The beautiful coastal town of Carlsbad might be best known for being home to LEGOLAND California, but there is a long list of other fun things to do in Carlsbad.
Located in North County San Diego, 35 miles north of downtown San Diego, Carlsbad sits between other beach towns, Encinitas and Oceanside. Its stunning coastline and bustling Carlsbad Village center make this charming town a prime destination for all kinds of fun indoor and outdoor activities, all year round.
I’ve been a North County resident for ten years, and my family and I head to Carlsbad almost every weekend. Here’s my lowdown on the best things to do in Carlsbad.
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1. Spend The Day at LEGOLAND California
Address: One LEGOLAND Drive, Carlsbad
It’s probably fair to say that LEGOLAND California cemented Carlsbad’s place on the family tourist map when it opened back in 1999, even though the town has grown exponentially since then. And thanks to our great weather, this San Diego theme park is busy all year long with LEGO enthusiasts enjoying rides, shows, and LEGO-themed attractions.
2024 is a particularly great year to go to LEGOLAND California, because the theme park is toasting its 25th birthday and offering some great ticket deals and new attractions to celebrate. In spring, they’re launching Dino Valley, a new land featuring rides, a Coastersauras, and meet-and-greets with new characters.
This summer will mark the first LEGO parade, featuring amazing floats and live entertainment with plenty of singing and dancing for the whole family.
SAVE MONEY ON TICKETS!
There’s no need to pay gate prices for LEGOLAND, but you’ll need to crunch the numbers to see which method of saving money is best. These are the four most popular tickets and sightseeing passes.
2. Meet Marine Life at SEA LIFE Aquarium
The fantastic SEA LIFE Aquarium is located within the LEGOLAND California Resort, but you can buy separate tickets to visit the wonderland of marine life. Here, you can observe and learn about over 350 species and more than 6,000 sea creatures thanks to the busy schedule of educational talks and up-close encounters with stingrays and other sea creatures.
My daughters particularly love peering at the cute resident octopus, who occasionally unfurls and stares right back! It’s also mesmerizing to walk along the underground glass tunnel and gaze at sharks, sea turtles, and more, glide above and around you. It’s another fun San Diego activity for kids for maybe an hour plus lunch (the average aquarium visit lasts just under an hour).
3. Ride the Slides at LEGOLAND Water Park (Seasonal)
The attached LEGOLAND Water Park is open daily in the summer months and on select dates throughout the rest of the year, but it is well worth a visit. It covers 10 acres of water fun and features sandy beaches, seven fantastic slides, rides, and LEGO-themed fun.
You can only enter the Water Park via LEGOLAND, so your ticket must include a ticket that includes the water park. Always check the LEGOLAND calendar before you go. The Water Park is on various dates starting on March 16, 2024.
4. Stay Overnight at a LEGOLAND Hotel
If you’re looking for the ultimate experience for your little LEGO fan, including exclusive early access to the LEGOLAND park, a great option is to stay at the adjoining LEGOLAND Hotel or LEGOLAND Castle Hotel.
You can choose from themed rooms such as Pirate, Adventure, Kingdom, Friends, or NINJAGO, and guests enjoy a complimentary hot buffet breakfast, plenty of LEGO play areas, and a heated pool. The main benefit, though, is being able to enter the park 30 minutes before the general public. Be sure to time your stay accordingly, as the theme park is not open daily.
5. Explore Carlsbad Village
This bustling community is located just two blocks from the beach and artfully combines the convenience of a tourist destination with the charm of a small-town vibe.
The Village is the core of Carlsbad and seems to be expanding by the month. Comprising around one square mile around Carlsbad Boulevard, it’s packed with great coffee shops, charming boutiques, countless gift and décor stores, a beautiful play area with a fountain, a farmer’s market, and excellent restaurants.
You’ll find restaurants to satisfy all palates thanks to the eclectic variety of cuisines available in the Village, from Italian to sushi to French to Mexican, or just good old-fashioned pub grub. You can read my list of the best Carlsbad restaurants for ideas. There are also breweries, a winery, and a brand-new theater, making Carlsbad Village the ultimate destination any time of week or year.
