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Guide to Carlsbad, California for Families

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Carlsbad is probably not the first place that pops to mind when you think of a California vacation…but maybe it should be. Often overlooked in favor of its popular neighbor, San Diego, this laid-back beach city has plenty of fun for families. Carlsbad is just 36 miles north of San Diego International Airport and less than an hour’s drive south from Orange County’s Irvine. This makes it an easy destination for those coming from Los Angeles, Phoenix, and beyond. Here are seven fun things to do in Carlsbad with kids, including the best attractions, restaurants, and accommodations Carlsbad has to offer families.

Carlsbad, California coastal view

Carlsbad, California coastal view (Photo credit: alancrosthwaite, Depositphotos.com)

1. LEGOLAND California

Carlsbad is probably most well-known as the home of LEGOLAND California. This amusement park was specially designed for families with children ages 2-12. It offers mellow roller coasters, interactive rides, colorful play areas, and other entertainment for kids.

Legoland California is the star of Carlsbad ~ California with kids

LEGOLAND California is the star of Carlsbad (Photo credit: LEGOLAND California)

The park’s centerpiece, Miniland USA, is filled with recreations of famous U.S. landmarks. American icons are formed entirely from LEGO bricks, including the Las Vegas Strip and the Empire State Building. Plus, Sci-Fi fans will love seeing detailed miniature Star Wars scenes here.

Enjoy seven miles of beaches in Carlsbad, CA with kids

Enjoy seven miles of beaches in Carlsbad (Photo credit: mikle15, Depositphotos.com)

2. Beaches, Beaches, Beaches

Carlsbad is home to seven miles of beaches. Families can splash, swim, build sand castles, and maybe even learn to surf in this seaside city. If you’d rather just go for a seaside stroll, the Carlsbad Seawall stretches for about a mile along Carlsbad Blvd, with several beach access points along the way.

Carlsbad Flower Fields in San Diego County

Carlsbad Flower Fields (Photo credit: bonandbon, Depositphotos.com)

3. Carlsbad Flower Fields

Every spring, families pose for pretty pictures amongst row upon row of brightly colored ranunculus at Carlsbad Flower Fields. Gem-mining, free concerts, tractor-pulled wagon rides, and a maze made of sweet peas add to the fun.

Museum of Making Music

Museum of Making Music (Photo credit: Museum of Making Music)

4. Museum of Making Music

Discover the history of musical instruments from the 1890s to today at the Museum of Making Music. This melodic attraction features over 500 instruments. Push the plentiful exhibit buttons to hear what the instruments sound like in the hands of masters. The best part is an interactive room where you can make your own music using an electric piano, drums, guitars, and more.

LEGOLAND Water Park's Build-A-Raft River ~ Legoland California Tips for All Ages from Babies to Adults

LEGOLAND Water Park’s Build-A-Raft River (Photo credit: LEGOLAND)

5. LEGOLAND Water Park

Located inside LEGOLAND California, the LEGOLAND Water Park is a must-do if visiting during the summer. The whole family can float down the Build-A-Raft River, while stacking huge foam LEGO bricks on their inner-tubes. Big kids and grown-ups enjoy zipping down giant swirling slides to cool off. There are special splash areas with fountains and mini waterslides just for toddlers and young children, too.

Purchase your discounted LEGOLAND California tickets now or scroll down to learn more about saving money on your LEGOLAND California vacation with a special Travel Mamas discount!

SEA LIFE Aquarium is fun AND educational

SEA LIFE Aquarium is fun AND educational (Photo credit: SEA LIFE Aquarium)

6. SEA LIFE Carlsbad Aquarium

Located next door to LEGOLAND California, SEA LIFE Carlsbad Aquarium is a fabulous attraction in its own right. Add SEALIFE Aquarium to your LEGOLAND visit by purchasing a park hopper or purchase an entrance ticket just for the aquarium.

Innovative pop-up underwater viewing stations give kids a chance to see what the fishies see. Make it a learning adventure by encouraging children to play the Quiz Trail. It’s a scavenger hunt of sorts that teaches about marine life while children make their way through the aquarium’s exhibits.

Stand-up paddle boarders on Carlsbad Lagoon

Stand-up paddle boarders on Carlsbad Lagoon (Photo credit: California Watersports)

7. Carlsbad Lagoon

For some wave-free water fun, head to Carlsbad Lagoon. Located on Aqua Hedianda Lagoon, this is a water lover’s paradise. Here, you can rent stand-up paddle boards, canoes, jet skis, speed boats, aquabikes, and more from California Watersports. Then float past luxury waterfront homes and into an inlet lined with condos and their docked boats. Sign up for a stand-up paddle board lesson in Carlsbad now!

