If you have never heard of Solana Beach you are not alone. Whereas everyone knows Carlsbad, Laguna Beach, or San Clemente, many have never heard of this Southern Californian town.
Maybe because Solana Beach’s beaches are rather small, but this town is more a fancy suburb with wealthy inhabitants than a tourist destination. You will see more locals than tourists and there is only a small number of hotels (though loads of restaurants)!
But does that mean Solana Beach is not worth a visit? Not at all – there is plenty to do here for a great day out and even more important Solana Beach makes a great base from which to explore the surrounding area.
As we own a timeshare in Solana Beach, we have visited numerous times and have visited most of the town’s highlights. Read on for a list of the best things to do in Solana Beach, great nearby attractions to visit, and my suggestion for a perfect day in Solana Beach.
There is plenty to do and see in this quintessential Southern California town
Annie’s Slot Canyon Trail is a short but fun and somewhat challenging hike right at the edge of Solana Beach.You can also visit the nature center and explore the San Elija Lagoon.
After squeezing through the canyon and scrambling up the ladder you have a great view over the canyon and nearby wetlands out to sea.
2) Enjoy yourself at Fletcher Cove
Fletcher Cove is a small but very cute and quiet beach right near Solana Beach’s train station.
There is a small park on the hill above, with a playground and a great view over the cove. You will also find free restrooms/changing rooms as well as showers here.
And of course there is a lifeguard so you can swim without worries.
3) Visit Dog Beach
If you are traveling with a canine companion, this is the place for you. You may even see a dog on a surfboard here!
But even if not, you will find volleyball courts and a lagoon so it is perfect for water sports of all kinds.
From the bridge above you have an outstanding view of the sunset.
4) Play miniature golf
I love mini golf and Pelly’s Mini Golf is one of the nicest minigolf places I have been to. There are two different 18 hole mini golf courses, Surfin’ Safari and Ocean Adventure.
The courses are well themed, clean, and in good shape and prices are reasonable. Great fun for the whole family!
In contrast to most mini golf courses Pelly’s is not in a central location but tucked away behind the Del Mar Fairgrounds so you may well miss it if you don’t specifically look for it!
Pelly’s is part of the Del Mar Golf Center so you will also find a driving range, coaching lessons, and a Pro Shop here in case you enjoy your golf without the “mini”!
5) Attend the Del Mar Horse Races
The showgrounds/race track is actually in Del Mar but your best public transportation option for a visit is Solana Beach’s train station so I have decided to include it in this list.
The main racing season at Del Mar runs from July 20th to September 8th, 2024. Fall races take place from October 31st to December 1st, 2024.
While there are plenty of opportunities for betting at Del Mar, the racing event have a definite community/family/fun vibe so you can enjoy yourself without having to spend much.
6) Enjoy yourself at the San Diego County Fair
In late June/early July the San Diego County Fair takes place at the Solana Beach fairgrounds (the same as the horse races).
As your timeshare week is around Labor Day, I have never been to Solana Beach in July but I have visited the Orange County Fair before and it was lots of fun.
Concerts, competitions, rides, and of course a wide variety of fried foods – there is something for everyone. So if you are in Solana Beach in June or July, the San Diego County Fair is the place to be.
7) Listen to music at Belly up Tavern
In the interest of full disclosure – I have not yet visited Solana Beach’s Belly Up Tavern myself as we have always visited Solana Beach as a family. But this music venue is probably the most famous attraction in Solana Beach!
I am not much of a concert goer but I know many of you are so Belly Up Tavern may be exactly what you are looking for! It has been a staple in Solana Beach since opening in 1974!
Belly Up offers an eclectic mix of artists so you are likely to find something you are interested in.
Have you been to the Belly Up Tavern? If so, drop me a note in the comments and let me know what you thought!
8) Stop by Flower Hill Promenade
Okay, this is just a shopping center so not a major sight. But it is a very nice shopping center and if you are from out of state or even from overseas Flower Hill Promenade provides the perfect introduction to upscale Southern California.
Did you think Wholefoods is expensive? Stop by the Gelsons across the highway and afterwards Wholefoods will look like a true bargain.
Aside of the Wholefoods, this shopping center also houses a really cool toystore, various upscale shops, a frozen yogurt place, and several restaurants.
9) Go jogging along the Solana Beach Trail
This pedestrian walkway runs pretty much the entire length of Solana Beach. It is sandwiched between the railroad tracks and Highway 101.
It is a pleasant path, great for exercising. Also, if you have luggage on your way to or from the train station, this path is a much better choice than Cedros Avenue.
10) Shop on Cedros Avenue
Cedros Avenue is Solana Beach’s second claim to fame. This street is lined by designer stores, especially for interior decoration.
If you need a fancy table or nifty tiles, this is the place for you. But even if you – like me – have only limited space in your suitcase, it is worth checking out. This is the place to find out what is trending with the local well to do residents.
Where to stay in Solana Beach
As we are timeshare owners at Winners Circle Resort, I may not be quite objective but we have been very happy staying here and I think it is a great choice for a stay in Solana Beach.
