Cardiff by the Sea

Cardiff by the Sea offers a wholesome outdoor experience for the entire family. Relax while you bird watch, take a bike ride, camp on the beach, or paddle board. Walk to local shopping boutiques, enchanting sidewalk cafés, and exquisite parks. Surf, hike or snorkel at Cardiff by the Sea.
Cardiff by the Sea
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Cardiff by the Sea
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Enjoy Camping, Hiking & Sunsets in Cardiff by the Sea

Cardiff Kook Statue in Front of San Elijo State BeachSan Elijo State Beach Campground

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.

Cardiff by the Sea
Why you'll love Cardiff by the Sea
Experience one of the most laid back destinations in San Diego. Go bike riding, surfing, birdwatching or catch a sunset while camping on the beach in Cardiff by the Sea.

Save using your Go Pass!

San Diego Beach Tour
San Diego Beach Tour
Want to enjoy some of the best beaches in the world? Use your Go Pass and buy a San Diego Beach Tour. The half day tour takes you to La Jolla, seal beach, Torrey Pines and much more. You'll also see plenty of sea life, so bring your camera!
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Local Tips
Who can use a Go San Diego Pass?

Adults and children (ages 3 to 12) can use the Go San Diego Pass – All-Inclusive, Explorer or Build Your Own - to visit the area’s top attractions and activities.

Things to Do

Beach Fire Pits
Beach Fire Pits
Beach Volleyball
Beach Volleyball
Biking
Biking
Paddle Boarding
Paddle Boarding
Picnic Tables
Picnic Tables
Skateboarding
Skateboarding
Snorkeling
Snorkeling
Sunbathing
Sunbathing
Surfing
Surfing
Swimming
Swimming

Things to Do and Places to Go

The beaches in Cardiff are where it’s at, but don’t expect to just show up and find a parking place. Some are good for surfing and snorkeling, while others are treasured for beachcombing and sunbathing. Here are some of the main beaches that you should visit during your stay:

Cardiff State Beach

Cardiff State Beach is in the southern part of town, and this state park has two main access points, North Beach and Seaside Beach.

North Beach has a small parking lot and is close to town and the beachside Restaurant Row.

Seaside Beach is where the surfers hang out. The beach can be narrow during high tide, but low tide rewards beachgoers by unveiling tidal pools.

Snorkelers and divers also like this beach because of the reefs and kelp forests that slow down the big swells. Keep in mind that both parts of Cardiff State Park are not ideal for swimming. Rip currents can pop up anytime, making it dangerous for even experienced swimmers.

Local Tips
Did you Know?
Rob Machado, the famous professional surfer, grew up surfing at Seaside Beach in Cardiff, where he grew up.

San Elijo State Beach

San Elijo State Beach offers a different kind of beach experience, especially if you like the idea of nighttime bonfires in the sand. It has a campground facility for overnight guests, and a small convenience store operates during the busy months by the entrance to the park.

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, separate from the state beach, is a coastal wetland area that is where birdwatchers like to hang out. Walk the seven miles of trails and see how many of the over 250 species of birds you can spot during your visit. If hiking is more your thing, you need to check out Annie’s Canyon Trail, a narrow sandstone canyon pass that a local resident worked hard to preserve for everyone to enjoy.

The Cardiff Kook

The Cardiff Kook isn’t quite a destination, but it should still be a part of your itinerary. This six-foot-tall bronze statue of a surfer riding the waves goes by the official name of “Magic Carpet Ride,” but locals refer to it as a “kook”, which is surfer lingo for a beginner surfer because the figure does not have the best body position.

A tradition of pranking has taken over the sculpture, where locals dress it up or create elaborate vignettes with the Kook in the center. You’ll never know what new costumes or backdrops will show up on the rider. Look for the Cardiff Kook at the entrance of San Elijo State Beach on the corner of S Coast Hwy 101 at Chesterfield Dr.

Swami’s Beach

Swami’s Beach is just outside of Cardiff in Encinitas, and it’s another surfer spot with a laid-back vibe. During low tide, it’s walking distance from San Elijo State Beach, so head north if you want to see some serious surfing action.

Good Eats in Cardiff

Cardiff by the Sea may be a small slice of the city of Encinitas, but it boasts its own Restaurant Row, with some iconic spots in the mix. You’ll find a fair share of Italian restaurants, pizza shops, and even big-name steakhouses, but you should also give those local favorites a try during your visit.

Here are a few restaurants and dives to keep on your radar:

Los Olas

Los Olas, a Mexican restaurant, has been in business since 1981, and while there is a disagreement about who invented the San Diego-style fish taco, you can definitely get your fill of them here.

