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Encinitas Neighborhood Guide: Old Encinitas

Encinitas Boathouses

The Old Encinitas neighborhood of Encinitas is where you will find the Encinitas Historical Society, City Hall and the historic downtown area. It is also the home of Swami’s Beach, Moonlight Beach, the San Diego Botanic Garden and the Self Realization Fellowship – to name just a few North County attractions that call Old Encinitas home.

The community is known for its laidback surf culture, local shops and eateries, community events, great beaches and good schools.

As is expected in a beach community with this much character, home prices are higher here than in many areas of San Diego County. However, this is also the kind of neighborhood where locals are willing to pay a premium to live a coveted lifestyle in a great location.


The Old Encinitas area has been influenced through history by indigenous inhabitants, the Mission Era and the Rancho Era, during which it was part of Rancho de Los Encinitos. When the rancho was divided into Las Encinitas Rancho and Rancho Dieguito, the five neighborhoods that make up modern-day Encinitas became part of Las Encinitas Rancho.

The historic downtown area first began in 1881 when a water tower was erected near Cottonwood Creek to provide water for the railroad. Founded by John Pitcher and Tom Rattan (both Civil War veterans), the streets of Encinitas were also laid out that same year, and the town was officially established two years later. Also in 1883, the old school house was built to accommodate the eight students in the area, which was later moved and made into a home and now houses the Encinitas Historical Society.

While this area is home to some of the oldest buildings in Encinitas, which date back to the late 1880s, the 1920s is when Old Encinitas really saw a building boom and became home to some of the historic landmarks that still stand today. This includes the Daley Double Saloon which was constructed in 1928; the Bessie Love compound, which was built in 1926; the boathouses, which were built in 1927; and La Paloma Theatre, which was built in 1927, opened in 1928 and was one of the first movie theaters to show talking movies, rather than just silent films.

During the 1920s, Moonlight Beach also became a popular hangout where locals would picnic and race horses. During this same decade, bootleggers would use this beach as a dropping off point for illegal liquor during the Prohibition Era.

Like many coastal towns in Southern California, Encinitas has ties to Hollywood. One of the most notable of which is that Charlie Chaplin purchased a home in the downtown area for his mother in 1925. Sidney Chaplin, Charlie’s brother, also owned land in the area, including what is now known as the Sidney Chaplin Building on South Coast Highway 101.

Several buildings that were constructed during the 1920s and 1930s are still standing, and it is well worth taking one of the self-guided or docent-led walking tours offered by the Encinitas Historical Society to learn more about the area and its history. There is also a good list of historic buildings and information available from the Encinitas 101 MainStreet Association.


There is a variety of housing options available in Old Encinitas, including nostalgic beach cottages, newer homes and a few eclectic offerings that help give the neighborhood its unique charm.

West of Interstate 5, and particularly in the blocks near the beach and Highway 101, much of the neighborhood looks like an old school surf town and has a laidback feel. Here you will find original and remodeled beach bungalows, some newer homes and some rather unique properties – like the twin boathouses, the SS Encinitas and the SS Moonlight. Prices here can easily reach into the millions, but if you are looking for a coastal retreat and prefer character and charm over tract home uniformity, this could be the neighborhood for you.

At the time of this writing, homes on the market ranged in price from about $550,000 to more than $4,000,000, which is about the price range you would expect to see in a coastal community with a mix of older and newer homes.

If you are interested in living near the beach but prefer a newer home, you may need to look east of Interstate 5, which is still just a short drive away from the beach and the historic downtown shopping area.

Part of the draw for homeowners interested in this area is that Old Encinitas has all of the trappings of a small town, including a library, hospital, a little movie theater, locally owned shops and restaurants, the post office, good schools and City Hall, which just happens to be perfectly situated on the beach and just an easy commute to San Diego or Orange County.

San Diego Botanic Garden

Restaurants, Shopping & Entertainment

Old Encinitas is filled with cafés, surf shops, eclectic stores and historic buildings – like La Paloma Theatre. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon or a weekend, and an even better place to live. Folks who are fortunate enough to live in the western part of the neighborhood near Highway 101 can walk to shops and restaurants along the Highway 101 Coastal Corridor shopping district, which is home to plenty of locally owned options and local hangouts.

Some of the places that should not be missed on any visit to Old Encinitas are the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, La Paloma Theatre, the Self Realization Fellowship, Swami’s Café, Lotus Café & Juice Bar and Encinitas Surfboards. If you are interested in history, you should also swing by the Encinitas Historical Society at 390 West F Street, which is located in the old Encinitas school house. Visiting the one-room school house that was built in 1883 for Encinitas’ eight local students is reason enough to stop by, but they also do walking tours and have lots of information on Encinitas history.

The Encinitas Station Farmers Market, which takes place every Wednesday at 600 South Vulcan in downtown Encinitas, should also be on your list, particularly if you are in the market for local produce, artisan-crafted wares or some of the flowers for which Encinitas is so well known.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the many photo opps while you are in the area, such as the Encinitas welcome arch, the SS Encinitas and SS Moonlight boathouses, and some of the funky front yard décor you will find at cottages near the beach.

Old Encinitas is not quite as funky as its northern neighbor, Leucadia, or as trendy as its sister to the east, New Encinitas. Instead, Old Encinitas blends surf culture, small town charm and historic preservation as it serves as the heart of Encinitas and home to its historic downtown area. This is old school Encinitas at its most authentic and is the perfect place to browse antique shops, check out boutique clothing stores or people watch at a sidewalk café.

