At the tip of J Street in Encinitas, in a small park overlooking the sea, Mitchell Scott checks out the surf with his father, Fred. "Today is my ninth birthday," says Mitchell, his tongue dyed electric blue by the Slurpee he's just finished. "And I know everything you'd ever want to know about my hometown," he says, grinning. "I bet you didn't know that the best thing that ever happened to this town was that it got a railroad. I had to learn that for Encinitas Day at my school."
Mitchell isn't the only one with community pride. Ask passersby on the sidewalks what drew them to this Southern California town-part of San Diego North-and their answer is likely to be the same: a nod west, to the booming ocean.
Surfer magazine named Encinitas one of the top 10 surf spots in the United States. Hundreds of surfers gather here. Surf shops abound along the Pacific Coast Highway, and surfer crossing signs freckle the road's shoulders. But the magnetism of this place goes beyond Swamis Beach, made famous by the Beach Boys.
"At the risk of sounding cosmic, Encinitas has great energy," says Fred. "There's a classy yet funky-and always warm-feeling here. That's what drew me. We owe a lot of the town's aura to the surfers, because they kept this town the old beach community that it is. They didn't care about anything but the waves, so little has changed since the height of beach mania several decades ago."
Except for this: Outsiders have discovered Encinitas' inherent beauty, its free spirit, its arts scene, its diversity. Hence, the town has expanded to accommodate biotechs, academics, and telecommuters-or anyone who can afford the real estate.
Five areas-Old Encinitas, New Encinitas, Leucadia, Olivenhain, and Cardiff-by-the-Sea-fiercely guard their individuality. "They all have their own flavor, and that's the appeal of Encinitas," says Joyce Thomas, a local real estate agent. "So many areas, especially in Southern California, have lost their seasoning. But we survived that, and now it's our idiosyncrasies that make us attractive."
Encinitas' main drag, the Pacific Coast Highway, runs past multifarious businesses, from the surf shops and fish-taco stands to historic La Paloma Theatre and ubiquitous yoga centers. "This is very much a mind-body-spirit-oriented community," says Richard Huff, who with wife Sharon started CreativityMatters! on Second Street, also known as Healing Street because of its variety of health practitioners.
"I've lived all over, from Alaska to the San Francisco Bay Area," says Sharon. "But something always drew me back here. This is a healing kind of place. The climate is fantastic, the people are friendly, days are laid-back. You can't beat the view from here."
One of the city's best views is from the Meditation Gardens, on the south end of Second Street. Its lush landscape proves the validity of the town's oft-mentioned moniker: the flower capital of the world. Everywhere in this bloom-blessed town lingers sweet scents, most notably jasmine, carried inland by the constant ocean breeze.
"Some people say the best thing that ever happened to Encinitas is the railroad, but others argue the best thing that ever happened is the fact that nothing ever happened here," says local Peder Norby. "And I couldn't agree more."