by Steve Kang

North County is divided into two regions, coastal and inland. Some people may have varying geographical definitions but generally the coastal cities include Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside. The inland cities include Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Escondido, San Marcos, Vista and Fallbrook.

The North County coastal communities are very well known for their affluence as the average house price is well above $1 million in many neighborhoods. In these areas, most of the beaches and lagoons are protected so that it preserves the natural beauty from overdevelopment. North County also is home to many top San Diego businesses that contribute to the economy of the Greater San Diego area.

North County San Diego is probably best known for it’s pristine beaches that span from Torrey Pines all the way up to San Onofre. It’s a surfer’s paradise with a mix of point and beach breaks as well as many reefs and sandbars. Even if you don’t enjoy the waves, the coastline is virtually uninterrupted with beaches that sun worshipers can enjoy with whatever activities they like. With three of the four campgrounds being right on the water, you can even spend the night with the stars if you don’t want to check into one of the many hotels available.

Don’t want to get wet? North County also boasts more than 40 golf courses, including world famous Torrey Pines that was featured in the 2008 U.S. Open. There are also several hiking trails that will satisfy everyone from beginners to experienced hikers. Still not satisfied? There are tons of skateparks and many other activities to be enjoyed in this great part of San Diego.


Del Mar
Horses and More Horses

North County San Diego is synonymous with the surf culture. Not as well known is the huge equestrian culture there. Del Mar Fairgrounds, Rancho Camino Equestrian Center and San Diego Country Estates International Equestrian Center are among the equestrian destinations. You’ll also find one of the country’s best horse racing tracks. This is the birthplace of many Olympic hopefuls.

From the grand event of opening day to the fall classic, the Del Mar Race Track doesn’t disappoint by having exciting horse wagering for all levels of fans as well as great concert guests throughout the season. Don’t forget, you can take a shuttle free of charge from the Solana Beach train station if you don’t feel like dealing with parking.

Gardens and Enlightenment

Formerly known as the Quail Botanical Gardens, new ownership has taken over what is now the San Diego Botanic Garden. The 37-acre grounds feature plant life ranging from that found in the desert to rainforests. Four miles of trails allow you to enjoy the many landscapes and plant life that the garden has to offer. It’s a fantastic day with the kids, with your significant other or just alone getting lost in a little piece of paradise.

The Self-Realization Fellowship Temple is the real reason why the world famous surf spot next to it is called Swamis. The center’s architecture is reminiscent of that of India and the Middle East. What people don’t realize is that it is an actual religious center founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920 to teach techniques of energization, concentration, meditation and higher technique of Kriya Yoga as instructions on how to live a balanced material and spiritual life.

Flowers and Running

Every year when you drive by the windmill off Palomar Airport Road, you see a beautiful cascading hillside of Tecolote Giant Ranunculus flowers. These 50 acres are magnificent in a blink of an eye while driving down the freeway, but if you actually stop and go visit the Flower Fields it will take your breathe away whether it is your first time or your hundredth.

Every year, Carlsbad hosts a marathon, a half marathon and a kids 1 mile fun run. The full marathon starts and finishes at Westfield Carlsbad. After the starter’s gun goes off, runners head for the coast passing the Buena Vista Lagoon and out to Carlsbad Boulevard (Highway 101) north to the north Carlsbad city limit, then south on Carlsbad Boulevard (Highway 101), east on Palomar Airport Road for a three-mile trip inland, then out to the coast and south on Carlsbad Boulevard to a U-turn at La Costa Avenue, then back up the coast to the finish line.

Pier and Museum

As the only pier in North County, it’s a fantastic attraction for the family and for fishing. Just to the north, you are minutes away from the harbor where you can launch, moor, dock or charter a boat. There are restaurants, hotels, fire pits, and picnic areas all within walking distance.

The Surf Museum founded in 1986 has had an estimated 500,000 visitors come through the front doors in the past 25 years. If you’re interested in seeing and reading about the rich surf culture, you’ll be in the right place. When 4L Magazine needed information for our recent Surfing San Diego issue, we sat down with historian Jane Schmauss to get the 411.


San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The park has a large selection of wild and endangered animals from around the world. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in all of San Diego. The Africa Tram takes riders up close and personal with the park’s animals. The Balloon Safari allows guests to see a panoramic view of the animals in the habitat.


