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North of Del Mar about a 45-minute drive from downtown San Diego, the pretty communities of Solana Beach, Encinitas, and Carlsbad provide many reasons to linger: good swimming and surfing beaches, small-town atmosphere, an abundance of charming shops, and a seasonal display of the region's most beautiful flowers.

Carlsbad was named after Karlsbad, Czech Republic, because of the similar mineral (some say curative) waters each produced. Carlsbad's once-famous artesian well was capped in the 1930s, but was redrilled in 1994 -- and the healthful water is flowing once more. Along with its neighbor Encinitas, Carlsbad is a noted commercial flower-growing region. A colorful display can be seen at Carlsbad Ranch each spring when 50 acres of solid ranunculus fields bloom into a breathtaking rainbow; in December, the nurseries are alive with holiday poinsettias.