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The Best of North County 2016

Little Italy, North Park, and Downtown may get the most buzz, but it’s hard to beat North County’s unspoiled coast, laid-back vibe, and quaint cafés. And now, with a restaurant renaissance, local designers hitting big-name stores, and cool kids’ programs that give back to the community, there’s never been a better time to experience NoCo’s charms.


Hello Betty Fish House in Oceanside

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Food & Drink

Happy Hour

“Alchemy Hour” at Hello Betty Fish House

Named after the time when surfers enjoy the best swells, this bilevel oceanfront eatery’s Alchemy Hour means $3 street tacos, $3 Mexican beers, $5 margs, and three oysters on the half shell, with a glass of bubbles for $13. Plus a sunny deck and a funky, character-filled bar scene.
211 Mission Avenue

Pub Concept

Barrel Republic

The genius lies in this new  O'side pub’s self-serve tap system. Simply open a tab, receive an electronic wristband, and choose from more than 50 taps, including a few wine and kombucha options. The food menu puts a twist on classic pub grub, like chili-dusted crispy pickle chips and garlic butter pretzel bites.
215 North Coast Highway


The Lanai Island Grinds

Former private chef Doug Moric has created a Garden of Eden for authentic Hawaiian eats on a sunny patio in Leucadia with picnic tables, murals, and bamboo details. Order the divinely fresh poke with avocado, or the kalua pork plate lunch with kimchi bok choy and traditional mac salad. And mark your calendars for their monthly pig roasts in the summertime. Hula attire optional.
1114 North Coast Highway 101

Coffee Shop

Culture Craft Coffee & Espresso

Don’t let its location in a Lexus dealership fool you. Culture’s café experience is already stellar thanks to their excellent James Coffee blends, but they up the ante with local artwork from Escondido’s Stephen Fishwick Fine Art Gallery. You’ll be buzzing.
1205 Auto Park Way

New Eats in Vista

Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen

Flying Pig’s first outpost kick-started the culinary upswing in Oceanside, and now they’ve landed in a renovated bank building in sleepy Vista as a new hot spot for locally sourced, seasonal cuisine and craft brews. Patrons enjoy eclectic design with antique mirrors and chandeliers, along with friendly service and dishes like bacon mac and cheese.
230 South Santa Fe Avenue

Vegan Chocolate

Gourmet Mediterranean Chocolate

Former NASA rocket scientist Michael Ross now engineers small-batch handmade Belgian chocolate that’s vegan and gluten-free. Taste 12 delicious flavors like chili mango or hickory-smoked sea salt at the Solana Beach Farmers' Market or buy bars at Bliss 101 in Encinitas, The Wine Loft at the Forum in Carlsbad, or online.

Winery Experience

Cordiano Winery

Originally from Calabria, Italy, Gerardo and Rosa Cordiano created a pizzeria empire in the southern U.S. before bringing their talents to San Diego. Their hillside winery serves wood-fired pizzas, wines, and stellar views of the valley, vineyards, orchards, and horse farms below.
15732 Highland Valley Road

Gourmet Secret

Angel’s Salumi & Truffles

French chef and charcutrerie expert Pascal Besset has a warehouse and boutique with wild boar, natural bison, Berkshire pork, and more, along with foie gras pâté, cured duck breast, and all things truffle—from butters, salts, and oils to truffle caviar, truffle carpaccio, and seasonal white and black whole truffles.
5621 Palmer Way

Farmers’ Market Fare

Shaka Guac

Two twentysomething surfers, Zak Zimmer and Brett St. Amour, who met as servers at Sbicca, saw a void in the grab-and-go guacamole market and did something about it. Find their Mango-Habanero Mavericks, Spicy Swamis, and signature Ridiculous Rincon at the Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach farmers’ markets, or at Culture Brewing Co Saturday afternoons.