Based on the Lego toy brand, this is the their third theme park to open in North County. It is considered the second largest theme park company in the world behind Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Parents and their kids can enjoy rides, the water park and the Sea Life aquarium. What makes this a kid favorite are all the interactive Lego toy features.

Del Mar Fairgrounds

Each year, the fair comes into town with promises of wild and crazy rides as well as wild and crazy foods. There are spectacular shows as well as a petting zoo. This is an all-ages venue that brings in thousands of people every year to experience the carnival atmosphere and all around wholesome fun. There are also adult-themed attractions like concerts and beer fests.


Del Mar

Two miles of sandy beach offer a great place to relax, walk or run. Two coastal parks are located just above the 15th Street surf break. Go a bit north and you’ll run into one of San Diego’s favorite dog beaches.

Solana Beach

As you walk down to the water, you run right into Fletcher Cove Beach Park with great grassy areas, a vista to that overlooks the ocean and even a half basketball court. Keep walking down to the water and you can go surf the popular Pillbox surf spot.

Cardiff by the Sea

The Cardiff Kook is watching you! This great area epitomizes the surf culture. Don’t be surprised if you see Rob Machado giving you a friendly smile and peace sign on the beach or in the lineup.


Home of world famous point break surf spot Swamis, Encinitas is also the home of Moonlight Beach, where families go to hang out at the fire pit, play volleyball or chase their kids around the playground.


Best known for two popular surf spots, Beacon’s and Grandview, Leucadia also caters to those not hungry for waves. The beaches are nice during the summer with lower tides and is not too crowded.


Whether you’re surfing at Ponto or cruising the walkway at Carlsbad State Beach, you’re in a sweet little slice of North County beaches that are mellow with family friendly beaches.


It’s easy to park with plenty of street parking and large parking lots, too. The pier and harbor attract a lot of tourists as well as locals. The neighborhood is up and coming and has an insurgence of great bars and restaurants.

San Onofre

One word … Trestles. Might be the best wave ever, any pro will tell you so. It’s a bit of a walk to get to but well worth it. Old Man’s and the Trails also offer great surfing but since there isn’t much of anything else around, you need to make sure you bring all the stuff you need.


William Heise County Park

Home of one the of most scenic campgrounds in San Diego, William Heise has a number of camp-accessible trails in a variety of landscapes. Mountains, woods, desert—there’s a trail for every taste.

Trail distance: 3 miles / Difficulty: 4 / Scenery: 7

Volcan Mountain

Hiking in the Julian area is great because it offers a change of scenery from local chaparral. Volcan Mountain does not disappoint with conifer forests and desert to ocean views.

Trail distance: 3.2 miles / Difficulty: 6 / Scenery: 9

Torrey Pines State Reserve

After the steep climb to the trailhead, it’s all downhill from there. Which is good, because you’re going to want to focus on the scenery as much as possible.

Trail distance: 5.6 miles

Difficulty: 6 / Scenery: 9

Santa Margarita Trail

This loop follows San Diego’s last wild river, so you’ll be treated to wildlife and shade. Though the trail itself is flat, it is SANDY, so be prepared for a workout

and possible knee-high river crossings.

Trail distance: 6.2 miles

Difficulty: 6 / Scenery: 8

Cedar Creek Falls

If you’re ready for an uphill butt-kicker, Cedar Creek Falls should be on your list. One of San Diego’s hidden spots, the Devil’s Punchbowl is best in the spring, after the snows melt.

Trail distance: 4.2 miles

Difficulty: 5 / Scenery: 9

Lake Poway Loop

Most people come to Lake Poway for the trails that branch from it (Mt. Woodson, Blue Sky), but the loop itself still has plenty of gorgeous views.

Trail distance: 2.9 miles

Difficulty: 6 / Scenery: 7

Palm Canyon Trail

The most popular hike in the Anza-Borrego State Park (be prepared for more foot traffic than on other trails in the park), it is the home of one of California’s last natural oases. This trail is kid-friendly and treats hikers to waterfalls and shade in the scorching desert.

Trail distance: 3 miles

Difficulty: 3 / Scenery: 10

Pacific Crest Trail

This monster of a trail stretches from Canada to Mexico. For a shorter trip, the Laguna Mountain Ridge skirts the boulder-filled mountains to the west and Anza-Borrego Desert to the east.

