This article highlights some of the best things to do in Solana Beach, California.
One of the aspects I enjoy the most about traveling is the element of surprise.
You can visit an area many times. You can walk around its streets, eat at its restaurants, or mingle with the locals. But, even with that knowledge ingrained after many visits, you will find a new beach, café, or garden.
And, that new spot will possibly blow your mind and make you see things in a new light.
I have been to San Diego several times (way too many times, really). Over the years, I have, little by little, explored all the cool places along the coast.
When I thought I was done, Solana Beach jumped out of nowhere. Yes, while driving in the area, I have seen signs pointing towards the city. For some reason, I have never felt the urge to stop by.
I decided to take care of my “mistake.” Next time we drove to San Diego, guess where we stopped? Yes, Solana Beach! What was supposed to be a short stop turned into a day. I was mesmerized by the eclectic shops, beautiful beaches, and homey restaurants.
If you haven’t visited this beach community, I am giving you plenty of reasons to visit Solana Beach!
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Things to Do in Solana Beach
Solana Beach is a place located among many tourism giants. You have attractions such as SeaWorld, LEGOLAND, Old Town San Diego, La Jolla, and Balboa Park. There is a lot to do in the area, but this post focuses only on things to do within the Solana Beach city limits.
I will touch briefly on other things to do in the area at the end of the post.
Arrive by Train
California is not what comes to mind when you think about trains. However, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and Coaster trains have stops in many of San Diego County’s beach towns and cities.
The train station in Solana Beach is special because of the unique design of the building. It was designed by architect Rob Wellington Quigley and built in 1994.
If you are based in another city, Solana Beach is just a short train hop from there. The train will leave you right at the heart of the city on Cedros Avenue.
Photo by Loco Steve
Hit the Beach
As mentioned, the city has 1.7 miles of coastline. The coast is divided into three main areas (some divide it into four or five areas, nobody will ever agree to the correct number).
Fletcher Cove is considered the main beach in the area.
The Solana Beach coast is made up of cliffs. This cove is the only part that can be accessed by a path and that may not be covered in water during high tide.
Above the cove, Fletcher Park has grassy areas, playgrounds, a basketball court, picnic tables, restrooms, showers, a viewing platform, and parking.
This is a great place to get some beach time because of all the reasons mentioned above. Plus, it is a very scenic beach because of the high cliffs. During low tide, it is possible to walk in the northern and southern directions.
Tide Beach Park
This park is located north of Fletcher Cove. It is a short walk from the main beach area (during low tide). From the top of the cliffs, access is thru stairs from Pacific Avenue and Solana Vista Drive.
Seascape Surf Park
This part of the beach is located south of Fletcher Cove and you can walk from there. From above the cliffs, access is thru a pathway on South Sierra Avenue (look for the blue coastal access sign, around the tennis club).
Visiting the beach is one of the best free things to do in Solana Beach. There is no fee to park in the Fletcher Cove area.
Cedros Design District
I cannot stress this enough. You must visit the Cedros Design District!
This is the crown jewel of Solana Beach and an entire day can be spent in here. This premier shopping district has over 85 merchants offering experiences in the design, art, entertainment, epicurean and beauty realms.
I love the uniqueness of this place. Without a doubt, I will be back soon. Here are some ideas on what to do there.
Go on a Public Art Hunt
The two and a half blocks district is covered in art head to toe. There seems to be an art piece in every corner. Keep your eyes wide open because you are going to find works of art in signs.
And many more places!
Stop by an Art Gallery
There are works of art in public spaces, but the district has the indoor kind too. Here are some art galleries to visit:
- Aaron Chang – Mainly, ocean and nature photography. Aaron Chang has been declared “Ambassador of the Arts” by the San Diego Tourism Authority
- Gallery Bonuccelli – Travel photography
- David Allan Collection – Furniture and accessories
- Koniakowsky Ocen Art
- Lauren Taylor Photography
Gaze at the Gorgeous Facades
Art has a big influence on this district but some of the storefronts are stunning too. The building’s designs go from Spanish Revival to beach cottage and from modern to industrial.
In addition, many of the buildings are adorned with statues, bougainvillea, wood furniture, and bright colors. It just a feast for the eyes.
Shopping in Solana Beach (To your Heart’s Content)
I am not a big shopper. I have said that many times on this blog.
However, I think the Cedros District made me a convert. There are so many wonderful stores that it is almost impossible to leave without something.
Home design store include Bixby & Ball, Clutch Modern, Coastal Modern, and West Elm.
The other super cool spot in the district is called SoLo. This store offers home décor, candles, cards, books, and home-made goods. This place is for those who have a sophisticated style.
For clothes and accesories, head to Cedros Soles, Mabel’s, Pink Lagoon and Tucci.
