A beautiful coastal city in north San Diego County, Carlsbad offers family fun for all ages. Not only will visitors enjoy a world-renowned theme park, but there are also boutique hotels, farm to table dining and clean sandy beaches in this “Village by the Sea”. Here are the best things to do in Carlsbad, with tips for enjoying the seaside city with kids.
Things to Do in Carlsbad with Kids
The beach town of Carlsbad offers so much in the way of family-friendly entertainment. Located 35 miles north of downtown San Diego and 80 miles south of Los Angeles, Carlsbad is an ideal southern California getaway.
Yes, Carlsbad is known for the popular LEGOLAND resort. This includes a theme park, water park, aquarium and hotels within the LEGOLAND California Resort footprint. But there are many additional fun things for families to discover in Carlsbad. Keep reading for top year-round Carlsbad attractions!
1. LEGOLAND Carlsbad
1 Legoland Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008
LEGOLAND is a full-day park, with rides and attractions, hands-on LEGO building areas and Miniland U.S.A. The SEA LIFE Aquarium and LEGOLAND Water Park carry an additional cost (details about each forthcoming in this article).
Advance reservations are currently required to visit the LEGOLAND theme park. Make reservations through their online booking portal. Note that the park is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays during select non-peak season travel times.
You’ll have many great options for lunch at LEGOLAND, depending upon your interests. Most meals are made fresh, right in front of you. This means that food prep can sometimes take longer than expected (so don’t wait until you’re starving!). Be sure to get the Granny’s Apple Fries – a LEGOLAND exclusive snack – found in the Castle Hill area!
SheBuysTravel Tip: The entire LEGOLAND Resort is cashless, so be prepared to pay with credit or debit only. Find LEGOLAND Carlsbad tickets at a discount via our affiliate link through Get Away Today.
2. LEGOLAND SEA LIFE Aquarium
Intended for younger guests, the SEA LIFE Aquarium can easily be explored in around an hour. The two-story aquarium offers hands-on, interactive learning in a kid-friendly setting. View seahorses, sharks, jellyfish and more.
LEGOLAND’s SEA LIFE Aquarium is located directly next to the LEGOLAND theme park. The aquarium has a front entrance as well as a separate entry through the theme park.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Purchase the LEGOLAND California/SEA LIFE Aquarium Hopper Ticket if you want to visit both in a single day.
3. LEGOLAND Water Park
For families visiting during warm weather, the LEGOLAND Water Park is a worthy addition to their amusement park day. With daring water slides, splash pads, a lazy river, and wave pool, there’s entertainment for all ages.
Be aware that the entrance to the water park is within the theme park. A regular theme park ticket with a water park add-on must be purchased to access the water attractions.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The attached water park is closed in the off-season and has limited weekend-only openings outside of summer. Be sure to check the calendar online before packing your swimsuits with you.
5. Carlsbad Village
In the downtown area, the Carlsbad Village offers shopping, dining and more. Take a self-guided walking tour and you’ll find the Carlsbad Visitors Center in the village, housed within the historic train depot. In the heart of the village, visit the Village Faire Shopping Center with over 30 shops and restaurants.
6. Carlsbad Premium Outlets
5620 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad, CA 92008
The stores at the Carlsbad Premium Outlets offer shoppers a little of everything, from famous designers and name brands. There are over 85 shops within this open-air mall so you’ll find something on every budget.
7. Beachside Bike Ride
Pedego Electric Bikes Carlsbad – 2978 Carlsbad Blvd #130, Carlsbad CA 92008
If you’re looking for an easy way to tour the Carlsbad area, there’s no better way than on a bicycle! Cruise the bike lane along the boardwalk and be rewarded with great exercise and an amazing view.
While Pedego Electric Bikes Carlsbad has mostly electric bikes, it also rents regular bikes. The electric bikes are fantastic; very comfortable and easy to maneuver. You’ll be given a bike helmet, a bike lock and taught how to use the bike before hitting the streets. Be aware that you will need to ride only in the bike lane and not on the sidewalks.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If allowing your youngster to ride his own bike along the busy roads makes you nervous, check out Pedego’s bikes with attached trailers and seats for small kids.
