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While some towns form inland and grow toward the coast, the roots of Encinitas are coastal and its heart is beachside. This is where the core of the town is, where people and their families have lived for decades and grown up with their neighbors. These are the people who remember the days of bicycling to work, when there were no stop signs on Highway 101 and when newcomers were immediately noticed, none of which are in the too-distant past. Things are not nearly the same, but needless to say they are still agreeable.

In spite of this laid-back atmosphere, there exists a strong sense of localism that is tied to a tightly knit surf community. Outsiders are viewed with misgivings and are not always welcome, often for reasons like traffic, both in and out of the water. Locals sometimes take some warming up to, as they become frustrated in dealing with the effects of an unstoppable tourist industry. Community events and street fairs are common west of the 5, and aside from the localism there is a calm, friendly, live-and-let-live vibe.

The greater La Costa area, however, is a different story. Businesses like Target Greatland and a dominant LA Fitness center, as well as the all-too-familiar four-minute stoplights, are signs of recent growth. With seemingly every square acre of land either under construction or host to a tract home, La Costa has undoubtedly lost some of its unique appeal. Newer citizens enjoy the convenience of the shopping centers, with a gas station and a Starbucks on every corner, but many established locals miss the simpler hum of a town.

With this recent spurt of housing development in the rolling hills of back-yard Encinitas come the daily appearances of overly aggressive soccer moms in minivans and their Beemer-driving, cell-phone-fiend husbands. There are neighborhoods in which people can live across the street from one another for years and never know each other’s names, but there are also communities of closely bound, brownie-baking friends and families. Along the coast, off Vulcan and Neptune, you can find a variety of residents, including struggling artists, retired locals, wealthy singles, and comfortable surfer families.

Over the hill and just a few miles away, streets like these give way to the surprisingly busy thoroughfares of El Camino Real, Encinitas Boulevard, and Rancho Santa Fe Road. The latter winds into the back portion of Encinitas that borders Olivenhain and consists of well-spaced, large homes and a fair share of multimillion-dollar estates. Much more reserved than the colorful, often eccentric coastal profile, the estates mingle with respectable homes and working-class people who can contribute to an uptight atmosphere.

It is the typical small-town story: the world discovered Encinitas, and things will never go back to what they were before this place was washed, starched, and pressed by developers and suburbanites. The changes that have taken place in La Costa are undeniable proof that Encinitas has evolved from a little surf town. However, even with all of its stop signs and sightseers, beachside Encinitas retains its soulful charm.

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