Exploring the North County sweet spots of Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Solana Beach
Sip & Savor
Carlsbad may well be home to the only ice cream made daily by a graduate of Italy’s Carpigiani Gelato University. Located on Carlsbad Village Drive, Gaia Gelato makes its frozen confections daily in small batches in the “gelato lab” on machines imported from Italy to combine traditional preparation methods with fresh local ingredients, including pure alkaline Carlsbad water. Gaia also features a variety of Italian and French pastries and a specialty drink that takes gelato from a dessert to a morning treat. Vanilla gelato topped with hot espresso, an affogato, is a sinfully delicious way to start the day.
For those who prefer ice cream as a more traditional topping, SusieCakes, in the recently opened La Costa Town Square, offers a slice of homemade memories. Growing up in Chicago, founder Susan Sarich spent time after school with her grandmothers and a fresh baked treat, a daily ritual that left a lasting impression. She moved west and brought along Mildred and Madeline’s carefully recorded handwritten recipes on 4×6 cards. In addition to specialty layer cakes, including the signature red velvet made with a dusting of cacao powder and a light butter cream frosting, SusieCakes has a selection of cupcakes, cookies and whoopie pies.
Right next door, The Baked Bear combines the best of both treats with custom ice cream sandwiches. Rob Robbins and Shane Stanger, 2005 Torrey Pines High School graduates, gave up careers in marketing and film production to pursue a childhood dream to own a business together. Stanger said the duo was “messing around” in the kitchen of Milton’s Deli, which is co-owned by the Robbins family, to “bake something simple that would make people happy.” From a selection of ice cream flavors and homemade cookies, customers choose a bottom, middle, and top to create a one-of-a-kind treat. A favorite is The Bear Combo, with ice cream, cookies, and a brownie.
While not new, Jer’s Chocolates in Solana Beach has been offering its unique candies — once described as “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on steroids” — since 2001. Founder Jerry Swain continues to give back to the San Diego community, volunteering his time, talent, and treasures to a variety of local nonprofits.
If dietary restrictions have kept you away from the sweeter side of life, visit 2Good2B, which uses no soy, gluten, or corn. Created by scientist Diana Benedek to tackle her own reactions to certain foods, the Encinitas bakery also serves wraps, panini, and pot pies on a new “hot table” in a fast-casual setting.
Although the dessert cart has been put before the horse, that’s not to say there’s a shortage of new restaurants in the three cities.
The Forum Carlsbad recently welcomed Urban Plates, dedicated to “providing foods made from scratch using high quality natural and organic ingredients at prices that won’t break the bank.” The farm-to-plate menu offers sandwiches, stews, salads and entrees all priced at $10.50.
For a taste of New England, Carlsbad’s Beach Plum Kitchen serves clam chowder that’s as close to authentic as it comes. The lobster roll is traditional but with a California twist. Named for an East Coast fruit found frequently on Cape Cod, Beach Plum is open for breakfast, lunch and brunch.
Solana Beach diners have three new options with Similan, a Thai restaurant blocks from the Cedros Design District; Pillbox Tavern and Grill, named for the nearby beach break and serving “retro modern” beach fair; and Choice Juicery, which opened its second location in the Beachwalk Retail Center.
Located directly on the beach, Pacific Coast Grill in Cardiff-by-the-Sea definitely offers the sweetest ocean views. The lobster BLT, macadamia-crusted crab cakes and craft cocktails are also well worth sampling.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for Encinitas,” said Jon Mangini, who recently moved to North County with his family. “There’s a great community vibe and a lot of smaller independent businesses.” With that thought Mangini brought his signature warehouse design to Coast Highway 101 with URBN, serving traditional thin crust, coal-fired pies reminiscent of pizzerias in New Haven, Connecticut.
A few blocks away Union Kitchen & Tap is celebrating its fourth anniversary with a new seasonal menu featuring items such as togarashi crusted big-eye tuna with Scotch bonnet oil, grilled local snapper with orange ancho chili sauce, and Prince Edward Island mussels steamed in Pernod broth and fennel fronds. “I’m just pulling fish out of the ocean that’s running right now and balancing all the textures, flavors, and colors,” chef Rick Hyra says.