You can park and then walk everywhere or catch the Coaster train to Carlsbad Village Station, right in the center of the village. And if you go on a Wednesday, check out the Carlsbad Village farmers market in the afternoon.
6. Take Your Pick from Carlsbad’s Beautiful Beaches
Arguably, Carlsbad’s biggest draw is its almost eight miles of spectacular coastline stretching along the Pacific Ocean. It technically includes eight different beaches — some rugged, some calm, some remote, and some full of families, but all beautiful.
They’re great for surfing, boogie boarding, tide pooling, playing beach volleyball, jogging, or simply strolling in the sunshine. You can read Katie’s detailed guide to which beaches are best for various activities and choose for yourself.
There have been more stones on some beaches in recent years, but an ambitious renovation project is underway. Strolling or rollerblading the boardwalk leading into Carlsbad Village is a great way to enjoy the beaches from up high. And look out for dolphins (and the odd seal), which we often spot frolicking in the waves.
7. Learn to Surf
Address: Lifeguard Tower 30 in Carlsbad.
Carlsbad is the perfect spot to learn how to surf from local experts. Head to So Cal Surf Lessons, who have been in business for over 17 years. They offer same day lessons where possible for all levels, including private lessons, (for kids 5 and over), and group lessons.
Wetsuits are included, and lessons include short instruction on the beach and then 1.5hr/2hr with your instructor in the water. You get one hour to use the equipment for free following the lesson.
The best part is that if you’re not up and surfing on your first lesson, the next lesson is free!
8. Pick Strawberries at Carlsbad Strawberry Company
Address: 1050 Cannon Road, Carlsbad.
Among the seasonal things to do in Carlsbad, the family-owned Carlsbad Strawberry Company has been growing strawberries in their picturesque and expansive fields located alongside the I-5 freeway for four generations.
Strawberry picking season runs from February to July, and you simply pay for a bucket and fill it with as many strawberries as you can pick. It’s a great outdoor family activity, and the little ones love it, especially as you can as you pick!
The fields are busy during Fall, too, when they transform into a hugely popular Halloween venue complete with a corn maze, petting zoo, pumpkin patch, and a Haunted Corn Maze at night for the older kids.
9. See a Show at New Village Arts Theater
Address: 2787 State Street # B, Carlsbad.
This newly renovated performing arts theater on State Street reopened in 2023 after the original theater of over 20 years closed down following the pandemic.
The stylish new theater features a great bar and lounge area, and offers a packed roster of plays, musicals, talkback discussion nights, and comedy and improv shows. They also offer dinner and theater packages.
The theater has an intimate boutique vibe due to its size and 99-seat auditorium and it’s the perfect addition to Carlsbad Village’s diverse nightlife.
10. Sample Brews at Pure Project
Address: 2825 State Street, Carlsbad.
The open-air patio of this popular brewery features a beautiful Hong Kong Orchid Tree and is a great place to while away the hours in the sunshine while trying Pure Project’s famed brews.
It’s slap bang in the middle of the action on busy State Street, across from the train station, and surrounded by many restaurants. The brewery doesn’t serve food but you can take your own in.
Pure Project was founded by two San Diegans while on a backpacking trip, and it actually started life as a craft brewery in Costa Rica. After two years brewing in the jungle, though, the owners moved the brewery back home and they now have five locations in San Diego, including Carlsbad.
11. Sip in Style at Witch Creek Winery
Address: 2906 Carlsbad Blvd. Carlsbad.
This cozy and stylish award-winning boutique winery is perfect for a ladies night out or date night. Decked out with a huge chandelier, fairy lit bar, wooden high-top tables, and wine barrels stacked along one wall, it has a lovely warm ambiance.
It’s also peppered with antiques, both for show and for sale. The winery has live music Thursdays – Sundays and Open Mic Night every other Monday.
There’s also the Sleeping Tiger coffee bar near the entrance, which serves delicious gourmet coffee and a great array of pastries.
12. Get Back to Nature at Batiquitos Lagoon
Address: 7380 Gabbiano Lane, Carlsbad.
