A fancy table setting at the beach during sunset on the beach at one of the top hotels for where to stay in Encinitas

Where to Stay in Encinitas, By a Local (Best Places & Areas)

For a fairly small beach city in North County San Diego, there are some great choices for where to stay in Encinitas.

Encinitas is broken up into a variety of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct charm and feel. I was born and raised in Encinitas, and I can assure you that, whether you’re visiting Encinitas for a week or a month, you’ll find an excellent place to stay. 

And while you’re here, be sure to read my guide to the best things to do in Encinitas. Let’s dive in!

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Best Places to Stay in Encinitas

Exterior view of the coastal rustic vibe Surfhouse motel in Encinitas
Surfhouse is my pick for the best boutique hotel in Encinitas

Just looking for a quick answer on the best places to stay in Encinitas? Here are my top picks: 

Ok, let’s do a deep dive into the best areas and neighborhoods in Encinitas: 

3 Best Neighborhoods & Areas to Stay in Encinitas

In the past decade, Encinitas has evolved from a simple San Diego beach town to a desirable modern suburb full of innovation, sustainability, and entertainment.

Specifically, Old Encinitas, Leucadia, and Cardiff are the top 3 neighborhoods that bring out the vibrancy of this town. Let’s break it down:

Old Encinitas

Big welcome signage of Encinitas outside.

👉 Best Area For Entertainment | ✨ Best Old Encinitas Hotels: Inn at Moonlight BeachBest WesternDays Inn by Wyndham Encinitas

Old Encinitas is full of rich history, surf culture, and artistic shops that line the streets. This area is super pedestrian friendly, and it’s easy to walk between the restaurants and bars or access the public transit system. If you’re living or staying on this side of town, you’ll never get bored being in the heart of so many things to do in Encinitas. 

There are a ton of downtown Encinitas hotels for various budgets including the Inn at Moonlight, the Best Western Encinitas Inn, Wyndham Encinitas Moonlight Beach, and the Moonlight Beach Motel.

Pros of Staying in Old Encinitas Neighborhood:

  • Great location for beach town hopping
  • Historical location with all the entertainment
  • Pleasant stroll to the ocean and coastal trails
  • Highly accessible to an oceanview public transit system 
  • Easy to walk the downtown strip of great restaurants and bars

Cons of Staying in Old Encinitas Neighborhood:

  • Parking can be tricky on the weekends 
  • Party scene noise
  • Dogs not allowed on the beach
  • Close to train tracks 
  • Crowded beach

📚 Old Encinitas Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Old Encinitas
Google Map


A cute dog in front of a big butterfly mural with the Leucadia sign on the wall.
Find the many murals that beautify the streets of Encinitas

👉 Best Area For Locals | ✨ Best Leucadia Hotels: Alila MareaSurfhouseLeucadia Beach Inn

Leucadia is a local gem just a 30-minute walk from Moonlight beach, and is known for its coffee shops, farmers market, and quiet laid-back feel. Both travelers and locals alike can enjoy the view at the Alila Marea, one of the most popular hotels equipped with an oceanfront restaurant and bar. However, you can always stay at the more affordable Quality Inn Encinitas. 

Leucadia is also home to top-notch surfing beaches like Beacon’s beach and Grandview and is one of the best things to do in San Diego.

Pros of Staying in Leucadia Neighborhood:

  • Local hotspot for coffee shops
  • Great surfing and less crowded beaches
  • Leucadia farmers market
  • Sleep well in the quieter part of Encinitas 

Cons of Staying in Leucadia Neighborhood:

  • Farther walk to downtown Encinitas
  • Hotels can be pricey
  • Parking can be slim
  • Close to train tracks 

📚 Leucadia Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Leucadia
Google Map

  • ✨ Best HotelsAlila MareaSurfhouse Leucadia Beach Inn
  • 🏠 ApartmentsBrowse Top Rentals in Leucadia
  • 🍽️ Where to Eat – VAGA Restaurant & Bar ($$$), Valentina ($$), Buona Forchetta ($$)
  • 🍸 Where to Drink – Le Papagayo, Solterra Winery, The Regal Seagull, Coffee Coffee
  • 🎟️ Top Attractions – Beacon’s Beach, Grandview, Leucadia farmers market, Lou’s records


A beautiful landscape with hand painted wooden welcome sign of Cardiff by the Sea in Encinitas

👉 Best Area For Nature | ✨ Best Cardiff Hotels: Cardiff by the Sea LodgeHampton Inn 

Cardiff-by-the-sea is my favorite Encinitas spot. It is not exactly within walking distance to downtown but only a 10-minute drive from Moonlight beach. It’s a great spot to stay if you’re an outdoorsy type, as it’s close to hiking trails, parks, and a lagoon. It’s also adjacent to the next beach town, Solana Beach, and not too far from the elegant Del Mar beach town. 

