The air is sweet on Neptune Avenue. Blooming Star Jasmine and gnarled cacti creep through my senses as I start my ascent up the pedestrian-friendly road. A man carrying a surfboard approaches. He leaves a damp trail behind him. I give a faint wave hello, but he keeps forward, too exhausted from a day of surfing to notice me. I don’t take it too personally, though. The vibe here is decidedly carefree, and I’m helplessly infected by it.
As I pass my third Mercedes Sprinter Van, I fantasize about living life off capital gains. The road levels off, and a neat line of ocean interrupts the chaotic row of architecture. I’m at the top of the bluff. I peak down and over the railing and spot a gaggle of surfers lying on their boards. It’s a fascinating lifestyle, but I’m entirely uninterested in participating. There are easier ways to catch a rush that doesn’t involve another knee injury. Perhaps, something with a chile-salted rim.
Slightly winded, I arrive at my destination— a deceivingly modest-looking beach house with a side entrance. I ring the doorbell twice, wondering if I’m heard over the cracking waves. A moment passes, and a large smile and open arms greet me. It’s Lori. She’s spent the past five months working remotely here in Encinitas and is happy to have a new visitor. I am also pleased to be here, among friends. I step into the living room and to my left, three wide open glass doors and a hundred miles of ocean. To my right, a masterful group of digital nomads— two FAANG employees and one business owner. They know how to unearth a visiting city’s gems, and I’m prepared to submit my time to their expertise.
A crisp breeze brushes over my sweaty face. “What do we have to drink?” I ask optimistically. Another moment passes, and a warm wave of local, organic tequila finally crashes through my body. I have arrived in Southern California. Must find tacos.
A short walk back down the bluff is the Surfhouse— a boutique motel that caters to visiting surfers and, also, me. Sun-bleached slabs of wood line the 15-room, two-story building with large numbers painted on each door. I’m in room one.
The accommodations are clean and spacious. A small kitchenette and closet fill the wall in front of me. A queen-sized bed sits under a pop of teal and faces a mounted TV that feels slightly too big for the room. A seafoam green barn door reveals the bathroom with a glass partition between the toilet and shower. Beach pebbles and mortar surround the drain. It’s all very cute and charming.
Nectarine Grove / Coffee Coffee
As you may have guessed, life in Encinitas is Enci-expensive-as-fuck. The Surfhouse is a good option if you’re unwilling or unable to spend a couple grand on a beach front rental. There is no getting around the $7 cold brews at the cafes on either side of the motel, however. Take it all in stride. The paleo pancakes at Nectarine Grove are fluffy and delicious. I don’t even mind the gluten-free label. I just defiantly slather on more syrup. The coffee and pastries at Coffee Coffee really hit the spot on my first jet-lagged morning. Try the danish if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re not, I no longer trust you and ask that you immediately stop reading this. Both Nectarine Grove and Coffee Coffee are just a few hundred feet from Surfhouse.
Side note: The barista at Coffee Coffee was kind enough to offer me a cold brew as they were closing on my first day in town. She saved my life. I’ll never forget you, person.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Garden
After a short hike around Lake Hodges, we head fifteen minutes south to the Stone Brewery in Escondido. The aroma of musty yeast sludges through our nostrils as we approach the building. We’re early to our reservation by an hour, and the host offers up the gift shop as a waiting room. We politely decline. Instead, we use our time responsibly and grab a beer down the road. These are prime drinking hours, after all. We’ll be back.
Upon our return, the high industrial ceilings lead us to open sky and round tables. A lush garden dances seductively, hoping to distract us from the beating our wallets are about to take. I order a light-bodied lager instead of the brewery’s flagship IPA. It’s the type of bullshit move waiters snicker at, equal to ordering your steak well-done at a fancy steak house. For dinner, I go with the Asian spicy noodle dish. It was unremarkable. This, again, is entirely on me. I should’ve ordered the burger. Real pub food. No one has ever said, “be sure to order the Asian dish at that brewery with outdoor garden seating.”
