Known to locals as simply Cardiff, Cardiff by the Sea is a quintessential beach community in Southern California. While technically part of the city of Encinitas, this seaside town has held onto its own identity, in part because of its secluded shores that feel like private beaches.
You can find Cardiff north of Del Mar, La Jolla, and the rest of San Diego, but not as far up the coast as Carlsbad, so it’s still close to the city and its many attractions. Of course, if you are looking for a beach vacation that moves at a more relaxed pace, Cardiff is also ideal all on its own.
Cardiff by the Sea got its name from the wife of its main developer, Frank Cullens of Boston. What was initially a farming community owned by the MacKinnon family (and Native American land before that), the land was purchased and resold by Cullens in lots for residential use. Cullens’ wife, who hailed from Wales, convinced him to name this new community after her beloved hometown, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Cardiff maintains a charming small town feel that is loved by both residents and visitors, thanks to its gorgeous cliffs, wide beaches, and low-key atmosphere. You can find it between Interstate 5 and S Coast Highway 101, which provides a more scenic route if you like to drive along the coast.
You’d be surprised at the many famous residents, including actors, musicians, and professional athletes, who also recognize the magic of the town and its scenery, and you may even run into some of them dining on the beachfront Restaurant Row or shopping at the local stores.
While the beaches are glorious in Cardiff, the real draw for many people are the waves. This is no doubt a surfing spot for both seasoned and novice surfers, and almost any time of year, you can see the water dotted with surfboards from atop the cliffs or watch the surfers riding the waves from your place on the sand.
Snorkelers and scuba divers can be found visiting this town as well; the landscape may be fabulous, but so is the underwater terrain. Whether you come here for the sand, the reef, or the waves, Cardiff by the Sea can be a memorable location for you and your family, whether you are here for a quick getaway or a longer vacation.
Cardiff is a small beach town, and your hotel options capture that feel. Vacation home rentals may best fit larger groups, as most of the lodging in town can be found at inns or bed and breakfasts. If you prefer to stay in a chain, you may need to go up the road to Encinitas and Carlsbad or closer to San Diego for those familiar names.