Take your kids strawberry picking in Carlsbad, CA

Take your kids strawberry picking in Carlsbad (Photo credit: IgorBorodin, Depositphotos.com)

8. Strawberry Picking

Spending time outdoors with your children while working together on a simple project like berry picking is one of life’s sweetest pleasures. It’s an inexpensive and fun activity that all ages can enjoy. Families can pick strawberries at the 80-acre Carlsbad Strawberry Company u-pick farm typically spring through July. In fall, look for a pumpkin patch and corn maze here.

Carlsbad Premium Outlets

Carlsbad Premium Outlets (Photo credit: PremiumOutlets.com)

9. Carlsbad Premium Outlets

With nearly 90 stores to visit, save some time in your schedule and money in your vacation budget for a trip to the Carlsbad Premium Outlets. Parents will love shops like J.Crew Factory, Nike Factory Store, Coach Outlet, and Saks Off Fifth. Meanwhile, kids will be content to visit Disney Outlet and Old Navy Kids & Baby. Treat the family to something to eat afterwards at restaurants like Ruby’s Diner or hometown favorite, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill.

Karl Strauss Brewing Company

Karl Strauss Brewing Company (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. Dining in Carlsbad with Kids

There are plenty of kid-friendly dining options to tempt your family’s taste buds during a Carlsbad family vacation. Here are a few recommendations from locals.

Karl Strauss Brewing Company

Just above the Carlsbad Flower Fields, you’ll find the Karl Strauss Brewing Company. In addition to glorious views of the ranunculus, you’ll find lots of hearty fare here like burgers, beer-brined pork chops, and customizable mac ‘n’ cheese. Each year this family-friendly restaurant and brewery creates 30 beers, including seasonal and specialty brews. Stop in for lunch or dinner or just to get a side of their to-die-for fries with a nice cold brew or lemonade.

Pizza Port pepperoni pie on the beach

Get your Pizza Port pie to go for a picnic on the beach (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Pizza Port

Another great dining option for families is Pizza Port with arguably the best pizza in San Diego County. There are a handful of video games for the kids, and a wide selection of beers on tap for the grown-ups.

Mexican cuisine at Las Olas in Carlsbad

Mexican cuisine at Las Olas (Photo credit: Las Olas Mexican Restaurant)

Mexican Cuisine in Carlsbad

If your kids dig Mexican food, then there are a couple of especially tasty options for families. Rena Crawford-Payne, a Carlsbad resident and mom, recommends Norte because, “they have a nice outdoor patio and you don’t have to worry about the kids being too loud or making a big mess.”

Las Olas is the Carlsbad Mexican restaurant of choice for SoCal mom Aimee Steckowski. She says, “They have wonderful food choices for both adults and children. Their food smells and tastes wonderful — true authentic Mexican food served in big portions for great prices.”

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach pool

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach pool area (Photo credit: Hilton Garden Inn)

Family-friendly Carlsbad Hotels

When planning your Southern California vacation, you can often find better hotel deals in Carlsbad than in San Diego. Below are a few family favorites.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach

The Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach makes a wonderful choice for families. This particular Hilton Garden Inn ranks highly among mid-range hotels year after year. Not only is this hotel located right across from the beach, but also it offers above-and-beyond customer service. They even pass out free popsicles to cool down guests at the hotel pool! At no additional cost, shuttles cart guests anywhere within a five-mile radius of the hotel. During summer, guests can munch complimentary popcorn and cookies while watching family-friendly Movies on the Lawn, projected on an inflatable screen.

Read Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach reviews on TripAdvisor or make your reservation via Hotels.com.

West Inn & Suites in Carlsbad, CA

West Inn & Suites in Carlsbad (Photo credit: West Inn & Suites)

West Inn & Suites

We named this hotel the best suites option for kids and pets on our list of the best hotels in San Diego County for families. A popular spot for vacationing families, West Inn & Suites offers a free shuttle to LEGOLAND California and anywhere else within five miles. There’s an included full breakfast every morning, with a selection of board games to borrow in the breakfast area. You’ll also find a microwave and refrigerator in every room. Pet parents will be happy to know Fluffy and Fido are also welcomed at West Inn & Suites (at an additional charge).

Read my full review of West Inn & Suites or book your stay via Hotels.com.

