19 Fantastic Things to do in Carlsbad in 2023 (Besides Visit Legoland!)
Carlsbad, California 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 list of the best things to do in Carlsbad as well as a travel guide including our favorite hotels and restaurants in this seaside town.
Carlsbad Village sits along a 7-mile stretch of the Pacific Ocean coastline and is known for its gorgeous beaches. Carlsbad is located 30 miles north of downtown San Diego.
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If you are yet to arrive in Carlsbad CA, I thought I would share my top four places to stay in the village. 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.
Keep reading to find 19 great ways to explore Carlsbad (that don’t include a visit to Legoland).
19 Great Things to do in Carlsbad
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 Village just may surprise you.
Things to do in Carlsbad Village
Carlsbad Village, one of the country’s best main streets for food, shopping, arts, culture and entertainment in Carlsbad, CA.
Carlsbad Village is the downtown commercial area of Carlsbad located right along the coast. The majority of the hotels and vacation rentals are in, or very close to, the village, with some properties directly on the beach and others within walking distance to the ocean.
The downtown area is very accessible, and the best way to experience Carlsbad Village is to find a parking spot (it’s all free) for a few hours and set out. You can explore all the shopping that Carlsbad Village offers; toy stores, furniture and home furnishings, clothing stores and boutiques for men, women, and children, art galleries, wine-tasting rooms and so much more!
1. Visit Carlsbad Village (of course!)
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 one of the best places to visit to get a local vibe and especially nice in the early evening.
The heart of Carlsbad Village is located at 2740 State St, Carlsbad, CA
2. Wednesday State Street Farmers Market
The Carlsbad village 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.
State Street Farmers Market is located at 2907 State St, Carlsbad, CA; Phone: 760-453-7076
3. Explore Outdoor Art in Carlsbad
If you take a stroll in the heart of Carlsbad Village, 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.
4. Carlsbad Village Local Food Tour
The Food Tour sets off from the heart of downtown Carlsbad Village, where your 3-hour culinary adventure begins. Navigate the picturesque streets of the village with your local guide and discover its diverse history, architecture and culture.
Along the way, stop at 8 different eateries, popular with the locals, and taste the flavors of Carlsbad. Each tasting is served from a locally-owned specialty food store, and ethnic or locavore-style eateries.
Some of the stops on the tour include one of Carlsbad’s most romantic restaurants and a dessert haven with recipes passed down through generations. And yes, there will be samplings of California’s award-winning wines at one of the village’s urban wineries.
5. Carlsbad Village Scavenger Hunt & Trivia Walking Tour
Explore the Carlsbad Village on a digital scavenger hunt full of riddles and trivia. Play from your phone and follow the trail around the Historical Society museum at Magee House, the old train station, Pine Ave scenic viewpoint, the Village Faire, and more. Get tips on the best things to see and do while you solve fun puzzles. Plus learn about the best places to relax with ocean views.
6. Alt Karlsbad Hanse House
Alt Karlsbad Hanse House is the site of the first mineral water spa in the town and dates back to the 1880s. Carlsbad was named after the famous Karlsbad spa resort in Bohemia (now Karlovy Vary in the present-day Czech Republic). Stop by to buy some water (bring your own jug) for just $.90/gallon at the self-serve vending kiosk, or to have a massage or other treatment.
Address: 2802 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, CA 92008
7. California Wine Tasting at Witch Creek Winery
Witch Creek Winery is San Diego’s oldest Urban Winery. They are known for easy-drinking, high-quality wines that range from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Teroldego and Barbera. Many of the wines at the shop are award-winning. You can visit and enjoy a glass, bottle, or wine tasting.
Address: 2906 Carlsbad Blvd. Carlsbad, CA 92008
8. Visit the Carlsbad Chocolate Bar
Fresh handmade chocolates are all perfectly lined up in the case just asking to be tasted! They also have the best hot chocolate and a good cup of coffee. The store also sells some old-timey candy favorites as well.
Address: 2998 State St, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Outdoor Adventures in Carlsbad
Carlsbad has the most outdoor trails in all of San Diego. There are great options for golf, fun lagoons, mountain biking, hiking trails, surfing, and plenty of beachy fun in the Carlsbad sun.
Related Article >> 52 Ideas for Family Adventure in San Diego
9. 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. This is one of the most beautiful sandy beaches in Carlsbad and a great beach for the whole family.
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.
Location: Ponto Beach is located on Carlsbad Blvd north of La Costa Blvd, Carlsbad, CA
10. 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. During warm water months (from early May through early fall), this is a super fun beach activity. Hours of beach fun!
Tamarack State Beach is located at Carlsbad Blvd & Tamarack Ave, Carlsbad, CA; Phone: 800-444-7275
11. 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. This is one of the favorite things for locals and visitors who want a water experience without having to worry about waves.
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 and there is free parking.
Carlsbad Lagoon address: 4215 Harrison Street, Carlsbad, CA; Phone: 760-434-3089
12. 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 mountain biking.
I especially enjoy heading out for a hike in the early morning, before the sun reaches its peak! It’s a great way to start the day with the entire family.
