San Elijo State Beach: Cardiff by the Sea, CA

San Elijo State Beach: Cardiff by the Sea, CA

As much as we love to boondock in the middle of nowhere, we still find ourselves drawn to certain destinations and we’re definitely willing to spend a little cash to be there. Whenever possible, our favorite option is to stay in state park campgrounds – there’s usually plenty of natural beauty, you’ll typically find much better rates than private RV parks, they are often close to bike paths, and when you’re along the California coast it’s just one of the best ways to be able to stay beachfront. We lived in North San Diego County for two years before we hit the road and we still love what the area has to offer: that laid back surf town vibe, beautiful beaches, healthy restaurants, great breweries and so much recreation.

Two people on a trail overlooking the ocean
Enjoying a sweet little trail in the Self Realization Fellowship gardens

SAN ELIJO STATE BEACH CAMPGROUND

San Elijo is a super popular campground among travelers and locals alike, and especially so for surfers. You can make reservations up to six months in advance and you’ll definitely need to plan ahead for a stay here. Reservations are made through the Reserve California website. There are three sections to this campground and our preferred area is the southern section since it puts us closest to the dog friendly section of the beach. We’ve found the middle section to usually be very busy and crowded with little privacy between sites. Most recently we stayed in the northern section and appreciated that it was a little quieter and seemed to have more vegetation between sites. There are many ocean view sites but we always opt for the less expensive back row. You can usually see at least a bit of ocean even from there, or you might get lucky with an empty site in front you, if only for a day!

Rv with palm trees at sunset
The northern section has privacy fencing against the highway, which is definitely an added bonus

The maximum vehicle length is 35’ and the maximum stay allowed is 7 days. There’s a fee to use the dump station and there are potable water spigots located there as well for filling your tank. Most of the sites are dry camping but there are some hookup sites available for an extra fee. During the summer there’s a camp store and a few laundry machines.

If you’re sensitive to noise, this might not be the campground for you. The campground backs right up to Highway 101 and next to that are train tracks. The Coaster and Amtrak trains pass frequently during the day, and due to the nearby pedestrian crossing, they really blast their horns. We actually really appreciate the Coaster train – it’s a fantastic option to get around San Diego County, so we don’t mind hearing it.

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA

One of the big reasons we enjoy staying at San Elijo is that we love the little community of Cardiff! Everything is so walkable, people are friendly, and there’s fantastic dining. We’ve actually needed to get Paco in to the vet both times we’ve stayed here. The Cardiff Animal Hospital is an easy walk from the campground and we’ve appreciated both of the doctors we’ve worked with. The Seaside Market is a delightful, albeit spendy, grocery store with fantastic selections of organic produce, wine, and local beer, as well as the usual grocery store staples. They also have a great deli and seafood counter. There’s Pipes Cafe across the street for breakfast and I make a point to drop by the Rancho Coastal Thrift Store – I always seem to find something I like and it supports the Rancho Coastal Humane Society, which is where we adopted both Paco and Pepper from! We also really love to stop at VG Donuts or grab a pint at Best Pizza & Brew.

ENCINITAS

We actually lived in Encinitas for two years and so we have a close connection to this surfer community as well. It’s a quick bike ride from San Elijo to downtown Encinitas where there are fantastic restaurants, breweries, bars and shopping.

Welcome to Encinitas sign
We love the Welcome sign -- it definitely captures the spirit of this community!

Culture Brewing recently opened a tap room here and we were delighted to find that most of the beers they offer are gluten-reduced! As an IPA lover who recently had to give up gluten, it’s been amazing to find several breweries that offer this! Some of our favorite budget friendly eateries downtown are Lotus Cafe, GoodOnYa, Swami’s Cafe and the Potato Shack but if you’re looking for fine dining along here there is plenty. Just a bit beyond downtown is the beautiful and popular Moonlight Beach where you can have campfires or play beach volleyball. If you’ve got the time, you might consider taking in a movie at the historic La Paloma theater or strolling the beautiful and free Self Realization Fellowship gardens.

Busy beach scene with palm trees and volleyball
The popular and quaint Moonlight Beach near downtown

You could also catch the Coaster train here and head off on any number of adventures. We especially love to take it to Old Town (a wonderful place to stroll and get lunch) or all the way to Santa Fe Depot in the heart of downtown, from there it’s just a few blocks to the bayfront and all sorts of dining and sightseeing. We would recommend the inexpensive ferry over to Coronado Island to get amazing views of the downtown skyline.

City lights reflecting on the water
A shot from the ferry, getting ready to dock at Broadway Pier

We really enjoy North County, and all of San Diego, and we’ve made several visits here. Watch our most recent visit below or check out our San Diego County playlist on YouTube. Cheers!

Maggie Pitcher

Hi, I’m Maggie! I enjoy exploring new cities but my real passion is spending time in nature. Hiking, kayaking, and photography all fill my cup to the brim, as does spending time with my sweet little family. We’ve been living and traveling in our motorhome since 2016 and it’s one of the best decisions we ever made. When I’m not scrambling up waterfalls or researching our next stop, I spend my time video editing for our YouTube channel, blogging and taking pictures – we love this way of life and have no plans to stop anytime soon!