24 Hours in Carlsbad

by Alyx Sariol  |  Published May 18, 2017

Nestled amidst the myriad beach destinations along the San Diego County coastline, the quaint town of Carlsbad is the perfect place to enjoy the laid-back SoCal lifestyle, with the added perks of luxurious resort amenities. Carlsbad’s beaches, restaurants and shopping make it an ideal destination for a couple’s getaway or a family vacation any time of year.

The Carlsbad Visitor Center is in Carlsbad Village, in a historic Old Santa Fe depot building that was built in 1907 (Photo: Joe Wolf via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Located 35 miles north of San Diego, the “Village by the Sea” offers small-town charm and beautiful scenery, along with fine dining and hotels. Easily accessible via car and train, with a train station in the heart of downtown, Carlsbad is a wonderful place to retreat for 24 hours (though you may be tempted to hide away here longer!).

Carlsbad Village is the city’s walkable downtown area, where you can easily spend hours scouring the stores for beach vacation essentials, antique treasures and souvenirs. The downtown area also features restaurants serving cuisines from around the world, as well as unique takes on American staples.

Pop into the Carlsbad Visitor Center, housed in an Old Santa Fe Depot building built in 1907, to learn more about the history of the Village and fun facts, like how Carlsbad earned its name: Capt. John Frazier discovered alkaline mineral water here in the 1880s. The mineral content closely resembled the famous healing waters of Karlsbad, Bohema – now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. You can still immerse in these healing waters at the Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa, near the Village.

Carlsbad’s beaches are a popular place to be any day of the year (Photo: Alyx Sariol)

Carlsbad is well-known for its miles of pristine coastline and enviable Mediterranean-like weather. Colorful umbrellas pop up year-round on South Carlsbad State Beach and Tamarack Beach – and every beach in between on its seven miles of coastline. Locals and tourists alike vie for a spot close to shore to participate in quintessential beach activities, like sunbathing, playing volleyball and surfing.

But there’s more to Carlsbad than surf and sun. Those who live to hike can trek nearly 50 miles of trails, admiring local flora and fauna along the way. Agua Hedionda Lagoon is just a short drive from the Village and is the destination for watersport activities – from stand-up paddle boarding to kayaking to aqua cycles. Fancy a round of golf? Carlsbad is home to world-class courses. In fact, Aviara Golf at Park Hyatt Resort is the only golf course in San Diego designed by Arnold Palmer.

Carlbad’s many unique, kid-centric venues make it easy for families to pack a day (or few) with fun. Have an engineer-in-the-making (or a parent craving a flashback to days spent hunched over a multi-colored pile of LEGOs)? Check out both amusement parks –LEGOLAND® California Resort and the LEGOLAND® Water Park (the world’s first!). If visiting Carlsbad in the spring, the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch offer a Sweet Pea Maze, an antique tractor ride and an opportunity to mine for gemstones at the on-site Carlsbad Mining Company. For a brief respite from the sun, the kid-friendly and interactive Museum of Making Music explores the history of musical instruments.

The blooming Flower Fields mark the arrival of spring each year in Carlsbad (Photo: v_silvestri via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Carlsbad’s bustling local events calendar offers enticing reasons to visit year-round. May marks the return of the Carlsbad Village Street Faire, the largest one-day street fair in the nation. Tamarack Beach hosts the annual State Beach Classic surf contest every June. The Carlsbad Music Festival takes over in August, featuring 60+ creative music performances. Enjoy traditional German food and beer at the Carlsbad Rotary’s Oktoberfest Family Fall Festival, a beloved community event that has taken place in October for over 30 years.


Beach Terrace Inn is Carlsbad’s only hotel property on the beach (Photo: Beach Terrace Inn)

Beach Terrace Inn (2775 Ocean St.) is a family-run hotel where the beach is a “way of life.” As Carlsbad’s only beachfront hotel, the Inn boasts access to a private beach along with your stay in their spacious rooms. The complimentary breakfast is made all the more enjoyable by their panoramic ocean views. Book a room here and you can pack light–the hotel also provides complimentary beach vacation essentials, including beach chairs, boogie boards and beach reads.

Tamarack Beach Resort (3200 Carlsbad Blvd.) is a Mediterranean-style hotel with ocean views, a heated pool and a BBQ area available to guests. Experience Hawaii in Carlsbad at the Ocean Palms Beach Resort (2950 Ocean St.), a pet-friendly hotel with rooms for every budget, located just steps away from both the Village and the beach. LEGOLAND® Hotel (5885 The Crossings Dr.) is a short drive from the Village and has family-friendly rooms, with early access to the theme park and nightly entertainment for kids.

