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Cardiff Kook goes prehistoric


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Laid back surfers, kooks and campers seeking slice of paradise

Located along two miles of the Pacific Ocean between Solana Beach and Encinitas, Cardiff-by-the-Sea is a classic beach community. Most residents usually shorten the name to simply "Cardiff."

There are no houses on the bluff above the beach - the San Elijo Campground is situated on prime property on the bluff along the two miles of beach. In the mornings there is the scent of campfires and breakfast cooking. Train tracks run alongside the Coast Highway and you can hear their whistles blow as they approach the intersection at Chesterfield.

Ding repair sign - Cardiff by the Sea, San Diego County
This coastal community has a serious surfing vibe. There are a number of good surfing spots along this stretch of coast and the good waves are a magnet for residents and visitors alike.

The population of Cardiff is approximately 12,000. While it has its own ZIP code, Cardiff operates as part of the city of Encinitas. The median price in August, 2017 of a single family home in Cardiff was $692,100.

"Cardiff has a great lifestyle and I think it's the best place to live," said Betty Steele, owner of Steele Realty in Cardiff. Access to the beaches, great waves, San Elijo lagoon, the library, restaurants and parks are the main attractions for living here according to Steele. "Beachy," she said is a good description of Cardiff.

Cardiff by the Sea, San Diego County
Cardiff homes overlooking train trestle and San Elijo Lagoon.

The dominant geographic feature of the area is The San Elijo Lagoon. The 900-acre ecological reserve is one of the few remaining coastal wetlands in the county. It is home to more than 700 species of plants and animals. The San Elijo Nature Center offers free, guided nature walks every Saturday from 10 to 11 a.m. The center is located at 2710 Manchester Ave.

Cardiff was founded in 1911 by developer J. Frank Cullen. The community was named in honor of his wife's native Wales and many streets have English names. A later developer, German musician Victor Kramer added the "by-the-Sea."

Patagonia Cardiff by the Sea, San Diego
The Patagonia store at the intersection of Chesterfield and San Elijo.

According to the local chamber of commerce, the community takes pride in its "walkability" with the beach, restaurants, markets, post office, library, and other commercial services in easy walking distance to each other. Recreational areas include Glen Park, with tennis and basketball courts, a children's play area and picnic tables. One famous surf spot is Cardiff Reef, located alongside Historic Highway 101 at the mouth of the lagoon. The surf at the reef attracts surfers from all over Southern California and beyond.

Cardiff State Park, Cardiff By The Sea, San Diego
Cardiff State Beach looking north toward the campground.

Cliff Keller and his wife Karen live in a house with a view of the waves at Cardiff Reef and Pipes. Semi-retired, Keller volunteers with a non-profit organization - RJoy, works with a San Diego song writers group, does audio recording and plays music in a few bands. He also enjoys surfing all the local spots.

The first time Keller visited the area was in 1961 when he was camping with his father at the San Elijo. He was only six years old but he remembers thinking that this would be a great place to live. "The glassy waves, VG Donuts and Besta Wan Pizza is all I'll ever need. Girls were added to the list later," he said. After graduating from college, in 1984, the soft real estate market allowed Keller to purchase a house in Cardiff. "Over the years I fixed it up and in 2005 put a second story on the house to keep an eye on the waves between Seaside and Swamiis," he said.

Cardiff By The Sea San Diego surfer crossing street
A surfer crosses the Coast Highway 1 after surfingthe waves below the campground.

He cites his favorite places to eat in Cardiff. "Pipes for breakfast, Las Olas for Mexican food, The Beach House and Ki's for ocean-views and Tratoria Positano for romantic meals," he said. "VG Donuts and Besta Wan Pizza and the waves are still as good as ever. Everything I need is here."

John Fay has lived in Cardiff for more than 20 years and is the assistant manager at Pipes Cafe. "I don't have to leave Cardiff. I work here I live here I surf here, buy my groceries here and go out to dinner here locally," he said. "Everyone says live simple. You can live a simple life here."

Cardiff Kook and Surfer Crossing sign in Cardiff by the Sea, San Diego
From kooks to professional surfers, Cardiff has a wave for everyone.

Pipes Cafe, Cardiff by the Sea, San Diego County
Pipes Cafe is a popular restaurant where people line out the door to order a giant breakfast burrito. Barista, John Fay brewing at the java post.

Cardiff by the Sea, San Diego map link


Cardiff Elementary School
1888 Montgomery Ave.

Ada Harris Elementary
1508 Windsor Rd.


Cardiff Beach House
2530 S. Coast Hwy. 101

The Kraken
2531 S. Coast Hwy. 101

Cicciotti's Trattoria
1933 San Elijo Ave.


2005 San Elijo Ave.

Ki's Restaurant
2591 S. Coast Hwy. 101.


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