Less than 10% of wetlands are left in the US, but Batiquitos Lagoon, which lies on the border of Carlsbad and Encinitas, is one of them.
The idyllic 610-acre nature reserve is home to over 65 fish species and more than 235 bird species. A scenic 1.6-mile-long walking/jogging trail on the north shore runs west to east, which you can access from Gabbiano Lane.
The trail is popular with locals but never seems overcrowded. It’s also one of the popular things to do in Carlsbad for people staying at Park Hyatt Aviara and Four Seasons Aviara since both San Diego luxury resorts border the lagoon.
It’s lined with regional vegetation and willowy trees and is great for little ones to explore because it’s so flat that you can keep them in sight (you can read the full list of things to do in Carlsbad with kids). Batiquitos Lagoon exudes a surprisingly peaceful atmosphere, considering you can spot the traffic on the freeway in the distance.
Once upon a time, it reached all the way to the ocean, but landfill used to help construct the current I-5 freeway and coastal highway resulted in it drying up and becoming a wasteland. Today, thanks to an ambitious restoration project by local citizens in the 1980s, the lagoon is back to its former glory. A Nature Center also houses displays, taxidermy, and a children’s area.
13. Explore the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park (and the Peacocks)
Address: 6200 Flying Leo Carrillo Lane, Carlsbad.
This charming historic ranch is completely obscured from the road, but it’s definitely a hidden gem. Founded by the 1950s Hollywood actor, Leo Carrillo, the ranch was his retreat for many years. He died in 1961, but the property is maintained by the City of Carlsbad and was opened to the public in 2003.
The centerpiece is Carrillo’s beautiful rancho-style house, but the outdoor idyl of the property is what really makes it special. The 27-acre ranch is a peaceful oasis set among towering trees. It’s a wonderful place to explore but note that some walking trails and surfaces are uneven.
The outbuildings and barn are interesting to tinker around in and look out for the resident peacocks who roam the property. They tend to fly over the walls, and we’ve often spotted one strutting around the surrounding streets!
The park is free to enter, and there is also a gift shop and visitor’s center.
14. Shop at Carlsbad Premium Outlets
Address: 5620 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad.
This shopping haven is a top Carlsbad in San Diego and one of the city’s most popular shopping destinations. You’ll snag great deals on designer brands including Kate Spade, Polo Ralph Lauren, Coach, Michael Kors, Gap, and Skechers.
There are over 80 stores in all, and the spacious outdoor design with seating around fountains makes it a pleasant location, even on the crazy holiday sale days. There are plenty of eateries when you need a shopping break, including Ruby’s Diner and mostly fast food style options. The Outlets are located right off the I-5 and behind the Flower Fields.
15. Dine at Windmill Food Hall
Address: 890 Palomar Airport Rd, Carlsbad.
You may have spotted the iconic Windmill building located right as you exit the I-5 at Palomar Airport Road — and now you can eat there. Situated right across from the Carlsbad Outlets, this stylish and spacious food hall topped with an old Danish-style windmill provides a great break while you peruse the many attractions Carlsbad has to offer.
There’s a wide variety of cuisine choices, from Thai to Mexican to Mediterranean to Chinese. And there’s a full bar serving craft cocktails and beer to wash it all down with. For those with a sweet tooth, the goodies at the Mini Donut shop are to die for.
You’ll find plenty of indoor and outdoor bench seating, and the owners recently amped up the events calendar. You can now pick from live music, Trivia Night, Drag Queen Bingo, Open Mic Night, and even Paint Your Pet Wine Night!
16. Discover the Museum of Making Music
Address: 5790 Armada Dr, Carlsbad.
This unique (and rather hidden away) museum showcases the history and science of music through a series of fascinating interactive exhibits and an impressive collection of musical instruments.
Adults will love the deep dive into the history of music and various interesting stories, while the best part for kids is at the end, where they’ll get to play various instruments, including electric guitar, keyboards, and drums (luckily mostly with headphones!).
The Museum of Making Music is a fairly small but beautifully laid out museum and definitely worth a visit.
17. Wander the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
Address: 5704 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad.
