7.6 Wonderful

The perfect spot for a lazy day on the beach in Southern California. Just a short drive from San Diego, Moonlight Beach is one of the best spots for a family beach day. The water is pleasant and there is year round lifeguard protection. As an added bonus, there is a snack bar and adequate free parking.

  • Je ne sais quoi (How cool is it?) 7.7
  • Scenery 8
  • Water 7
  • User Ratings (1 Votes) 7.7

Moonlight Beach:  Great for Families

Family friendly Moonlight Beach is one of the most popular beaches in San Diego County for good reason. Located in the beautiful coastal town of Encinitas, Moonlight Beach is so incredibly convenient and easy. There is a ample free parking and an actual concession stand where you stroll up and grab a quick cheap bite to eat. Occasionally, this sandy beach appears on rankings for the best beaches in California and beyond.

Located in Southern California, Encinitas is in the North County area of San Diego. This beach city is about 25 miles north of San Diego and just under 100 south from Los Angeles. Encinitas is widely known for poinsettias and the rest of its booming floral industry. Without question, surfing is what this classic beach spot is about. Moonlight beach is approximately a mile north of the acclaimed Swamis beach. In 2010, Encinitas had a population of 59,518 people.

Where is Encinitas? 33°05′N 117°30′W

Where is Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, California

Another great Encinitas beach spot

The beaches of Encinitas are on California’s rugged Pacific Ocean coast. Directly north of the town is the Batiquitos Lagoon, while to the south is the San Elijo Lagoon. Native Americans known as the Diegueños were the first known inhabitants of the today’s Encinitas. The Diegueños were a nomadic people spread across southern California and northern Baja California. They lived along the coast, in the mountains, and in the desert moving with the seasons. Diegueños were mission converts and compelled to build the missions.

Encinitas means “little oaks” in Spanish

The founder and first governor of Alta California, Gaspar de Portolà i Rovira, was a Spanish soldier and administrator in New Spain. Gaspar de Portolà was the commander of a colonizing expedition on Spain’s behalf that went both by land and sea. This expedition established both San Diego and Monterey. The first land expedition up the California coast to San Francisco from San Diego was also led by Portolà.   

Welcome to Moonlight Beach

Moonlight State Beach is one of the best family beaches in San Diego County.

The impetus behind the expeditions were new fears of that California would be settled by other empires. Russian fur hunters were exploring and mapping the area having crossed the Bering Straight into Alaska from Siberia. The English were firmly entrenched in North America on the East Coast in Canada and their 13 colonies and had sent explorers to the Pacific. Time was of the essence. So, as a result Spain decided to establish missions and trading posts along the Pacific coast north of the Baja peninsula.

Surfing in Southern California at Moonlight Beach

“Historic Encinitas” occupies the Highway 101 Corridor that parallels the beautiful beaches and ocean.

During his exploration, de Portolà, named Encinitas for the plentiful little oak trees. He also gave names to many geographic features on the way, many of which survive today on our maps. Spanish rule did not continue very much longer in North America. After the year 1800, control of Moonlight Beach and the rest of the territory passed to the Mexico. The government of Mexico issued land grants to ranchers willing to abide by Mexican rule.

Beautiful Southern California sky and beach

The man widely regarded as the father of Encinitas came to the town in 1881 from San Diego. Where the Civic Center is presently located, Jabez Pitchern filed a land claim for 160 acres on a mesa. A decade earlier, a group of English spiritualists and settlers formed Leucadia, “Isle of Paradise” or “Place of Shelter” in Greek mythology. The settlement offered five acre plots of land named for Greek gods. 

Moonlight beach is a great place to spend the day for the whole family.

About the same time, “Cardiff” began its history in Southern California. In 1875, the  McKinnon family established themselves along the north coast of the San Elijo Lagoon. About 30 years later, a large part of the San Elijo area was purchased and then surveyed with streets laid out and lots established by J. Frank Cullen. Cullen named the town “Cardiff-by-the-Sea,” after the capital of Wales in the United Kingdom.

