Ditch your car
Number of roundabouts planned to slow down speedsters: 5
Buy into it: $949,000
Test it out: $1,595
Whether you’re a casual cruiser or a serious roadster, a bike tour through Leucadia’s long, flat stretch of historic Highway 101 and the meandering neighborhood paths and streets that lead west to the beach is an ideal way to spend a Saturday. The Streetscape project (recently approved by the Encinitas City Council) will improve the biking conditions even more by adding more than 900 trees along the highway, five roundabouts to slow down traffic, wider walkways and one less northbound lane for cars to make room for a wider, safer northbound lane for bikers and dog-walkers.
When they’re not booking A-list talent like Bonnie Rait and Emmy Lou Harris for charity galas and corporate events, Steve Redfearn and Ashley Constans retreat to their beach bungalow in Leucadia and leash up their pups for cruising on foot around the neighborhood.
"We can walk to our little gym in Cardiff or down to the Pannikin," says Constans. "It’s the best place to live west of the 5."
Plant the ultimate garden
Point Loma (92106)
Average temperature in Point Loma: 64.5
Ideal growing temperature for lettuce: 60-65*
Buy into it: $655,000
Test it out: $1,725
It’ll cost you some bucks to buy the land, but once it’s yours, the conditions are ideal for those looking to grow their own food. According to the Point Loma Garden Club, the marine layer fog that rolls in and out over the peninsula each day helps keep moisture in the air and the soil, allowing lots of good green stuff to grow without complicated irrigation and defying the mostly parched San Diego desert climate.
The proof’s in the pudding — or the arugula — for Paul Reeb, who turned just under an acre of land in his backyard in the Fleetridge area of Point Loma into a small farm, where everything from tomatoes and lettuce to artichokes and herbs thrives. He sells much of the bounty to popular Tender Greens restaurant, across the road in Liberty Station.
"We can grow produce 12 months of the year in Point Loma since there is no frost. It’s perfect for lettuce because it’s not too hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter," says Reeb. "The soil in San Diego has a lot of clay in it, so we turn it into something nice with a little help from the stables in Poway."
*According to the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, North Carolina State University
Live off the grid, but in town
Olivenhain, Encinitas (92024)
Starbucks locations in Olivenhain: 0
Buy into it: $795,000
Test it out: $2,195
When the neighborhood park has a parking lot for horse trailers and a riding ring, like Olivenhain’s Little Oaks Park on Lone Jack Road, it’s safe to say the community is a rural one. With low-density zoning laws, no sidewalks and an active 4-H club, Olivenhain feels a million miles from anything refined. And yet it’s just an organic farm or two away from the marble kitchens and crystal chandeliers of Rancho Santa Fe’s Fairbanks estates.
Former Santa Barbara surf bums, scuba divers and world travelers Robert and Diana Wilder chose Olivenhain for their family home, because their two kids get the sought-after "North County schools" education without the monotony of suburban sprawl. Their 1-acre property contains a chicken coop, a small citrus grove, a workshop for Robert’s electric cars and a creek at the edge of the property line that leads to a rural trail where he walks the family dog every morning. Other than the next property to the east (belonging to a modern artist whose home is built around an old shipping container), the Wilders’ view is of nothing but green hills and canyons, though it’s only a few miles down the road from The Forum strip mall and just 6 miles to Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. "We like the funkiness of it," says Robert. "But it’s still so convenient."
Dock and dine
Number of restaurants with public docks within walking distance: 12
Buy into it: $1,075,000
Test it out: $2,300
Leave the helicopters to Donald Trump. The way to arrive in style in this town is by boat. Whether you’re the boss taking the staff out to celebrate a new account or a grad student who snuck into the yacht club to swipe Uncle Moneybags’ dinghy for a big date, the public docks at the Coronado ferry landing are a perfect first stop. Tie off a line, throw out the bumpers, and head up the ramp to the new Village Pizzeria to share a few pies and sip local craft brews. Looking for something more upscale? Try Candelas next door for white tablecloths, a fancy Mexican menu and stirring views of the skyline.
