A December surf trip to Southern California always holds plenty of promise, as long as you get lucky with swell and rain. Stepping out of the San Diego airport and into the pouring rain wasn’t how I hoped this trip was going to start out, but my relatively new Harbour twin fin fish seemed to have survived the baggage handlers.
That and a promising week of surf and coffee (and fish tacos) had me in good spirits despite the monsoon I was stepping into.
It had been raining pretty solidly for the whole prior week, but was supposed to be winding down, and the swell forecast looked a pretty solid 4-6 ft for the next couple of days. I guess we would be breaking the ‘suggestion’ of staying out of the water for a couple days after a rain, bacteria levels be damned!
Someone should probably pick up some Swimmers Ear. Anyway…
Since I’m often visiting old friends and old haunts up in Seal Beach when I head out to California, flying into San Diego wasn’t something I had actually done in a long time. In fact, I hadn’t really spent much time exploring the famous surf towns and surf breaks in the area. I jumped at the chance when a friend invited me out.
As we pulled into Encinitas on our way up towards Carlsbad, you just feel yourself being enveloped in surf culture. There’s a huge picture of twin fin aficionado Rob Machado on the local bank, oh wait, there’s Rob Machado’s Salty Garage surf shop!
Taco joints, coffee shops, Swami’s beach. You’re twenty minutes from the airport and already in the thick of it.
As much as I love an epic journey complete with customs lines, bumpy dirt roads, and struggling with language barriers, it just doesn’t have to always be that difficult. I was lucky to have a whole week ahead of me, but clearly this is a great place for a weekend strike (or just never leave).
It was the evening and I had passed on airport food, so the first thing to do was find some fish tacos. People out there don’t know it, but you can’t actually get really good fish tacos everywhere. You would think it’s not that complicated.
So we hit The Taco Stand in Encinitas, an authentic SoCal / Baja taco joint. The Taco Stand has really nailed the Baja transplanted to SoCal vibe to perfection. Simple and scrappy with folding chairs inside, and the salsa bar in the back, yet just polished enough to know it’s a successful operation with really good food. A pint of Modelo and three amazing tacos later and we were on our way through the undefined border between Encinitas and Leucadia, and jetting along the PCH on towards Carlsbad.
Despite the darkness, you could still see the breakers along this low part of the road between the cliffs of South Carlsbad State Beach and Terra Mar Point. The rain was letting up and the stoke for the morning surf was running high.
Paddle Out, Grab Coffee, Repeat
TW had already been in Carlsbad for a couple of weeks and had developed his own routine of checking the various breaks in the area and settling on whatever looked good. I didn’t have to go figure things out which is always a gift on a surf trip. It’s always interesting to meet up with someone who’s already settled into the pace of a surf trip and has a few weeks of getting into cold, damp wetsuits while you’re all amped up to get in the water regardless of what the swell, rain, or tides are doing. The sharp edges have just been dulled a little.
I always try to be very mindful of the different mental states at this time. There’s a trade-off between the calm, low-level buzz we get after a few weeks in the zone and the fresh energy that the person right off the plane brings.
But we’ve done enough trips over the years to trust each other’s instincts and knowledge. I just took a deep breath and let him set the pace, although over the course of the week there would be a couple of times that I was willing to suit up when he just passed and enjoyed the sunset Bocci tournament and a couple of cervezas with some local friends on the beach.
While we were technically staying in Carlsbad, we really spent most of our time in Encinitas. There are more than a few options for great coffee here, and depending on the time of day you’ll find lines outside the most popular ones.
Our host was a fan of Lofty Coffee, so we decided to go check that out. She wasn’t really that deeply into coffee, but the Lofty Coffee shop is a beautiful place to hang out and get some work done, so that’s where she had been frequenting.
Now, as someone who has been surfing the third wave of the coffee world, I can tell you that Lofty Coffee in Encinitas is one of the nicest, most progressive coffee shops and roasteries I have yet to encounter.
First, to be clear, there are two Lofty Coffee Cafes in Encinitas – the original and the Roasting Works. I’m talking about the Roasting Works location here.
The cafe itself is beautiful with top of the line and really unique brewing equipment that you just don’t see everywhere. You can also see the roasting equipment through floor to ceiling windows and enjoy your coffee out on the patio.
Of course, the real draw is the coffee itself – a great selection of single origins pulled or poured to perfection.
The Baja Run
“Bring your passport. Just in case.”
I always like a trip where on one of the calls just prior to leaving there’s the gentle, but no-big-deal reminder to grab your passport ‘just in case’.
There aren’t that many surf trips in the US where you might just decide to leave the country on a whim, but San Diego is one of them. After a few days in Encinitas, we decided to make the run down to Baja Mexico.
The swell had dropped a bit, but was supposed to fill in again so it was a good day for a drive. We found a place right on the water at K-38, south of Rosarito, and decided to go for it. We could only stay for one night, but it’s worth it anyway.
You get a lot of stimuli in just that short, one and a half hour drive where so much disparity in wealth and the front line of the border war (both physically and in toxic rhetoric) is going down.
But I think I’ll leave all that for another post.