8. Museum of Making Music
5790 Armada Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Admission fee for those 3 and up, 2 and under are free
Parking is free
The Museum of Making Music is all about the instruments. The museum has recently reopened after a lengthy renovation. While learning about and hearing music is cool, playing it yourself is the best!
During my visit, my son was itching to get his hands on some of the tester instruments to try them out himself. He had the opportunity to play a mandolin, electric guitar, gong, slide guitar, drums and a harp guitar (something I’d never even heard of!) There were actually many instruments I’d never seen before inside the Museum of Making Music, including a harmonica that had scrolls similar to a player piano.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The Museum of Making Music opens each day at 10am (except Monday, when it’s closed). Plan to spend at least one hour exploring this unique museum. There is also a gift shop to purchase your own music makers.
9. Witch Creek Winery
2606 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad CA 92008
Located just off the beach, the Witch Creek Winery offers a tasting room with wine, food and live bands. For additional wineries in the San Diego area, look inland towards Temecula.
With a 7-mile long beachfront, spending a day on the sand is one of the top things to do in Carlsbad! The Pacific Ocean can be chilly – aim to visit Carlsbad in mid-summer or fall for warm water temperatures.
There are five Carlsbad beach locations to explore, including South Carlsbad State Beach. Some do not offer lifeguard services or restrooms, or are for mostly surfing. The two locations mentioned below are best for families. You’ll find lifeguards on duty, public restrooms and showers at both locations.
10. Tamarack Beach
Carlsbad Boulevard & Tamarack Avenue, Carlsbad, CA 92008
How to get there: Head northeast on Carlsbad Village Drive. Turn right on Roosevelt Street. Continue onto Magnolia Avenue. Turn right onto Jefferson Street. Turn right onto Tamarack Avenue.
11. South Ponto Beach
Carlsbad Boulevard north of La Costa Boulevard, Carlsbad, CA
How to get there: Head northeast on Carlsbad Village Dr. Turn right on Roosevelt St. Continue onto Magnolia Ave. Turn right onto Jefferson St., right onto Tamarack Ave and left onto Carlsbad Blvd. Take the Carlsbad Blvd S ramp.
12. Carlsbad Lagoon
4215 Harrison Street Carlsbad, California 92008
For those seeking active outdoor activities, there’s plenty of adventure in Carlsbad. Water sports abound at the Carlsbad Lagoon. Guests may rent motorized boats, aquacycles and kayaks. Paddleboard rentals are popular and life vests and paddles are included.
13. Surf Lessons
If learning to surf is on your vacation bucket list, try out SoCal Surf Lessons during a Carlsbad vacation. They offer year-round lessons every day of the week so you’ll be hitting the waves in no time!
14. Golf at The Crossings at Carlsbad
5800 The Crossings Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Grown ups wanting to get in a few swings should check out The Crossings at Carlsbad, an 18-hole championship golf course. Meet the family back at the clubhouse, where breakfast and lunch are served daily in The Canyons restaurant.
15. The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
5704 Paseo Del Norte Carlsbad, CA 92008
Admission fee for those 3 and up, 2 and under are free
Parking is free
If you’re looking for a gorgeous photo opportunity, this is it! The Carlsbad Flower Fields offer over 50 acres of brightly blooming giant ranunculus flowers, grown for their bulbs. Guests may walk along the designated paths or purchase a ride on the tractor wagon tour to enjoy the colorful displays.
Special offerings including wine tastings, yoga, tea in the garden, live music and kids’ days happen throughout the season.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The fields are only in bloom from early March through early May, so plan your visit accordingly.
16. State Street Farmers’ Market
2970 State Street Carlsbad, CA 92008
Each Wednesday at 2:30 pm, locals shop the vibrant open air farmers market, located within Carlsbad Village. Find fresh groceries, hot food vendors as well as flowers, herbs and sweets.
