We Found the Perfect Time to Visit Carlsbad
Too many Carlsbad visitors whisk the kids in and out of Legoland without taking proper notice of the charming surf town’s massive potential for escape. On this 7-mile stretch of North San Diego County coastline, the beaches and water sports, innumerable hiking trails, relaxing resorts and undeniably hip food and drink scene coalesce to create an ideal weekend getaway (or midweek if you’d like to save a few bucks for a craft beer—more on that later).
You’ll hardly find a better time than this fall to visit. There are renovated resorts to see; new Legoland attractions to explore; delicious restaurants to try; and wide-open beaches to wander.
With older kids now back in the swing of school, fall is an ideal time to take your younger master builders to Legoland where perennial favorite rides like Lego Ninjago the Ride, Coastersaurus and Safari Trek will have shorter lines this time of year (particularly if you can visit during the week when there are even fewer crowds). And if you and the littles haven't been to the park in a while—or at all, for that matter—there's the new immersive Lego Movie World to explore. It debuted this spring and brought with it three new rides, including the uber-popular Emmet's Flying Adventure Ride.
All the fun isn't reserved for the rides, though; bring along some old Minifigures (including all the parts and accessories) and your tyke can trade minis with a Legoland employee.
Carlsbad has been cultivating a very cool culinary scene over the past few years, but this fall it entered a new echelon (of the Michelin starred variety).
Jeune et Jolie earned a Michelin star this year for its French food and oh-so-stylish dining room ambiance. Snag a reservation here and your dinner will consist of four courses and an optional wine pairing. If you'd rather go the more casual a la carte route, grab a spot at the bar to peruse the seasonal menu and sample absinthe from the fountain.
Nearby, you'll find Jeune et Jolie's older sibling Campfire, a cozy spot that features a seasonally rotating menu that focuses on grilled, roasted and smoked meats and veg in a camp-themed setting. Start with homemade breads and oysters warmed over the coals. For your main order the charred chicken with a side of roasted broccoli. The Michelin Guide elevated Campfire to a Bib Gourmand restaurant (awarded for good value and good quality) this year too.
If you're in the market for a laid-back, quick meal, you only have to look across the street to find newly opened Pure Taco and its menu filled with inventive tacos (like green curry shrimp and pho beef) and classic offers (including pastor, chicken and veggie) all served on fresh-pressed corn or flour tortillas. Accompany your meal with homemade salsa and a hand-mixed marg.
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Another spot new on the scene is Le Papagayo, a second location of the decades-old favorite in neighboring Encinitas loved for its great lineup of global-inspired foods and live music. The new Carlsbad location features nightly live music from artists performing a wide variety of genres from singer-songwriter to flamenco. As for what to order for dinner, you'll have a wide variety here too—the menu runs the gamut from Oaxaca steak tacos to Bangkok noodles to traditional Spanish paella.
Any food scene worth its salt will have a classic steak and seafood dining experience. For this, head to Ember & Rye at Park Hyatt Aviara where the kitchen is led by celebrity chef (and winner of Top Chef All-Stars) Richard Blais. The menu features fine cuts of meat like Chilean Seabass and Japanese Wagyu Ribeye.
If you love craft beer, Carlsbad has you covered. Hit up the Carlsbad Village location of Pure Project (a name undoubtedly familiar to San Diegans in the audience) for small-batch, ingredient-centric beers. Sip hoppy brews on the plant-loaded open-air patio and feel good knowing that the purchase of your bev of choice (for us, it's the Widened Horizons Double IPA) is contributing to environmental non-profits. Bring the whole family; kids and pups are welcome here.
For an only-in-Carlsbad experience, head to microbrewery Culver Beer, located inland from Legoland. Have a pint of the Strange Rover hazy and Pastrami in the USA from the deli inside the tasting room.
Let's start with the obvious—this seven-mile stretch of coastline is stunning, and during the fall, you're more likely to have a swath of beautiful beach to yourself (especially if you're here on a weekday). Unlike many towns in Southern California, in Carlsbad the entire coast is publicly accessible. Head down to the ocean for a stroll on the sand or along the seawall. If you love to surf, you'll be pleased to learn that Carlsbad gets more consistent swell throughout the year than you'll find in San Diego. Ponto Jetties is the place to go to catch rights in the fall and winter.
Launch into calmer water at Agua Hedionda Lagoon (sometimes referred to as Carlsbad Lagoon) where California Watersports supplies rental kayaks, standup paddleboards and swan pedal boats. Motorized boats are available whether you want to zip around in a miniboat or take the whole family out on a pontoon.
Getting on the water isn't your only option to experience the outdoors in Carlsbad. You'll also find miles and miles of hiking and biking trails. One of our favorites is found at Calavera Lake. Traverse the 4.8-mile loop trail to see diverse plants and wildlife, the lake and the remains of an extinct volcano that erupted between 15-20 million years ago. What you can see of Mt. Calavera today is a volcanic plug (created when magma hardened in the formerly active volcano's vent). Keep an eye out for the labyrinth and stacked rock garden at the volcano's base.
To get a different perspective on Carlsbad sights, take the Veteran's Park Trail where you'll catch views of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, the Flower Fields (peak bloom is in spring, so you'll have to revisit in a few months) and the popular Crossings golf course.
If seeing the greens tempts you to play a round, book a tee time to play the public 18-hole championship course at The Crossings. Nearby award-winning courses at Park Hyatt Aviara (designed by Arnold Palmer) and Omni La Costa are available to the public too.
Though the town is small, you won't find a shortage of truly great hotel and resort options.
For a luxury experience, book a stay at Park Hyatt Aviara set in a quiet neighborhood on a 200-acre bluff overlooking Batiquitos Lagoon and the Pacific in the distance. The resort is fresh off of a $50 million renovation that wrapped in late 2020 and brought, among other things, two new restaurants and redesigned guest rooms.
Families will feel at home at Omni La Costa where there are countless on-site activities including 17 tennis courts, two championship golf courses and eight pools (with waterslides). But if you need to be as close as possible to Legoland's gates, check into Sheraton Carlsbad.
Cape Rey (a Hilton resort) is one of the closest resorts to Carlsbad's coast (they claim it's 150 steps to the sand, but who can focus on counting with that view). The resort does have verifiably gorgeous ocean vistas from their outdoor pool and many guest rooms.