For a little less bustle, motor down to the docks in front of Peohe’s and Il Fornaio. The view beats the food at both restaurants, but it’s hard to go wrong with a glass of wine at either — and you can always bring your own picnic spread up to the bike path or the sweet green space that’s waiting for a restaurateur to take over (we hear a big-name steakhouse just backed out).
San Carlos (92119)
Acres of protected open space, including Mission Trails, Cowles Mountain and Lake Murray: 5,800
Buy into it: $450,000
Test it out: $1,400
Originally inhabited by the Kumeyaay tribe and then by the Mission tribes, Mission Trails Regional Park gives all kinds of new meaning to the term "outdoor recreation area." The 1.5-mile hike up to the peak of Cowles Mountain leads to the highest point in the city of San Diego at 1,592 feet, where on a clear day you can see out to the Coronado Islands off the coast. Neighborhood residents also flock to Lake Murray on weekend mornings for a bike, jog or row around its 3-mile perimeter and a picnic afterwards among the ducks and paddle boats in the grassy park area. At the other end of the Mission Trails park, through the Mission Gorge Road pass at the Junípero Serra Trail, a working campground greets locals on Friday and Saturday with tent camping, fire pits and walking trails. With information on all the park’s activities, history and natural habitat, the Mission Trails Visitor Center serves as the hub of 92119’s outdoor life. The park even hosts expert guides from REI who lead classes in everything from rock climbing to campfire cooking.
Tracy Dahlkamp used the visitor center recently for a fund-raising gala for a charitable organization she started to help keep the Lake Murray park area clean, accessible and safe for her family and her neighbors in San Carlos, since the city’s parks and recreation department scales back maintenance year after year due to the budget shortfall. Amazing Race season 15 winners Meghan and Cheyne live in nearby Talmadge and have participated in several fund-raisers with Dahlkamp’s group, which raised $20,000 this past fall toward the goal of $200,000 for a complete renovation of the playground at Lake Murray’s park.
"It’s a huge part of what makes this community in San Diego so desirable," says Dahlkamp, "and we can’t let it slip away for lack of maintenance."
Get your kid a scholarship
Highway 56 Corridor (92129, 92130)
Number of schools scoring 10 on GreatSchools.org in 92129 and 92130: 28
Buy into it: $505,000 (92129), $727,500 (92130)
Test it out: $1,450
While there are still a few neighborhood pockets within the San Diego Unified School District with select public schools that score 9 or 10 ratings (Point Loma, Del Cerro, Mission Hills), the best classrooms, at least on paper, are north of Highway 56 in the corridor that stretches from Carmel Valley to Rancho Bernardo. GreatSchools.org allows users to map schools by rankings and geography, and it’s clear where the "good schools" cluster lies: right over the cluster of dense housing developments with community pools and sky-high homeowners’ association fees and Mello-Roos taxes.
Michael Uy and Abbie train on the trails in Del Sur
Del Sur (92127)
Number of acres of green space preserved for residents: 1,000
Buy into it: $545,000
Test it out: $1,550
Sure, there are LEED-certified buildings and a mandatory recycling program for the entire 2,500-home community, but the most exciting green element of the sprawling Del Sur development is that it actually is green. The developer preserved 1,000 acres of open space, cleared 18 miles of hiking trails and created four community parks. Technically, the area is more of a brownish green color, since most of the landscaping is drought-resistant (lots of succulents and rocks), but we’ll take it: The folks at Del Sur tell us that choice can save tens of thousands of gallons of water per year on irrigation.
Michael Uy chose to buy a home here so he and his surfing dog Abbie (a local champion at the Loews Coronado competition every year) can run, bike and stay in shape without hours inside a gym. "I think we’ve played in all the parks and gone mountain biking on every single trail," says Uy, who also calls himself a foodie, noting the proximity of his Del Sur house to upscale French restaurant Cavaillon and the neighborhood’s new gastropub, Urge, with more than 60 craft beers on tap. "Here, it’s like a place where the yuppie REI customers live."
