North County is a region in the northern area of San Diego County, California. It is the second-most populous region in the county (after San Diego), with an estimated population of 869,322. North County is well known for its affluence, especially in Encinitas, Carlsbad, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, and Solana Beach, where house prices range, on average, above $1,000,000. Cities along the 78 freeway (Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos and Escondido) have more mixed incomes.
Beach culture is prominent in the area, and many of the region's beaches and lagoons are protected areas to help ensure the environment remains pristine, though there has been pressure from commercial entities to develop some of these areas.
The name dates to at least the 1970s, when many of the communities in the area were yet to become incorporated cities and local community decisions were made 40 miles (64 km) away at the county seat. The North County section of San Diego County has historically been the most expensive region of San Diego, with such affluent neighborhoods as Aviara, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Carlsbad, Carmel Valley, Del Mar, Encinitas, La Costa, Leucadia, Olivenhain, Rancho Santa Fe, and Solana Beach.
In modern times, North County continues to grow as a highly influential region of Greater San Diego. The top 25 employers in San Diego County are closer to the North County city of Carlsbad than San Diego proper.
North County is commonly divided into coastal and inland regions, with coastal cities being Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach, and inland cities being Escondido, San Marcos and Poway; inland mountain communities such as Valley Center and Ramona are sometimes included within the inland portion. Some consider communities in the northern parts of the city of San Diego like Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Peñasquitos, and Carmel Valley to be part of North County as well.
Both coastal and inland North County contain two types of topography. In coastal areas of North County, the land is generally flat with low rolling hills. The beaches are sandy with occasional tidepools and rocky reefs. In some cases, the coast is dominated by bluff type geography, where the land meeting the ocean sharply drops into the sea with a short beach. In some cases, such as in Encinitas, a whole city is bisected by a coastal foothill ridge. The foothills of mountains soon become visible as one travels further east and encounters the rocky peaks of inland North County. Such peaks include San Marcos Mountain, Palomar Mountain, Twin Peaks in Poway, Mount Woodson in Ramona, and Iron Mountain in unincorporated territory. The coastal area also becomes more rugged to the north, where the Santa Margarita Mountains dominate the area within the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
North San Diego County is known as one of the most geographically diverse places on earth, with bluffs, sandy beaches, canyons and rolling hills on the coast, humid inland valleys, rocky foothills, temperate mountains, rolling grassland and large lakes and rivers in the interior, and arid deserts, lush oases and sand dunes in the far east region.
Rivers and creeks that flow west from the mountains farther inland mostly end up draining into the region's four main lagoons. Throughout their course, these rivers are interrupted by many lakes and reservoirs which support an array of native species.
Definitions vary but almost always include the communities and cities along Interstate 5 north of Carmel Valley Road, and Interstate 15 north of Lake Hodges. For both geographic and political reasons, opinions differ as to whether to include the northern communities within the city limits of San Diego (such as La Jolla, Rancho Bernardo, or Scripps Ranch).
Spanning 125,000 acres (510 km2) in the northwestern corner of the county, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton forms a large buffer separating the coastal populated areas of North County from neighboring Orange County, preventing the creation of a complete coastal megalopolis stretching from Santa Monica to Imperial Beach.
The region has strong ties to its coastline and has made notable efforts to preserve many marine environments, including lagoons and tidal wetlands, many of those being the final few on the South Coast. Unlike developments in many Orange County coastal cities, the lagoons and large areas of coast have not yet been so heavily developed. Major lagoons and inlets lining the coast from north to south include: Oceanside Harbor, Buena Vista Lagoon, Agua Hedionda Lagoon, Batiquitos Lagoon and San Elijo Lagoon.
The lagoons provide valuable wetland habitat for many birds, reptiles, fish, and plant species. The waters off the coast are also very rich in species diversity, supporting large kelp forests and rocky reefs.
Fish species included the tidewater goby, topsmelt, striped mullet, surfperch and Pacific staghorn sculpin. Leopard sharks forage near the lagoons, and their pups frequent the shallow rocky reefs off the coast.
Bird species included the great blue heron, snowy plover, Ridgway's rail and least tern. The lagoons support various species of shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl, raptors and diving birds. The number of bird species in the San Dieguito wetlands have tripled due to restoration projects by Del Mar.
The Torrey Pine is also one of the most infamous trees in the region.
