Carlsbad is a popular San Diego vacation destination for families. The beaches can be quieter and are stunning. LEGOLAND California is here, as are some of San Diego’s best resorts. The list of things to do in Carlsbad with kids is long, but here are a few suggestions.
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1. LEGOLAND California
Carlsbad’s famous theme park, LEGOLAND California, is geared toward LEGO enthusiasts of all ages (but most commonly kids 12 and under) with about 60 rides, a LEGOLAND water park, hands-on LEGO pits, and other interactive amusement park experiences.
If you plan on visiting LEGOLAND California during the winter holiday season, check out what this kid-friendly park has in store. For one, families can reign in New Year’s Eve at LEGOLAND California, which is full of fireworks, activities, and endless family-friendly fun.
You can stay at the resort in one of two themed hotel options with separate kids’ sleeping areas in every room, free breakfast daily, and nightly entertainment. LEGOLAND Castle Hotel offers 250 premium LEGO Castle themed rooms, LEGO Castle décor throughout featuring knights, princesses, dragons, and wizards, and there are daily scavenger hunts, as well as a pool area featuring fountains, slides, and play features and a themed restaurant.
Kids love LEGOLAND Hotel and its themed rooms (Knights & Dragons, Magic Wizard, or Royal Princess) and interactive LEGO features (and others like the whoopie cushion next to the elevators). Parents can enjoy an adult beverage at the bar next to the LEGO pits.
See also: What It’s Like to Stay at LEGOLAND Hotel
It’s always wise to check the calendar before planning a trip because the park is not open daily during the low season. And do not pay full price for tickets.
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. Enjoy Carlsbad Beaches
A Carlsbad vacation isn’t complete without a visit to one of its gorgeous beaches, whether you learn to surf or not. Some Carlsbad beaches are more secluded than others and easily accessible from some of San Diego’s best beach hotels in the area.
Of the seven miles of sand in Carlsbad, the most popular choices for families include South Ponto State Beach and Tamarack Beach.
3. Watersports on the Carlsbad Lagoon
Test your balance on a stand-up paddleboard or kayak in Carlsbad with kids (or without) by renting a variety of water sports equipment at Carlsbad Lagoon.
I used to wakeboard here (its proper name is Agua Hedionda Lagoon) quite a bit in my 20s, and it’s really fun. The variety of rentals include speedboats, aqua cycles, boat rentals, and much more.
You can also practice sun salutations at a Stand-Up Paddleboard yoga class on the Carlsbad Lagoon. I’m a huge fan and spent a good chunk of time on this lagoon in my 20s waterskiing. It’s also on our list of things to do in Carlsbad for all ages.
4. Museum of Making Music
Visit the fun Museum of Making Music — a hands-on museum showcasing musical instrument evolution from the late 19th century to the present day.
This is a great place to take kids who already love music or are considering taking lessons. They can see, touch, and feel how guitars, pianos, drums, and other exotic instruments work. And the docents are amazingly helpful.
5. Batiquitos Lagoon Walks and Fun
Enjoy kid-friendly conservation talks, birding, and hands-on events hosted by the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation. It’s one of the only remaining tidal wetlands in Southern California.
There are also a few nice and easy walking trails that are stroller and wheelchair-friendly. You can walk to these trails from Park Hyatt Aviara and Four Seasons Aviara, two of my favorite resorts in town. Maps are available at the Nature Center.
6. Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch (Seasonal)
Start your own spring tradition at the Carlsbad Flower Fields, a distinctly Carlsbad attraction. The field opens for six to eight weeks starting in March, showcasing the vibrantly blooming ranunculus flowers.
Visitors enjoy tractor rides, mazes, the orchid greenhouse, rose garden, and much more over the 55 acres. Be sure to check their calendar before you go.
7. SEA LIFE Aquarium
Interact with the underwater creatures at the SEA LIFE Aquarium, located adjacent to LEGOLAND California.
This popular Carlsbad attraction for families also has interactive exhibits, talks and feedings, a great counter-order dining area, and some touch pools.
8. Take Your Pick at Carlsbad Strawberry Company
The cool thing about Carlsbad Strawberry Company is that they have a variety of fun things to do in Carlsbad with kids outside of strawberry picking season.
During Halloween, you’ll come here for the corn maze, bounce houses, and pumpkins. You can also visit the Cannon Rd. Market here for fresh produce from across San Diego County.
But let’s face it, U-pick strawberries are a heck of a lot of fun for the whole family. You can enjoy from February through July each year.
9. Peruse Carlsbad Village
Although the whole main pedestrian area in downtown Carlsbad is often referred to as Carlsbad Village, the heart of the actual village is the two-story retail and food location on the corner of Carlsbad Boulevard and Carlsbad Village Drive. Downstairs, and accessed from street level, there’s a lovely grassy area with a large fountain where kids can safely play and do cartwheels while parents relax on the surrounding benches.