Eat & Drink

Stop in at Café Topes for a stack of pancakes or one of their famous cinnamon rolls (Photo: Café Topes)

Café Topes (3091 Roosevelt St.) is a popular spot for breakfast/brunch, just a block from the Village. While the homemade cinnamon roll covered in cream cheese icing is one of the most popular dishes, this restaurant also offers breakfast staples like benedicts, French toast and egg scrambles. The lavender mocha latte is made with Stumptown coffee and best enjoyed al fresco, on their patio decked out with succulents.

When lunchtime rolls around, Pizza Port (571 Carlsbad Village Dr.) serves gourmet pizzas and cold, refreshing beers. Diners can customize a pizza or order from the “Anti-Wimpy Pizza” menu–pizzas so packed with flavor they’re recommended to be shared among friends. The impressive beer menu includes cleverly named brews, like Same Hops Different IPA and Beerimisu. Order a variety of offerings from San Diego-based breweries to create your own mini-local brewery tour whilst staying put.

Campfire combines live fire and market-driven ingredients to create a memorable dining experience (Photo: Campfire)

Gather round at Campfire (2725 State St.), where the food and cocktail menus are crafted from ingredients cooked on their live-fire grill and smoker. Some of their most popular market-driven menu items include the charred octopus, roasted broccoli and Red Eye Rubbed Brisket. Order a cocktail “from the fire,” like the Charred Cactus cocktail, made with tequila, charcoal, white peach, sorrel and lime. Top off the meal with Campfire’s s’mores, made with graham crackers, salted caramel chocolate and mallow.

Time your reservation at Vigilucci’s Seafood and Steakhouse (3878 Carlsbad Blvd.) to catch an awe-worthy California sunset over the Pacific Ocean along with your fine Italian meal. Order the Cioppini or an aged, hand-cut Nebraska Prime steak. The Cappellacci di Zucca, homemade hat-shaped pasta filled with butternut squash, is another go-to item. Vigilucci’s award-winning wine list and decadent desserts round out this memorable dining experience in Carlsbad.

Diners pull their own drinks at Barrel Republic, choosing from over 30 different beer and wine options (Photo: Barrel Republic)

For late night drinks and dining, Barrel Republic (2961 State St.) has Village visitors covered. Here, guests have the “freedom to pour” and can pull their own beers from one of the 30+ rotating drafts. For the non-beer drinker, there are several wines and kombuchas on tap too. Pair a drink with their signature Crispy Avocado Grilled Cheese or their nationally recognized vegan Wild Mushroom “French Dip” sandwich. Popular shareable items include the Garlic Butter Pretzel Bites and Chili Dusted Crispy Pickle Chips.


Ampersand offers a variety of home décor, candles and accessories (Photo: Ampersand)

Step into Ampersand (2916 State St.) and browse their eclectic home décor selection, featuring items made with sustainably harvested, eco-friendly and recycled materials. All their candles are hand-poured in the USA and can be easily packed in a suitcase. One of their top sellers is a selection of bags made from recycled military canvas, which can double as a beach bag.

Antique lovers don’t have to look far to find unique treasures in the Village. Over 100 dealers sell their wares at the Carlsbad Village Art & Antique Mall (2752 State St.), where shoppers can browse antiques, collectibles and vintage jewelry. Score the best deals on Saturdays and Sundays, when dealers regularly bring in new stock.

Mix and Match items from Gaytan Farms at the State Street Farmers Market (Photo: Carlsbad Village Association)

The State Street Farmers’ Market in Carlsbad Village (2907 State St.) pops up each Wednesday, with over 50 vendors selling seasonal produce, fresh flowers and tasty food. Pick up supplies for a locally grown, homemade dinner or dine with vendors like Full Belly BBQ. Sip on a kefir soda from Carlsbad’s own Superfood Coffee Co. as you wander through the stalls.

Lhooq Books (755 ½ Carlsbad Village Dr.) is an independent bookstore that specializes in rare, obscure and vintage books. Poke around inside this unique space and you’ll find books covering a wide range of subjects, from art and film to history and current affairs. Lhooq’s “Honor System Library” lines the outdoor walls and is open 24/7. Trade out a book or leave a donation.