Restaurant Revamp

The Wooden Spoon

What was once a nondescript Mexican drive-thru is now a showcase for five-star cuisine courtesy of chef Jesse Paul, formerly of Park Hyatt Aviara. His
tiny restaurant has an equally tiny menu that rotates frequently. We love the Spoon Burger.
805 East Valley Parkway

Veggie Taco

Cauliflower Tacos at The Lumberyard Tavern

Corn tortillas are stacked with sautéed cauliflower and caramelized onions, drizzled with salsa verde, and dressed with cabbage and fans of avocado. It’s served with a side of house-made black beans and pairs perfectly with an orange wheat beer.
967 South Coast Highway 101

Whiskey Bar


This gourmet pub, whose flagship has flourished in Rancho Bernardo, just opened Urge Gastropub and Whiskey Bank in south Oceanside. Try the fried cheese curds with spicy aioli, Garbage Burger, and Drunken Carrot Slab cake with a cold brew or fine whiskey.
2002 South Coast Highway, Oceanside

Wine Bar in a Mall

The Wine Loft

This tasting room at The Forum has wine flights, cheese boards, charcuterie, and panini. Indie winemakers from Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles drop in to show their handiwork. They also offer blind tastings and a killer wine club.
1911 Calle Barcelona

Nouveau Ramen

The Whet Noodle

The Whet Noodle isn’t your average ramen house. Select a protein such as fish or buffalo and bacon before deciding between hot and sour miso (slightly sweeter) or duck shoyu (more savory) ramen broth. The gastropub also serves beer, wine, and sake. Slurping encouraged.
1813 South Coast Highway

Cheap Tacos

El Pueblo Cardiff-by-the-Sea

Yes, it’s located at the Valero gas station next to the car wash, but no complaints here. The fish tacos are 99 cents every day, and the carne asada fries are killer.
820 Birmingham Drive

Morning Buzz

Better Buzz Coffee

This hipster-packed coffee house is home to single-origin coffees, cold brew, kombucha on tap, and fresh juices, as well as Bread & Cie pastries and muffins. Thumbs up for understanding the art of toast—giant slabs of multigrain bread come slathered with organic avocado, sprinkled feta, and tomato slices, or with Nutella, berries, and bananas.
578 South Coast Highway 101

Rhône-Style Wines

Domaine Artefact Winery

Winemaker Mark Robinson spent time elevating his craft in Paso Robles and now makes impressive wines like a Grenache Rose and ruby Syrah. Pastures with horses and an alfresco patio set the scene for sipping by the hills of San Pasqual Valley.
15404 Highland Valley Road


Hungry Hawk Vineyards and Winery

Winemaker Mike Embly and his father, Ed, are producing well-crafted reds, and their estate-grown tempranillo is the best in San Diego. Take a vineyard tour of the property’s 15 varietals and then drink in views of soaring hawks.
3255 Summit Drive 

Fast-Casual Idea


Get grab-and-go sushi and seafood or build your own poke bowl for a taste of Hawaii at this “Chipotle-style” eatery, newly opened from the Blue Ocean Robata & Sushi Bar team..
2958 Madison Street

Under-the-Radar Microbrewery

Arcana Brewing

This steampunk brewery pours brews in a tasting room dressed in clock gears, machine pieces, and handmade mugs (part of their Mug Club, in which members have their own glass waiting behind the bar). Try the Headbasher, a hoppy IPA, and and look for Steampunk Night, when local aficionados converge to talk Victorian-industrial style.
5621 Palmer Way


Gaia Gelato

Roman expats and cousins Cristina Amoroso and Paola Richard offer gelato made in-house daily at Gaia. Amoroso—who studied gelato making in Perugia, Italy—concocts flavors that range from ricotta and fig to pink salted caramel, plus traditional favorites like cookies and cream. A key ingredient in all flavors: Carlsbad alkaline water. Enjoy your scoop in a cup or cone, or doused with coffee for a creamy affogato.
300 Carlsbad Village Drive

Special Occasion Meal

Kitchen Counter at Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara

Kick your celebration dinner up a notch with the Kitchen Counter experience ($85 per person), which offers the chance to get up close and personal with the kitchen staff. Diners can sit at the counter or at a long table for larger parties, and watch as chefs create a custom five-course menu, with painstaking attention to detail (like using tweezers to place microgreens). Vegan, gluten-intolerant, soy-phobic, or all of the above? The team can tailor the menu to your diet, and offer plenty of insight and fun. You must be a guest to attend, but don’t worry—their villas and refreshed pool area will have you booking a room in no time.
7210 Blue Heron Place

We Can't Wait For...


