CALIFORNIA, Carlsbad with Kids – The captivating shimmer of rescued treasures and inviting smell of old books permeate from antique shop entryways as visitors soak up this uniquely “European” city center situated on the beautiful Southern California coast. Carlsbad, California, has discovered its inner-glam and is not afraid to show it, offering visitors world-class dining, shopping and cultural events with friendly, small-town charm.
Also know as the “Village By the Sea,” this town of just over 100,000 residents also takes great pride in protecting and maintaining its gorgeous wide open spaces, inviting vacationers to soak up their year-round perfect climate on nearly 7 miles of dazzling coastline and almost 50 miles of hiking and biking trails.
Only 87 miles south of Los Angeles, and 35 miles north of San Diego, Carlsbad is a perfect weekend getaway for any family looking to relax, recharge and rejuvenate.
Activity 1: Let Loose at Legoland
If kids were amusement park architects, no doubt Legoland California would be the perfect manifestation of their dream creation. It’s chock full of pirates and castles and ninjas. Not to mention a Star Wars Death Star Model Display spanning 8-feet across. You could say it doubles as every adult kid’s fantasy land as well.
Legoland is divided into three sections: the theme park, a water park, and an aquarium. Its theme park boasts more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions built to engage budding minds and encourage an active imagination. And on a hot southern California day, the Water Park offers gallons of laughs, slides, and splashes for parents, teens, and kids alike. And the Sea Life Aquarium gives kids a close encounter experience with diverse sea ecosystems and a hands-on learning.
Tip: Single day Legoland passes for kids start at $84, but you’ll get more bang for your buck when you purchase the Multi-Attraction 2-day pass beginning at $92. Check frequently for deals on the Legoland website as there are generally off-season specials, and don’t forget to budget for the $15 parking fee. Or if you’re planning to hit some other SoCal attractions, you might consider the SoCal Citypass, which offers savings on Legoland, Seaworld, and Disney Parks combined.
Activity 2: Hike the Kid-Friendly Trails of Hosp Grove Park
Where can you find hundreds of towering eucalyptus trees, perfectly maintained trails, and stunning ocean vistas right smack dab in the middle of a city? Hosp Grove Park in Carlsbad, California, spans 53 acres and this city park is located in one of the oldest sections of Carlsbad. It sits adjacent to the Buena Vista Lagoon, a bird lover’s paradise.
Hosp Grove offers three miles of pristine trails with a slight elevation gain of 100 feet. In other words, it’s a very easy hike for little legs. And when you’re done hiking, stay for a picnic, play on the playground, or climb a big pile of rocks.
Tip: There is ample free parking at the park’s two designated trailheads located on Monroe Street or Jefferson Street.
Activity 3: Commune with Wildlife at Agua Hedionda Lagoon
The Agua Hedionda watershed is a vital ecosystem right in the heart of a teeming metropolitan area. It extends 1.7 miles inland from the Pacific coast and is home to almost 200 species of birds. Not to mention, it hosts hundreds of species of plant and marine life, including numerous threatened and endangered species. This 400-acre swath of coastal wetlands provides wildlife and their human counterparts, a beautifully abundant refuge.
This fairly shallow lagoon is often called “Carlsbad Lagoon.” With water depths reach a maximum of 8 to 10 feet during high tide, the area is divided into 3 sections: the outer, middle and inner lagoon. All play an integral role in the ecosystem here.
The lagoon provides a place for migrating birds to rest while its flora filters out toxins and heavy metals sending cleaner water back into our rivers and aquifers. Whether by footpath or sea vessel, there is much to explore, from secluded beaches to marshland and low-tide mud flats. Be sure to reserve your watercraft rentals in advance, particularly during busy summer months.
Activity 4: Frolic in the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
One of San Diego County’s most colorful landmarks, the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch have been blossoming for bloom lovers since 1965. Visitors journey through a sea of vibrant hues and therapeutic aromas offering an elegant and serene spot for daydreaming. Just try strolling through the more than 50 acres of Tecolote® Giant Ranunculus, a unique member of the buttercup family.
Family activities include the Sweet Pea Maze, a fragrant living maze constructed with old fashioned sweet pea blossoms. There’s also an open-air antique tractor ride through the fields, and a whimsical Santa’s Playground. The Flower Fields’ season runs March 1st through May 14th of each year. Tickets are available for purchase starting January 1st.
1 Great Place to Eat: Beach Plum Kitchen
Hidden between suburban subdivisions, at the far corner of a strip mall, Beach Plum Kitchen is way off-the-beaten-path for most tourists visiting Carlsbad. This relaxed, neighborhood gathering place provides regionally-sourced, fresh ingredients to craft boldly simple dishes that leave you craving more. We especially recommend their hearty breakfasts.
What else puts this restaurant at the top of our must-visit San Diego County eateries? Their pledge to sustainability and supporting other independent local business owners. Not to mention, they provide assistance to area charities.
1 Great Place to Stay: Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach
Situated 400 feet from the picturesque cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, the Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach is a quaint and convenient retreat for families visiting north San Diego County. Each of their 161 deluxe rooms are loaded with family-friendly amenities including a microwave, refrigerator, coffee/tea maker, and complimentary WiFi.
Getting to any one of the close-by beaches is made easier with a free hotel shuttle service. Or just chill at their heated pool, then enjoy a lively family ping pong tournament at the hotel’s outdoor gazebo. The Carlsbad Beach Bistro Restaurant in the hotel lobby serves up a delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And FYI, the parent-friendly happy hour at the Bistro Bar pairs well with the sunset view from their outside terrace. You can read more about this hotel and visiting Carlsbad with kids in my full review here.