Pirate-themed room at Legoland Hotel in Carlsbad, CA

Pirate-themed room at LEGOLAND Hotel in Carlsbad (Photo credit: LEGOLAND California)

LEGOLAND California Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel

Kids are the focus at LEGOLAND Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel in Carlsbad. Located just outside the theme park, these sister properties provide an immersive LEGO experience. Choose from six colorfully themed rooms: Pirate, Kingdom, Adventure, Pirate, LEGO Friends or Ninjago. A disco elevator, outdoor pool, and LEGO bricks galore will make children go gaga. In fact, LEGOLAND Hotel is so kid-friendly, it made our list of the best hotels for families in the USA.

Read more about LEGOLAND California Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel via TripAdvisor.

Save Money on Your Carlsbad Vacation

Want to save money on your Carlsbad vacation? Of course, you do! Use discount code TravelMamas to get $10 off any two-night or longer Southern California package (hotel and two ticket minimum) when you book through Get Away Today. Also find San Diego deals including attraction ticket discounts!

Beach located across the street from Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Hotel

Beach located across the street from Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Hotel (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Get More Tips for Planning Your California Vacation

There’s so much to explore in and near Carlsbad! Learn more about what to do at the Carlsbad Flower Fields with kids and get tips for visiting LEGOLAND California with kids of all ages.

I lived in San Diego for 15 years and return often with my family. Discover my picks for the top things to do in San Diego with kids and the best San Diego restaurants for families.

If the San Diego Zoo is on your vacation wish list (and it should be!), then take a look at my suggested itinerary and tips for visiting the San Diego Zoo with kids.

Things to Do in Carlsbad, CA with Kids

Save these Carlsbad, CA Tips

For future reference, be sure to save this list of things to do in Carlsbad with kids. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

What is your favorite Carlsbad attraction or restaurant for families? Do you have any suggestions for fun things to do in Carlsbad, CA with kids? Tell us in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: I received complimentary stays at Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach, West Inn & Suites, and the LEGOLAND California Hotel as well as media discounts and passes from a few other attractions mentioned above. 

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Mary – I have heard wonderful things about Tip Top Meats. I will have to try it out!

  2. Mary @ theworldisabook says

    We live near Carlsbad and truly enjoy what this city has to offer beyond Legoland. Thanks for higlighting it in your blog. One of our favorite restaurants is Tip Top Meats. It may look like a German deli/grocery store up front but its restaurant features big meals for reasonable prices. There is always a crowd here. We love all the European chocolates and pastries they sell too.

  3. It’s worth the trip just feel the fresh breezes and enjoy the wide open space.

  4. 92101 San Diego says

    Carlsbad is really a wonderful place to stay for families. Beaches are really great and surely there are tons of things that kids can do and enjoy. beaches in downtown San Diego are also great, especially for lovers who are planning for a bonding time together while enjoying beach sports.

  5. Natasha @suitcasesinseattle says

    Carlsbad was my hometown from ages 12-18 and we visited my parents regularly until they moved away this year. I agree with the Norte recommendation – their pork chile verde is my favorite. We also love Shorehouse Kitchen (relatively new – lots of indoor/outdoor dining) and Leap Coffee (right next to Praeger Brothers bakery).

  6. Shilpa Bindlish says

    There is so much to enjoy at Carlsbad. My kids would love Legoland.

  7. Matt Taylor says

    So many awesome things to do in Carlsbad! I have been to Legoland before, and it was pretty awesome. Some of those other places I didn’t know about, time to take a trip there again!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      My kids are older now (tween and teen) but they have such fond memories of Legoland California. They keep asking when we can go back! Guess we’ll have to include a Legoland visit during our next trip to SoCal!

  8. Love Carlsbad! Great little town with good restaurants and shops….and the drive along PCH there!!! Beautiful!

  9. Marie Phillips says

    This looks like a great place to spend a week! We haven’t done much as a family on the west coast. Maybe someday.

  10. Melanie williams says

    Wow o much to see and do, a great place for a good holiday where families can have some quality time x

  11. Lucy Clarke says

    Carlsbad has such a charm! With its spectacular sights to see and a myriad of activities for all ages, it would be definitely worth the trip.

  12. emman damian says

    I want to try and visit Carlsbad Flower Fields. It sounds like a great place. I hope to see it soon.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Such a gorgeous place to take family photos! I hope you can visit Carlsbad Flower Fields someday soon!

  13. Emily Fata says

    Carlsbad looks like such an amazing place to visit! I loved reading about all of the things that you were able to do while exploring here.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Carlsbad is such a great addition to a San Diego vacation, or as a stand alone California destination!

  14. Thank you for this informative post! I had no idea there was so much to do in Carlsbad. A day at the beach followed by some delicious Mexican food sounds perfect!

  15. Wow I would never thought to travel here for a vacay. I love the flower field so pretty.

  16. Katrina kroeplin says

    Looks like everyone had an amazing time. LEGO land is always a blast. My kids had a great time there

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