Carlsbad, California

Fall in love with this sunny, surfside village just north of San Diego.

Since its early days as a spa town, Carlsbad, California has enjoyed a healthy reputation for peace and quiet. In fact, some may overlook this tranquil village in favor of more bustling cities to its north and south. But those who know better visit Carlsbad for its world-class attractions, gorgeous beaches, and thriving fine dining scene.

To give you a head start on embracing the village’s laidback lifestyle, we’ve put together a guide on the best things to do, eat, and see in Carlsbad, plus a detailed trip itinerary to help you make the most of your time in this seaside paradise.

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  • If you’re traveling with kids (or kids at heart), LEGOland’s multiple theme parks are a must-see, featuring an aquarium, water park, and dozens of heart-pounding rides that the whole family can tackle.
  • From March through May every year, the giant ranunculus flowers at the famed Carlsbad Flower Fields carpet 55 acres of gently rolling hills in brightly colored blossoms.=
  • Open to the public for tours and tastings, sustainability-focused Carlsbad Aquafarm holds the title of Southern California’s only oyster farm. You’ll also find mussels and culinary seaweed growing here.
  • While many beaches surround Carlsbad, Carlsbad State Beach should be your number-one destination for picnicking, sunbathing, and swimming.
  • Lined with boutique stores and cafes, Carlsbad Village’s walkable downtown provides a perfect place to grab a bite to eat or simply sit back and people-watch. 
  • Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park consists of a collection of historic structures — and a lovely, lush park — established by actor and conservationist Leo Carrillo.
  • The village of Carlsbad owes its very existence to a series of mineral springs, discovered by merchant and farmer John Frazier in the 1880s and quickly marketed as a tourist destination. Visitors today can still benefit from the springs’ salubrious effects by booking a treatment or bath at Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa.
  • Michelin-starred Jeune et Jolie invites guests to take a seat on one of their plush, pink benches for multi-course, French-inspired meals and a-la-carte eats.
  • The sister restaurant of Jeune et Jolie (and recipient of a well-deserved Bib Gourmand Michelin distinction), Campfire encourages gatherings over a diverse menu of California-inspired fare that includes coal-fired oysters, Oaxacan-spiced chicken, and, yes, s’mores for dessert.
  • Southern California has no shortage of sushi restaurants, but Blue Ocean Robata & Sushi Bar stands out from the pack thanks to a sophisticated menu that spans both land and sea.
  • Tucked inside the Four Seasons of North San Diego, Seasons Restaurant dishes up three meals a day (plus happy hours and weekend brunch) of modern American cuisine, using locally sourced and sustainable ingredients.
  • San Diego’s only three-starred Michelin restaurant, Addison pairs New French cuisine with an extensive variety of wines — be sure to book your 10-course tasting well in advance.
  • The elegant, art-deco-style dining room at Paon Restaurant & Bar will impress from the moment you step inside, but just wait until you taste the seared yellowfin tuna or the decadent duck confit.
  • Also recently decorated with a Michelin star, Valle in Oceanside boasts a seasonal, eight-course menu rooted in the traditional foods of Baja California.
  • Carlsbad French Pastry Cafè has served crêpes, coffee, and indulgent, melt-in-your-mouth confections for more than 20 years.
  • Between creamy strawberry tiramisu and sweet, yet tart strawberry lemonade, Carlsbad’s Strawberry Shack puts California fruit to good use in just about any form you can imagine.
  • Nestled in an estuary behind Carlsbad’s beaches, Batiquitos Lagoon is a peaceful area to spot wildlife and hike some short, but scenic trails.
  • Golfers can set a tee time at one of several greens within Carlsbad, including Aviara Golf Course, Rancho Carlsbad Golf Course, and the Crossings at Carlsbad.
  • Carlsbad Food Tours showcases the best of the region’s foods, wines, and beers over the course of three hours in the village’s walkable downtown.
  • The Museum of Making Music hosts occasional live music performances and shares how dozens of different instruments have been created, used, and passed along over the centuries.
  • Located on the shores of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, California Watersports rents out all the essentials for a day on the water.
  • In nearby Solana Beach, the short trail to Annie’s Slot Canyon draws hikers and bird watchers.
  • All that glitters is gold at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) Museum, which puts on rotating exhibitions of gemwork and fine jewelry.
  • Run by a mother-daughter duo, Carlsbad’s Candle Bar offers candle-making classes that allow visitors to dream up their very own custom creations.
  • Open for different U-pick activities year-round, Carlsbad Strawberry Company has been owned and operated by the same local family since the 1950s.
  • SoCal Surf Lessons teaches visitors how to hang ten with group, private, and kids’ classes. But if you want to tackle the waves on your own, don your wetsuit and dive in at Tamarack Beach, the area’s premier surfing destination.
  • Visitors to Barrio Glassworks can watch mesmerizing glass-blowing demonstrations, purchase the stunning final products, and even take a hot glass class at this public studio.
  • One of San Diego county’s oldest and best loved musical traditions, the annual concert series TGIF Concerts in the Parks takes place in four of the village’s municipal parks every summer. But that’s not the only live entertainment in town — both Carlsbad Community Theater and New Village Arts stage theatrical performances throughout the year.
  • For a taste of Southern California’s colorful skate culture, browse Status Skateshop’s selection of everything wheeled, including longboards, surfskates, and one-wheels.
  • At independent Spin Records, you can find new additions to your vinyl collection or score band pins and posters.
  • If you happen to forget something at home, swing by the outdoor mall Carlsbad Premium Outlets to shop from the likes of Coach, Tory Burch, and Ferragamo.
  • Sun Diego Boardshop celebrates the area’s rich surfing history, selling surf clothing, gear, and, of course, plenty of different boards for all types of waves.
  • Earth’s Elements aims to help visitors seeking inner healing — or anyone hunting for some statement jewelry — by supplying everything from crystals and candles to aromatherapy necklaces and guided meditation books.
  • Besides bottles of boutique wines, Witch Creek Winery sells one-of-a-kind antiques and drinks from Sleeping Tiger Coffees.
  • Multimedia gallery North Coastal Art Gallery displays original works from various community artists. If you see a piece you like, don’t hesitate to snap it up — the exhibits rotate every month.
  • Purchase farm-fresh produce and sip kombucha on tap at Carlsbad’s Farmers Market, which takes place Wednesday afternoons on State Street.
  • In nearby south Oceanside, the Green Room Hotel pays homage to the best of Southern California culture with chic, Boho room designs and eco-friendly personal care items. Doubles start from around $152.
  • Family-owned boutique hotel Beach Terrace Inn puts guests up close and personal with the Pacific via an oceanfront pool and sea-facing rooms. Doubles from around $243.
  • Just a few blocks from the center of Carlsbad Village, Seashore on the Sand provides another relaxed beachside retreat, offering a variety of multi-bedroom suites ideal for large groups or families. Rooms from around $400.
  • 4-star Omni La Costa Resort & Spa operates spacious suites, villas, and guest rooms out of a Spanish mission-style property within Carlsbad city limits. Rooms start at around $365.
  • There’s plenty to talk about at Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach, including the award-winning Ocean Crest Spa and a fitness center with Pacific views, but this Hilton resort also helps guests explore the area with complimentary beach pack rentals, borrowable bicycles, and free rides to village hotspots. Doubles from around $234.
  • Hyatt locations in the area include breezy Mission Pacific Hotel, clifftop Alila Marea Beach Resort, and the 5-star Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, giving World of Hyatt members the pick of the litter. Prices vary by hotel.
  • For family-friendly stays, book a room at The Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort or the cushy Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa. Both offer special amenities (and excellent, central locations) for anyone traveling with kids.
  • Short-term vacation rentals abound on Carlsbad Boulevard, which runs parallel to the village’s many sandy beaches.

