My husband and I have been visiting downtown Encinitas, Calif., for years, drawn by its laid-back vibe and mix of beach bohemian and new-age spirituality. That counterculture feel is still there, but the times they are a changin’. We hit the streets to practice the Zen art of shopping, dining and drinking after we had worked on our tans at Moonlight State Beach and gotten in touch with our inner yogis at the Self-Realization Fellowship. The downtown neighborhood has been energized with hip new eateries, coffeehouses and shops, and there are more on the way. The blend of the old and the new is a fun dynamic to explore, and everything is within a compact area.
The tab for our enlightened selves: We spent $209, excluding taxes, for a night at the Best Western and about $110 for meals.
Location, location, location: The Best Western Encinitas Inn & Suites at Moonlight Beach (85 Encinitas Blvd.;  942-7455) has a prime hilltop spot a couple of blocks from the ocean. The rooms are comfortable, a notch above standard motel fare; many have balconies with ocean or park views. The pool and spa were pleasant and relaxing; the complimentary breakfast is a nice touch. Bonus: If you don’t want to drive, you can take the train from L.A.; the Amtrak station is a block away. You can easily walk to the attractions downtown.
We hit all the major food groups — fried chicken, tacos and pizza. Dinner was at the recently opened Crack Shack (407 Encinitas Blvd.;  230-2968) east of downtown. Top Chef Richard Blais’ hip, fast-casual eatery is chicken-centric. We scarfed down fried chicken, biscuits with miso-maple butter, and schmaltz-fried fries at a communal table in the open and airy restaurant. Prepare to wait in line at the Taco Stand (642 S. Coast Highway 101;  230-2061), one of downtown’s newer offerings. We sat on the sunny patio and munched on guacamole and chips while waiting for our tacos; the al pastor (marinated pork, cilantro, onions and pineapple) was the best of the bunch. Grab a square slice of pizza at the just opened Napizza (615 S. Coast Highway 101;  452-2340) and head to the beach. Napizza specializes in Roman-style pizza al taglio, which is cooked in rectangular pans; there are salads as well, if you must.
The morning scene is buzzing: New arrival Philz Coffee (1060 S. Coast Highway 101;  230-6880) is going up against local favorites Better Buzz (578 S. Coast Highway 101;  487-5562) and Lofty Coffee (90 N. Coast Highway 101;  230-6747). My favorite pick-me-up was the Best Drink Ever at Better Buzz, which was just that with the correct amount of sweet-to-coffee ratio. The evening bar scene is buzzing too, with plenty of spots to grab a drink.