Carlsbad sits along a 7-mile stretch of Pacific coastline and is most notably known as the home of Legoland. While the theme park is the most famous Carlsbad tourist attraction, this quaint seaside town — The Village by the Sea — as it’s called by residents — also offers a wide array of fun activities and places to explore. Below you’ll find our Carlsbad travel guide for best things to do in this seaside town, just 30 miles north of downtown San Diego, California.
Next time you head to Legoland with the family, make sure to set aside a bit of time to see more of this beachside town. From picking strawberries to paddle-boarding at the Carlsbad Lagoon or visiting a local farmers market, Carlsbad just may surprise you.
If you are yet to arrive in Carlsbad, I thought I would share my top four places to stay in the city. One hotel is my overall favorite, one is a value pick, another is a family choice and there is also a budget pick in there too.
Where to stay in Carlsbad
- Luxury: Cape Rey Carlsbad – A luxury resort and spa by Hilton. This beachfront resort is perfect for families who want upscale lodging during a Legoland or beach vacation as well as couples looking for a weekend to relax. The resort is across the street from the beach, has a great pool, restaurant and a wonderful spa.
- Value Pick: – Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach – This is the perfect hotel if you want a hotel with a great ocean view but are willing to sacrifice easy access to the beach. The hotel offers a shuttle to the beach trail and also offers spacious rooms.
- Family Choice: Legoland California Hotel – This is a resort your kids will never forget. It is just steps to the entrance to Legoland. Rooms include two separate sleeping areas, with a king-size bed for the adults, and a separate area for up to three kids. The kids space includes a bunk bed, pull-out trundle bed and their very own TV. As a bonus, LEGOLAND Hotel guests receive entry to select LEGOLAND rides and attractions before the Park officially opens.
- Budget Choice: Scandia Hotel – A budget alternative, which is still in an amazing location. Walking distance to the beach and a central location to base yourself for a Carlsbad adventure.
Keep reading to find 10 great ways to explore Carlsbad (that don’t include a visit to Legoland).
Top 10 Things to do in Carlsbad
1. Learn to Surf at Ponto Beach
Ponto Beach is located in South Carlsbad State Beach. The surf here is usually small to medium (2-5 feet) making this a great spot for a first-time surfer. Rent a board or sign up for a lesson with a local surf shop and head to Ponto Beach for some fun in the sun and learn to catch a wave. South Ponto Beach is open to the public from 6 am to 10 pm and North Ponto Beach is open to the public from 6 am to 11 pm.
2. Skimboard at Tamarack Beach
Carlsbad State Beach, known as Tamarack Beach to the locals, stretches from the jetty, just south of Tamarack Avenue, to Frazee Beach, near Carlsbad Village Drive. This is a great beach to try skimboarding. Get a running start, toss the skimboard on the wet sand and slide into the waves. Hours of beach fun!
3. Paddleboard or Kayak at the Carlsbad Lagoon
This ocean-fed lagoon just east of the I-5 is open for public use. There is a water sports office located right on the edge of the bay where you can rent lots of equipment for both paddle & motorized watersports plus wakeboarding & waterskiing. There is a small beach with picnic tables and umbrellas as well as lifeguards on duty. Bring a picnic lunch and stay for the day. The Carlsbad Lagoon is open to the public between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily.
4. Wednesday State Street Farmers Market
The Carlsbad farmers market is ranked 4th of all the markets within San Diego County and is a great place to meet locals, shop for fresh produce, olive oils, balsamic vinegar, hot sauces, and sample delicious food from local Carlsbad and San Diego chefs. Located on State Street Between Carlsbad Village Drive and Grand Avenue; make sure to visit the tamale stand and follow it up with an individual cup-sized cheesecake from California Cheesecakes. The Carlsbad Farmers Market is open to the public year-round. Spring/Summer Hours are 3 p.m to 7 p.m. and Fall/Winter Hours are 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
5. Visit Carlsbad Village
There are over 100 shops, restaurants, galleries and antique shops located in the heart of Carlsbad Village. Head to State Street to start your exploration of the village. Visit the shops, stop for a treat at the Chocolate Bar or just meander the quaint streets. This is especially nice in the early evening.
6. Explore Outdoor Art in Carlsbad
If you take a stroll in the heart of Carlsbad, you will quickly find murals, statues, and sculptures. The City of Carlsbad’s Art in Public Places program began in 1985 and was the first public art program established in San Diego County. The outdoor art ranges from displays with herbs and flowers to quirky beach-themed murals. It makes for a fun afternoon, as you’ll find many different pieces of street art as you explore downtown.
7. Shop at the Carlsbad Premium Outlets
90 Outlets including Banana Republic, Barneys New York, Calvin Klein, Cole Haan, Crate and Barrel, DKNY, Lacoste, Michael Kors, Polo Ralph Lauren, Theory, Tommy Hilfiger offering 25% to 65% off regular prices. Need I say more? If you are in the mood to shop until you drop, the Carlsbad Premium Outlets offer a high-end shopping experience at discount prices. The Carlsbad Premium Outlets are open to the public between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily.
8. Visit the Museum of Music
This small museum is devoted to the history of music from the 1800s to the current day. If you appreciate music and the history of music, this is a great way to spend a few hours. Make sure to talk to the docents, they are a treasure trove of information and can turn your visit from fun to fantastic. The Museum of Music is closed on Monday, all other days it is open to the public between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
9. Hike or Mountain Bike at Calavera Nature Preserve
Calavera Preserve trail is a 2.4-mile loop trail located east of Carlsbad village. The trail is considered moderate and is a perfect place for a hike, run or even for mountain biking. I especially enjoy heading out for a hike in the early morning, before the sun reaches its peak!
10. Camp at South Carlsbad State Beach
There are only a handful of San Diego beaches that offer overnight camping and Carlsbad State Beach is one of the most beautiful. The campground is located on a large bluff, overlooking South Carlsbad State Beach. The beach features beachcombing, swimming, boogie boarding, surfing, picnicking, sunbathing, fishing, skin diving and endless views of the Pacific Ocean. For reservations and to find current campsite costs you can visit parks.ca.gov.
Most Popular Tours in Carlsbad
Carlsbad Hotel Reviews
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.