You can ride Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner to Carlsbad, which will put you right in the middle of the walkable downtown. But your best bet for transportation — as in pretty much all of Southern California — will be a car. You’ll find free or low-cost public parking near most attractions, but factor in some extra travel time to account for California’s famous traffic.

Flowers in bloom at the tourist attractions The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA
Jeffrey Eisen
Lego sculpture buildings line a fake river and bridge in legoland, carlsbad CA
petuniad
Carlsbad state beach
Marcel Fuentes | iStock

Itinerary

Day 1

Morning: Wake up on the wild side

Kick off your trip with a visit to LEGOland, where the whole family can ride roller coasters, play with interactive exhibits, and watch live entertainment. You could easily spend all day here, but at minimum, you’ll need a few hours to experience the essentials. That includes a stop by the SEA LIFE aquarium and a live performance or two.

Afternoon: Treat yourself to Carlsbad’s finest

Take a one-hour tour of the Carlsbad Aquafarm to learn more about the relationship between live shellfish and sustainability on the Southern California coast. Visitors can discover how the aquafarm is preserving the region’s stunning natural resources — and taste the delicious results. From there, head over to the downtown area and go for a walk along Carlsbad Village Drive. If you need a little pick-me-up, grab an eclair at Carlsbad French Pastry Cafe and a world-famous strawberry milkshake from the Strawberry Shack. Right down the road at Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa, indulge in a luxurious massage and, if time allows, an alkaline mineral bath.

