One of the Top Family Destinations, Here's Why
by Tammie Thompson
I'd been through San Diego's North County years ago. I remembered the flower fields and the beach, but not much else.
What a pleasant surprise! Carlsbad, with LEGOLAND's help, has developed into a premier family vacation destination. Emphasize family - there are kids everywhere. At the beach, boogie boarding, inline skating, shopping, dining, just everywhere. And here's why.
Carlsbad has that kicked back beach feel. It's not at all pretentious or overly trendy. It showcases the Pacific Ocean, a great beach walk, Children's Discovery Museum and several restaurants and lodging accommodations.
We only had three days to explore all that Carlsbad has to offer - definitely not enough time to take it all in. You could easily settle into a week or two of relaxation, discovery and family fun.
The Beach: We brought out the boogie boards, surfboards, shovels & pails, and sunscreen, just as the fog rolled back in. No matter, the surf was great and the kids wallowed in the waves. We did have a problem with jellyfish, which is unusual, so be on the lookout. We hooked up with some local surfers and got an impromptu surf lesson. My nine year old was totally enthralled - and got a big cheer from the beach crowd when he stood up and rode a wave in. His words, "better than Disneyland, almost better than LEGOLAND, when can we come back?"
Beach Walk: There's plenty of pavement that runs along the water. Early morning was best for enjoying Rollerblades and scooters. The highpoint on the trail was the colony of bunnies that resided on the hillside. I had to drag my daughter away. Who needs the zoo when you can get this close to wild bunnies?
Children's Discovery Museum: This itty-bitty museum is a great place to "chill" with small children. Dress ups, castle play, computers and the giant bubble maker keep kids busy for at least and hour or two. Bring a book or get down on your hands and knees to play too.
Museum of Making Music: Older kids will love this unusual museum. Whether you discovered music when Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or Pearl Jam came on the scene, there's enough history to bring back the memories. This unique museum has exhibits that include more that 450 vintage instruments and samples of the most memorable tunes spanning more than 100 years. The museum puts the music products industry into historical context, so you see the connection between making history and making music. Kids love the hands-on exhibits - listening stations plus a chance to bang on the drums, strum a guitar or try their hand at the digital keyboard. The museum is located in the corporate headquarters of NAMM-International Music Products Association.
The Lagoons: Carlsbad is the only city in California with three picturesque lagoons, each with distinctive ecosystems. Agua Hedionda, Batiquitos and Buena Vista Lagoons are all easy to view and easy to access from Carlsbad's Village. The lagoons are tranquil and unspoiled, providing a safe haven for a wide variety of wildlife and are ideal for birding and nature walks. The lagoons grace the coastline like a string of pearls and are a priceless part of San Diego County's watershed.
At the Buena Vista Lagoon you can get an up close adventure with a variety of waterfowl. Covering 220 acres, a sandy berm at the mouth restricts tidal flushing making the lagoon a fresh water lake. Numerous migratory waterfowl and shorebirds visit each year. The lagoon is loaded with fish that attract diving birds.
Biplane, Air Combat & Warbird Adventures: We soared the skies above Carlsbad in an historic plane on this unique biplane adventure. My son still talks about the time in the sky with his Mom. More here.
The Village: We don't do much shopping with the kids in tow, but there are plenty of nice shops and restaurants all along State Street in the Village. Evening is a great time to meander the Village, stop for a bite, and do some window-shopping.
Flower Fields: Our visit didn't coincide with the giant flower bloom in Carlsbad's fields (mid March - early May), but if you catch it, they are incredible! Picture yourself in a sea of vibrant spring flowers stretching as far as the eye can see. The Ranunculus in Carlsbad's famous flower fields are planted in alternating bands of red, yellow, orange and pink. You can explore the fields up close via designated paths. Beware the flora aroma, it's awesome!
LEGOLAND: Not just another theme or amusement park, LEGOLAND is an interactive journey that you take with your children. We were quite impressed with the park, the rides, the LEGO cities, even the food! More on our LEGOLAND experience here.
Dining: There are several family friendly restaurants in the Carlsbad area. We had a chance to sample a few. But there are many more.. so much fun so little time! Quick reviews:
Mexican: My family has a penchant for Mexican fare. We found many excellent Mexican restaurants in the area, but by far the most convenient was Fidel's Norte. Adjacent to the Carlsbad Inn, Fidel's had great Margaritas, plus the kids could run amuck on the lawn at the Carlsbad Inn while we enjoyed our meal. We also enjoyed Coyote Bar & Grill (especially the décor). They had a band outside which the kids enjoyed, though they couldn't get us to dance.
Café: The Daily News Café is a best bet by locals. As is Al's Café in the Village. It didn't look like much; just the usual breakfast spot, but we found incredible service and excellent breakfast fare. The waitress even seemed amused when one of the kids spilled their milk, smeared butter from one end of their happy face pancake to another, and shouted, "more please" at the top of their lungs. I enjoyed my veggie omelet without the drama. Affordable too.
Various: We found Karl Strauss's to be an excellent choice after a day at LEGOLAND. Friendly, with a kid's menu, and a huge selection of beer, Karl Strauss's selection of trendy California cuisine hit the spot. The kids loved the "Naked Noodles" too. One thing that Carlsbad doesn't have much of is oceanside dining. We were looking for a scenic spot and ended up in Oceanside at the Chart House. Big mistake. No recommendation there.
Fast Food: There is lots of it. Domino's delivers to local hotels, so think about taking your pizza down to the beach for a sunset dinner.
Lodging: Carlsbad has a variety of accommodations. There are many great choices for families. From the upscale La Costa Resort, to the new Grand Pacific Palisades, to the large selection of beach resorts, to a stay at the Carlsbad State Beach Campground; there is something for every budget. We stayed at the oceanside Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort. It was a great location, catered to families, plus they offer small units with kitchenettes, perfect for extended stays. Read the Carlsbad Inn review here.
Other Fun Stuff: Families will find a variety of other options to keep them busy. For those on a mission, San Diego is just down the road and offers up excursions to the San Diego Zoo, Seaworld, famous beaches; even a trip over the border to Mexico!
You can bet that Carlsbad will continue to grow in popularity as a family destination. Why? Carlsbad wants families to visit. It's that simple.
More on Carlsbad activities, lodging, LEGOLAND
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