To best way to truly enjoy this Carlsbad treasure is to explore by bike. My favorite is to rent an electric bike!
The Calavera Nature Preserve is located at 4028 Peninsula Dr, Carlsbad, CA
13. 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 sandy 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.
South Carlsbad State Beach is located at 7201 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, CA; Phone: 760-438-3143
14. Play a Round a the Aviara Golf Club
Named the #1 golf resort in Southern California according to the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. Also, named one of the best resort golf courses in the country by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, Aviara Golf Club is San Diego’s only golf course designed by Arnold Palmer.
The par 72 course offers plenty of bunkers and water features over 7,007 yards.
Address: 7100 Aviara Resort Drive, Carlsbad, CA 92011
More Fun Things to do in Carlsbad
15. Ocean View Dining
Chandler’s is one of the best places in Carlsbad for brunch, dinner or happy hour. It operates as a farm-to-table restaurant that creates innovative dishes and an impressive wine list. Located at the Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach hotel, the ocean views are spectacular.
16. 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.
Carlsbad Premium Outlets location: 5620 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad, CA; Phone: 760-804-9000
17. Visit the Museum of Making Music
This small museum is devoted to the history of music from the 1800s to the current day. If you appreciate music, the history of music and musical instruments 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.
Ticket price: General Admission $15, Seniors (age 60 and up) $10, Students $10, Active Military $10, Children (age 3 and under) Free
The Museum of Making Music is closed on Monday, all other days it is open to the public between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Museum of Music address: 790 Armada Dr, Carlsbad, CA; Phone: 760-438-5996
18. The Green Dragon Tavern
The Green Dragon is a tavern, museum and coffee house. The space honors early American history, the founding fathers, and their many contributions to the past and modern-day society.
The Green Dragon Museum is free and showcases documents from the Colonial and Revolutionary War eras.
The restaurant reflects “old world” meets “new world” cuisine and features all locally farmed and sustainable ingredients.
Just as 18th-century taverns served as the epicenter of the communities they served, so too does the Green Dragon Tavern & Museum in Carlsbad.
The Green Dragon Tavern address: 6115 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad, CA 92011
19. Visit the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
If you visit Carlsbad in spring, the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch are a must! While you can see them from the freeway, nothing is better than walking through the 50 acres of extraordinary color at the Carlsbad Flower Fields.
In the early 1920’s, Mr. Gage brought Ranunculus seeds to the area and began growing them in his fields. They are in bloom for approximately six to eight weeks each year – from early March through early May.
Additional fun things to do include The Sea Life Aquarium (located next to Legoland), and visit Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park. If you are a golfer, the Aviara Golf Club is a must-visit and a beautiful golf course.
9 Carlsbad Fun Facts
- Carlsbad is home to the first skateboard park in the world.
- Carlsbad is home to professional skateboarder Tony Hawk.
- Carlsbad is also home to snowboarder, skateboarder, musician, and three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White.
- The Carlsbad Flower Fields feature over 50 acres of flowers.
- The Carlsbad Triathlon is one of the world’s 5 longest-running triathlons.
- LEGOLAND in Carlsbad is the first LEGOLAND Park Outside of Europe.
- “Mount” Calavera is actually an extinct volcano & you can hike around it.
- Carlsbad is referred to as the “Village by the Sea”.
- Carlsbad got its name because the freshwater here is chemically similar to that of a famous spa in the Bohemian town of Karlsbad.
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 California Resort. 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.
Carlsbad Full Hotel Reviews
When I visited Carlsbad I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn and Cape Rey Carlsbad. If you click on either of these links you can find my full hotels reviews.
Most Popular Tours in Carlsbad
Directions to Carlsbad
Carlsbad is located off the 5 Freeway in Southern California. It is located 30 miles north of downtown San Diego, California, and about 1.5 hours (86 miles) from Los Angeles.
From San Diego, it’s a short drive. Simply head north on Highway 5. Take exit 50 from I-5 onto Carlsbad Village Dr, and head west.
If you are heading south to Carlsbad, take exit 51A from I-5 onto Carlsbad Village Dr and head west.
- Carlsbad is 35 miles north of downtown San Diego.
- Carlsbad is 79 miles south of Long Beach.
- Carlsbad is 86 miles south of Los Angeles.
For more Southern California adventures check out A Perfect Day Exploring Oceanside and A Visit to the Legacy Brewing Co.
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If there’s a beach and a farmer’s market, I’m happy. Lol. I don’t need to surf or skim board, though. I’ll be happy to just sit under my umbrella and sip my drink.
I love the lagoon and it is totally overlooked by visitors. Great idea and callout. And OMG, how have I never been to the museum of music. That sounds wonderful… and I love to drag my kids to museums!
I live so close to Carlsbad that I could easily do an over-nighter. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never done that. It looks like there are so many great things to see, do and eat. Adding it to my SoCal list!
Carlsbad looks like a great place to get some beach activities going, would love to skim board and generally splash around in the water. Thanks for sharing.
I would definitely go there for the water activities and the outdoor art! I always love to see decorations like this!
This looks like the perfect town for a beach day. I love the instruments in the museum of music too!