Evening: Enjoy sights and sushi at sunset

Crank up the heat at Barrio Glassworks, where you can watch live glass-blowing demonstrations and shop for pieces made on site. Then, celebrate your first day in town by raising a glass of sake over fresh albacore nigiri or omakase-style sashimi at Blue Ocean Robata & Sushi Bar.

Day 2

Morning: Take in the Southern California sunshine

Swim, play sand volleyball, and admire views of the Pacific Ocean at South Carlsbad State Beach. Next, drive inland to the Carlsbad Strawberry Company, where you can pick your own breakfast in the form of sweet, juicy strawberries between January and July. If you’re looking for something with a little more substance, drive across the street to peruse the dining (and shopping) options at the Carlsbad Premium Outlets.

Afternoon: Have a field day

Let your creative juices flow at the Museum of Making Music, where you can try your hand at various musical instruments while learning all about them. This will also put you a short walk away from the GIA Museum’s eye-catching exhibitions of treasures and rare elements from all over the world. Hop back in the car and drive a little further north to reach the famous Carlsbad Flower Fields, where you can experience the annual spring ranunculus bloom in all its glory. Make sure to set aside an extra hour or two for exploring the orchid greenhouse, mining for gemstones, and meandering through a floral maze.

Evening: Wine, dine, and unwind

Sit down to four courses of innovative French cuisine at Michelin-starred Jeune et Jolie, topped off with a blueberry canelé for dessert ($115 per person). You’ll still have a bit more time before the sun sets, so pick up a stand-up paddleboard, tandem kayak, or pontoon boat rental at California Watersports. From there, you can cruise the calm waters of Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

Day 3

Morning: Birds and breakfast

Start your day with a sunrise stroll at Batiquitos Lagoon, a serene, tidal wetland teeming with native wildlife. The lagoon is a haven for birdwatchers, so bring your binoculars and try to spot herons, grebes, or sandpipers. Feeling peckish? Visit Seasons Restaurant to fuel up with avocado eggs benedict and a fresh-pressed juice blend.

Afternoon: Get out on the greens

A visit to one of Carlsbad’s many fairways is in order, so squeeze in a tee time at Aviara Golf Club’s championship course, designed by Arnold Palmer himself. Then, make your way across town to see a different kind of green at Leo Carrillo Historic Ranch Park. You can soak up the sunshine and some fascinating Carlsbad history while keeping an eye out for the wild peacocks that roam the 27-acre grounds.

Evening: Day hikes to date night

Drive south to reach 2-mile-long Annie’s Canyon Trail, which culminates in a narrow, sandstone slot canyon. This popular hike can get crowded on weekends, but the views and unusual geology make it well worth a visit. With your appetite piqued, continue down the freeway to get to your dinner reservations at tony, fine-dining spot Addison, located in San Diego (10 courses for $365 per person). After finishing off your meal, you’ll want to take some time to check out the city’s happening Gaslamp Quarter.

Day 4

Morning: Surf and turf

Hit the beach early for a beginner-friendly surfing class from SoCal Surf Lessons, and after you’ve learned how to catch a wave, stick around to snorkel. SCUBA divers can even hunt for lobsters right off the shore. You’ll be pretty hungry after a few hours on the water, so you’ll want to embark on a walking Carlsbad Food Tour starting at 11:30 a.m. For three hours, you’ll sample tasty village fare, sip award-winning wines, and get to know more about the area.

Afternoon: Explore the village’s nooks and crannies

Attend a candle-making class hosted by the Candle Bar, where you can personalize every aspect of your candle and come away with a unique souvenir. A few blocks away, order up a flight of wines at Witch Creek Winery. Those who don’t imbibe can instead enjoy a macchiato from Sleeping Tiger Coffee, a nice wake-up call on a sleepy, sunny afternoon. On Wednesdays, shop for local fruits and veggies and nosh on seasonal eats at the Carlsbad Village Farmers Market.

Evening: Expand your horizons

Shake off the chill at North Coastal Art Gallery, open until 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Take your time browsing the exhibits; you might just find a sculpture or painting to take home. As dusk begins to fall, get back to Carlsbad State Beach to cozy up in a beach chair and admire the sun setting over the waves — it’ll be easy to see why this area inspires so much creativity.

Destination Map

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