Of all the North County San Diego towns, it is very central. If you want to feel like a local, say hi to the Cardiff Kook Statue and his magic carpet ride in front of San Elijo State Beach. 

Pros of Staying in Cardiff Neighborhood:

  • Delicious oceanfront restaurants 
  • Dogs allowed on the beach
  • Has the best beach town grocery store, Seaside Market
  • Close to a lagoon, parks, trails, and hiking  

Cons of Staying in Cardiff Neighborhood:

  • You’ll want a rental car to get around 
  • More spread out neighborhood
  • The campground makes beach parking slim

📚 Cardiff Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Cardiff
Google Map

  • ✨ Best HotelsCardiff by the Sea LodgeHampton Inn
  • 🏠 ApartmentsBrowse Top Rentals in Cardiff 
  • 🍽️ Where to Eat – Waverly ($$$), Pacific Coast Grill ($$$), The Besta Wan Pizza House ($$)
  • 🍸 Where to Drink – Cardiff Beach Bar @ Tower 13, Best Pizza & Brew, The Kraken, Zumbar 
  • 🎟️ Top Attractions – Cardiff Beach, San Elijo State Beach, San Elijo Lagoon

Tips for Staying in Encinitas

Don’t Skip Seashell Hunting

Beautiful flowers at the end of lined up seashells by the seashore of Cardiff Beach in Encinitas

If you have an affinity for collecting seashells, then Cardiff Beach in Encinitas is home to some of the best. This is a great activity for couples or the whole family. During low tide, you’re bound to find some treasures!

Make Restaurant Reservations in Advance

Encinitas restaurants can get busy, especially on the weekends. The wait time will probably be too long at restaurants on prime weekends if you just show up, so I recommend booking your dinner reservations in advance.

Don’t Skip Off-Seamargin-botson

A welcome signage of Leucadia painted on surfboards near the road of Encinitas.

If you’re wondering when to visit this area of California, then read on.

Most people don’t realize an Encinitas winter is actually a great time to visit for cheaper accommodation rates without sacrificing the sunshine. Whether you’re visiting Encinitas proper or looking for somewhere to stay in the greater San Diego area, don’t skip out on visiting in winter.

Swami’s Lookout

View of the beautifully lined up palm trees with a very blue sky on a sunny afternoon in Encinitas

Looking for the best spot to watch the sunset in Encinitas? Then drive over to the hill on Cornish Drive and Sante Fe Drive for an incredible view. Many folks come here to hang out and picnic in their cars, and I have to admit it’s one of the best viewpoints in town.


Shaved ice dessert in an old school bus at Encinitas Coaster Station parking lot.
Shaved ice school bus by Moonlight State Beach at sunset

Given its proximity to some of the best things to do in San Diego, Encinitas has increased in popularity in the last few years. Unfortunately, this means that parking is a lot harder to find when the city is busy. 

Your best bet is the Encinitas Coaster Station parking lot – it’s just a block from the main strip. 

FAQs About Where to Stay in Encinitas

Is Encinitas a good place to stay?

Encinitas is a great place to stay, whether you’re visiting for a week or a month. It’s less than 30 miles from downtown San Diego and arguably one of the best beach towns in North County.

Is Encinitas safe?

Encinitas is a very safe town with low crime rates compared to other cities. It is a well-maintained and laid-back beach town with a strong community.

Is Encinitas a beach town?

Encinitas is your quintessential California beach town where you can enjoy all things coastal culture.

What are the best places to stay in Encinitas?

Leucadia, Cardiff, or right on the Old Encinitas downtown strip are the best places to stay in Encinitas. When staying in Encinitas, choose an accommodation close to the water. 


Thanks for reading my guide to where to stay in Encinitas! Encinitas is only 25 miles from the San Diego Zoo and San Diego International Airport, meaning it’s a great beach town to escape to when you want to get out of the big city. Up next, check out this article on the best San Diego beaches.

Have fun in Encinitas!

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