The Flower Fields are truly unique to Carlsbad, a great outdoor experience for the whole family. Due to the flowering season, they’re only open from March to May, though, so you’ll need to get your timing right.
You may have seen the Flower Fields, a famous sloping field along Palomar Airport Road that often features spectacular rotating floral designs, but head inside the gates of the ranch, and you’ll encounter much more.
The fields contain 55 acres of vibrant blooming flowers to wander amongst, and also have tractor rides, a maze, a rose garden, an artist garden, and an orchid greenhouse.
The Carlsbad Flower Fields also have a packed events calendar, including live music, Flower Flow Yoga, Sunset Wine Tasting, photography and charcuterie workshops, and more.
18. Enjoy Watersports at Carlsbad Lagoon
Address: 4215 Harrison St, Carlsbad.
This gorgeous lagoon (also known as Agua Hedionda Lagoon) is located just off the I-5 right behind Carlsbad State Beach. It’s the perfect place to get in the SoCal vibe and brush up on your watersport skills.
The lagoon’s rental office has an array of motorized and non-motorized options. Choose from more relaxing options like a Pontoon or pedal boat, opt for more of a workout with stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking, or speed things up on a Wave runner or speedboat. You can hop off and rest at idyllic little private beaches around the lagoon while taking in the breathtaking scenery. This really is a classic Carlsbad day out!
Be sure to check Groupon as they often have special offers here and at a handful of other Carlsbad attractions.
19. Learn about Oyster Farming at Aquafarm
Address: 4522 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad.
Whether you love or loathe oysters, you’ll likely still find a tour at Carlsbad Aquafarm fascinating. It’s the only oyster farm in Southern California, situated alongside Highway 101 behind the beach.
Tours will educate you on how Aquafarm farms their homegrown oyster population, and explain their efforts to help protect the natural ecosystem of the surrounding lagoon. An oyster shucking class is included at the end, where you can get to sample the oysters.
20. Take A Guided Tour with Carlsbad Food Tours
A fun lunch option is the Taste of Carlsbad Food Tour, a three-hour guided walking tour through Carlsbad Village. The tour includes six food and drink tasting locations, and your local guide will give you an insider’s view of Carlsbad’s history, culture, and architecture along the way.
The tour includes tasting pork and pineapple tacos at Carlsbad’s legendary Senor Grubbys, sampling delicacies at one of the Village’s most popular Italian restaurants, tucking into the amazing donuts at The Goods, and for more sweet stuff, stopping for dessert at either The Strawberry Shack or Gelato Love, with crepes to finish. Wine tasting at Witch Creek Winery is also included.
The tours run daily from 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and include food, beer and wine, and dessert tastings. It’s family-friendly, and you can even take your dog!
21. Up Your Golf Game at The Crossings
Address: 5800 Crossings Drive, Carlsbad.
You can take to the links at The Crossings 18-hole championship golf course in Carlsbad. The 6,835-yard Greg Nash-designed course features various options and terrains, so it’s great for beginners and more skilled golfers looking for a challenge.
The picturesque course is surrounded by local natural habitat and wildlife, and sits on 400+ acres of Carlsbad’s coastal landscape. The club was named after the five bridges/crossings incorporated into the design to adhere to environmental and topographic conditions.
The club also offers golf lessons with one of their PGA Professionals. Check their website for all of the various pricing options.
22. Enjoy Sunset Drinks at Park Hyatt Aviara Resort
Address: 7100 Aviara Resort Drive, Carlsbad.
This award-winning luxury resort is well known for its celebrated restaurants, Ponto and Ember & Rye, but my ‘local’s tip’ is to head there for sundowners on the hotel’s stunning terrace. The large terrace overlooks the hotel’s lush gardens, and because it’s raised, you get a great view out to the ocean and the sunset.
There’s plenty of seating, some around firepits, and it’s a surprisingly casual place to relax and recharge with the kids. You’re welcome to either order from the hotel’s elegant bar or buy and eat food from the in-house store. I recommend their pastries and great coffee. There is lots of additional seating inside to enjoy the sophisticated setting in style.
23. Explore Carlsbad on Rented E-bikes
Address: 2978 Carlsbad Blvd, #130, Carlsbad.
