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Extend the season with a carefree long weekend in San Diego’s North County.
Remember summer vacation? Not the summer break we know today—the two or so months your kids are out of school and you cobble together camps and family trips and projects around the house until you can’t even remember what day of the week it is at any given moment. Think about the summers of your youth, when you were the one out of school, the internet wasn’t a thing yet, the educational camp craze hadn’t caught on, and you were mostly left to roam free between the neighborhood kids’ houses and the local swimming pool.
It’s time to get a taste of that summer back. Those summers weren’t about schedules or productivity or checklists. They were about relaxing after a busy season, reveling in simple pleasures and recharging for what was to come next. As life has gotten busier and more demanding, we need to relax, revel and recharge now more than ever.
It’s not too late to head for the beach. A slower pace of life is an 80-minute flight away in North County San Diego, where a long-weekend getaway lets you savor one last, sweet taste of summer. Stash your swimsuit and walking shoes in a carry-on (leave the laptop at home) and hop on one of the 10 direct flights Southwest offers daily from SMF to SAN. This isn’t just summer— it’s summer vacation.
RELAX—While San Diego proper has plenty of attractions and no shortage of sunshine, filling your weekend with trips to Sea World, Legoland, the San Diego Zoo and a myriad of crowded beaches is the exact temptation this long weekend seeks to avoid. So hop in a rental car and head to what the locals refer to simply as North County, a strip of vibrant, low-key beach communities less interested in catering to tourists than they are in staying true to the unique culture that differentiates them from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Set up a relaxing home-away-from-home at Surfhouse Adventures in Encinitas. Formerly a low-budget surf motel, the place has been taken over by a pair of local brothers, Nikki and Sander Harth, who grew up surfing less than a mile away. They recently purchased and renovated this eight-room property with the hope of sharing their love for the enclave of Leucadia and the beaches they call home. No detail has been overlooked in the simple, upscale surf decor that reminds you you’re on vacation even when you’re just lounging on your bed. The proprietors intentionally left cable TV off the menu to encourage you to get outside, but you can lay low with Netflix and Pandora if need be; both are available on the Apple TV menu in every room. The hotel comes equipped with a fleet of beach cruiser bicycles—so you can explore like a local without wasting time at a rental outfit—as well as beginner-friendly surfboards and instructors who will happily give you a lesson steps from the front door of your room. surfhouseadventures.com
Once you’re settled, hop on one of those beach cruisers and head south along the beach about 2 1/2 miles to Self-Realization Fellowship. Don’t let the New Age sounding name deter you—no need to be a card-carrying hippy or spiritual guru to enjoy the beautiful grounds here. In the Meditation Gardens, you’ll find pathways winding through countless species of flowers and foliage, past koi ponds, to spectacular ocean vistas, all punctuated by thoughtful nooks and benches encouraging you to sit and stay a while. Turn your phone off. Take in the beauty of nature and the vastness of the ocean. Hold hands with your date or pay your friend a compliment. Let these pleasures pull you out of your to-do list and transport you to those simple summer moments of long ago. encinitastemple.org
Not all relaxation has to be quite so Zen, of course. When you’re ready to reward yourself for a successful day of unwinding and exploring, Solterra Winery is just a block away from Surfhouse and has a happy hour menu that should do the trick. With nearly 10 varietals of wine offered at $8 a glass or less, plus wine flights ranging from “Obscure” to “Lean and Aromatic” to the usual all-red and all-white options, the winery supplies plenty of excuses to raise a glass to the weekend. A robust menu of appetizers, charcuterie and flatbread pizzas ensures that you’ll have enough fuel in the tank for a whole new day of blissfully unstructured summer. solterrawinery.com
Fish entree from Campfire
RECHARGE—The goal of this weekend getaway is to return home fuller than when you left. Recharge your energy, your inspiration, your gratitude, your connection to yourself and your travel companions, whomever they may be.
