Stay in this low-key beach town that neighbors plenty of high-energy attractions.
The San Diego area boasts several beach towns. While most visiting families flock to Mission Beach, Pacific Beach or Coronado Island, those seeking a more laid-back vibe head to North County. Here you’ll find quieter beach communities. Carlsbad is a charming beach village that’s close to LEGOLAND California and other family attractions.
What to do?
The biggest draw in Carlsbad is, of course, the LEGOLAND California theme park, water park, and SEA LIFE Aquarium. I’ve been here with my sons several times, and I find that it’s best suited to the 10 and under set. Plan to spend one day at the theme park or two days if you go to the water park and aquarium, as well. For a full review of LEGOLAND and the LEGOLAND Hotel, click here.
After a day or two of theme parking, you’ll likely need some downtime. Head to Carlsbad’s seven miles of beaches. However, pay attention to the tide. At high tide, the sand disappears! But at low tide, you’ll have plenty of room for building sandcastles.
For families looking for more action, check out Aqua Hedionda Lagoon. Carlsbad Lagoon offers water sport rentals, including kayaks ($15/hour), stand-up paddleboards ($30/hour), canoes/peddle boats ($20/hour), aqua cycles ($30/hour), WaveRunners ($95/hour), and run-about boats ($125/hour). You also can learn to wake board and waterski; the lessons include a boat with a driver, instructor, and equipment ($155/hour).
Rancho Carlsbad Golf Course is a good par-3 course for experienced golfers to work on their short game, while junior golfers can improve their skills. Not into golf? Try FootGolf (soccer + golf) as a family instead. My sons beat me at both games!
If you happen to visit Carlsbad in the spring (March to May), make a point to visit The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. Here you can tiptoe through 50 acres of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers. The extraordinary color is absolutely stunning! Can you say photo op?
KidTripster Tip: Some hotels offer free or discounted tickets to area attractions. Inquire when you make reservations.
Where to stay?
West Inn and Suites is a 86-room boutique hotel that’s a mere two miles from LEGOLAND and four blocks from the beach. The family suites here are spacious with two king beds, living room, and small kitchenette. The hotel caters to families with a large, saltwater pool, complimentary breakfast buffet, nightly milk and cookies hour, and free use of board games and movies. And even though the property is not right on the beach, you can request a free, pop-up beach party! Take the hotel shuttle to the beach, and the staff will provide everything that you’ll need, including beach toys, boogie boards, umbrellas, chairs, and towels. You also can use the free shuttle to go anywhere else within 5 miles of the property, including LEGOLAND. Rates start at $159/night; no parking or resort fee. For a full review of West Inn and Suites, click here.
More secluded, Cape Rey Carlsbad, a Hilton resort, sits on eight prime ocean view acres. You’ll need to cross the street to access South Carlsbad State Beach, but it’s still pretty convenient. You’re also near the legendary Ponto surf break for visual enjoyment. The modern, California craftsman-style design is clean, contemporary, and family-friendly. We experienced an amazing suite consisting of a grand entrance, half bathroom, kitchenette, large living room, hefty master, and enormous bathroom. The main and baby pools, stocked with toys, also rated well with the kids! The hotel provides shuttle service anywhere within ten miles of the property. Rates start at $150/night during the off-season for a standard room, but that won’t buy you a suite. Parking starts at $19/day and the resort fee is $20/day; no complimentary breakfast.
KidTripster Tip: Go to the grocery prior to your arrival at Cape Rey Carlsbad. Stock your suite with snacks as you’re not surrounded by any off-property restaurants.
Photo courtesy: West Inn & Suites
Where to eat?
If you’re at the beach or in downtown Carlsbad, walk over to Pizza Port Brewing Company (571 Carlsbad Village Dr.). The smell will tempt you the moment that you walk through the doors, but it’s the perfect crust that will earn a return visit. Parents can select from a wide selection of brews on tap. It’s a high-energy place that can get really noisy, which is great for covering up fussy kids but not so great for conversation. Personally, I prefer the quieter, outdoor patio.
KidTripster Tip: Wait times can be very long, and Pizza Port doesn’t take reservations. Try to go during off-hours or order your pizza to go by phone.
For dessert, walk over to Gaia Gelato (300 Carlsbad Village Dr.). Choose from inventive combinations like mediterraneo (honey, figs, tangerine), zen (green tea, lemongrass, spearmint), and chocolate-cherry-cayenne pepper (more heat than I had bargained for!). The gelato here is made daily from scratch and guaranteed to be fresh, because it’s never stored for more than three days. And get this, with half the fat and 35% less sugar than traditional ice cream, you don’t have to feel as guilty!
For dinner, both hotel restaurants offer decent choices. Technically, Bistro West is a stand-alone restaurant, but it does sit right next to West Inn and Suites. The upscale spot offers a traditional kids’ menu plus fancier additions like spaghetti and meatballs, filet mignon, and grilled salmon. Chandler’s at Cape Rey Carlsbad has the usual kids’ offerings, plus a diverse menu for grown-ups. I’d recommend the delicious spicy mussels. And your kids are sure to love sitting outside near the fire pits.
Carlsbad is located about 30 miles north of the San Diego International Airport, so if you’re flying, you’ll need to rent a car.
Nadine Bubeck is a Scottsdale, Arizona-based mom of two young boys, who spends a lot of time in southern California. She’s a former television anchor turned all-things-mama. Read her blog, buy her book or shop her apparel line, Mama B. Designs. Use coupon code KIDTRIPSTER for discount.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah looks for any excuse to visit sunny southern California in the winter.