Los Angeles Times

Surf's rough but life's mellow in Solana Beach

This hidden jewel on San Diego County's Gold Coast lies north of flashy Del Mar and within furlongs of its famous racetrack. It's a city that at first glance appears to be all eye candy, yet its center holds a rich history.

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Beginnings

Solana means "sunny" in Spanish. It's an apt name for the location, and probably one of the reasons the San Dieguitos tribe settled here some 10,000 years ago.

Fast-forward to 1918, when the area began to grow with the building of the Lake Hodges Dam. It bloomed in the 1920s after Ed Fletcher, an influential community leader and businessman, bought 140 acres and promoted the town's development as an avocado center. The community has grown steadily since World War II, and was incorporated in 1986. Today an estimated 13,400 people live in the city's 4 square miles.

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Drawing card Solana Beach holds some surprises. The Eden Gardens neighborhood, a slice of history in the heart of the city, sprang up as an enclave for Mexican workers who toiled on nearby ranches in the 1920s. This several-block area of older homes retains its original flavor. Many residents are direct descendants of the first families.

Solana Beach has a few strip malls, but the Cedros Design District is known throughout San Diego County. Just east of Coast Highway at Lomas Santa Fe Drive, this signature shopping area evolved from an industrial center to a commercial center for upscale interior designers and architects. Colorful and quirky, Cedros is a trendy arts and design complex with vendors selling handcrafted furniture, art, antiques, clothing and jewelry.

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Shoppers' mecca

Carole Carden owns SoLo, a Cedros shop filled with "industrial repurposed design items" in one of the warehouses. "The district is really fun," Carden said. "There are no big-box or chain stores."

Deanna Bramble, a real estate broker with the Guiltinan Group, enjoys Cedros as well, and singles out Muttropolis, a boutique whose sign beckons to "haute dogs & cool cats," as a favorite. "They even have a small couch and TV for your pet to watch animal videos while you shop," Bramble said.

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Hot spots

Cedros is home to the Belly Up Tavern, a notable nightclub that frequently hosts pop legends in an intimate space built in a Quonset hut. A block away is the Amtrak station with a new, modern depot designed by A-list architect Robert Quigley.

And then there are the beaches. Because of the rough surf, they are more popular with surfers than sunbathers. The outdoors crowd also enjoys the San Elijo Lagoon Reserve, a 900-acre shallow-water estuary with five miles of hiking trails. For joggers and cyclists, there's a new two-mile paved path along Highway 101.

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Housing stock

The San Diego Freeway bisects the city. The portion west of the freeway is the older part of town. Many of the homes here are beach cottages with views of the Pacific.

Dail Pierce, of Prudential California Realty, said the residences are an eclectic mix, including original beach cottages and big, new homes with three-car garages, ocean views and prices to match.

The area east of the freeway has more of a country-club ambience, with green rolling hills that border on pricey Rancho Santa Fe. There are tract homes as well as newer custom homes, some of which are near the private Lomas Santa Fe Country Club.

Prices, as in much of Southern California, have gone up dramatically. Gina Marsaglia, owner of Pizza Port Brewing Co. on Highway 101, rented a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house behind her newly opened pub in 1987. A couple of years later, it was sold for $100,000. "Add a zero to that number to get what it's worth today," she said.

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On the market

As of mid-January, there were 36 single-family homes for sale. At the entry level was a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,695-square-foot single-story "cosmetic fixer" listed for $719,000. At the top end, $4.7 million was the asking price for a four-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,925-square-foot ocean-view home on about an acre.

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Report card

Solana Beach's six elementary schools fared well in the state's Academic Performance Index 2005 Growth Report. Out of a possible 1,000, Solana Vista Elementary scored 873; Skyline, 875; Solana Santa Fe, 934; Solana Pacific, 945; Carmel Creek, 946; and Solana Highlands, 947. Students in Solana Beach Elementary School District move on to Earl Warren Middle School, 885, and Carmel Valley Middle School, 925, then to Torrey Pines High, 821, in the San Dieguito Union High School District.

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Historical values

Residential resales:

Year...Median Price 1990...$404,500

1995...$376,500

2000...$645,000

2003...$761,000

2005...$1,126,000*

*Through November

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Sources: City of Solana Beach, ci.solana-beach.ca.us; Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce, solanabeachchamber.com; cedrosdesigndistrict.net; realtor.com; sanelijo.org; San Diego Assn. of Governments, http://www.sandag.cog.ca.us/ ; California Department of Education, cde.ca.gov; DataQuick Information Systems

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