Cardiff is a quaint and charming seaside village with a long surfing history, located about 25 miles north of San Diego, sandwiched between Solana Beach and Encinitas, with terrific views of the Pacific and the San Elijo Lagoon from many areas.
Cardiff, also know as Cardiff-by-the-Sea, is a community of approximately 4550 housing units, both owner occupied and rentals, in an area of about 1.9 square miles, around 25 miles north of downtown San Diego and a population of roughly 11,300. While Cardiff has its own zip code (92007) it is officially part of the Encinitas Town Government.
The town of Cardiff was founded by J. Frank Cullen, a Boston painter who became a developer, purchasing land that was originally developed as farmland and sold off building lots. The town was allegedly named Cardiff after the city in his wife’s native Wales.
You will notice that most of the streets have English names (Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Glasgow, and so on). Victor Kremer developed the area north of Birmingham now called the Composer District (again, the names are a give-away – Mozart, Verdi, Chopin, Rubinstein). It is believed he may have added the By-The-Sea to the name, although most people simply refer to it as Cardiff. The area east and south of the downtown area is called the Walking District.
A bit more history…the Mercantile Building in downtown Cardiff (corner of Chesterfield and San Elijo) was originally a hotel built by Cullen, but has served many functions over the years, including a grocery store and library. Patagonia, an upscale retail store, currently occupies the ground floor. The pier built by Cullen, just north of today’s Restaurant Row on the Coast Highway, was destroyed in a storm in 1916 and never rebuilt.
Cardiff has a long history as a popular surfing destination, and there are a number of vendors and plenty of surfing-related entertainment and events – one recent event attracted 20,000 visitors. If you spend any time in town, you will see lots of surfboards heading down the hill under arms, on bikes, in the backs of trucks, and running across the coast highway to the beach.
Cardiff real estate, like other coastal communities, offers a range of housing styles, but at a hefty price tag, at least near the coast, especially those homes on the hills with wonderful ocean and/or lagoon views.
Limited inventory, beautiful views, and overall desirability combine to keep home prices in Cardiff high. You will find a variety of housing styles, including bungalows and cottages, twin-homes, contemporary and Spanish, as well as apartments and condominiums; there are several gated communities of attached and detached homes. Upside-down homes (reverse floor plan) are common on the hill (living space is upstairs, bedrooms down) to take advantages of the glorious views, and many are 3 stories on narrow lots.
Cardiff has enacted building height restrictions to prevent owners from adding on too much space above existing levels to take advantage of the views, and thereby blocking views of neighbors.
While Cardiff may not known as a fine dining community, there are some very respectable and pleasant places to feed yourself, especially if you want to eat while looking at the ocean. Restaurant Row, on the Coast Highway heading south toward Solana Beach, offers a number of different restaurants (Chart House, The Pacific Coast Grill, Las Olas ), several of them directly on the ocean where you can enjoy watching the surfers, the surf, and take in spectacular sunsets. Mexican, California, and seafood are the primary offerings.
Pipes Cafe is one of the best known breakfast places around, and Trattoria Positano on San Elijo just before the main intersection in town is quite good and popular with locals. Ki’s Restaurant is another local favorite serving “environmentally and community conscious” food.
The beaches, of course, are spectacular, and offer great surfing, sunbathing, kite flying or just enjoying the views. You will often find stone sculptures created by seasoned sculptors and beginners, which disappear over time, only to re-emerge.
Parking along the 101 is free and fairly easy to find in the off-season, but summers find parking, as expected, more difficult for beach-goers.
Children attend 1 of 2 elementary schools depending on their grade – they both have great reputations from what residents have told me, and from reviews on the Internet. Older students attend San Dieguito Union High School District.
There are several private schools in Cardiff as well, including Montessori and the Sanderling Waldorf School.
There is some nice outdoor space in Cardiff as well. In addition to the beaches, you can enjoy the community park in downtown, running along the train tracks, and George Berkich Park in the Composer District. San Elijo Park and campground (San Elijo State Beach, between Cardiff and Encinitas) also offers nice space, a great beach, and a popular camping destination.
Glen Park, on Orinda Drive, offers a nice play area for young kids, and horseshoes, basketball, tennis and beach volleyball.
Cardiff-by-the-Sea offers the classic seaside town lifestyle with a strong surfing history that continues even today. Perfect weather, a laid-back atmosphere and small-town feel, and a diversity of residents, old and new, provide eclectic Southern California outdoor living along the ocean, but at a price.