Nearly all these restaurants promote San Diego’s burgeoning craft beer industry, as do the growing number of tasting rooms. Two of the newest are The Confessional in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, with 24 taps, and San Diego BeerWorks in Solana Beach, with 20.
If the award-winning ales aren’t reason enough to grab a cold one at Pizza Port, the Solana Beach restaurant is brewing a special-edition benefit beer to support the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy. Head brewer Devon Randall combined her San Dieguito recipe with locally sourced native sagebrush to create Coast-to-Crest Trail Ale. One dollar of every glass sold will help complete the Coast-to-Crest Trail, which will stretch 70 miles from Volcan Mountain to the Pacific Ocean when completed.
Those who prefer seeing how and where their craft beer is made should check out the Hops Highway Retreat from West Inn & Suites in Carlsbad. The package includes a one-night stay, luxury transportation to four breweries along Highway 78, snacks, tastings, customized brewery tours featuring history and highlights, late checkout, and a collapsible cooler filled with gifts from the hotel.
Shop & Play
J. Crew is new at The Forum, where longtime favorite TRE Boutique is embracing spring with the power of prints, and Nicole Miller’s resort and spring collections are boasting color and patterns.
Wysh Boutique, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary in Carlsbad Village, is all about what’s trendy, including feathers, stripes, fringe, and all-weather leather.
Helping Mother Earth, those on a budget and anyone making room in the closet, My Sister’s Closet is a recycled designer apparel shop in Encinitas now offering a $25 gift card to new consigners.
After three years of community outreach Caruso Affiliates is moving forward to develop 50 acres of strawberry fields next to Interstate 5 in Carlsbad. The project will feature a mix of high-end local, regional and national merchants and restaurants, a luxury theater, and a farm-to-table restaurant set within 176 acres of open space and farmland that will be tended by the family-owned Carlsbad Strawberry Company. Caruso expects to complete the project in about three years.
Rhythm + Power in Solana Beach is a boutique indoor cycling studio offering post-ride eucalyptus towels, blacked-out rooms with lights that sync to music, community building events and a unique methodology created by acclaimed instructors to provide the ride of a lifetime.
Follow up your workout at nearby Float North County, a sensory deprivation center dedicated to literally taking the weight off your shoulders. Using massive buoyancy, a float tank combats the oppressive weight of gravity and allows the body’s resources to be reallocated for deep relaxation.
For a more traditional relaxation retreat, Bella D’ora Spa and Salon in Carlsbad offers award-winning services and a continuously updated boutique.
It’s not only residents who are rejuvenating in North County. Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort is welcoming visitors with a new name, Cape Rey, and a fresh vibe to focus on the authentic Southern California beach lifestyle, delivering a prime location, an adventurous spirit, and luxurious simplicity. A beachfront base camp offering coastal vistas and Southern California adventures, Cape Rey provides guests with creative itineraries, excursions, and partnerships. Employees are property ambassadors, with expertise in everything from surf spots to taco shops.
Celebrate the Tried & True
With a daily happy hour and Tuscan-inspired patio, Firenze Trattoria in Encinitas is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2015.
The family-owned Daily News Café in Carlsbad Village, best known for serving breakfast all day, turns 25 this year.
When La Costa Resort and Spa opened its doors five decades ago, it quickly became a popular getaway for the Hollywood elite. Historic facts and photos are available via Facebook and Instagram and a 1965 room package is set to launch. To toast its 50th year, the iconic facility, now known as Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, is serving the Nifty Fifty, a signature cocktail with a fresh twist on the classic 1930s cosmopolitan made with citron vodka, fresh squeezed lemon juice, fresh raspberry puree, and Cointreau.
With all that is new and old to celebrate, it’s no wonder nearly 200,000 people have chosen to call these coastal communities home sweet home. BIANCA KAPLANEK
Cape Rey: Photo by Vincent Knakal SusieCakes & Bella D’Ora: Photo by Bob Stefanko Union: Photo by Evan Stefanko All other photography: Courtesy Photography