There’s plenty of options for goodies like ice cream from GelatoLove, and Gourmet Popcorn from Always Popping. Naked Cafe is a great spot for lunch, and the Mermaids gift store is a gorgeous place to peruse for ocean-inspired gifts or souvenirs.
Kids may enjoy peering through the windows (and inside if invited) the Lieu D’Art Sculpture School (formally known as Lynn Forbes) where they’ll see sculptors at work, who may just inspire them to ask for lessons. The school has youth, adult, and family packages.
10. Get Your Jump On at Sky Zone
This popular trampoline park chain opened its Carlsbad location in March 2020, which was brave considering it was during strict Covid restriction times. But the park survived and is busier than ever.
Kids can freestyle bounce to their hearts’ content on the multiple trampolines, challenge themselves on the various obstacle courses, climb the rock wall (with harnesses), or dare to jump from the SkyFall. There’s also a SkyClimb, volleyball and dodgeball. Fun evening events include the GLOW Experience and Parents Night Out.
11. Learn about Oyster Harvesting at Carlsbad Aquafarm
Carlsbad Aquafarm is the only oyster farm in Southern California. And it will probably either gross kids out or pique their curiosity to learn more about the natural ecosystem of the surrounding lagoon.
The farm is located just back from the beach in Carlsbad and is easily visible from the coastal road. Guests can sign up for a Farm Discovery Walk, where you’ll learn the techniques and witness the equipment used to help grow and harvest the farm’s homegrown oyster population.
You’ll also learn how the farm helps protect the natural ecosystem of the surrounding lagoon. The tour is completed with an Oyster Shucking Class where you can shuck and taste the oysters.
12. Grab a Slice at Pizza Port
Taste Carlsbad’s best pizza at the Intergalactic Headquarters for the Pizza Port Empire. Adults will appreciate the extensive list of craft beer on tap in a kid-friendly atmosphere.
Try the Monterey Pizza with artichoke hearts, pepperoni, mushrooms, and onions. It’s one of the best places to eat in Carlsbad with kids.
13. Take Your Junior Ranger to the Campfire Program
If your child has already qualified as a Junior Ranger in a California State Park, they can join in Carlsbad’s Campfire Program in Carlsbad. Families meet up at the South Carlsbad State Beach Campground in the amphitheater by the bluffs, next to the Camp Store.
The 45-minute ranger-led program teaches visitors about marine life, wildlife, geology, ecology, and the environment, in a fun interactive session with hands-on activities, including games and singing. Jr. Rangers will be recognized at the conclusion of the program and awarded for their participation.
14. Visit a Skatepark
Bring the skateboard. Not only is Carlsbad skateboard legend Tony Hawk’s home, but there are plenty of skateparks for all levels, including Alga Norte Skatepark.
15. Play Golf
One of the best places to improve your swing is at the Arnold Palmer-designed Aviara Golf Club, located adjacent to the lovely Park Hyatt Aviara hotel.
Kip Putterbaugh’s Aviara Golf Academy hosts junior clinics and lessons but they really can improve any level of player (adults, too). It’s the longest-running golf school in the Western United States.
16. Learn to Surf
Surf lessons are available year-round, and this SoCal business guarantees that you’ll be standing after your first lesson (if not, the next one will be free of charge).
17. Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park
Take a walk back into Hollywood history at Leo Carrillo’s historic ranch and roam the 27-acre property along with the resident peacocks. As the name implies, the ranch was once owned by actor Leo Carrillo.
Guests can take a self-guided tour, and it’s a very popular spot for photos because of the adobe buildings and stunning landscape. It’s also a great place to have a picnic and sit at one of the tables dotted around the grounds of this beautiful property.
18. Carlsbad Premium Outlets for Discount Shopping
The teens traveling with you may want some retail therapy, and Carlsbad Premium Outlets is a great place to get it. It’s also a fantastic place to score deals on gear for babies, toddlers, kids, and the grown ups, too!
Popular stores include Skechers, Carter’s, Baby Gap, Lids, and other kid favorites.
19. Get your Game on at Draft Republic
After a busy day shopping, you can literally cross the street to refuel at this great family venue. Draft Republic is an expansive restaurant located between the outlets and the beach at Carlsbad.
It’s the popular chain’s second location – the first was in La Jolla, and the third is in San Marcos – and the 12000 sq ft open space concept includes various seating areas, a large arcade area for the kids, pool, ping pong, foosball tables, a a golf simulator lounge for the grown-ups, and over 70 screens for sports fans.
20. Feast on Gourmet Doughnuts at The Goods
If you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, definitely check out The Goods on State Street for amazing artisan doughnuts (and great coffee). This independent cafe creates donut delicacies such as the Vermont Bacon Maple, Rosemary Eggnog (it tastes way better than it sounds!), Nutella Buttercream Cruffin, and Banoffee, among many more. And their Boston Creme is to die for.
Just beware, the doughnuts are pretty big so my tip is to buy a few, cut them into quarters to share, and dig in.