Pacific Coast Grill

Pacific Coast Grill is beloved as much for its Southern California cuisine as it is for its stunning sunset view over the ocean. Its doors have been open since 1995, and locals and tourists keep it hopping all year round.

Ki’s Restaurant

Ki’s Restaurant started in 1981 in an old house, and while the business has expanded to two locations, the healthy fare that put it on the map continues to bring fans who want great flavor that’s also good for you.

VG Donut

VG Donut may not have a big emphasis on health, but they do know a thing or two about donuts, cakes, and pastries. This donut shop opened in 1969, and no visit to Cardiff is complete without at least one visit.

Featured Activity

San Diego Harbor Cruise on San Diego Bay at Sunset
San Diego Harbor Cruise
Enjoy this ‘San Diego Top Pick Award’ winner as you set sail on a three level luxury ship providing 360-degree views of San Diego’s scenic beauty. Relax for a 1-2 hour narrated tour, learn about the city from the bay.
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The Highs and Lows in Cardiff

Like the rest of San Diego, Cardiff by the Sea enjoys glorious weather throughout the year. The rainy season is in the winter from December to February, but you can still expect more sunny days than cloudy. The average rainfall during winter rarely exceeds three inches per month, so don’t let a few wet days deter you.

The temperatures stay consistent as well, with lows that rarely dip into the 40s and highs that seldom creep up into the 80s. When you add in that ocean breeze, you may want to dress in light layers while you visit Cardiff to stay comfortable any time of day or night. Be prepared with plenty of sunscreen during your stay to keep sunburn from ruining your good time.

If you plan to try your luck in the water, either pack a wetsuit or rent one in town. The water temperatures peak in the low 70s in late August or early September, but the average is in the 60s, which can feel downright chilly when you are head-to-toe wet.

Featured Hotel
Cardiff by the Sea Lodge
Outdoor Patio at Cardiff by the Sea Lodge
Beaches
Beaches
Boutique
Boutique
Families
Families
3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars
Live like a local when you visit Cardiff by the Sea Lodge. Find the best hidden beach spots and yummy local eats, or just relax in your well-appointed room.
Prices Starting at $156
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Know Before You Go & Tips

Amazing Sunsets
Amazing Sunsets
Cafes
Cafes
Parks
Parks
Shopping
Shopping
Walkable
Walkable

Tips for your visit to Cardiff

Lifeguards

Depending on the season, lifeguards are at most of the beaches in Cardiff. Pay attention to their warnings about rip currents and rogue waves, as this area is prone to both and you would not want to be caught in either. Red tides, an algae bloom, can also occur in the summer, and lifeguards can let you know about that as well.

Unstable Cliffs

While the cliffs are gorgeous and inviting, be sure to stick to any clear paths or stairways. These are rocks, and they can be unstable if you forge your own way. As with any natural attraction, you should respect the natural beauty and follow any state guidelines to protect it and yourself.

Beach Rules

You can bring your dog with you to any of the beaches in Cardiff but leave the alcohol and cigarettes at home. Smoking and drinking are not allowed on the beach.

Surfing

While surfing is a big attraction in this beach town, you don’t have to be a pro or have your own equipment. Cardiff has several surf shops where you can rent long and shortboards as well as wetsuits, and they even offer lessons or surf camps to get you out on the water in no time.

Another great way to try surfing and many other activities is to purchase a Go San Diego Card. This pass will allow you to rent surfboards, paddle boards and much more for one low price.

Other Watersports

If surfing isn’t your thing, you can also try other watersports, including kayaking, snorkeling, and stand-up paddle boarding. You may want to rent a bike while you are in town for another way to take in the surroundings, especially since parking can be limited at some of the favorite beaches.

The Go San Diego Card even works with kayaks, snorkeling and gets you into museums, the San Diego and even SeaWorld San Diego for one low price. Check out how you can save while you have fun in San Diego.

Cardiff by the Sea
is Famous For:
Beaches
Beaches
Camping
Camping
Sidewalk Cafés
Sidewalk Cafés
Surfing
Surfing
Known For:
Bike Riding
Bike Riding
Birdwatching
Birdwatching
Hiking
Hiking
Paddle Boarding
Paddle Boarding
Sunsets
Sunsets
This Month's Forecast
63℉ / 73℉
Partly Cloudy in June
Jul
67℉ / 77℉
Sunny in July
Aug
69℉ / 79℉
Sunny in August
Sep
67℉ / 79℉
Sunny in September

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Cardiff by the Sea Lodge
Boutique Hotel
3 Star Rating3 Star Rating3 Star Rating
Cardiff by the Sea Lodge
from $156 / night
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