Please don’t make my mistakes. Personal missteps aside, I enjoyed my time at Stone Brewery. Have a couple of tasty beers with a few great friends. Exit through the gift shop.
The Taco Stand
My toxic trait is I prefer hardshell tacos over soft. I’ll eat a soft taco because that’s what society demands of me, but I’m no fool. Softshell tacos are nothing more than open-face burritos.
In record time, I wash down my second tostada with an ice-cold Coke. The hard shell plate is stacked high with crisp carnitas, fresh onion, cilantro, and a creamy lime sauce. There’s a bit of mango in there somewhere, giving just the right amount of sweetness to its savory surroundings. The Taco Stand feels like a hidden gem but, is in fact, a regional chain with five locations in Southern California. This isn’t Chili’s, though. The food at The Taco Stand holds its own and I’m grateful to have experienced it.
Here’s a Google Map List of everything mentioned in this post.
Corner Pizza: ‘The Killer Bee’ is prepared with pepperoni and drizzled honey. Get drunk first.
Leucadia Liquor: Just down the road from Surfhouse. I bought the tequila I had tried on my first day at this liquor store. The brand is Solento Organic Tequila.
Richard Walker’s Pancake House: A popular breakfast spot located in the Marina District of Downtown San Diego. Order the baked pancakes if you have nothing else to do that day. You won’t be able to walk it off. Source: trust me.
Puesto: A trendy restaurant with good margaritas and ambitious taco creations. Located in Ja Holla near Windan Sea Beach.
Herb & Sea: Fine dining in Downtown Encinitas. We saved this spot for my last day in town. The cocktails are out of this world. The food is surprising and delicious.
Cali Cream: Tasty ice cream in downtown Encinitas. They are generous with their scoops.
Pannikin Coffee & Tea: Iced latte and a big blueberry scone. I wish I spent more time here.
French Corner: I didn’t get a chance to stop at this cafe, but it does come recommended. If you go, let me know what you think of it.
Birdseye Kitchen: Get the pork belly.
Gaslamp Quarter: We just passed by this commerce area. There seemed to a lot going on, booze-wise.
Vuori: Popular athleisure wear store in Downtown Encinitas. I almost bought a pair of shorts.
Lake Hodges Overlook Trail: Tried to earn those margaritas with a hike.
Annie’s Canyon Trail: I didn’t get to do this hike, but it looks like a good time. Instagram-able.
Windansea Beach: Why doesn’t anyone have a COVID body in this dumb town? Good beach for the sun.
Grandview Beach: Popular spot for surfing, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Children’s Pool La Jolla: Check out some seals and sea lions. They smell bad but are cute. I have no idea why this beach is named Children’s Pool. It’s a whole-ass ocean.
Fairmont Grand Del Mar: This is a total splurge of a spa day at a beautiful resort. After our massage, we spent the day by the pool. The staff is so attentive you’ll feel important.
Clean Green Patient Services: Another weed spot. This one has delivery for $10 with a $60 minimum.
Revive Spa: B12 shot for happiness.
After a few days of overcast, the sun reappears. It’s my last day in Southern California. We head over to Children’s Pool Beach and check out the seals and sea lions. A few are flopping around on the rocks, but most take the opportunity to soak up the sun. I spot one seal lying remarkably still. I stare at him. “Is he dead?” I ask. A young boy walking by shoots me a look of concern, then continues on. Three minutes pass. No movement. Five, maybe seven minutes later, and still not even a rise of the chest. We’re now concerned, and I’m thinking of who, if anyone, I should call. A vet? The zoo? I am unprepared for this. Just then, a seagull pokes the seal in the belly, and the seal pops up. Whew, I thought. “You scared us, dude!” I give him a wave, but he ignores me and flops back down onto the rock. That will be the last time I wave to anyone without a shirt on.
If you have questions or want to give me a shout, hit me up on my Instagram. I’d love to hear from you. Thank you for spending time with me. Talk with you soon.
Buy me a coffee on Venmo: @jasondotgov