21. Check out the Tide Pools at Terramar Beach
Head to Terramar Beach at low tide for beautiful rock pools or tide pools dotted along the back of the north end of the beach. Kids will love splashing in the warm water of the pools and climbing on the rocks. And they may just discover little sea creatures who call the rock pools home.
Further north up the beach is a great spot for tide pools, which are further out on the sand and where you’ll probably spot more sea life. You can access the beach via the stairs at where Carlsbad Boulevard crosses Cerezo Drive. We also have a list of more San Diego tide pools.
22. Discover Great Ice Cream
This popular and historic ice cream chain always has a huge line outside the Carlsbad location on State Street, but it’s definitely worth the wait, and the kids will thank you for it!
Menu choices, including Chocoholic Chunk, French Silk Pie, and Banana Cream Pie, go a long way to justify the line, and you can also purchase Watermelon Ice, Lime Sherbet, or Mango Sorbet.
23. Take a Helicopter Tour
Take in the amazing aerial views of the Pacific in an epic Icon Helicopter Tour. Tours can be customized based on what guests would like to see from above.
24. Enjoy American History
Enjoy a traditional shepherd’s pie and some U.S. colonial history at the Green Dragon Tavern & Museum.
This unique Carlsbad attraction is equipped with quite a large space with a museum, restaurant, tavern, coffee house, and meeting space.
25. Aviara Community Park for Playgrounds, Picnics and Spores
Pretend you’re Jack Sparrow at the Aviara Community Park’s pirate-themed play area. Or just enjoy a day out at this 24-acre spot.
The park is also equipped with a soccer field, softball and baseball field, outdoor basketball courts, a children’s play area for toddlers, restrooms, and plenty of picnic areas. This is one of Carlsbad’s many community parks.
26. Rent an Electric Bike
Take an electric bike ride through the village and beyond with an e-bike rental from Carlsbad e-Bikes and More. These electric bikes allow you to put in as much pedaling effort as you like.
The company also rents tandem e-bikes, stretch e-bikes, road bikes, cruisers, and even kids’ bike trailers.
27. Book a Food (or Chocolate) Tour
Take a bite out of Carlsbad’s culinary best on a food tour where you’ll visit 7-8 eateries while learning insight about the architectural details and history of the village area. This 3-hour tour is perfect for people of all ages and is available as a public or private tour experience. Reservations can be booked online.
Chuao Chocolatier didn’t name their Carlsbad location the Joy Factory for nothing. This popular premium chocolate brand handcrafts gourmet flavors there including Cheeky Cheeky Churro, For the Love of Peppermint, Honeycomb, Snuggle Up S’mores, and even Potato Chip! They only source ingredients from fair trade farms.
They’re famous for their in-depth tours at the Joy Factory, which is a great time for all the family, and you get plenty of samples along the way. The tours are currently on hold but should be opening up again soon. Keep an eye on their website for updates.
28. Shop at Carlsbad Village Farmers Market
Farmers’ markets in San Diego aren’t just for buying produce. You can buy hot food, enjoy live entertainment, come home with locally-made souvenirs, and much more.
The State Street Farmers’ Market happens in the Carlsbad Village every Wednesday from 2.30 p.m. and is one of the area’s fabulous outdoor activities for families that supports local farmers and artisans.
29. Race Go Karts
Yes, the largest indoor karting facility on the West Coast is at K1 Speed Go Kart Track in Carlsbad. Adults and junior drivers (must be 48″ tall) can rev up an Italian electric Pro Kart (zero emissions).
30. Step Back in Time at Magee House
Take a glimpse at what life was like in the late 19th century at the Magee House, one of Carlsbad’s oldest structures, and roam its historic walls and surrounding rose gardens.
FAQs About Things to Do in Carlsbad with Kids
I help people plan family trips to San Diego, so I have heard nearly every question imaginable about where and why one would stay in North San Diego County.
Why Should I Stay in Carlsbad with Kids?
Families stay in Carlsbad with kids because they are looking for big luxury resorts (three of our best are here) or are focusing a vacation on LEGOLAND California.
Carlsbad also makes a great base for families who intend to explore San Diego attractions but also visit Disneyland Resort on the same trip.
How Far Is Carlsbad from San Diego Zoo?
One of the main concerns for families visiting Carlsbad is the driving distance to San Diego Zoo. Do not worry so much about this if you can plan a visit around rush hour traffic. The drive, which is mostly freeway driving and not difficult, should take about 35 minutes without traffic.
It takes the same amount of time to get to downtown San Diego.
What Are the Best Family Hotels Near the Beach in Carlsbad?
The best beachfront kid-friendly hotels in Carlsbad are Beach Terrace Inn (a family-owned boutique hotel on the sand) and Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach, a Hilton Resort and Spa (across the street from the beach).
Most families that I work with stay in the larger resorts like Four Seasons Aviara, Park Hyatt Aviara, and Omni La Costa. You can also see my list of best Carlsbad hotels.
What are your favorite things to do in Carlsbad with kids? See also my complete list of family activities in San Diego.