Located just a brief hop from San Diego and no more than a short train ride or road trip from Los Angeles, sunny Carlsbad, California is extremely accessible. This lovely coastal town of 120,000 residents also has so many adventures and attractions to offer that it’s hard to pick the best ones among them.
Carlsbad’s seaside urban landscape draws visitors with its almost ideally summer-saturated atmosphere. The city is known for the charmingly small-town feel of its downtown area coupled with vibrant attractions amidst numerous dining, night life, shopping and beachgoing opportunities.
Whether you want to enjoy an adventure-filled surf and night life experience or casually explore the quieter corners of this seaside community, Carlsbad has many places for both. Here’s our guide to 15 of the best among them in the town that’s also called the “Village by the Sea”.
1. Carlsbad Village
Carlsbad’s Downtown commercial district is also called Carlsbad Village. This completely walkable urban area features the heart of the city’s commercial, nightlife and urban recreational opportunities. Basically, Carlsbad Village has it all for any kind of visit. Whether you’re looking around for a perfect patio dining opportunity for taking in the sunset or feel a need for some seriously diverse shopping.
From elegant French bistros to deliciously filling street food, both can be found along with so many others right along the Village. Hundreds of boutiques, crafts stores, galleries and curiosity shops also line this lovely stretch in the heart of Carlsbad. Gourmet coffee shops and patio bars of all kinds are easily available for a bit of relaxation every day from morning to night.
Carlsbad Village becomes particularly lively from the afternoon onwards and on the weekends, so be prepared for a bit of crowding at least during parts of the week.
2. State Street Farmers Market
The State Street Farmers Market takes place every Wednesday from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and happens all year long. A pedestrian-oriented strip of Carlsbad Village is set aside as a gourmet and healthy food shopping opportunity that can’t be missed. Over 20 different produce vendors and 25 sellers of packaged delicacies mix with numerous artisans and cooked food creators to offer you nearly anything you could want in an incredible range of dining options and crafts.
Vendors are usually happy to offer free samples of their best creations, so feel free to hunt for a bite.
3. The Museum of Making Music
If you’re a musician or a lover of music and cultural history, the Museum of Making Music is a must-see destination. This Carlsbad icon is firmly dedicated to the business of preserving and promoting a history of the music industry in all its practical forms. Since its founding over 20 years ago, the museum has amassed a massive collection of music memorabilia, instruments, photos and historical archives related to this part of the creative world.
A constant stream of concerts, activity circles and workshops are also hosted all year long. Guided tours or group tours are also available by appointment.
4. Green Dragon Tavern and Museum
Mix historical exploration with a night of drinks and great food at the Green Dragon. This dual-use Carlsbad attraction has become enormously popular with both the city’s locals and visitors from outside. The Green Dragon’s museum portion dedicates itself to conserving and displaying objects and records from the early history of the United States. Here you can enjoy a curious look at documents and memorabilia from the earliest colonial days through to the Revolutionary War and beyond. A large selection of more modern cultural and other curios are also on display representing the histories of Carlsbad and California.
As for the tavern and dining room, they deliver a refreshing break from the historical immersion with excellent menu selections and a wide range of cocktail, liquor and on-tap brew options.
5. New Village Arts Theater
Carlsbad’s most intimate and colorful musical/theatrical venue is the New Village Arts Theater, and it offers live performances all year long. The theater is located right in the heart of downtown, making it easily accessible to most hotels and inns. The musicians and performers who fill it with entertainment magic are also largely a local bunch and their creations are rarely short on rave reviews.
The staff and performers of the New Village Arts Theater also manage a number of community outreach and workshop programs that explore creative options for local children and the disadvantaged. Reserve your seats in advance through their website, which showcases the year’s roster of events.
6. The Chopra Center
Yep, the Chopra Center was founded by the very same Deepak Chopra that its name implies. This wellness center is located in the Omni La Costa Resort and offers its own menu of personal meditation, health and general wellness activities if these are what you love. Regular courses and sessions in yoga, meditation and personal care are on offer throughout the year while the surrounding resort also offers its own range of relaxation options, which include spa activities and Ayurvedic treatments.
7. The Golf Course at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa
This award-winning golf facility was founded in 1965 and since then has been home to more than 37 PGA Tour events and many tennis tournaments as well. It’s also the current home of the California State Amateur Championship and the surrounding resort is a member of the Historic Hotels of America registry. It itself also happens to be a historical location offering numerous other activities that don’t require an interest in golf.
