6 San Diego Suburbs With the Best Downtowns


Is it possible to have the quiet, suburban life while experiencing the taste of the big city? As someone from a premier big city – Chicago – I can tell you there is definitely a vibe that can be missed when one moves to a suburb. Those moving to a San Diego County city from a metropolitan area will notice a difference, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t cities here with their own variance on big city living.


Downtown Escondido has a noticeable difference to many other regional cities as soon as you step foot in it. The only historic district in North San Diego County, it’s full of boutiques, antique shops, eateries, sidewalk cafes, and other eclectic dining options.  It’s also home to John Paul the Great Catholic University. 

Centered on Grand Avenue, the area has experienced a renaissance thanks to the opening of multiple fine dining restaurants and galleries. Still in transformation, the city is trying to make it a more walkable community, adding condo and apartment complexes on each side of downtown.


Downtown Oceanside offers more than just quick access to the beach. There’s no shortage of restaurants that offer West Coast-style fast food. It’s also a prime spot for antiquing in places like Lucky Street Productions, Sea Hive, and Rustic Trunk. The weekly Sunset Market, a food and music street fair, has as many as 200 merchants spanning four city blocks.

It’s also a downtown on the rise, with multiple hotel and resort projects under development. There’s also the impending arrival of Block 19, a seven-story mixed-use project that will bring 110 apartments, retail shops, and restaurant space to the ever-growing main street scene.


A trip to downtown Encinitas begins with a stop in the outdoor Seaside Bazaar, which also gives you a chance to see the many shops and sidewalk cafés that line the streets here. There’s also a farmers market every Wednesday because people here love a gathering. The downtown region has enough dining and entertainment options to compete with the city, including the historic La Paloma Theatre, the $40 million Pacific Station complex, and the Lumberyard Shopping Center.


Dubbed Carlsbad Village, this commercial downtown is steps from the beach but also offers tree-lined streets and sidewalks. Parking is all free here as a nice bonus. Amongst its many trendy shops, it features antique and boutique gift stores, art galleries, pubs, cafes, restaurants, wine bars, hotels, historic homes, and of course, the State Street Farmers' Market.

Covering several blocks, the village’s uniqueness comes from balancing big-city options with small-town charm. Some of the must-sees are its restored Victorian hotel, the Twin Inns of Carlsbad, the Alt Karlsbad Hanse House/Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa, and the Carlsbad Village Art & Antique Mall

San Marcos

A fairly new and still in progress scene, San Marcos’s Downtown Creek District is making a name for itself with developments such as Creekside Marketplace, Grand Plaza, and Nordahl Marketplace, popular destinations for residences, dining, and shopping. Despite its small-town atmosphere, its rapid growth is garnering attention for city-life in the suburbs. It also offers commuter service with the SPRINTER rail line and solid bus service. 

The area also serves the largest student population in North County, with Palomar Community College and California State University San Marcos located here.

Cardiff By The Sea

Courtesy of Cardiff 101 Main Street

Like many of the cities mentioned, Downtown Cardiff by the Sea has its fair share of dining, breweries, boutiques, and beaches, though with an upscale focus. Residents here often flock to Cardiff Towne Center, which is home to the popular Cardiff Seaside Market. Its Restaurant Row is home to quite a few fine dining options such Chart House and Pacific Coast Grill.

Spas, yoga studios, clothing stores, and galleries line the main arteries here, providing enough activities and shopping options to match what’s available in the city. It’s also not uncommon for a special event to pop up during the weekend, such as Taste of Cardiff or Movies in the Park.

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