Trail distance: 6.46 miles

Difficulty: 3 / Scenery: 6

North Lake Hodges

Lake Hodges has a number of trails to explore, including the Elfin Forest. The North Trail offers enough variety to appeal to a greater range of experience levels.

Trail distance: 14.8 miles
Difficulty: 3 / Scenery: 8

Los Penasquitos Canyon

Looking for a hike with great views without the steep mountain trails? Los Penasquitos is relatively flat with streams, marshes and ponds that set the scene for impressive bird watching.

Trail distance: 4.7 miles

Difficulty: 4 / Scenery: 7


San Onofre

Perched atop six trails that lead down to great surf, the beach is bookended by a nude beach to the south and world famous Trestles to the north. Each campsite includes a fire pit and picnic table. Water and electricity hookups for recreational vehicles are available. Other amenities include a dump-station, hot indoor showers and flush toilets. Camping is available year-round.

Oceanside (Guajome Regional Park)

Just eight miles from the Pacific Ocean, the park is close to many entertaining and historical points of interest. A developed 33-site campground offers partial hookups. Two ponds attract a wide variety of migratory birds and serve as home to a variety of fish that will test the skills of any angler.

Carlsbad State Beach

This San Diego beach features swimming, surfing, skin diving, fishing and picnicking. The large bluff-top campground is very popular, especially in the summer. Stairs lead to the beach.

San Elijo State Beach

Located on the San Diego coast, San Elijo offers swimming, surfing, showers and picnicking. The narrow, bluff-backed stretch of sand has a nearby reef popular with snorkelers and divers.


North County Coastal

Pendleton Marine

Memorial Golf Course Military Camp Pendleton

Aviara Golf Course Public Carlsbad

The Crossings at Carlsbad Public Carlsbad

Rancho Carlsbad Country Club Par 3 Carlsbad

Del Mar Country Club Private Del Mar

Del Mar National Golf Course Public Del Mar

The Grand Golf Club Public Del Mar

Center City in Oceanside Par 3 Oceanside

El Camino Country Club Private Oceanside

Emerald Isle Golf Course Par 3 Oceanside

Ocean Hills Country Club Par 3 Oceanside

Oceanside Municipal Golf Course Public Oceanside

Lomas Santa Fe Country Club Private Solana Beach

Lomas Santa Fe Executive Par 3 Solana Beach

Crosby National Golf Club Private Rancho Santa Fe

Fairbanks Ranch Country Club Private Rancho Santa Fe

Morgan Run Resort & Club Private Rancho Santa Fe

Rancho Santa Fe Country Club Private Rancho Santa Fe

Rancho Santa Fe Farms Golf Club Private Rancho Santa Fe

The Bridges Rancho Santa Fe Private Rancho Santa Fe

North County Inland

San Luis Rey Downs Public Bonsall

Castle Creek Country Club Public Escondido

Escondido Country Club Private Escondido

Meadow Lake Country Club Public Escondido

Reidy Creek Golf Course Par 3 Escondido

The Vineyard Golf Course Public Escondido

Fallbrook Golf Club Public Fallbrook

Lawrence Welk Resort Village Par 3 Fallbrook

Pala Mesa Golf Resort Public Fallbrook

The Golf Club of California Private Fallbrook

Pauma Valley Country Club Private Pauma Valley

Maderas Golf Club Public Poway

Stoneridge Country Club Private Poway

Mt. Woodson Golf Course Public Ramona

San Vicente Golf Public Ramona

Bernardo Heights Country Club Private Rancho Bernardo

The Country Club of Rancho Bernardo Private Rancho Bernardo

Rancho Bernardo Inn Golf Resort Public Rancho Bernardo

Carmel Mountain Ranch Golf Course Public San Diego

Oaks North Golf Course Par 3 San Diego

Eagle Crest Golf Course Public San Marcos

Lake San Marcos Country Club Private San Marcos

Lake San Marcos Resort Par 3 San Marcos

Twin Oaks Golf Course Public San Marcos

Skyline Ranch Country Club Par 3 Valley Center

Shadowridge Country Club Private Vista

Vista Valley Country Club Private Vista