Solana Beach may be mini, but it maximizes its four square miles by the sea. Emerald green polo fields border the southeast side of town, a bustling design district and sprawling San Dieguito Park bolster the east, and surfers rule the big blue Pacific waters to the west.
Once dominated by avocado groves and lima bean fields in the 1920s, the town has evolved over the years from a gasoline stopover between San Diego and Los Angeles into a thriving community of 13,000 full-time residents. Even with downtown San Diego 25 minutes away, most residents say they thrive within the "Solana bubble," where a slower lifestyle rules.
More than anything, Solana Beach is a family town; most children walk to school and learn beach basics during Junior Lifeguard Camp, a summer rite of passage for many kids here. And thanks to a recent $7 million Highway 101 revitalization project, it's an even more beautiful place to live, with newly planted swaying palm trees and red and purple wildflowers, tiled fountains, plentiful bike racks, and—perhaps the biggest perk—free parking.
Left: homes face the sunset views over Tide Beach Park.
As a typical Solana Beach spring day wanes, the seaside park at Fletcher Cove pulses with activity: picnics and pickup basketball games, small fry on skateboards or swing sets. People gather cliffside to watch the setting sun, a beguiling backdrop for surfers catching the last rides of the day.
"Solana Beach is one of those rare spots that doesn't seem to change that much. Everything here just feels a little smaller," says local real estate broker Roger Carlson. "After growing up in Solana, my wife and I wanted our kids to enjoy all the things we had, and thankfully they still can."
Left: photographer Aaron Chang in his Solana Beach gallery.
Beach: Families love Fletcher Cove, a seaside haven with calm waves, a playground, and a grassy knoll for live summer concerts. Tide Park Beach hosts a treasure trove of sea creatures in its tide pools, from crab and octopus to colorful sea anemones.
Main Street: The Cedros Design District has 85 one-of-a-kind boutiques, galleries, cafés, and restaurants. Standouts: the home furnishings at David Alan Collection (pictured left) and chic cottage accents such as John Robshaw bedding at Bixby & Ball.
Restaurants: The Beach Grass Cafe starts the day off right with killer house-smoked salmon omelets. For authentic Mexican and potent margaritas, head to Tony's Jacal; for fresh sandwiches and salads, and breakfast served until 3 p.m., try Claire's on Cedros (Their multigrain pancake stack, pictured left, hits the spot.).
Activities: Electric bikes are a perfect way to take a cruise up the coastline. Carruth Cellars, the urban winery on Cedros Avenue, is a hot spot for robust reds and sweet Chardonnays, while the Belly Up Tavern has the best live acts around.
- The Nature: Preservation is a way of life here—north of town, the 1,000-acre San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve has seven miles of easy hiking and jogging trails that weave through the landscape, home to wildlife including mule deer. It's also a birder's paradise for spotting great blue herons, brown pelicans, and snowy egrets.
- The Bubble Factor: Just about everything you need sits within a walkable two-mile radius of town: three grocery stores, fine dining, shopping, public and private schools, and pretty parks.
- The Train Station: (pictured left) Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner and the North County Coaster commuter train both stop in Solana Beach; scenic routes carry passengers south to downtown San Diego or north to Anaheim and L.A.
- The Endless Summer: Surfers flock to Solana's 1.7-mile coastline year-round. Beginners like the gentle beach break Pillbox, off Fletcher Cove, while the Seaside area is favored by pro surfers and aspiring young wave chasers who want to tackle some of the most impressive swells on the West Coast.