Cardiff-by-the Sea was named for Cardiff, Wales; Del Mar was originally built to resemble an old English Village.
But is the British connection where the similarity ends for these two North County beach towns?
Realtors Kelly Howard and Lisa Waltman of Coldwell Banker in Encinitas are touting Cardiff as the new Del Mar, mainly because of the three homes that they have already sold this year for more than $3 million. They have two other homes listed for almost $4 million.
Howard and Waltman may be applying the new-Del Mar tag a little early. The average listing price for Del Mar homes for sale according to Trulia, an online residential real estate site, was $3,471,907 for the week ending April 9, 2014. Cardiff’s lagged well behind at $1,549,381.
But there are other considerations. “I think one thing that sets Cardiff apart from Del Mar is how much easier it is to build a home in Cardiff,” said Howard. “Cardiff is incorporated with the City of Encinitas, and Cardiff and Encinitas have a much less complex building process than the cities of Solana Beach and Del Mar, which in my experience allows more of the residents to ultimately control the process. Building a home in Cardiff is alluring, thanks in large part to the Encinitas planning department.”
The Encinitas planning department has started a Project Issue Resolution program that is held every Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. This is a time for applicants to collaborate with the planning director, Jeff Murphy, so they can come up with solutions to challenges that may have arisen during their project. The program is only an option after the applicant has tried to resolve the challenges with a city staff member and his or her direct supervisor.
“I’m not sure how Encinitas stacks up against other cities,” Murphy said. “We aim to understand what applicants want to accomplish and make sure their goals meet the codes and regulations we are in charge of implementing.”
Another driving force is the school district. It comprises 700 students in two schools: Cardiff Elementary, which is kindergarten through part of the third grade; and Ada Harris Elementary, which is third to sixth grade.
“Cardiff School District is a wonderful place for kids to learn” said Jill Vinson, the current school-district superintendent. “Our amazing staff, actively involved parents, and supportive community members work together to provide a high-quality education and beautiful facilities for our children.”
The size of the school adds to the strong sense of community, said Greta Ott, a Cardiff resident with three children. “With about 550 families [in the district], everyone knows and supports each other. And I guess seeing the ocean from the campus doesn’t hurt either.”
Great schools are one thing, but how do the lifestyles of these two towns compare?
Restaurants such as Jake’s and Poseidon in Del Mar and the Chart House and Pacific Coast Grill in Encinitas are some of the few eateries in North County that sit on the sand. Beaches dotted with tourists and locals can be found in both towns. Boutique shops sell everything from bathing suits to souvenirs to jewelry in both towns. Cardiff’s median household income in 2011 was about $88,000; Del Mar’s was a good chunk higher at $106,000. But Cardiff, with a population of about 11,000, shows signs of moving ahead of Del Mar (4200 residents)in other ways.
Trina Dutcher relocated her Felicity hair salon from Del Mar to Cardiff 13 years ago. “I loved the vibe of Cardiff the very first time I visited,” she said. “Throughout the years I’ve heard that Cardiff is going to be the new Del Mar. I think it’s nice to have a variety of retail shops and restaurants in the neighborhood, but I hope Cardiff maintains its diversity and charm as it develops.”
Cardiff, some say, boasts a sportier vibe than Del Mar. Pro surfers such as Rob Machado and JD Lewis learned their trades at breaks Pipes and Cardiff Reef. Many triathletes call the area home. GoPro, a company that makes personal video cameras used in action sports, opened a regional office in Cardiff in 2012. “There are a lot of athletes that live in Cardiff, and the company wanted to be close to the action,” said Tess Radmill, the executive director of Cardiff 101 Main Street Association. “Even though Cardiff is part of Encinitas, the community feels strongly about its Cardiff-by-the-Sea identity, and the community fought to keep its own post office and library. Also, everything is walkable — the grocery store, post office, library, restaurants, and shops all in downtown.”
A grocery store. That’s the one thing Cardiff has that Del Mar village does not. In 2012, Harvest Ranch Market, which was located in the Del Mar Plaza, closed, leaving the downtown area without a grocery store for the first time in more than 30 years.
Cardiff Seaside Market has been in the same location since 1985.
“It’s a pain to have to drive up over the hill to the old Vons if you’re at the beach in Del Mar,” said Cardiff resident Jon Woodrow. “That’s a big mark against Del Mar. If you can’t support a grocery store in your town, there must be a problem.”
There might be a place to shop for groceries in Cardiff, but Del Mar is still famous for its racetrack, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which brought 650,000 people to the track and surrounding areas in 2013.
That’s a few more people than the kitschy Cardiff Kook statue lured north. But maybe that’s the point.
“We think of Cardiff as close-knit, and when you come to the beach, you know everybody,” said Linda Rockey Clarke as she sat on the beach in Cardiff one Sunday morning reading the paper with her husband. “You can walk to the most wonderful places to eat, and the parking is so much better than in Del Mar.”
Clarke added, “Cardiff has that funky feeling that Del Mar had a long, long time ago.”