A little bit of everything
Adams Avenue (92116)
Number of businesses in the Adams Avenue Business Association: 600+
Buy into it: $350,000
Test it out: $1,200
There’s a community garden, a hidden mini-park and rows of classic California bungalows along the winding North Mountain View loop, just north of Adams Avenue in Normal Heights. Beatnik poets and singer/songwriters perform at Lestat’s coffeehouse on Adams Avenue; grown-up hipsters grab organic popsicles for their toddlers at Viva Pops then head to Blind Lady Alehouse for craft brews and pizzas. Farther east, Mayor Jerry Sanders resides on the tony streets of Kensington; farther west, antique stores and coffee shops lead into University Heights’ diverse community, with the swing sets and grassy knolls of Trolley Barn Park as the central gathering place.
Sophie 103.7 radio host Jennifer White loves living near the avenue.
"I love that I can walk just about everywhere I need to go," she says. "Grocery store, post office, Happy Hours, pet supplies and tons of amazing restaurants are all within blocks of each other. Throw in some street fairs on Adams a few times a year, and you have the perfect neighborhood."
Keep Fido happy
Little Italy (92101)
Number of DogiPot stations: 65+
Buy into it: $330,000
Test it out: $1,695
Little Italy loves its four-legged friends and wins the blue ribbon as San Diego’s most dog-friendly neighborhood. Myriad local eateries warmly welcome canine companions with water bowls and treats on the patio, and each street corner has a DogiPot station dispensing biodegradable baggies to keep the neighborhood both clean and green. Amici Park hosts doggie play groups and romp sessions, while dog-friendly hotels, daycare, spas, groomers and even a pet taxi are but a few of the many services to pamper your pooch.
"This community truly recognizes its residents’ pets as family members, so we try to keep our events and neighborhood both dog- and family-friendly," explains Chris Gomez, district manager of the Little Italy Association. Two paws up.
Million-dollar views at a discount
Bay Park (92110)
Discount on an ocean view similar to La Jolla’s: 75 percent off (Bay Park’s median price hovers around $500K; La Jolla’s is
about $2 million)
Buy into it: $486,500
Test it out: $1,495
It’s the same ocean you see from La Jolla or Sunset Cliffs, except in Bay Park you’ll pay a fraction of the cost for the front porch to view it from. Sure, you have to look past SeaWorld and drab Fiesta Island (not so terrible with a nightly fireworks show) to see out to the clear blue ocean, but the sunset is simply killer. And we’re hearing about lots of young movers and shakers choosing the ’hood to lay down roots, including Searsucker chef Brian Malarky and his wife and three children, Joes on the Nose gourmet coffee truck owner David and his wife Maya, and Chop Suey food truck maven and local celebrity chef Deborah Scott. Now if only one of them would open the perfect neighborhood café...
Wiggle your toes in a front yard of sand
Imperial Beach (91933)
Number of affordable beachfront residences on the market: 11
Buy into it: $252,600
Test it out: $1,195
The last affordable funky beach town in Southern California has cleaned up its image and its environs. This bedroom community has been spruced up with a business revitalization and artistic renaissance, with projects like the Outdoor Surf Museum of red steel surfboards lining Third Street, memorializing the town’s link to its surfing heritage. Famous surfers, watermen and families have made I.B. their home —where else can you live on the sand with white-water views of frolicking dolphins and sets rolling in for under half a million dollars?
A smattering of family-owned independent businesses with roots lend character, such as Katy’s Café, for healthy surfers’ grind, and 30-year-old Mexican eatery El Tapatio. The biker thugs, gangs and rowdy spitfire crowds of the 1970s and ’80s have retreated. Now families, couples and retirees enjoy the sunshine, riding bikes along the Strand and playing in the waves. And yes, the surf is outstanding, but the locals would rather we not mention that.
"I love how diverse the population is here," says Gary Trieschman, longtime resident and owner of Pacific Realty in I.B. "We are the close-knit community with a small-town feel — a true neighborhood where you can park for free at the beach, bump into friends and catch some great waves.
