Visiting Carlsbad, CA for the first time? Then you’re in luck. From surfing the waves at South Carlsbad State Beach to browsing the antique stalls at Carlsbad Village Art & Antique Mall, you’ll find no shortage of things to see and do in this little slice of Southern Californian paradise. "The Village by the Sea” (as it’s affectionately known by locals) is a fun packed destination for singles, couples, families, and everything in between. If you’re heading there for the first time, here’s our round-up of the ‘20 Best Things to do in Carlsbad, CA for First-Timers’.
20. Enjoy a BBQ at Alga Norte Community Park
As San Diego County’s largest state park, Alga Norte Community Park has a lot to shout about. Boasting a host of family-friendly features and activities, including numerous baseball courts, ball fields, and barbeques areas (not to mention a mammoth aquatic center with slides, diving boards, and a kid’s splash pool), it promises a fun-packed family day out.
19. Learn to waterboard at Carlsbad Lagoon
Like water sports? Then you’re going to love Carlsbad Lagoon. A center dedicated to all things water-sport related, it offers a host of activities, including trained instruction in water skiing, wakeboarding, paddleboarding, and a myriad of other sports. If you forget to bring your own equipment, don’t panic – the center is happy to loan out everything from canoes and kayaks to paddleboats, surfboards and wave runners.
18. Enjoy nature at Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation Nature Center
If you want to experience some of the best natural beauty Carlsbad has to offer, a visit to the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation Nature Center comes highly recommended. Consisting of a lagoon, wetlands (one of the last remaining tidal wetlands in Southern California, in fact), and a nature reserve, the center is a haven to a huge variety of flora and fauna. While you’re free to wander freely, hopping on a narrated guided walking tour is the best way of learning more about the habitat and its inhabitants.
17. See the sights on a bike
Vacationidea.com has several excellent suggestions about how visitors to Carlsbad can fill their time, with hiring an electric bike from Pedego Carlsbad being one of them. With speeds of up to 20mph, the bikes offer a fun, easy way to pack in as many of the delights of Carlsbad as possible. Book a spot on one of Pedego Carlsbad’s tours (the Rock & Ride Tour is a must for audiophiles, while the Couples Romantic Picnic Tour is perfect for romancing couples) to really get the most of the experience.
16. Play a round at Aviara Golf Club
If the thought of not being able to take in a few rounds of golf on your vacation has you breaking into a sweat, worry not. Carlsbad has several excellent public golf courses, chief among them being Aviara Golf Club. Set in the majestic grounds of Park Hyatt Hotel, this par 72, 18-hole Arnold Palmer designed course offers a fun, challenging game that all the family will enjoy. Just don’t forget to pack your camera, as well as your clubs – the views over Batiquitos Lagoon nature preserve with its wildflower-strewn hills are breathtaking.
15. Visit the GIA Museum
The GIA Museum is one of Carlsbad’s hidden treasures. The tour guides are knowledgeable, the exhibits are intriguing, and best of all, it’s completely free. If you’ve any interest in gemology or are maybe just a secret magpie, you won’t want to miss it. Tours take two hours, but there’s a lot to pack in, so be sure to wear your comfiest shoes and be prepared for a brisk pace.
14. Enjoy a picnic at Calavera Park
According to triphobo.com, Calavera Park is one of the very best places to visit in Carlsbad… and little wonder. Covering over 21 acres of parkland, this delightful area of natural beauty is a fabulous place to sit back, soak up the sun, and enjoy a picnic. There are even two covered picnic shelters with a BBQ facility if you want to cook up some burgers. Once you’re done eating, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in the multi-functional athletic fields, the sandlot, and the tennis courts.
13. Watch a performance at New Village Arts Theatre
If you’ve got a taste for drama, don’t forget to take in a performance at New Village Arts Theatre while you’re in Carlsbad. The intimate setting of the theater is a joy, while the range and quality of musical and dramatic performances hosted by the local ensemble group are invariably outstanding. The price of tickets is more than reasonable, but you might want to consider investing in a season ticket if you plan on making more trips to Carlsbad in the future.
12. Ride the slides at LEGOLAND Water Park
Visiting the main LEGOLAND theme park is a must-do for anyone who wants to take a spin on one of the park’s 60 rides. For those who prefer to slide more than they do ride, there’s plenty of water-based fun to be had the adjoining LEGOLAND Water Park. As the first of its kind in the world, the park offers a fun-packed, kid-friendly day of thrills and spills. Attractions include two sandy beach wading areas, a splash tower, a Build-A-Raft river, multiple water slides, and much more besides… little wonder, then, that visitcarlsbad.com ranks it as one of Carlsbad’s best destinations.
11. Visit the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum
The Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum might not sound the most fun of places, but according to Trip Advisor, it ranks as one of the best attractions in Carlsbad. And little wonder, at least if the reviews are to be believed. “Don’t miss this miniature museum with extra-large fun! Not for little kids but great fun for everyone else. Guides are amazing be sure to stay for the demonstrations. No fee to enter just a donation,” says one reviewer, while another enthuses “This free museum, staffed by friendly volunteers, is filled with intricate models and miniatures, including a room of amazing dollhouses, and an area with handmade interactive toys. We enjoyed our visit.”
