Carlsbad Travel Guide

Quieter beaches, LEGOLAND California, and golf

The Village by the Sea,” as Carlsbad is sometimes called, is known for being the home of LEGOLAND® California, but the tranquil city in San Diego County is also home to beautiful beaches, beaches, manicured golf courses, watersports, and five-star resorts.

Below, you’ll find my best Carlsbad travel tips and guides to Carlsbad attractions so that you’ll know where to stay and what to do whether you’re traveling alone, on business, or in San Diego with kids.

Carlsbad Hotels

Some of San Diego’s best resorts hug prestigious golf courses in inland Carlsbad, California. You can also choose from a couple of beachfront and pet-friendly options too. Of course, there are the two LEGOLAND hotels for diehard LEGO® fans who want to be immersed in all things brick and get exclusive early entry into the park.

You can read more about my top picks for best hotels near LEGOLAND California and overall best hotels in Carlsbad lists, but I’ve reviewed my favorites below. When it comes to booking with extra amenities that add value to your stay (like free daily breakfast for two, resort credits, and upgrades) score these through me at Park Hyatt Aviara, Four Seasons Aviara, and Omni La Costa Resort.

If you need a beachfront hotel, take a look at friendly and upbeat Cape Rey Carlsbad, which is an official LEGOLAND California partner hotel with a concierge on-site to help you make the most of your theme park vacation and time on the beach.

Things to Do in Carlsbad, California

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.

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.

Where to Eat

While Carlsbad is a beach town and relatively laid back, this is definitely a city that takes food seriously. You find a vibrant food and drink scene here ranging from upscale fast-casual to high-end resort dining. Carlsbad restaurants offer everything from the freshest seafood to farm-to-table veggies to steaks that will satisfy even the most critical carnivores.

One of my personal favorites for barbecue (not to mention bottomless mimosas) is Carlsbad’s Park 101. It’s a restaurant — multiple eateries, actually — but it’s also a multi-concept community hangout with a garden pub, a rooftop lounge, special events, and outdoor games. Campfire is equally popular (if not more popular) with its outdoor teepee and indoor/outdoor gathering spots.

Why Stay In Carlsbad, California?

Many readers worry that staying in Carlsbad means that they’re too far from San Diego’s best attractions outside of LEGOLAND California. This isn’t necessarily the case, and there are a few things to consider.

Sometimes the resort drives the decision, which is completely fine. Some families need a kids’ club that takes babies (Omni La Costa). Other travelers prefer Four Seasons properties and this happens to be where the only one in San Diego is located. Carlsbad hotels can also price a little lower than others on the beach or in downtown.

You’ll probably need a rental car if you stay in Carlsbad and plan to sightsee. If some of your sightseeing includes Carlsbad, by all means, stay there. If you will primarily be driving to Balboa Park, La Jolla, or Coronado attractions, another neighborhood might be best to cut down on freeway time. But rest assured there are plenty of places to eat and things to do in Carlsbad to keep you busy.

Tip: During normal times, it’s doable to plan around rush hour traffic. It gets trafficky in the corridor where the I-5 and I-805 freeways meet near Del Mar. Don’t drive through it between 4-6:30 p.m. Instead, plan to eat dinner in La Jolla, Little Italy, or Downtown.

What to Do in Carlsbad with Kids

There are plenty of things to do in Carlsbad with kids besides LEGOLAND California. You can rent a paddle board or kayak around the calm waters of Carlsbad Lagoon — also known as Agua Hedionda Lagoon — or walk the quiz trail at LEGOLAND’s SEA LIFE Aquarium.

Kids who love a good tune will love touring the Museum of Making Music, a hands-on gallery space that explores musical instruments’ evolution. And of course, no visit to Carlsbad would be complete without a stop at its beaches (all of which are easily accessible from the area’s hotels).

Visiting LEGOLAND in Carlsbad

This is definitely one of San Diego’s best attractions for families with kids under 12. Grownup LEGO enthusiasts will find a lot to love here, too, and the park itself (which now has more than 60 rides and shows) can be done in just a half-day, though keep in mind there’s also the SEA LIFE Aquarium and the LEGOLAND Water Park to explore. You might want to buy multi-day passes if you’re staying at one of the resort hotels.

Want a deluxe experience? VIP packages are available that include a personal host, priority ride access, and exclusive experiences, and you can rent cabanas in the water parks that include drinks in your own mini-fridge. However you plan to explore LEGOLAND, there are a lot of ways to get discounted tickets to LEGOLAND California.

Need to Know


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Most people who stay in Carlsbad have rental cars. Drive time to San Diego Airport is about 35 minutes without traffic.

There can be pockets of traffic during rush hour on the I-5 freeway, our main artery. Sightseers can avoid it by leaving after or before the commuters.

For weather, come between July–October. For price, come in shoulder seasons of September (after Labor Day)–beginning of November or January–mid-March. Avoid major golf tournament dates.

Understand that the big, popular resorts are inland, which means you need to drive to the beach.

Carlsbad Neighborhood Guide