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Learning why Solana Beach just might be the friendliest beach city in Southern California

Solana Beach has quietly become one of the more popular towns along the Southern California coast. It’s not as flashy as Encinitas or Del Mar, its neighbors to the north and south. But the beaches are relatively uncrowded, the food is terrific and the people are relentlessly friendly. The tab: Three nights in July at the Courtyard by Marriott was a hefty $1,075. (There’s a three-night minimum during the Del Mar racing season, which ends Sept. 10.)  Breakfast at the Hideaway  Cafe was $25 with tip.  And dinner at Claire’s on Cedros set us back $101, including a $15 corkage fee.

The bed

Solana Beach has only three hotels —  two of which are a Courtyard by Marriott and a Holiday Inn Express. The most interesting choice, the Winners Circle Resort, was booked when we tried to make a reservation, so we chose the Marriott (717 S. Highway 101, Solana Beach; [858] 792-8200). The staff was courteous and efficient. The room was spacious and clean. The only thing missing was charm. A good thing about the hotel, however, is its proximity to the beach. If you go out the back door, turn left and then right on Del Mar Shores Terrace, you’ll find a path that will lead you down about 160 stairs to a beach as beautiful as any along the Southern California coast.    

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The meal

The tiny Hideaway Cafe (150 S. Acacia Ave., Solana Beach; [858] 755-3388), covered in vines, sits a block off of Highway 101 near the beach. The cafe, open only for breakfast and lunch, is the kind of place where the waitresses call customers by name and ask about their kids. The egg dishes are excellent (have them with the potato pancake), but the real treat is the California French toast made from Hawaiian bread in orange batter and topped with brown sugar and butter.

Claire’s on Cedros (246 N. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach; [858] 259-8597) is known for its outstanding breakfasts and lunches. But several years ago it opened on Friday and Saturday nights, and now its dinners are equally famous. My wife ordered the chili-rubbed chicken, spicy cornbread dressing and stir-fried summer vegetables. I chose the grilled chimichurri steak with warm potato salad, sweet peppers and grilled scallions. The outdoor patio is beautiful and quiet, an ideal place for dinner and that restaurant rarity, conversation.

The find

In the 1950s Cedros Avenue was a collection of dusty industrial buildings on the wrong side of the tracks. Today, however, the area has been converted into the Cedros Avenue Design District, one of the hippest collections of furniture stores, art galleries, gift boutiques and apparel shops in San Diego County. The David Alan Collection (241 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach; [858] 481-8044) is an extraordinary combination of distinctive furniture and accessories, jewelry and primitive folk art. The centerpiece of the collection is an amazing assemblage of single-piece slab tables made of wood gathered from Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere across the South China Sea.