It is also the place to go for annual community events like the Taste of Main Street International Food Festival and the Encinitas Street Faire.

Cottonwood Creek Park

Parks & Recreation

Folks who live in Encinitas are usually drawn to this area by the sand, surf and sun, as well as the beach lifestyle that comes with living in a surf town. However, if you would like to spend time outdoors without a surfboard or beach towel, there are lots of other options for locals and visitors to enjoy.

However, we probably should go ahead and start with the beaches, since that is what makes this area so popular. Both Moonlight Beach and Swami’s Beach are incredibly popular with locals and visitors.

Swami’s Beach – named for the founder of the Self Realization Fellowship that overlooks the beach, Swami Paramahansa Yogananda – is best known for its surf break, but there are also picnic areas and a park at the top of the cliff, which is known as Swami’s Seaside Park.

At the ADA accessible, family-friendly Moonlight Beach, you will find picnic tables, restrooms, fire rings, volleyball courts, a playground, a tennis court and a snack bar. Some say Moonlight Beach was named for its important role as a drop-off for rum runners during the Prohibition Era, but whether or not that bit of folklore is true, this seaside hangout has definitely been a local hotspot for generations. Between Moonlight Beach and Swami’s Beach, there is also D Street Beach.

There are also plenty of parks in Old Encinitas, including the Paul Ecke Sports Park, Cottonwood Creek Park and Mildred MacPherson Park.

Paul Ecke Sports Park is an alcohol-free community space located at 278 Saxony Road with fields for soccer, baseball, softball and other outdoor sports.

Cottonwood Creek Park, which is located at 95 North Vulcan, has basketball and tennis courts, a playground, picnic tables, a gazebo and a paved path for walking or jogging. Beer and wine are allowed at this park.

At the corner of Cornish Drive and D Street, you will find Encinitas Viewpoint Park, which is an alcohol-free park with a playground, picnic tables and off-leash dog hours on most days of the week.

If bocce ball or horseshoes are more your thing, you might enjoy Oakcrest Park on Encinitas Boulevard where you can sip beer or wine while taking part in either of these sports.

Beer and wine are also allowed at Mildred MacPherson Park at 1045 South Vulcan Avenue, where you will find picnic tables, playground equipment and a basketball court.

If you are not that interested in courts and fields for sports but can appreciate pretty little parks with an ocean view, you should definitely check out the H Street Viewpoint and the I Street Viewpoint.

Old Encinitas is also home to a few popular North County attractions, once of which is the San Diego Botanic Garden, which offers garden tours, educational programs, venue rentals and one of the most beautiful places to spend an afternoon in all of North County. At the San Diego Botanic Garden, you can explore gardens representing flora found in different parts of the world, visit a Kumeyaay homesite while learning about native plants and people, learn about gardening or garden photography, or attend a variety of community events that take place throughout the year. Events at the gardens include such offerings as the Fairy Festival, the Chocolate Festival, the Herb Festival, plant sales, Thursday Family Fun Nights, ArtFest, Lady Bug Day and the Encinitas Rotary Wine Festival.

Other nearby attractions that may be of interest to you include the Batiquitos Lagoon, which is just north of the Leucadia neighborhood, and the Encinitas Ranch Golf Course located northeast of Old Encinitas.

Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine


The neighborhood of Old Encinitas is served by the Encinitas Unified Elementary School District and the San Dieguito Union High School District. Most young students living in this neighborhood attend Paul Ecke Central Elementary School, Ocean Knoll Elementary School or Park Dale Lane Elementary School.  Middle school students typically attend either Diegueno Middle School or Oak Crest Middle School, while high school students most often attend La Costa Canyon High School or San Dieguito Academy.

Schools in this district have high ratings, which is a draw for families looking for a coastal community with good schools.

There are also plenty of nearby surf schools, dance schools, martial arts studios and art studios for expanded educational opportunities.


Old Encinitas is bordered to the north by the Leucadia neighborhood, which begins at about Union Street. To the west, this coastal community is bordered by the Pacific Ocean. To the south, Santa Fe Drive separates Old Encinitas from Cardiff-by-the-Sea. The New Encinitas neighborhood is located to the east.

Additional Information

If you are looking for a coastal community to call home, the laidback lifestyle of Old Encinitas might just be too tempting to pass up. If surf, sun and sand are what you seek, your next dream home might be set amongst the beach bungalows or one of the remodeled single-family homes within walking distance to the historic downtown area along South Coast Highway 101.

Expect to see more exciting things happening downtown as the Encinitas 101 MainStreet Association works to preserve history and continue to revitalize the area for all to enjoy.


Photo Attributions: Encinitas Boat Houses, Flickr/Tim Buss;  San Diego Botanic Garden, Flickr/cherbonsy; Cottonwood Creek Park, Water Smart San Diego County website (; Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, Flickr/CAHairyBear Real estate price data gathered from and

AJ Davis-Varela: AJ is a freelance writer and blogger at Articles by AJ specializing in travel, real estate, natural wellness and green living. She is a magazine columnist, a former San Diego newspaper columnist, has been published in a variety of print and online publications, and regularly contributes to several websites and blogs. You can connect with AJ on LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+