North County contains forty golf courses, including Torrey Pines, which hosted the 2008 U.S. Open. North County is also known for its beaches, which stretch about thirty miles from Del Mar to San Onofre. These beaches experience a large tourist influx from June to November. Symbolic of North County's surf culture are the various statues proliferating the region including the Cardiff Kook in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. As surf culture is an integral part of North County, so is equestrian culture. Numerous equestrian centers, including the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Rancho Camino Equestrian Center, and San Diego Country Estates International Equestrian Center, are found in the region from Del Mar to San Diego Country Estates.
North County is home to Southern California's only five-star and five-diamond restaurants: Addison at The Grand Del Mar, and El Bizcocho at Rancho Bernardo Inn.
The Del Mar Fairgrounds is home to one of the most famous racetracks in the world and is the site of the annual San Diego County Fair. Shopping malls include the Westfield North County in Escondido and The Shoppes at Carlsbad in Carlsbad. The Cedros Design District in Solana Beach offers more than 85 shops, boutiques and galleries that specialize in antiques, handmade jewelry, unique artifacts, fine art, and more. Famous beaches include Moonlight Beach in Encinitas and the Oceanside Pier.
Locations in North County appear in popular television and films. Camp Pendleton is often featured in military-themed shows such as NCIS: Los Angeles, and is the setting of the first season of Major Dad. The Del Mar Fair is also portrayed in shows such as Entourage. Veronica Mars is set in a fictional city north of San Diego; much of the show was filmed in Oceanside. Other crime-related shows, such as TNT's Animal Kingdom and Netflix's American Vandal, are filmed and set in Oceanside. For two seasons the Showtime comedy Weeds was set in the fictional San Diego suburb of Ren Mar, which is implied to be in North County. The Big Bang Theory, which is set in Pasadena, features an episode ("The Zarnecki Incursion") where the main characters make a three-hour drive to Carlsbad to confront a World of Warcraft hacker.
A notable fictional character from North County is shock jock Dave Rickards' "Aunt Edna", frequently featured on the popular Dave, Shelly, and Chainsaw radio program, which airs in the San Diego area.
North County is considered[by whom?] wealthier and more conservative (though still liberal when compared to other regions of the state) than San Diego proper or the South Bay. It is the largest of the suburban regions of San Diego County.
There are 325,995 North County residents who live within San Diego city limits.
In North County, white-collar jobs outnumber blue-collar jobs at a ratio of 3:1. More people have Bachelor of Arts degrees than associate's degrees at a ratio of 2:1. More people are married than single by 2:1. Statistics compiled by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency reveal that coastal North County is 59% white, 18% Hispanic and 6% Asian, with blacks and people of other races less than 5%. Inland North County has roughly the same racial makeup, except that 9% are Asian. 19% of coastal North County residents make more than $100,000 per year, and 44% make less than $45,000, with the rest in the medium income range. Inland North County income stats are largely the same, except that only 42% make less than $45,000.
Populations listed are from the 2020 Census.
School districts in the region include the:
School districts often overlap city boundaries. Depending on the ZIP Codes of the cities and their proximity to respective schools and school districts, school districts will serve parts of different cities.
North County is home to several colleges:
In 1995, several local newspapers merged to form the North County Times. This newspaper served the region until 2012, when it was purchased by Doug Manchester and became an edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune. On March 7, 2013, the separate U-T North County Times name was dropped and a U-T North County edition produced which further integrates U-T with North County-specific pages, while eliminating differences between the two.
In addition to being served by radio stations from San Diego and Tijuana, North County is served by FM stationsKSSX, KMYI, KLQV, KARJ, KSSD, KKLJ, and KSDW and AM stations KFSD, KPRZ, and KKSM. Several Los Angeles stations can also be picked up, including KYSR, KIIS-FM, KBIG KLYY,and KDLD
North County is served by the ABC affiliate KGTV, CBS and CW affiliate KFMB, NBC affiliate KNSD, and FOX affiliate KSWB—all San Diego stations. Other local stations include KUSI in San Diego
Important landmarks in North County include Del Mar Racetrack, Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, Lake San Marcos, Oceanside Pier, Stone Steps, Twin Peaks, and Palomar Mountain, home of the Palomar Observatory.
Most of North County is located within County Supervisorial District 5, and is represented on the county's Board of Supervisors by Jim Desmond, formerly the mayor of San Marcos. The remainder of North County is in Districts 2 and 3, represented by Joel Anderson and Terra Lawson-Remer, respectively.