“The Village by the Sea,” as Carlsbad is sometimes called, is known for being the home of LEGOLAND® California, but that’s not the only attraction that draws visitors to this upscale yet tranquil city in San Diego County.
There are beautiful beaches, manicured golf courses, watersports, plenty of places to indulge in some luxury shopping, delicious restaurants, and lots of trendy breweries and coffee shops. It makes a great home base if you’re visiting San Diego with kids.
On this page, I’ve collected my best Carlsbad travel tips, guides to Carlsbad attractions, and information about where to stay in Carlsbad, what to do, what to eat, and where to go in Carlsbad, whether you’re traveling alone or with kids.
Carlsbad Travel Tips
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is whether Carlsbad is too far north. Carlsbad, depending on exact location, without traffic is about 40 minutes to downtown San Diego. While that might sound far to some, keep in mind that San Diego’s attractions are quite spread out which is why most people have rental cars.
Carlsbad is a great location for luxury hotel lovers (pricing is often more advantageous and you’re getting a five-star stay), golfers, and families who intend to visit LEGOLAND or San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Yes, there can be pockets of traffic during rush hour on the I-5 freeway, our main artery. Most sightseers can avoid it.
Bring your beach gear because Carlsbad beaches are some of the loveliest in the state. Wide South Ponto Beach is one of the best beaches for families and a great place to catch a volleyball game. North Ponto Beach is much narrower and especially popular with surfers. Terramar Beach is a great spot for families who enjoy tide pooling (its nickname is Carlsbad Tide Pools).
Carlsbad is known for its spas that offer world-class services. That’s not surprising when you consider that it became a popular destination not long after its mineral spring was discovered in the late 1800s. You can still fill bottles at the famous alkaline spring at Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa.
In the springtime, Carlsbad Flower Fields becomes one of the most popular (and beautiful) Carlsbad attractions. You can gaze at — and take photos in — vast fields of flowers in every color of the rainbow between March and May.
The list of Carlsbad attractions also includes three lagoons. Batiquitos Lagoon, Buena Vista Lagoon, and Agua Hedionda Lagoon are all great spots to observe the local wildlife in its natural habitat.
If you need to get out of the sun and you want to do something a little different, stop by the Joe Martin Foundation Craftsmanship Museum. Gear heads of all ages will love the model and miniature engines, and the extremely intricate Do Nothing Machine that lives up to its name. Admission is free, though donations are accepted.
Make a point of trying a few Carlsbad restaurants during your stay. There are popular German-style delis, upscale steakhouses, award-winning upscale restaurant, and some of the most creative food trucks around.
Tips for Visiting Carlsbad with Kids
LEGOLAND California will probably be on your must-visit list of Carlsbad, CA attractions if you’re visiting the area with kids. Don’t forget that you should buy discounted LEGOLAND tickets. We’ve enjoyed the rides, the hands-on LEGO pits, and the fun atmosphere of the park, but it’s worth noting that there are plenty of other things to do in Carlsbad with kids. You can:
- Rent watersports equipment at Carlsbad Lagoon and paddleboard or kayak the day away. You can also rent speedboats, aqua cycles, and other equipment.
- Visit the Museum of Making Music — a museum showcasing the evolution of musical instruments from the late 19th century to present-day (a particular favorite with kids who take music lessons).
- Stroll around the Batiquitos Lagoon, which has kid-friendly conservation talks, birding, and events, plus walking trails easy enough for the whole family.
- Learn some U.S. colonial history at the Green Dragon Tavern & Museum.
- Race go-karts at the largest indoor karting facility on the West Coast — K1 Speed Go Kart Track.
- Check out sharks, rays, seahorses, clownfish, octopi, and other marine life at SEA LIFE® Aquarium.
Where to Stay in Carlsbad
It’s only natural to think about where to go in Carlsbad and where to stay in Carlsbad at the same time. If you’ve decided to make this your home base because you plan to spend multiple days at LEGOLAND, early entry (30 minutes prior to the public opening) is a perk of staying at LEGOLAND Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel? However, most of our readers opt to stay at one of San Diego’s best luxury hotels right here in Carlsbad. My favorite Carlsbad hotels include four properties.
Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara is a favorite place to stay in Carlsbad because of the exquisite Four Seasons service and the home-away-from-home feeling. Usually-reasonably-priced one-bedroom and two-bedroom residences service long stays, families who would like separate bedrooms, and multigenerational getaways very well. It’s fantastic all the way around.
Park Hyatt Aviara is next door which also has excellent service, excellent golf, and an award-winning spa. We particularly like the reasonably-priced Park Suites.
Another popular choice is Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, which has two famous golf courses, an award-winning spa, gorgeous villas, and one of the only full-service kids’ clubs in San Diego.
For those who must be beachfront, Cape Rey Carlsbad is across the street from the beach. It’s a Hilton resort with ocean view rooms and a nice list of activities, including a shuttle to LEGOLAND, Carlsbad Village and Carlsbad Premium Outlets.
When it comes to my exclusive VIP amenities, use the links below to access them. These extras can include complimentary breakfasts, room upgrades, spa credits, and other perks you would otherwise not have access to on your own.