Live in Brooklyn
South Park (92102)
Number of references to Brooklyn by locals: seemingly endless
Buy into it: $450,000
Test it out: $1,225
Here’s our token South Park mention for this issue, as we couldn’t leave it out of any kind of "best neighborhoods" list. But how many times can we sing the praises of a ’hood that, while super fun and funky and delicious and ideally located, is just a few square blocks in area and only affordable and appealing to a fairly narrow sect of San Diegans? Well, I guess we’re still hummin’ this tune. So again (maybe for the last time?), if you’re in your 30s, wish you lived in Brooklyn or Portland but don’t have the guts to move, can afford to pay around $600 per square foot for an old house and are prepared to dress the part of grown-up hipster: Get a dog, have a baby, and ride your restored antique road bike to South Park.
Become a food blogger
Number of new restaurants opened in the past year: 10+
Buy into it: $440,000
Test it out: $1,800
Yes, we all know the Bankers Hill restaurant scene is booming, and you need an act of Congress to get a Friday-night rezzie at Cucina Urbana or Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant — don’t even get us started on trying to snag a seat at the Hane Sushi bar — but if you look at sheer numbers, Hillcrest is the real restaurant boomtown these days. The Busalacchis moved uptown with A Modo Mio, Top Chef Rich Sweeney’s is packing in the crowds for Sunday brunch on the patio at R Gang, the Arrivederci restaurant group has opened yet another spot, called Au Revoir (where La Vache once was), Osteria Origano has added a new patio dining option on Fifth Avenue, an Ethiopian family brings their traditional recipes to Bayu’s and Naked Pizza is set to start delivering its organic pies out of a new franchise location under the Hillcrest sign. Hungry yet?
Even if only a handful stay open for more than a year, it’s still fun to sip and sample, when restaurants invite bloggers, foodies and neighborhood VIPs in for nibbles followed by reminder e-mails to review on Yelp, post photos on Facebook and tell your friends about the experience. A few comped meals later, and you’ll be eating like a local (Internet) celebrity in no time.
One Local’s La Jolla
Jerry Cesak, a.k.a. Jer of Jeff & Jer, picks three standouts
We practically live there. Owner Barbara is the soul of the place. Cozy atmosphere less than two blocks from the beach. Go more than once and you’re family.
This is a treasure. Open for more than 100 years, Warwick’s is the oldest continuously family-owned and -operated bookstore in the United States. The staff knows books and makes great recommendations.
Meanley & Son Hardware
Family-owned for more than 60 years, this is a real hardware store, packed floor to ceiling with everything. I have never gone in here and not found what I needed.
Three North County ZIP codes that evaded, or recovered from, the bust.
|How much did they lose?||How much are they back?||About The ’Hood|
from a peak median house price of $695,000 down to a bottom in April 2009
Rancho Peñasquitos boasts of having had the largest Little League in the nation, which is pretty much all you need to know about the character of this bedroom community squeezed between Rancho Santa Fe and Poway.
Perhaps it was exactly that down-to-earth attitude that guided residents to avoid the excesses of the housing boom that brought low so many other high-flying neighborhoods. Perhaps it was the fact that every time they thought about selling their homes at deep discounts, they could think it over on a pleasant walk in any of four small nature preserves that separate neighborhoods. Whatever it was, Rancho Peñasquitos suffered the smallest decline in prices of any North County neighborhood.
from a February 2006 peak of $956,000 to a low in February 2009
up to a sky-high $735,000
Houses in coastal communities generally held their value better than those inland, but the Carlsbad community of La Costa isn’t actually right on the water. Maybe it’s the semirural feel of some of the neighborhoods, hidden away from the hustle of Interstate 5 by rolling hills. Or perhaps the cachet of living so near La Costa Resort & Spa made residents less willing to risk their houses on second mortgages during the boom years.
from an August 2007 peak of $945,000 to a March 2009 low
Other neighborhoods saw home values fall less than these two Encinitas communities, but no other part of North County has staged such a dramatic recovery: Median house prices bounced back $350,000 by October. Maybe the real mystery is how prices dropped so far in the first place. Encinitas combines beautiful beaches and world-class surfing, yet tourists rarely clog its thoroughfares. Throw in easy access to the Self-Realization Fellowship Hermitage & Meditation Gardens and the San Diego Botanic Garden, and suddenly the median price at the bottom, $543,000, is a bargain-basement deal.