Winner’s Circle Resort in Solana Beach is our go-to for visiting Southern California
Especially if you own a timeshare and can trade in, Winners Circle is a good choice. While not a luxury property, it does have a vacation/resort vibe and the location is excellent if you have a car (and decent without).
Like with most timeshares, you will have access to a small kitchen, invaluable to save money if traveling with family. There is also a pool, a hot tub, BBQ grills, laundry, and table tennis.
If you are traveling solo, do not own a timeshare, have no car, and don’t need a kitchen, I would probably stay at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Solana Beach or Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Del Mar/Solana Beach as both are closer to train station, bus stops, and the beach.
Where to eat in Solana Beach
We mostly stick to Dennys and CPK (coming from overseas those are exciting/nostalgic for me), but the following restaurants are definitely worth a visit:
Claires on Cedros: Popular and upscale breakfast/lunch place that exemplifies Solana Beach’s vibe
Red Tracton’s Steakhouse: I still haven’t made it here but it is at the top of my list! A traditional steakhouse that will make you feel like you traveled back in time (especially during racing season).
Public Transport in Solana Beach
One of the things I like best about Solana Beach is that you can easily travel along the coast by train or bus.
A) By Bus
The 101 bus runs all the way from La Jolla to Oceanside every 30 minutes. No matter how far you travel, it will only cost you $2.5. What a steal!
B) By Train
The Coaster commuter train runs roughly every hour and takes you all the way to Oceanside in the North or San Diego in the South.
The Coaster will be faster and gets you to San Diego without having to change. It is a bit more expensive but still affordable. The bus on the other hand is ideal if your destination is further removed from the train station.
In addition, Amtrak also stops in Solana Beach. It is a bit more expensive than the commuter train but does take you all the way to LA in just over 2 hours.
Best day trips from Solana Beach by public transport
The Self-Realization Fellowship’s Meditation Gardens in Encinitas offer spectacular sea views
Encinitas is the next bigger town to the north of Solana Beach and you can get there easily by train or bus.
Aside of a cute town and famous beach, Encinitas claim to fame are its botanical gardens.
With the Coaster commuter train you can get to Carlsbad from Solana Beach in under 20 minutes. This well-known beach town has a distinct European vibe.
The main attractions here are Legoland (great with smaller kids – don’t miss the apple fries!) and the beautiful blooms of the Carlsbad Flower Fields in April.
Seagrove Park is a great location if you want to enjoy ocean views without getting sand all over yourself
Del Mar and Solana Beach are right next to each other (the showgrounds are actually already in Del Mar). However, if you want to visit Del Mar’s center you can also take the 101 bus to save yourself a 2 mile walk.
Del Mar has my favorite beach in the area – nothing beats sitting in Seagrove Park and watching the surfers in the water below. Treat yourself with one of the best gelatos in Southern California and enjoy a relaxed beach day!
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines will make you feel like you left civilization far behind even though it is right of the highway
Are you looking to spend some time hiking through native brushland? Then Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is the perfect spot for you.
Easily reached by bus, this Reserve offers a visitor center, various trails, and a beautiful beach. As you hike through the native chapparal, breathe in the sweetly scented air, and enjoy gorgeous views over the cliffs out to sea you will feel a hundred miles removed from the bustle of Southern California’s cities.
La Jolla’s Cove is a great spot to observe wildlife
La Jolla will require a longer bus ride than most of the other destinations on this list but the pretty town, impressive mansions, Birch Aquarium, sea caves, and of course the sea lions make it well worth the effort.
Old Town San Diego is just one of the not-to-be-missed attractions in San Diego
It is lucky that the train ride from Solana Beach to San Diego takes just 30 to 40 minutes as there is so much to see and to in California’s second-biggest city that you will likely want to visit several times!
You can tour the USS Midway, visit Seaworld, see the animals at one of the most famous zoos in the country, explore over a dozen museums in Balboa Park, or ride the coaster at Belmont Park.
My personal favorites however are Old Town San Diego and taking the ferry across to Coronado Island with its quaint town and famous Hotel Del Coronado.
How to spend a perfect day in Solana Beach
Are you planning a visit to Solana Beach but wondering how best to spend your day? Here is my personal recommendation for this lesser known beach town.
Start your day with on Annie’s Slot Canyon Trail before it gets too hot. Depending on your speed this will take about one to two hours.
Reward yourself with a late breakfast/early lunch at Claires on Cedros. This quintessential Southern Californian restaurant is located close to the end of the hike.
Next, spend some time at Fletcher Cove Beach. This small beach is mostly populated by locals but has everything you need, from bathrooms to life guards.
Afterwards, walk along Cedros Avenue and browse in the many interior decoration and fashion boutiques.
If you – like me – aren’t in the market for any bulky (and expensive) home decoration items, check out my personal favorite store, Solo. Here you will find everything you never knew you wanted or needed. And there is something here for every budget.
Finally, end your day in Solana Beach at one of the popular Mexican restaurants or if you are looking for even more excitement at the Belly-up Tavern!
You may not need any of the doodads at SOLO but you are sure to find something you want!
Even though Solana Beach is less famous than its neighbours, it still has plenty to offer!
Whether you are in town only for a day to enjoy the relaxed California vibe or use it as your base for a longer stay – you are bound to fall in love with Solana Beach!