The brainchild of CH Projects vet John Resnick, design team Bells & Whistles, and former Addison chef Andrew Bachelier, the resto will feature rustic food cooked over an open flame, wine from Solana Beach’s Carruth Cellars, and more.
2725 State Street

The Expansion of Swell Coffee Co.

Del Mar

Owner John Vallas plans to elevate the café experience with tapas and shared plates at night, along with a cheese expert, beer and tequila ciceroni, and an adventurous wine list.
670 Via de la Valle

Tasting Room Del Mar

Del Mar
Tasting Room will highlight boutique wine, craft beer, and small plates of sustainably sourced food from L.A. chef Steven Lona. The evolving wine list will be curated by sommelier Rusti Gilbert, formerly of Addison and The Cork and Craft.
1435 Camino Del Mar



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Shopping & Beauty

Spa Day

Omni La Costa Spa

Fifty-one and still fabulous, La Costa Spa, a leader in progressive wellness experiences, calls for a day of luxuriating. We recommend the outdoor Roman waterfall showers, a stone path labyrinth walk for meditative reflexology, and Bellinis by the pool. Plus, bliss out with the new citrus and kale facial.
2100 Costa Del Mar Road

Handcrafted Putters


Kronos founder Phillip Lapuz makes remarkable handcrafted putters, known for their balanced center of gravity and handsome design. (His artistic Hinotori putter, featuring an intricate “bird of fire” design, is even on display at the British Golf Museum in Saint Andrews, Scotland.) Lapuz, who was offered $150K on Shark Tank, walked away from the deal, but no worries, his O'side company is doing just fine.

Specialty Salon

Blink Lash Boutique

Solana Beach
The eyelash extension pros recently moved their flagship to a larger location nearly double the size and introduced a brow bar. Coming soon, a makeup line so you can walk out the door with your best face forward.
665 San Rodolfo Drive

Repurposed Jewelry

Copper Canary

Fifth-generation jeweler Allie DeSeelhorst refashions vintage pieces into something new and chic. Prefer the gems in their original settings? There are plenty of those sparklers for sale, with a focus on antique bridal jewelry.
2832 State Street

Spa Treatment

Honey Dream Body Treatment, Ocean Pearl Spa

An Ocean Pearl exclusive at the Sheraton Carlsbad, the 80-minute regimen uses myofascial techniques to relieve muscle tension and increase circulation, and uses honey to decrease inflammation and soften skin. Bonus: It includes a milk-honey face mask.
5480 Grand Pacific Drive

Affordable Spa


The strip mall gem garners loyal patrons for its pretty ambiance, solid therapists, and easy-on-the-wallet prices. Book a duo room with a girlfriend or mate and try the Body/Foot Fusion—a 60-minute foot soak, head and shoulder massage, and full backside body massage with reflexology for $36.
2614 El Camino

Real Home & Gift Boutique


Pick up a gift for the man, woman, kiddo, and fur child in your life at this well-stocked boutique that includes global-chic pillows, Cleobella handbags (pictured), and Pendleton for your pooch.
90 North Coast Highway 101



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Music Festival


Del Mar
This local spin on Coachella made a splash at the Del Mar Fairgrounds last year with acts like No Doubt, art and comedy showcases, air-conditioned areas, and no grungy Porta-Potties. This September, Jack Johnson, The Avett Brothers, and Jason Isbell will take the stage for the fest. Rock on!

