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. Chock full of pirates and castles and ninjas, with a Star Wars Death Star Model Display spanning 8-feet across, it also doubles as every adult kid’s fantasy land.
Divided into three sections, Legoland is one of California’s most family-friendly amusement parks, offering a wide array of activities for kids, teens, and adults. Its theme park boasts more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions built to engage budding minds and encourage an active imagination. On a hot southern California day, the Water Park offers gallons of laughs, slides and splashes guaranteed to put young engineer mind to work while cooling down overheated parents. And the Sea Life Aquarium gives kids a close encounter experience with diverse sea ecosystems, and a hands-on, educational approach to 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 elder eucalyptus trees, perfectly maintained dirt 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.
There are 3 miles of pristine trails within Hosp Grove with a slight elevation gain of 100 feet, making this 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 extends 1.7 miles inland from the Pacific coast and is a vital ecosystem right in the heart of a teeming metropolitan area. Home to almost 200 species of birds and 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 (water depths reach a maximum of 8 to 10 feet during high tide), often called “Carlsbad Lagoon,” is divided into 3 sections, the outer, middle and inner lagoon, and plays an integral role in providing 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, just 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. Strolling through the more than 50 acres of Tecolote® Giant Ranunculus, a unique member of the buttercup family, visitors journey through a sea of vibrant hues and therapeutic aromas offering an elegant and serene spot for daydreaming.
Numerous family activities include the Sweet Pea Maze, a fragrant living maze constructed with old fashioned sweet pea blossoms, an open-air antique tractor ride through the fields, and their whimsical Santa’s Playground. The Flower Fields’ season runs March 1st through May 14th of each year, with tickets 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 truly local haunt delivers one of the most mouth-watering breakfast menus our tastebuds have ever sampled.
This relaxed, neighborhood gathering place prides itself on regionally-sourced, fresh ingredients to craft boldly simple dishes that leave you craving more. Their added commitment to the sustainability of their operation, a heartfelt pledge to supporting other independent local business owners, and a dedication to providing enriching assistance to area charities puts this restaurant at the top of our must-visit San Diego County eateries.
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 located in the hotel lobby serves up a delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the parent-friendly happy hour at the Bistro Bar is best paired with a stunning sunset view from their outside terrace. You can read more about this hotel and visiting Carlsbad with kids in my full review here.
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