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Unfamiliar Street: Route S21 of San Diego County

In which we take you around the world and introduce you to a cool STREET far from the well-trod gravel of Prospect Avenue.


As summer faded and the super-blood-moon emerged to haunt our dreams, we yearned for summer days, those times for lazy driving through surf-obsessed towns, places where the distinction between waves and zen converge into one. Just imagine that kind of lifestyle, and then juxtapose it with the high-end, upper-crust flavor of Princeton and Lawrenceville, N.J., and then you’ll get something altogether unexpected but nonetheless enticing, idyllic, like the island of the preppy lotus.

It all can be found along the roads that make up County Route S21 in San Diego County, Calif., where I ended up cruising for a couple days this past summer. The 25-mile S21 starts in San Diego around the I-5 and connects the coastal communities of La Jolla, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad (the home of Legoland, thank you very much!) and Camp Pendleton. The road changes names, from Genesee Avenue, to Torrey Pines Road, to Camino Del Mar, and is even known by the legendary “Coast Highway 101” tag at points, but its magic does not change — in California the beaches are revered, but the road is worshipped.

La Jolla stands out as a grand, high-end suburban metropolis among the coastal communities served by the S21. Stories differ on the origin of the name, either referring to the local caves or, better for marketing, “the jewel.” La Jolla is equipped with outdoor escalators, pricey retailers and cliffside bars reminiscent of the epic cliffside bars of the Greek island of Santorini. Off S21 in this stretch you can visit the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the premier oceanographic research stations in the world, UC San Diego’s main campus and the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course, a mainstay stop of the PGA Tour. There’s also the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, a laboratory built in 1960 by legendary architect Louis Kahn. The Institute’s main courtyard resembles a classical temple built on a cliff, overlooking the sea — truly a modern temple dedicated to science and medicine.

Further north on the S21 you’ll find the charming restaurants and surf shops of the San Diego coast, all lining up with alluring proximity to the Pacific and its beaches. Del Mar boasts a horse racetrack among its attractions (reflective of the wealth and “sport-of-kings” mentality of the area), while Encinitas is known for its waves and solid surfing.

It’s to the north, on the last section of S21 before it reconnects to the I-5, where I spent the most of my time, in the city of Carlsbad. A jogging path on the seawall that follows the S21 allows Carlsbad dwellers a picturesque fitness experience. I witnessed many an RV of high school cross country runners camping on the cliffs and running like fury in the mornings, training, no doubt, for a competitive season. Moreover, excellent dining and shopping abound in Carlsbad — from stylish boardshops and independent bookstores to alarmingly good sushi, Tex-Mex, breakfast food and the like, Carlsbad is for all intents and purposes Princeton on the water, sans college and homework. Mild weather and clear days abound.


I think the S21 is Nassau Street’s distant, lengthier relative. Whereas Nassau first existed in colonial days as the “King’s Highway” to connect New York and Philly with a little religious college in the middle, S21 was established in 1968 to connect the seaside communities. A picturesque road on the other end of this great big continent of ours, County Route S21 is a street where dreams are made and waves come crashing in like small reminders of how beautiful this world can be.

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