Just a few miles north of San Diego is the quiet beach town of Carlsbad, known for its charming downtown village, year-round temperate weather, and long stretches of sandy beaches. A weekend in this upscale enclave will be relaxing and refreshing, offering plenty of opportunities to get outdoors, enjoy the scenic surroundings, and sample gourmet cuisine.
Carlsbad is located an hour and a half south of Los Angeles and just thirty minutes north of San Diego. It’s easily accessible by car, but if you’d prefer to avoid any traffic, try taking the train instead.
Things To Do In Carlsbad
Carlsbad offers plenty to do for the weekend. If, however, you’d prefer to do nothing but relax, that’s completely acceptable as well. Most of the activities are outdoors, and none require reservations.
Relax On The Beach
If sunbathing on the sand or wading in the water sounds good to you, Carlsbad is the ideal destination. This relatively small town features eight beaches, each with its own unique character.
Bordering the Pacific Coast Highway, and across the street from the Batiquitos Lagoon is South Ponto Beach. This large beach is popular with volleyball players and surfers, and in the summer can be quite busy. Arrive early to secure a parking spot.
If you’ve ever dreamed of camping near the beach, South Carlsbad State Beach is for you. The campground is located on a rugged bluff overlooking the ocean with access to the beach below. There are also several footpaths along the bluffs, perfect for a short walk. Be sure to make camping reservations far in advance.
Carlsbad State Beach or Tamarack Beach has long been popular with local surfers, so if you hope to surf yourself, or just watch others catching a wave, head here early in the morning. There are also two paved paths here, popular with walkers, joggers, and cyclists.
Stroll Among The Flowers
Each spring, a large swath of land in Carlsbad bursts into color when the ranunculus bloom. Yellow, orange, pink, white, and purple flowers seem to go on forever at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. From early March to early May, 50 acres of flowers can be explored.
Luther Gage settled in the area in the 1920s and began planting ranunculus seeds on his farm. Over time these multilayered flowers were cultivated to produce 13 different colors and have become wildly popular in floral shops around the country.
The colorful fields alone are worth the trip, but there are many other activities offered, including an antique tractor wagon tour, cymbidium orchid greenhouse, sweet pea maze, and Santa’s playground for children. If you’re interested in purchasing ranunculus to take home, pop into Armstrong’s Garden Center on-site.
Shop In The Village
The downtown portion of town, known as Carlsbad Village, is a charming stretch of boutique shops, hotels, galleries, and restaurants. You could definitely spend an entire day exploring the streets of the village.
Olde Ivy Antiques specializes in coastal decor as well as eclectic and classic antiques. This is definitely the place to go for decorating your beach home. Evrbottle transforms disposable materials such as soda, wine, and liquor bottles into unique products like vases, lamps, and candleholders. If you enjoy watching glassblowing, head to Barrio Glassworks. Founded by the Raskin/Devlin family, this unique shop was inspired by the famous glassblowing island of Murano, Italy.
Learn To Surf
Carlsbad has long been a popular destination for local surfers. So if you already know how to surf, grab your board and hit the waves. But if you’ve always dreamed of learning to surf, Carlsbad is the perfect place. The combination of miles of sandy beaches, reliable waves, and loads of surf schools make it easy to cross this off your bucket list.
SoCal Surf Lessons offers private lessons at two locations in Carlsbad. All lessons include the use of a wetsuit and board. They even allow students to continue practicing for an hour after the lesson concludes. Wavehuggers provides lesson packages that include the use of a wetsuit and board. When you’re ready to surf on your own, equipment rentals are available at Surf Lessons Carlsbad.
Explore A Historic Ranch
Leo Carrillo was a stage and screen actor who dreamed of recreating a working ranch reminiscent of the early Spanish and Mexican lifestyles. Ranchos de los Quiotes, or Ranch of the Spanish Daggers, was the result, and it was in operation from 1937 to 1961. Today it’s the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park and is open to the public. Thanks to years of preservation and restoration, many of the ranch’s original buildings can be toured. Or just roam the grounds of this 27-acre park and enjoy the plentiful and friendly peacocks. There is no charge for admission or tours.
Go Bird Watching
The Batiquitos Lagoon is a birder’s paradise. This coastal wetland and estuary can be found at the southern end of Carlsbad, bordering Encinitas. As one of the few remaining tidal wetlands in California, this should be on the list of any nature lovers and bird watchers. Throughout the year, 185 species of birds have been spotted at the lagoon. Start your visit at the Nature Center and then explore the area on foot using the self-guided trail brochure.
Best Restaurants In Carlsbad
Carlsbad is a foodie’s dream come true. With plentiful local farms and its location on the sea, there’s no lack of fresh ingredients. And in recent years this town has attracted a number of highly-respected chefs. Put it all together and you’ll have a tough time choosing where to eat. You may have to plan another weekend in Carlsbad.
For a hearty breakfast, start at Beach Break Cafe. Locals have long raved about this place known for its generous portions and excellent coffee. If you have a sweet tooth, try the banana crunch pancakes. For something savory, order the seafood benedict.
Campfire has quickly become both a local favorite and a destination restaurant. In fact, Michelin gave the place an elite Bib Gourmand award recently. The concept is a combination of live fire and market-driven ingredients. Try the whole roasted fish for dinner and the s’mores for dessert. If you enjoy cocktails, be sure to try the Campfire -- a combination of bourbon, scotch, roasted malts, demerara, smoke, and chocolate.
For comfort food, head to Village Kitchen and Pie Shoppe, a Carlsbad institution since 1994. Come for breakfast and enjoy their large omelets and scrambles. Or try a classic like homemade chicken pot pie for dinner. But whatever you eat, save room for pie. With over two dozen pies available, there’s something to please everyone.
Green Dragon Tavern and Museum combines American fare with the chance to learn more about our country’s early history. Inspired by 18th-century taverns, Green Dragon is an enhanced replica of the original one in Boston. Before or after dinner, pop into the free museum that was established to promote and celebrate American heritage and connect guests with the life events and contributions of its founders.
Best Hotels In Carlsbad
There are plenty of hotels in Carlsbad to satisfy all budgets and interests. Try choosing one near the village to enjoy walking to most of your destinations.
As the only beachfront hotel in Carlsbad, Beach Terrace Inn is definitely the choice for a romantic getaway. You’ll enjoy ocean views from your room, the pool deck, and outdoor lounge. The rooms are decorated in neutral tones providing a totally relaxing experience. When you’re ready for dinner, there are over 70 restaurants within walking distance.
The Carlsbad Seapointe Resort offers guests an all condominium resort across the road from the ocean. If you’re traveling with a group, one- and two-bedroom condos are available with fully stocked kitchens. There’s plenty to do on-site, including a family pool, an adults-only pool, putting green, barbecues, and fire pits.
Golf lovers will certainly want to stay at the Omni Resort La Costa, located a few miles inland. The Legends and Champions Course offers 36 holes of play, and both have been part of the PGA Tour. This is definitely a luxury resort with a full-service spa, 17 clay and hard tennis courts, fine dining restaurants, and several pools. Choose from stylish and well-appointed rooms or villas.
Carlsbad is an upscale town, so visiting here can be pricey. However, if you have some flexibility with your dates, good deals can be had. While the weather is temperate year-round, winter is the low season, which can be an especially cost-effective time to visit. If you’re visiting during the summer, be sure to make hotel and dining reservations in advance.
Come to Carlsbad ready to enjoy the beautiful ocean views, endless outdoor activities, and fabulous dining. This peaceful seaside town is sure to offer anyone a successful weekend getaway.