“They moved to Australia,” I’d say.
For years, that’s what I called North County San Diego. Whoever moved up there always came back, myself included. Like a boomerang.
The allure of North County has always been intense, a lifestyle drug in the top cupboard of the county. So beautiful it hurts. Time seems to backstroke there.
Driving up the historic Highway 101 you see the lanky legs of the Torrey Pines bridge, Amtrak shooting through its arches like a metal eel. Then there’s Del Mar’s seaside cliffs made of corrugated sand, erosion carved into them like lifelines on palms.
You pass the Lycra bicycle gangs sipping bloodies at T’s Cafe in Solana Beach, and then the famous road opens up into the San Elijo Lagoon—majestic cranes loping into flight on the right, majestic-er Rob Machado surfing on the left. Encinitas greets you with the most Southern California thing imaginable—a golden-domed self-realization temple perched over one of the world’s most legendary surf breaks.
I lived in Leucadia in the ’90s because I loved its refusal to pave sidewalks. It often felt like business-casual there just might be nudity. Past that you hit Carlsbad, so quaint it’s nearly a nativity scene. And, finally, Oceanside—the iconic surf city with a touch of danger, which made it feel like a real city, an always-emerging utopia, accepting, if not proud, of its imperfections.
For decades, choosing to live in North County was a leaving. Like lowering your life into a lukewarm bath, away from the noise of the stereo and the TV and the kitchen. If we wanted “action,” we’d develop a six-point plan to venture south of the 5-805 merge—the Great Wall of San Diego. Even though the traffic only happened during the rush hour, it gave us unwelcome LA emotions. Aside from a few mighty cultural stalwarts (BellyUp, OMA, etc.), most of the concert venues and art hubs, sports teams, festivals, and thrilling restaurants were below the merge.
I loved Leucadia. But I moved to Golden Hill because I needed to be closer to those things. I needed noise. Friends moved back, too. We boomeranged. But now the boomerang is broken. What goes to North County stays in North County. It is a fully thriving cultural environment of micro cities. 5G can’t keep up with all the creative projects sprouting in Oceanside. Carlsbad has a Michelin-star restaurant (Jeune et Jolie). Monarch (in the pic above) is the smelling salts Del Mar has wanted for a while, and Cardiff’s Waverly is so packed it might elect its own mayor soon.
For this North County issue, we made a conscious choice to stick to the coastline (and San Marcos). This is not a diss to the mighty emerging forces of Rancho Bernardo, Poway, Mira Mesa, Escondido, and all other inland neighborhoods. Our storytellers are walking those streets as I write this. Instead of trying to cover the entire super-region in one shot—which ends up reading like a white pages—we opted to break it into pieces and do something more impactful, give the epic shots our photographers captured room to breathe (see the feature , page 80). We’re also ramping up our coverage of North County across all our platforms (social, web, podcast, video, events). Think of this issue as SDM renewing its vows to our great north.
To celebrate that, we’re bringing back our Best of North County Party—June 17, at the iconic Carlsbad Flower Fields. It’s our ode to the people and restaurants and bars and cultural forces that make the top half of San Diego pop. Claire and I will be there, returning to the place I love, and maybe one day we’ll stay for good.
Big, Important, Awesome News
We have a new editor in chief. He is one of the most talented storytellers I’ve ever worked with. He will add gravitas and grit and humor and heart to what we do at SDM. He is Seth Combs. He joined us halfway through this issue, so I’ll save the proper introductions for June.