Mural Program

Carlsbad Art Wall

This is one of the latest projects from artist Bryan Snyder, a longtime proponent of public art. Visiting and local artists leave their mark on an exterior wall of Señor Grubby’s restaurant, with a new mural created every two months. Snyder also leads an urban art workshop for teens with the local Boys & Girls Club.
377 Carlsbad Village Drive

Intimate Theater

North Coast Repertory Theatre

Solana Beach
Forget big-box theater. The intimate layout of this performing arts space means there isn’t a bad seat in the house. And that’s great news, considering the nonprofit theater’s consistently stellar lineup—look for Way Downriver, an adaptation of William Faulkner’s Old Man, this month.
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive

Pop-Up Gallery

Said Space

Surfer vibes meet arthouse culture at this creative space, which hosts gallery showings and opening party exhibitions for collections of paintings, drawings, photography, and other works by local artists. Said is open per a rotating show schedule—check saidspace.com for updates—but you can purchase many pieces on their online store.
766 South Coast Highway 101



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Health & Wellness

Community Farm

Coastal Roots Farm

Get back to nature at this nonprofit farm, whose mission, “We seed, we grow, we share,” describes its sustainable practices as well as its work with the community. It hosts food festivals, offers volunteers the chance to work the land on Sundays and Tuesdays, and recently became the site of a forest of fruit trees and plants that can eventually be harvested by the public.
441 Saxony Road

Alt-Yoga Studio

Evolve Yoga & Movement

Yoga class meets cool lounge at Evolve, where local DJ Krazy Kut spins records during Sunday morning classes so you can lip-synch to Kid Cudi while you eka pada. They also teach Hip Yoga Hop for cardio dance sans mat and the Tootsie Roll foam roller yoga class to work out those knots. Stick around for kombucha post-class.
687 South Coast Highway 101

Beach Run

Surfing Madonna

This beach run now has 5K, 10K, and 15K races along Moonlight Beach (timed for low tide, of course). Whatever distance you choose, at the finish line you get a medal modeled after the namesake iconic mosaic artwork. The money raised by the event—scheduled this year for October 15—helps local schools and charities.
400 B Street

New-Age Treatment


Yes, people pay money to stand in a chilly –135° C chamber for three minutes, sporting only booties and mitts. Why? Because cryotherapy’s cold nitrogen vapors are said to relieve inflammation, treat injuries, turbocharge healing, and rev metabolism. Athletes have been freezing for more than 30 years, and present-day athletes like LeBron James and the L.A. Lakers are also fans.
191 North El Camino Real

Hardcore Barre

Studio Barre

Multiple locations
Of all the barre workouts, this one hurts the most. Franchise co-owner and “barre-tender” Brooke Tigh is a certified yoga teacher, former pro dancer, and all-around athlete, ensuring you nail the form and humbling you with her advanced moves. Kneel on your heels, lift your butt a few inches, then circle your hips, crunching your abs while squeezing a ball between your hands at chest height. Do this for an eternity. This class uses a ball, mat, resistance band, barre, and weights. It has a boot-camp feel—this barre is not tied to tiny movements. Bring no-slip socks and your game face.
7845 Highland Village Place, Torrey Highlands; 208 North El Camino Real, Encinitas (also in Mission Hills and Bird Rock)


Scott Baker at Gemini Fit Solana Beach

Scott Baker serves calorie-incinerating, Tabata-style workouts one-on-one or in group classes. His Sculpt and Shred circuits are fast-paced, ever-changing, and effective. Local trainers flock to his studio for their workouts, a testament indeed.
742 Genevieve Street

Pressed Juice

Choice Juicery Solana Beach

Healthy, high-quality juices, smoothies, and superfood-loaded meals are on the menu at this juice bar's latest location. Plus, recycle your jar and save $1.
437 South Coast Highway 101

Healthy Eats

Good on Ya

The Kearny Mesa–based eatery opened a location in Encinitas last summer. Feast on organic breakfast and lunch items, like oatmeal made with grass-fed butter and sandwiches served on local Prager Brothers bread. There are also waffles packed with more than 15 grams of protein. As Good on Ya's menu says, "It’s almost like working out!"
1051 South Coast Highway 101 