Note: So bummed my favorite place Leaping Lotus or Lotus has pemamnetly closed. This was a two-story space designed to host vendors offering a wide arrange of goods. There were 120 vendors selling gifts, jewelry, home décor, clothing, and much more. Hope the space is taken by a cool store soon.
Make Time for Wine Tasting
Carruth Cellars call itself an urban winery. The grapes are bought from Northern California and the entire wine-producing process takes place on the Cedros Avenue site. A tasting room with friendly staff is open to the public. This is a nice place to rest your feet while engaging in interesting conversation.
Olive Oil Tasting is Available Too
The Temecula Olive Oil Company sells 100% California extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cured olives, and bath/body products.
You can try a wide variety of fruit and herb-infused oils at their tasting rooms. I have visited these stores and the experience is worth your time.
Breweries Rule in Here
You may be aware that San Diego is one of the beer capitals of the United States. Some have called it THE craft beer capital of the country.
Because of that, it is impossible to imagine a town in the county without a brewery. Culture Brewing has become one of the most popular spots in Cedros. The kid and pet-friendly tasting room welcome guest every day.
Brush Up your Botanical Knowledge
I am terrible with plants. I even kill succulents and cacti!
The problem is I love botany. So, occasionally I stop by gardens and shop to take a look at different varieties.
If you are like me, you will enjoy stopping by Chicweed, a store selling all sorts of patio and garden goodies (including tons of succulents).
And since we are on the topic, you can also visit Solana Succulents (on Highway 101, nearby but outside the Cedros District).
Take a Hike
If you are into moving your body, here are some options for you.
Coastal Rail Trail
The Coastal Rail Trail wanders between Highway 101 and the rail lines from Ocean Street in the north to Via de la Valle in the south. The trail offers access to public art and all the delights of Downtown Solana Beach. The trail is easily accessed from the train station.
At the moment, the Coastal Rail Trail consists of disconnected segments. The idea is to have a trail covering the entire length of San Diego County.
Annie’s Canyon Trail
This short trail (also known as mushroom cave hike) gives access to a sandstone canyon created by water erosion. Also, it offers panoramic views of the ocean and the San Elijo Lagoon.
Note: The trailhead is not located close to Downtown Solana Beach. You will need to drive to the area in order to start the hike.
Rent a Bike
Riding a bike around the beach is one of the quintessential California experiences. Plus, it is loads of fun too!
If you are not traveling with your bike, you can rent one from San Diego Electric Bike, Revolution Bike Shop, or Pedego Electric Bikes.
If you have one hour, you can ride the Solana Beach bike trail which includes Fletcher Cove and the Cedros District.
If you have two hours, you can extend your ride to Del Mar (south) and explore the race track (when it is not in operation). Or, you can ride north to the Cardiff and Downtown Encinitas areas.
Pedego offers bike tours to the San Dieguito Park and the Torrey Pines Reserve.
Visit the Heritage Museum
The Solana Beach Heritage Museum is located in La Colonia Park.
The museum itself is the first house built in the community in 1887. The structure offers a look at the past through artifacts such as a wood stove, a manual water pump, and kerosene lamps.
Farmer’s Markets are a Good Idea
In California, we love our farmer’s markets. The one in Solana Beach takes place every Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the south end of Cedros Avenue.
The market offers organic fruits and vegetables, flowers, fresh juices, smoked salmon, bread, pastries, and a food court.
Attend a Performance at the Famous Belly Up Tavern
The Belly Up Tavern has been in business since 1974. This place has been voted the best live music venue in San Diego many times. Belly Up aims to present the best new artist as well as legends in genres ranging from rock and reggae to blues and jazz.
If music is your thing, make sure to check out this place.
If you happen to be in town during May, look at the calendar and see if your visit coincides with Fiesta del Sol, a once a year festival celebrating the beginning of summer.
The fiesta features food, arts, crafts, shopping, games, rides, and live music. This is the kind of community event we all enjoy around here.
Best Restaurants in Solana Beach
Like most beach towns in California, Solana Beach has a great selection of restaurants.
Pizza Port can be described as the local hangout. As the name suggests, this place specializes in pizzas and things such as chicken wings, pretzels, and cheese sticks. In all honesty, I find the pizza in this place very underwhelming. Now, the place is super popular because it offers a huge selection of craft beer and video games for the kids. It is a fun place to visit but do not expect the food to blow you away.
The other favorite seems to be Claire’s in Cedros. They serve California-style comfort food. Expect dishes such as breakfast burritos, chilaquiles, short rib hash, chimichurri steak sandwiches, and burgers.
If you are craving seafood, you need to stop by the Solana Beach Fish House. This is the place for grilled mahi-mahi, calamari steak, teriyaki salmon, fish & chips, lobster burritos, and fish tacos.
