic Gardens

Stretching 37 acres, the San Diego Botanic Garden contains 29 different themed areas, including bamboo, palm, and children’s gardens. Due to the temperate Southern California weather, close to 4,000 different species grow there, and visitors can easily spend several hours wandering through the flora. Every Saturday at 10:30 a.m., there are guided tours that start at the Visitor Center/Gift Shop.

Hwy 101

Dotted with coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants, Highway 101 is the main street that runs through downtown Encinitas. With wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, visitors can stroll along the main drag while popping into local stores, or stopping for coffee—or a taco.

Downtown Encinitas | © Katie Watkins


Those looking for a caffeine fix have plenty of options. Located a bit further north along Highway 101 sits Pannikin, which serves coffee and tea inside a historic railroad station that was built in the late 1800s. Specialty coffee roaster Lofty Coffee also has a café in Encinitas. Right across the street is Lofty’s roastery, Roasting Works, which offers a condensed menu and additional seating. For an acai bowl or avocado toast, visitors should try Better Buzz, a quickly growing San Diego chain that roasts its coffee in Vista.

Beers + Bites

San Diego’s expansive craft beer industry shines through in Encinitas. Bier Garden Encinitas is a gastropub with an outdoor patio and 25 different (and mostly local) beers on tap. Union Kitchen also has a robust menu of rotating beers, and uses local ingredients for American-style cuisine. For Mexican food, The Taco Stand has ample seating and tacos for less than $3 each.

Inside the Taco Stand | © Katie Watkins