Best Towns 2010: Encinitas, California

Best for Surfing (West)

HOMETOWN HERO Professional surfer Rob Machado, whose annual surf contests are both kid- and enviro-friendl.

THE LIVING: Bordered on two sides by egret-and-heron-filled lagoons, this once sleepy surfers' enclave in San Diego's North County has quietly been cultivating its public spaces. A community-wide initiative is adding millions of cubic yards of sand to the area's eroding beaches, and smart community projects are still, despite the state's overall woes, in the works: Blueprints for a 44-acre park in the Cardiff-by-the-Sea neighborhood feature a skate park, a dog run, and a couple of pools. And the best part? The mom-and-pop-shop-filled downtown has something rare in Southern California: a commuter train that will whisk you into downtown San Diego in just 30 minutes.

THE SURFING: While good surf strings almost the entire San Diego coast, you'll never battle traffic to catch the swell here: Even the most inland houses are only a four-minute drive to the water. Swami's, the much-hyped point break underneath the gold-domed self-realization temple, is as consistently good and long as advertised, but Encinitas is also home to a handful of beginner- and paddleboard-friendly reef breaks like Cardiff Reef and Pipes. Of course, surfers aren't the only ones enjoying the warm (no wetsuits needed half the year) water: The greater San Diego area is a triathlon hot spot, and that buoy off Moonlight Beach marks a turnaround point for the swim-cap-clad crowd.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Once a slummy enclave of slack-jawed surfers, Leucadia, a.k.a. "Funky Leucadia," sits cliffside above Beacon's, a lesser-known reef break. The houses are a little older, but you can find homes in the $600K range a few blocks from the beach.

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