Encinitas is about 30 minutes north of downtown San Diego. If staying in the downtown area, southbound traffic can be heavy during rush hour. Swami's Beach is a great place to watch the sunset while waiting for traffic to die down.
Recommended time of the year
San Diego has a year-round temperate climate, so families can do these outings throughout the year. If swimming in winter, there are wetsuit rentals at many of the surf shops on Highway 101.
Moonlight State Beach parking is paid parking, so look for free street parking around B Street. It would also put you closer to Handel's Ice Cream. If you sign up for the Handel's newsletter, you get a free cone if the coupon is used within 48 hrs.
About This Day
Named among the 20 best surf towns in the world by National Geographic, Encinitas is the quintessential Southern California beach culture, famous for its big waves and good vibes. Swami's Beach, a pro-surfer beach at Encinitas, was immortalized in the Beach Boys' song “Surfin’ USA,” and the Historic Highway 101 runs right through the town. It’s also a great home base for a family trip to San Diego since it’s just a short drive away. This itinerary is a fun twist on a family beach outing, starting off with a lunch at Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon, a local favorite Southern Californian pie shop, and a secret garden respite with a mini animal enclosure at Sunshine Gardens Nursery next door. Then hit Moonlight State Beach for a local beach with a great playground and lots of family activities, before ending your perfect beach day in Encinitas with kids with a treat of homemade ice cream at Handel’s Ice Cream.
Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon is an Old West-themed pie shop. Complete with swinging saloon doors and Betty's bakers in cowboy hats, it is a favorite Encinitas restaurant among North County locals and a fun way to experience Encinitas with kids. The homemade sweet and savory pies are perfect for lunch or an afternoon snack, conveniently kid-sized (try the “Wee Ball”) and the empanada is a western take on a Mexican classic. It's not carnitas and enchiladas, but delicious, and located next door to Sunshine Gardens. There's also a safe outdoor space for kids to run around.
DIRECTIONS From the I-5, exit Encinitas Blvd. and go east until you reach Westlake Street. Turn left and into the Sunshine Gardens parking lot. Betty's Pie Whole is next door.
Sunshine Gardens is an award-winning nursery and the oldest gardens in San Diego's North County. It's a secret respite for parents looking for a peaceful activity near the beach. The nursery has myriad sections for kids to wander about and enjoy the greenery while learning about Southern California-grown succulents, plants, fruits and vegetables. It also has a shaded quail aviary, koi ponds, pygmy goats and a giant tortoise named General Bubba Crush. It's an unlikely but wonderful activity to pair with the pie shop and enjoy a local's perspective of Southern Californian culture.
DIRECTIONS Sunshine Gardens is in the same parking lot as Betty's Pie Whole Saloon.
TIP On Thursday evenings in the summer, Sunshine Gardens hosts a kids concert. Plus, the art center next door that has art camps for kids throughout the summer.
A favorite for local Californian families, Moonlight State Beach not only has all the amenities for a great beach outing but also a fantastic playground for kids. Families can rent boogie boards, surf boards and volleyballs in the rental shop. There are also a row of thatched palm umbrellas to sit under, if you can secure one.
DIRECTIONS From Sunshine Gardens, take Encinitas Blvd. west across the 101, all the way to the coast. There is usually street parking along B Street or into the neighborhood, and a paid parking lot on the south side hill.
TIP There is a paid parking lot on the hill on the south side of Moonlight State Beach, but on weekdays, you can usually find free street parking on the side streets on the north side of the beach. This street parking is also close to Handel's Ice Cream, which is within walking distance from the beach.
Handel's Ice Cream is a classic American ice cream chain, dating back to 1945. Its menu has over 100 flavors of homemade ice cream and yogurt, including dairy-free options. It's been published in "The 10 Best of Everything" and "Everyone Loves Ice Cream" as one of the best ice creams in the world. Its reviews must hold up: There is usually a line around the block! But it is a fun way to chat with the locals and get the Encinitas "flavor."
DIRECTIONS From Moonlight State Beach, it's a 5-minute walk back to the 101 and directly on your left, in the Lofty Complex.
TIP There is street parking between Moonlight State Beach and Handel's Ice Cream, if you want to couple both experiences with one parking spot.