I will run out of space if I continue describing good places to eat. However, here is a high-level overview of other recommended places:
- Choice Juicery
- Naked Café
- Chief’s Burgers
- Swami’s Cafe
- Fish District
- Bangkok Bay Thai
Things to Do Near Solana Beach
Here are some fun things to do close to Solana Beach
Carlsbad (15 miles north) – Things to do in Carlsbad include the Carlsbad Village, beaches, hiking, museums, theme parks, restaurants, and a huge shopping scene.
Encinitas (4 miles north) – This is my favorite beach town in Northern County. Things to do in Encinitas include surfing, beach lounging, eating, drinking and shopping.
Cardiff (2 miles north) – Cardiff by the Sea is part of the city of Encinitas but it retains an independent community vibe. Stop by for surfing, walks around the San Elijo Lagoon, and a photo with the Cardiff Kook.
Del Mar (2 miles south) – Del Mar is a small city known for its racetrack and fairgrounds (this is where the San Diego County Fair takes place). The city has beaches and a cute village. There are many things to do in Del Mar! Don’t be fooled by its size!
Torrey Pines (10 miles south) – If you are into hiking and gorgeous sea views, I recommend you visit the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This reserve protects the rarest pine species in the United States and offers 8 miles of trails. I consider this one of the best places to hike in Southern California.
And, of course, you have all the attractions of San Diego basically at your front door. For ideas, check out the 200+ San Diego bucket list ideas on this post I wrote a while ago.
About Solana Beach
Solana Beach is a small coastal community located about 22 miles north of Downtown San Diego. The city itself has existed since 1986 but the area has a long history of inhabitation and development.
Nowadays, the city has a population of 12,000 and 1.7 miles of coastline. It is known for its beaches, great dining, nightlife, and hiking opportunities. Above all, it is known because of its stupendous Cedros Design District. We will talk more about it later.
For now, I will leave you with a comprehensive list of the best things to do in Solana Beach.
Beach Town Gear
As I spend a lot of time on beach towns, I have my gear packed and ready to throw in the car. Here is an idea of what I take to the beach.
- Walking Shoes – Comfortable walking shoes are a must. My go-to brands are Clarks, Tevas, and Sketchers.
- Flip Flops – Flip flops are a must on any beach trip. I am partial to the Tevas brand. >>Take a look at these beautiful flip flops
- Water Sandals – If you want a more polished look, check out these leather-made salt water sandals.
- Sweatshirt – A sweatshirt is a must to keep me warm during chilly mornings and nights. >Click to see this California appropriate option here
- Sun Block – Do not leave the house (or the car) without applying sunblock. I repeat, always wear sunblock when outdoors. >Buy sunblock here
- Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Protect your lips by applying a balm with sunscreen. >Get one of the best lip balms here
- Wide Brim Hat – A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your scalp, face, and neck. The ones manufactured by FURTALK come with an anti-UV function. >Buy this amazing hat here
- Sunglasses – These are another must when it comes to protecting from the sun. A polarized, sporty pair works better outdoors. >Take a look at this wonderful pair
- Towels – This is the accessory I always forget about. WETCAT’s Turkish Towels take minimum space and dry fast. >Buy a Turkish towel here
- Foldable Chairs – Portable chairs allow you to set camp at the beach, park, winery, and even a parking lot. A classic Coleman portable chair is a solid choice. >>Buy portable camping chair
- Beach Blanket – For laying on the sand, a beach blanket is necessary. Good ones are waterproof, sandproof, and light. The blankets manufactured by Wekapo fit several adults and are durable. >Buy this nice beach blanket here
- Soft Cooler Bag – A soft cooler bag with enough capacity is great for having drinks and some food items at hand. I love my CleverMade collapsible cooler bag. >Take a look at my cooler here
- Water Bottle – Do not forget to bring water! Keep yours cold by taking a beautiful Hydro Flask water bottle. >Check out the insane options here
- THERMOS Tumblers – I have been a fan of the THERMOS brand since I received a tumbler as a gift. The tumblers keep drinks hot for hours. >>Buy THERMOS insulated tumblers here
- Dry Bag – Keep your valuables (and electronics) protected by bringing a dry bag. >These dry bag is awesome
- Beach Bag or Large Tote – Carry all your gear on an amazing beach bag. Get one with tons of pockets (I love pockets). >>>Check out my beach bag top pick
- Camera – I have never gotten used to taking pictures exclusively with my phone. I prefer to use the Sony Alpha a6000. It is compact and takes gorgeous pictures. >Buy Sony Camera here
- Tripod – A compact tripod to take your photos and videos to a different level. >>Check out this popular option here
- Portable Power Bank – It is a pain to keep phones charged on beach trips. Having a power bank is a lifesaver. The Anker portable charger can charge a phone 5 times. >Buy this incredible power bank here
More of Southern California
Have you visited this city? What fun things to do in Solana Beach do you recommend?
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