Carlsbad is mostly flat terrain throughout, so biking around is easy. But why not rent an electric bike for extra ease as you take in the miles of beaches? Or grab a map and explore the trails further afield on a self guided tour.
Carlsbad e-Bikes and More has lots of rental options, including tandem e-bikes, stretch e-bikes, road bikes, cruisers, and kids’ bike trailers. They even rent out golf carts if you prefer four wheels to two. You can rent e-bikes and carts by the hour or day, and the office is in the center of Carlsbad Village by the large parking lot.
24. Discover the Thrill of K1 Speed Go Kart Track
Address: 6212 Corte Del Abeto, Carlsbad.
If you’re feeling the need for speed, head to K1 Speed Go Kart Track in Carlsbad, where you’ll definitely get your fix in their high-performance, all-electric go-karts. This giant indoor facility specializes in ‘Arrive and Drive’ racing. It’s a timed event that can include up to 12 drivers, but instead of racing for position, you race for the quickest time around the course, so drivers can start the course at different times.
Adult Karts reach up to 45 MPH, and Junior Karts (for those 48 inches+) go up to 20 MPH, so there is something for all prospective drivers. For those not wanting to get behind the wheel, there are pool tables, a video game arcade, and prize machines, while the Paddock Lounge café serves up classic pub grub.
25. Watch a Movie in Luxury at Cinépolis
Address: 6941 El Camino Real & 3434 Via Mercato, Carlsbad.
This luxury cinema chain is perfect for a date or a fun family outing. Cinépolis specializes in an upscale movie-going experience and their motto says it all: Wine, Dine, Recline. From the attractive full bar and accompanying restaurant when you enter the building, to the large (and extremely soft) reclining leather seats in the theater.
You can recline in comfort and order from a large food and drinks menu (including alcohol) at the touch of a button via the full waiter service. Every seat has a small table attached where you can eat from.
There are two Cinépolis theaters in Carlsbad, both located in upmarket shopping areas which also contain plenty of other eatery options. Tickets cost around $20 depending on the time of day, but most theaters have $10 Tuesday All-Day deals.
FAQs About Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad, CA
Get more information about Carlsbad, CA, including why you should visit, places to see around town, the best beaches, and advice for your trip.
Where should I go to the beach in Carlsbad?
Carlsbad has almost eight miles of stunning coastline and eight separate beaches to try out. Read Katie’s detailed list to see which you want to visit.
What are the best places to eat in Carlsbad?
That’s a hard answer, as there are so many great restaurants – featuring all types of cuisines. The Carlsbad restaurant scene has seen a serious boom in the last five years. I’ve detailed my favorites in this list. Campfire is popular and so is Michelin-starred Jeune et Jolie.
Is Carlsbad worth a visit?
Definitely! Carlsbad has become world-famous for many great reasons: LEGOLAND, the gorgeous beaches, beautiful Carlsbad Village where you can enjoy fantastic eateries and explore great boutiques and gift stores, tons of family-friendly activities and places to visit, and of course, our famous year-round sunny weather. It’s also only a 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego and surrounded by other vibrant beach towns, Encinitas and Oceanside.
How do you spend a day in Carlsbad?
Take your pick from any of the above! It’s actually easy to do many in one day as everything is pretty close by. Carlsbad Village is a great choice for hanging out, walking the pretty streets, and grabbing lunch or dinner. It’s also only a block or so from Carlsbad’s sandy beaches and the starting point of the scenic Carlsbad Seawall Walk.
What is Carlsbad famous for?
Carlsbad is famous for being home to LEGOLAND California, including the SEALIFE Aquarium and Water Park. Families flock here year-round thanks to Carlsbad’s gorgeous weather. Others love the beaches and fantastic array of high-quality restaurants. The Carlsbad Premium Outlets is also a favorite spot for tourists and locals looking to snag designer-label bargains.
What can I do in Carlsbad for free?
It costs no money to enjoy one of the town’s beautiful beaches and stroll the lively streets of Carlsbad Village while basking in our (almost) endless sunshine.
What are your favorite things to do in Carlsbad, CA, now?