10. Take a food tour
If there’s one thing Carlsbad does extremely well, it’s food. Experience all the gourmet delights yourself by taking a food tour. Not only will you get to enjoy some supremely good grub at first-rate food venues like Gregorio’s Italian Restaurant, Caldo Pomodoro Italian Restaurant, Café Topes, Witch Creek Winery, Gaia Gelato, and Chocolate Bar, you’ll also get to learn more about the Carlsbad food scene courtesy of the very knowledgeable guides that run the tours.
9. Pick up some produce at Carlsbad Village Farmers’ Market
If you want to taste the best of fresh, local produce while you’re in Carlsbad, there’s only one place to head - Carlsbad Village Farmers’ Market. Open every Wednesday, it’s the best place in town to pick up some fresh organic produce, flowers, and handmade arts and crafts. If you want to snack as you browse, there’s also a great selection of vendors cooking up a storm in ready-to-eat hot and cold foods. Once you’re done filling your basket, grab a seat and enjoy some entertainment courtesy of the local musicians who regularly host free concerts at the venue.
8. Stroll the grounds at Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park
Natural beauty is something South California has in abundance, and Carlsbad is no exception. Located on a 27-acre canyon, the park (a former working ranch owned by legendary actor Leo Carrillo) is a wonderground of pools, windmills, and historic buildings, not to mention a haven for 101 kinds off flora and fauna, including peacocks, birds of paradise, bougainvillea, and agave. For nature lovers (or simply those in need of some respite from the 24/7 rush of city life), this unique park is a little slice of paradise.
7. Interact with the fish at Sea Life Aquarium
A standard aquarium will let you watch the animals. A fantastic one will let you interact with them. Sea Life Aquarium falls into the second category. A fun-packed day of fun awaits you and your family at this hugely entertaining venue. The kids will love the chance to stroke the crabs and sea stars, while both adults and children alike will enjoy the opportunity to wonder at the 5,000 plus sea creatures (which include clownfish, octopus, rays, sea horses, and sharks in their mix) that call the aquarium home.
6. Shop till you drop at Carlsbad Village
No visit to Carlsbad is complete without at least one trip to Carlsbad Village. Considered the beating heart of Carlsbad, the Village has a huge amount to offer, from world-class shopping at the numerous boutiques and chains to browsing the antiques at Carlsbad Village Antique Mall. Whether you want to eat, shop, drink, or simply sit back with a coffee and soak up the atmosphere, you’ll find no shortage of things to do. If you’re in need of some relaxation after exploring the sights, don’t miss a visit to Carlsbad Mineral Spa on Carlsbad Boulevard, Alt Karlsbad Hanse House – a legendary landmark and much loved local secret, it’s the best place in town for a mineral spa treatment.
5. Visit the Museum of Making Music
If you’ve got a passion for music, the Museum of Making Music should be high on your agenda. Established in 2000, it’s a showcase for all things music-related, featuring a vast array of special exhibitions that celebrate a smorgasbord of rich musical traditions. Time your visit right, and you might even be lucky enough to catch one of the regular shows or concerts hosted throughout the year.
4. Take a walking tour
There’s only one way to really experience Carlsbad, and that’s on foot. Get the most of your visit by grabbing a spot on one of the many walking tours. Not only will you get to see all the local highlights, you’ll also get the benefit of the tour guide’s inside knowledge. There's no shortage of tour providers to choose from, but if you take the advice of carlsbadfoodtours.com and book a spot with Walk the City Tours, you’ll get to experience all these top attractions: St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Albert Cohn House – El Norte, Home of Luther Gage, Father of the Carlsbad Flower Fields, Historic Twin Inns & secret speakeasy, Carlsbad Mineral Water and Spa, Magee Park, State Street, Carlsbad Train Depot & Visitor’s Center, and the Killian Building.
3. Admire the blooms at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch is a sight for sore eyes. The dazzling display comes from the fifty acres of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers spread over the rolling hills of Carlsbad Ranch. While the flowering season is relatively short, it’s a sight not be missed if you’re lucky enough to be in Carlsbad from early March through early May.
2. Take a ride at LEGOLAND California
If you’re traveling with the family in tow, don’t miss a visit to LEGOLAND California. As the first-ever LEGOLAND in the US, it’s a great destination for a fun-filled family day-out – if your family enjoys thrilling roller-coaster rides, an ever-changing line up of entertainment shows, and, of course, Lego. If you want to pack as much as possible into the experience, an overnight stay at the themed LEGOLAND Hotel comes highly recommended.
1. Snorkel at South Carlsbad State Beach
If you’re going to a coastal town in southern California, you’re going to expect some decent beaches. And decent beaches is something Carlsbad has in spades. Number one has to be South Carlsbad State Beach, a stunning stretch of protected coastline that has all the white sand, crystal clear waters, and coastal bluffs you could wish for. Whether you want to try some surfing, some paddleboarding, some scuba diving or some sunbathing, you won’t be disappointed in this top Carlsbad attraction. If you want to extend the experience, the 220-site South Carlsbad State Beach Campground is a great place for enjoying nature under the stars. With WI-FI, electricity, and bathrooms with showers, it’s not exactly lacking in amenities, either.
Written by Liz Flynn
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