Why go in summer: Mellow beaches, artsy shopping--and a blissful break from your car.
Main drag: Much of the action--fab stores, good eats, and a Sunday farmers' market--centers on Cedros Avenue. Start in the design district, known for its furniture and housewares shops, on the street's south end.
Blow out the candles: Solana Beach celebrates 25 years as a city on July 1 (solanabeachchamber.com for events).
Local hangout: Pizza Port ($; 135 N. Hwy. 101; 858/481-7332), where handcrafted suds are king.
The money view on the Fourth: Head to Solana Circle West, a residential street perched high above Cedros. The vista is even more aah-inspiring when fireworks explode up and down the coast.
A beach day made better: A parking lot-free day by the ocean? Beautiful. Fletcher Cove (111 S. Sierra Ave.), Solana Beach's main strand, is just a couple of blocks from the train station. The small, protected inlet is great for swimming or surfing, and the kids will dig the park just up the hill from the water. For more secluded sunning, unroll a towel at nearby Del Mar Shores, Seascape Surf, or Tide Beach Park. solanabeachchamber.com
Alfresco succulents: In sunny Solana Beach, who needs walls and a roof? Not the folks a Chicweed, and open-air garden shop in the design district, where you can pick up drought-tolerant varieties. Bring in a favorite container and they'll plant it for you. 240 S. Cedros Ave.; 858/208-8083.
The bread winner: Carbs rule at Claire's on Cedros. Try the oat-and-multigrain pancakes, the slow-roasted lamb sandwich with feta--or anything that comes on the housemade bread. $; 246 N. Cedros Ave.; 858/259-8597.
Bring home the beach: A 1924 cottage is home base for beach-loving Bixby & Ball. This new kid on the block takes a chic approach to the coastal aesthetic. Check out the bold pillows and sea blue glass vases in the living room or tableware and cookbooks in the kitchen. 214 S. Cedros Ave.; bixbyandball.com
Botany brushup: We never get tired of wandering Cedros Gardens, 1.3 acres dedicated to organic plants of all kinds: succulents, fruit trees, natives, and veggies. Sign up for a free class on succulent containers, fruit trees, or composting taught by their experts. 330 S. Cedros Ave.; cedrosgardens.com
Skipping the train? 3 worth-the-drive stops
4 miles north: Encinitas: What makes the pies at Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria worth the wait? An organic crust that takes three days to create, housemade fennel sausage, and a few magical minutes in an insanely hot wood-fired oven. $$; 897 S. Coast Hwy. 101; 760/634-7671.
3 miles north: Cardiff-by-the-sea: Locals lovingly dress up the 16-foot bronze surfer sculpture, dubbed the Cardiff Kook, for any and every occasion. The Kook’s been transformed into Cupid, threatened by a giant fake spider, and attacked by a papier-mâché shark. Chesterfield Dr. at South Coast Hwy. 101.
2.5 miles south: Del Mar: The nicest seaside digs nearby are at L’Auberge Del Mar. Get a spa treatment, walk down to the beach, or just take it all in from the terrace. Not staying over? Drop in for a cocktail by one of the firepits—and drink in that view. From $350; 1540 Camino Del Mar; laubergedelmar.com