1920 The Cardiff Mercantile Building

The Cardiff Mercantile building is one of the few remaining buildings from the community’s early beginnings. The above image was captured in the 1920’s when the upper level was known as the Cullen Building Hotel. The Mercantile Building now houses Patagonia Cardiff and offices.

1920's Train Depot

Train Depot in the 20’s, which remains the anchor of the town’s business district at the northeast corner of Chesterfield Drive and San Elijo. The foundation can still be seen during low tide along the banks of the San Elijo Lagoon.

1927 - Water Storage Tank

This photo shows Cardiff’s first water storage tank. Although the 19th century tank was converted to a home, it remains at the top of the town today.

1950's - San Elijo Lagoon

The constant flooding of the San Elijo Lagoon wreaked havoc on the transportation system of the early 1950’s  making it nearly impassible. Now a days the lagoon is known as the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve. This extraordinary county and state regional park protects nearly 1,000 acres of habitat that hosts more than 700 species of plants and animals.

1950's Restaurant Row

This 1950’s photo shows the southern edges of Cardiff along  the San Elijo Lagoon. This portion of HWY 101 use to house Cardiff Kelp Works which was known for making potash (processed kelp), which was highly sought after during World War 1.A lot has changed since the 50’s but the Cardiff community still flocks to the same strip that is now known as Cardiff Restaurant Row.

1956 - Besta Wan

Besta Wan, Italian slang for the “best one,” is a familiar favorite among locals and San Diegans. Many residents have nostalgic ties to the restaurant as it was founded in 1965 by the Corder family, according to owner Rebecca Sanchez. Sanchez also said Besta Wan is rumored to be the first or at least one of the first pizza houses in San Diego. The restaurant itself is an old home that was built in 1942.

1969 - VG Donuts and Baker

For 30 years VG Donuts and Bakery has been in the heart of Cardiff. It was smaller in the 1970’s with a single, long counter from which you could watch owner Jim Mettee braiding dough or dipping fresh donuts into liquid chocolate. VG’s was called V’n Gs when Jim and Betty Mettee bought it in 1969. Today VG’s is still a family run business.

1970's - Marine Sanctuary

Famed local fisherman Stan Lewis plowing through the surf at Cardiff State Beach which now serves as a Marine Protected Sanctuary for generations to come. 

“Whether living from the bounty of the ocean, surfing it’s waves, maintaining a view for the sun setting at it’s horizon, or basking in the reflection, Cardiff’s past, present, and future are most likely clearly seen through the lens of the Pacific.”

-Wehtahnah Tucke

History of Cardiff-by-the-Sea

Cardiff-by-the-Sea is a classic southern California beach town that boasts a moderate climate, breathtaking views, two miles of Pacific coastline, a 900-acre ecological reserve, world-class surfing and caring residents who take pride in their community.

Locals and tourists alike enjoy this charming, beautiful, friendly beach town with quaint shops, delicious cuisine, an arts community, yoga studios, ocean sports, parks, a walkable downtown area complete with a linear organic community park and plenty of biking opportunities. Cardiff-by-the-Sea thrives year-round and it’s not unusual to find people sunbathing on the beach in January.

A Native American tribe once occupied the Cardiff area called the Kumeyaay tribe. This tribe lived all over what is now San Diego County and in Cardiff they occupied the upper San Elijo Lagoon. By the early 1900’s this tribe was forced onto a reservation. The Spanish lived in the Encinitas area starting in 1789 and they created the El Camino Real which runs through Encinitas. The late 1800’s brought the first family to Cardiff, the Mackinnon’s, and there was little else in Cardiff at that time. The 1920’s brought much of the needed infrastructure to Cardiff. The San Dieguito Irrigation District was formed in 1922 which brought a consistent source of water to the town. Also a train depot, library, school, restaurants, a hotel, mercantile exchange, and a post office existed in Cardiff by the 1920’s. This brought new residents and commerce to Cardiff.

Cardiff became a destination for people seeking a tight-knit community to raise children, start a business and live in close proximity to the ocean. With a steady stream of newcomers, the years between the 1920s and 1950s saw a boom of housing and infrastructure development. Cardiff began its modern growth after World War II. With a rapid pace, the area expanded into previously uninhabited land. The Poinsettia Heights development in the late 1950s brought an additional 1,700 residents to the coastal community. A new interstate was built, expanding the flow of traffic to the east as flooding destroyed large areas of Coast Highway 101 along the Pacific. Infrastructure was shored up to diminish the eroding coastline, and a state campground was built, taking a large swath of cliffs and sand dunes from the backdrop of Cardiff. Surf spots from Seaside to Swami’s became more crowded with visitors, making Cardiff as a sought-after destination on the map. After the 1970s, when fisherman Stan Lewis took his last catch home from the sea, the Pacific became more of a playground for visitors and residents rather than a source of sustenance. Professional surfers Linda Benson and Rob Machado grew up in Cardiff and won their first large surfing contests when they were 15 and 11, respectfully. Because of their success, Cardiff started to become better known in the surfing industry and surfers continued to come to catch the waves in Cardiff.

More housing and office buildings came to Cardiff in the 1980’s and 1990’s and continued to shape the community. Seaside Market opened its doors in 1985 and became the local, family owned market that has been a mainstay in the community ever since. Today Cardiff is an eclectic mix of long-time residents, beach bums, business professionals (who spend their lunch-breaks surfing), young families with many stay-at-home moms, twentysomethings who bike down the hill to grab a beer after work, as well as a high-end dining scene after dark.