While you or someone you love tees off, the rest of the family can enjoy a wide range of spa and wellness activities in the surrounding resort and spa areas. These include numerous sparkling pools, resort spa center treatments and a number of fine dining options.
8. LEGOLAND California Resort
For a turn into the genuinely unique and consummately kid-friendly, we’d like to mention the Legoland California Resort. This enormous destination is absolutely filled with family-friendly activities and sights that will please people of all ages. Located along Legoland Drive in Carlsbad, the resort offers dozens of amusement park rides, water park games, a hotel on site and of course, dining options for all ages.
Because of Carlsbad’s beautiful weather almost year-round, the resort is also open all year. Other activities include live entertainment events, educational courses and guided tours. We can’t stress this enough: Legoland isn’t just a place for kids. The whole family can thoroughly enjoy it regardless of age.
An individual restaurant and bar might not seem like something worth mentioning on a list of Carlsbad, California attractions but Campfire is noteworthy. This rather unique venue offers up delicious meals and desserts cooked right over campfire-type flames. The combination of dishes for both meat lovers and vegans or vegetarians is wonderful and worth trying. The dessert options also include –of course- S’mores, which guests can roast and put together themselves right at their own tables. Campfire’s selection of cocktail drinks, beers and liquors is wonderful too. This much-loved location with solid wood tables and a curiously rustic beach side vibe is worth a visit.
10. Craftsmanship Museum
The Craftsmanship Museum was founded by the Joe Martin Foundation and is an absolute must-visit place for anyone who loves the art of mechanical creation. This place features an amazing selection of model and miniature mechanical engines, gizmos, gadgets and machinery that sometimes delver right into the delightfully absurd. One perfect example: the Do Nothing Machine, which does absolutely nothing but tick along intricately while being a wonder to examine.
The museum contains a fully stocked machine shop where machinists do their precision work while visitors who want to watch. The Craftsmanship Museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
11. SEA LIFE Aquarium
One of the most enjoyable and spectacular marine attractions in California is located right in Carlsbad. The Sea Life Aquarium is extremely popular and with good reason. It’s thousands of marine and aquatic creatures cover hundreds of different species from all over the planet and are specially housed in habitats designed to closely imitate their natural homes.
Sea Life’s oceanic residents include huge beasts such as sharks and thousands of smaller animals that include stingrays, crusteceans, tropical fish, shorebirds and octopi. Staff at the museum offer guided tours and scheduled activities such as feedings that any family member can enjoy whether they’re young or old.
Sports and Outdoor Adventures
12. South Carlsbad State Beach
It’s impossible to visit Carlsbad without a visit to its enormous stretch of beaches and shoreline. The most notable among these is South Carlsbad State Beach, which offers up an opportunity for surfing, jogging, camping, strolling on a quiet morning or snorkeling among the diverse offshore marine life. The beach also includes fully urbanized amenities that include Wi-Fi, bathrooms, showers and even electric connection facilities for camper vans and RVs.
Other relaxing nearby beaches include Carlsbad State Beach, South Ponto Beach and others. Resorts like the Cape Rey Hotel also dot the coastal landscape.
13. Carlsbad Flower Fields
One of the lesser known things that Carlsbad is famous for among a subset of visitors are its enormous flower fields, which bloom into an incredible profusion of colors for about 8 weeks during the spring. This enormous site, established in the 1960s, offers wagon tours and selections of freshly-cut flowers during the blooming season.
14. Carlsbad’s Lagoons
Perhaps it’s not surprising that a coastal town like Carlsbad is home to lagoons, but how well this particular city cares for its three examples is worth enjoying. The largest of the three bodies of water is the 561-acre Batiquitos Lagoon, which is surrounded by semi-wild parkland with jogging trails and fishing spots in case you have a license.
Then there’s Buena Vista Lagoon, which is a nature preserve that you’ll love if you’re a bird watcher since 100 different species of avian call it home for part of the year. Agua Hedionda Lagoon is the smallest of the three and despite its name (hedionda means stinky in Spanish) smells fine. It’s also a great spot for water skiing, windsurfing and quiet kayaking.
15. Carlsbad Itself
Carlsbad has so much to offer in so many ways that it’s difficult not to fall in love with the place. So many of the relaxing attractions that you can find here are just as lovely as their counterparts in Los Angeles or San Diego but with the added attraction of a much smaller town atmosphere with far less crime or urban chaos. You might just decide to move right into the city after a visit, and if you do, we’d strongly recommend giving us a call at Best Fit Movers for a level of service that’s just as friendly and accessible as Carlsbad itself.