A small group of German immigrants settled in Encinitas in 1884 in the “Olivenhain” part of town. Their old meeting hall is still in use today for meetings and social mixers.These 5 distinct communities make up today surfer town of Encinitas. Rightfully so, each is proud of its past.

Another dream beach in Southern California, set in between LA and San Diego

Moonlight Beach Creature Comforts

There is a long list of amenities at Moonlight Beach including: a playground for kids, a grassy park, three volleyball courts, some picnic tables, fire pits and most importantly a life guard station open year round. Open daily, Moonlight Beach is a comfortable place. To that end, no dogs are allowed and beer is seriously frowned upon.

This is a great beach spot for all types of beach games and activities. The water can be quite gentle making it ideal for swimming. Of course, this little beach on the Pacific has waves. It’s Southern California. Surfing is allowed in either direction from the main beach, leaving a large designated area for swimming only directly in front. Walking up and down the beach is entertaining as well, since there is a lot to see. If you are feeling more than a little motivated, and have some dive gear, there are kelp beds 1/4 mile off the beach. It’s supposed to be a pretty good dive spot.

One of California's finest beaches. This beach spot has all of the creature comforts you need for a nice day at the beach

This beach is located one fifth of a mile past where Encinitas Boulevard becomes B street past Highway 101. Moonlight State Beach is actually a California state beach managed by the town of Encinitas. In addition to the great modern facilities, it is also very scenic. It is one of the busiest and most popular beach spots in Encinitas. If you don’t know the area, that may not sound like much, but this beach town has a number of the prettiest beaches you will ever see. Moonlight Beach is equally popular with locals and tourists. Don’t let the family friendly beach moniker scare you, recreation for the adults is just as good as for the kids.

In addition to surfing, swimming, volleyball and bonfires, this gorgeous sand beach is also used for surf fishing. Besides being a lot of fun and easy on the eyes, Moonlight State Beach is “perhaps the most family-friendly of the bunch” of Southern California beaches, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

Another beautiful day in Encinitas, overlooking Moonlight beach

Previously, water quality had been an issue at Moonlight Beach in the dry season. This was due to the harmful bacteria being part of urban run-off into Cottonwood Creek. Cottonwood Creek is a very small creak that leads into the Pacific Ocean at Moonlight Beach. The water quality of Moonlight Beach was given a “D” grade in 2002, by Heal the Bay. There has been a dramatic improvement to water quality as UV treatment is routinely carried out in Encinitas now. Just three years after the “D” grade, the scores moved up to 5 “A”s and a “B”.

Based out of Santa Monica, California, Heal the Bay is a non-profit environmental advocacy. While the focus of the group is protecting Santa Monica Bay, it also “supports efforts to preserve and protect all Southern California coastal waters and watersheds.”

Moonlight beach should be at the top of your list for Family beach vacations

Where Cottonwood Creek met the ocean, was the ideal spot to do your washing in times gone by. The early women settlers could frequently be seen doing the laundry about 120 years ago on this beach. A boardwalk, dance hall, bathhouse and more were initially built on Moonlight Beach by a land prospector. It was a prosperous place and people could be found on horseback on the beach or during low tide in a Model T! The story goes that you could drive on the beach all the way to Oceanside way back when.

Spend a day playing on the beach in Encinitas at Moonlight Beach

Today, vehicles are not allowed on the beach. The town hosts some impressive events, including the following: the Switchfoot Bro-Am, Surfing Madonna 5K Beach Run/Walk, and Surfrider Beach Clean-Ups. There is a Farmer’s Market Wednesdays from 5 to 8pm which fresh local produce and tasty meats and cheeses. Visitors to Encinitas can get here by Amtrak and Coaster trains. Check the schedules, but trains are fairly frequent. 

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About Author

This project, Beach Spot, has been a lingering thought for nearly 20 years. It started on a crazy offshore Venezuelan island, Isla Margarita, during the first dot com craze. The idea evolved while life continually got in the way. A decade was spent on a Mediterranean island as well as a number of years chasing the sun in the USVI.

Back living stateside in San Diego, this project will hopefully be an enjoyable look at a number of beach towns.

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