Two-for-One Yoga

Mantra Yoga & Juice Bar

Mantra brings fitness and nutrition together for one indulgent sweat session. Beyond the cold, lavender-scented cloth doled out during savasana, yogis can order a drink from the in-house juice bar before class so it's ready for you as you walk out the door.
5617 Paseo Del Norte

Best Yoga Soundtrack

Rock & Roll Yoga at Yoga Six

At Patrick Garrison’s Friday Vinyasa Specialty Flow Rock & Roll class, yogis flow to Bowie, Hendrix, and Green Day, as well as Motown and ’80s pop. Each week features a different band or artist. No spiritual chants on this playlist.
1905 Calle Barcelona

Cookbook Author

Sara Vance

Encinitas-based author and nutritionist Sara Vance wants us all to get healthier. We love this recipe (below) for a green lemonade from her new book, The Perfect Metabolism Plan. Go green, SD!

Recipe: Metabolism-Boosting Green Lemonade

From The Perfect Metabolism Plan

1 organic Granny Smith apple
1 small slice of peeled ginger
1 organic lemon (most of peel removed)
6–7 organic kale leaves
1 organic romaine heart
1 small cucumber
1–2 celery stalks
1 teaspoon of avocado oil, or 2 teaspoons of  
   chia seeds (stir in and allow to soak)

Put everything (except the avocado oil/chia seeds) into the juicer*. Pour into a glass. Stir in chia seeds (if using), and allow them to soak 3–5 minutes. Otherwise, add your avocado oil and enjoy.

*If you don’t have a juicer, use your blender and strain out the pulp if you like.



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Horseback Riding

Equestrian Center At Fairmont Grand Del Mar

Carmel Valley
Non-hotel guests can take advantage of everything from pony rides and day camps for kids to professional riding lessons for aspiring and seasoned equestrians. Trail rides explore the beauty of Los Peñasquitos Canyon with chance sightings of bobcats, mule deer, and great blue herons.
5300 Grand Del Mar Court

Nature Program

San Diego Botanic Garden

Ever wondered how to create a living wall or vertical garden with succulents? Interested in growing your own hydroponic vegetables? Curious about compost? This 37-acre green jewel in Encinitas offers excellent classes for gardeners tall and small. Kids love their Seeds of Wonder activity series, which includes garden arts and crafts.
230 Quail Gardens Drive

Photo by Shelby Clark

Kiddie Accessories

Bink & Boo

San Marcos
Bianca Wickers has been making children’s booties, bibs, and more for her line Bink & Boo since 2009, but earlier this year, the San Marcos resident debuted a collection of her covetable kids’ footwear for big-name retailer The Land of Nod. The styles combine her vintage aesthetic with a slightly preppy flair.


Animal Encounter

Nurtured By Nature

Valley Center
This nonprofit animal facility offers one-of-a-kind otter swims and interactions with critters like kangaroos, sloths, hedgehogs, porcupines, and more. Beyond the entertainment, it’s an education and conservation center dedicated to making dreams come true for sick and traumatized children. Money raised from private paid encounters supports free sessions for kids with terminal illnesses or disabilities through organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (Kids 7 and up; reservations only.)

Teen Program

Circles Teen Wellness Academy

Circles combines workouts, yoga, and self-discovery to promote mind-body awareness in adolescents. Activities include creating vision boards, journaling, and guided meditations with guest presenters.
960 Second Street

Art Class

Martin Fine Art Classes

Kids learn artistic fundamentals during lessons in the Old Masters tradition. Prospective students can try a free intro class in drawing or painting.
162 Rancho Santa Fe Road

“Cool” Sport Venue


Budding figure skaters can hone their skills via IceTown's figure skating academy or private instruction, while young hockey players can opt for the in-house league or club team, and others can try the free hockey program for beginners.
2283 Cosmos Court


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