Start the day with a delicious and healthy breakfast at Goodonya Organic Cafe, just a 2-mile southbound beach cruiser ride down the coast. You’ll truly eat like a local here, with organic, non-GMO ingredients sourced from nearby farms and producers. Out-of-the-box coffee creations like a “protein latte” containing collagen and a “spicy mocha” made with raw cacao and cayenne will keep you caffeinated, while breakfast options range from acai bowls to various scrambles to breakfast burritos. The order-at-the-counter setup is casual and friendly, and the ocean-minded artwork on the walls makes things feel even fresher. goodonyaorganic.com
Leave it to the laid-back locals of a small beach town to put a yoga studio inside a perfectly appointed day spa, allowing you to fill an entire afternoon with the important joy of self-care, all while remaining within a mile of the beach. Bergamot Spa, across the street from Solterra Winery, has done exactly that. Book a spa treatment like the Bali Breather package, which includes a 60-minute massage plus signature facial for $207, then drop in for a donation-based yoga class to let it soak into every muscle. A summer glow doesn’t have to come from baking in the sun; let your glow radiate from within. bergamotspa.com
Campfire's patio and teepee
Sunshine is an essential component of summer vacation, though, and you can probably appreciate the beauty of a sunset better now than you could at overnight camp anyway. Swami’s Beach, just a couple of blocks south of Self-Realization Fellowship, has one of the best sunset views in town and a bevy of benches to enjoy it from. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can ditch the benches and head down the stairs to the sand, where low tide creates an awe-inspiring network of tide pools to explore. If you get lucky, the reflection in the tide pools will mirror the cotton-candy sunset and you’ll get two sunset views for the price of one.
REVEL—What came easily in the summers of our youth—that carefree ability to turn anything into a celebration—is still a virtue worth fighting for. Amid relaxing and recharging, the cherry on top of this final taste of summer is to reclaim a spirit of revelry.
There is perhaps no better restaurant in California to feel like a kid at summer camp than at Campfire, a swanky-goes-rustic farm-to-table restaurant in Carlsbad, a 20-minute drive north from Surfhouse. An airplane hangar design includes a giant garage door to create year-round indoor-outdoor dining, with the large patio anchored by a real campfire surrounded by stump seating. The menu is seasonal and creative, outdone only by the cocktail list, which reads like a choose-your-own adventure through an obscure liquor store. After you roast s’mores by the campfire, grab your drink and head into the large teepee in the corner of the patio, where a circle of floor pillows begs for storytelling. thisiscampfire.com
Your renewed spirit will be your most prized souvenir of the weekend, but in case you’d like to have something more tangible to bring back, cruise to Salt Collection, a boutique recently opened by Sophie Machado, wife of pro surfer Rob Machado. The only thing not to love about Salt Collection is that you can’t live here permanently. It’s a beautifully curated selection of casual clothing for the whole family, beach-chic home decor, jewelry and tchotchkes. For a larger, more diverse shopping selection, head across the street to Hansen’s, a longtime local surf shop, where you’ll find no fewer than 100 of the most luxe Hawaiian shirts, every brand of flip-flop (from first steps to orthopedics) and a beach-inspired gift for anyone you know. hansensurf.com
Go on a classic dinner-and-a-show date with dinner at Fish 101 followed by a surf flick at the historic La Paloma Theatre. Celebrate the taste of the sea with fresh oysters or fish tacos in the bright, casual eatery, then check the calendar at La Paloma to see what’s playing. From vintage favorites like “Jaws” to highly anticipated surf films to the monthly showcase of Italian Film Festival features, La Paloma shows plenty that’s out of the ordinary. fish101restaurant.com; lapalomatheatre.com
Maybe by next summer we’ll have learned our lesson: fewer commitments, less scheduling, a little more resistance against the trappings of productivity. Even if we don’t, though, perhaps we’ll at least have a newfound appreciation for the ingredients required to make any long weekend feel like a vacation.