17. Batiquitos Lagoon Hiking Trail
7380 Gabbiano Ln, Carlsbad, CA 92011
This 561 acre lagoon is operated as a game sanctuary and bird estuary. The walking trail is 1.3 miles long and includes picnic tables, viewing deck and restrooms at the Nature Center.
18. Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park
6200 Flying Leo Carrillo Ln. Carlsbad, CA 92009
Visitors may walk, bike, jog or picnic in designated areas throughout the 27-acre park. The Carlsbad ranch is open between the hours of 9 AM – 5 PM.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Guided tours are free and meet at the welcome kiosk in the parking lot. Saturday and Sunday at 10 AM & 1 PM.
Places to Dine with Kids in Carlsbad
There’s no lack of wonderful eateries in the Carlsbad area! No matter the type of food or budget, you’ll find something delicious. These are a few of our favorite restaurants.
19. Choice Juicery
430 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad CA 92008
Choice Juicery is an excellent morning hangout, with plenty of space for kids to run around. Guests step onto the trailer porch to order, then chill on the lawn or picnic table until their order is up.
I recommend the cold pressed juice – the Dawn Patrol with carrot, orange, ginger and turmeric is a zippy way to start the day. Or try the PB&J smoothie with sprouted vanilla almond milk, date, eco-protein, banana, peanut butter and Choice raspberry chia jam. Delicious and filling, just right for fueling up before a long day.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Prices are a little steeper than what you might be used to seeing for smoothies and juice (around $10 each). However everything on the menu is gluten free, dairy free and plant based. Choice also offers bowls with toppings like granola or fresh berries.
20. Senior Grubby’s
377 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008
If you’re looking for a relaxed, casual California atmosphere, look no further than Senior Grubby’s. When in San Diego, one must order Mexican! Portions at Grubby’s are large and delicious.
And of course, Mexican food tastes great with a beer. Grubby’s offers beer on tap as well as craft bottles. Start with a side of chips and guacamole, they are absolutely delicious! The street tacos are a generous portion with plentiful toppings, and sides of rice and beans.
Everything at Senior Grubby’s is simply great, authentic tasting Mexican food. There’s plenty of seating both indoors and out (Brought the puppy? You can dine on the patio!)
SheBuysTravel Tip: Don’t miss the self-serve salsa bar. But trust us, the “hot” is really hot!
21. Pizza Port
571 Carlsbad Village Dr., Carlsbad, CA 92008
This popular local chain is known for its pizza and craft-brewed beers. Sure you can always stick with pepperoni but why not try something adventurous? Order one of Pizza Port’s Anti-Wimpy Pizzas like the BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza. Or this original flavor, the Pizza Solana with shrimp, clams, onions, bell peppers and mushrooms! The menu also offers salads, baked chicken wings and mac & cheese bites.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Pizza Port is really busy with the lunch crowd. Have one person grab a table while the other orders and fills drinks.
22. Handel’s Ice Cream
2825 State St, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Handmade fresh daily at each location, there’s bound to be a flavor to please every palate. The Carlsbad Handel’s Ice Cream always boasts a long stand-by line. Arrive early to beat the crowds. Or get there late – they’re open until 11 pm on the weekends!
Where to Stay: Family Friendly Carlsbad Hotels
Choosing the best hotel is easy within the Carlsbad area as there are many family-friendly accommodations. Read the tips about each recommended hotel for details in regards to location.
West Inn & Suites
4970 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad CA 92008
West Inn & Suites is located right between the beach and LEGOLAND, which makes it an ideal location for anyone wanting to explore all that Carlsbad has to offer. The West Inn & Suites is a family friendly and pet friendly boutique hotel. My family enjoyed the roomy 2-room suite, with the extra seating area, desk, wi-fi and separate television.
I felt so welcomed at the West Inn & Suites. In the evening, warm cookies and milk are served in the lobby (you can bet the kids loved that). Guest services even offers sand toys, chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards for use at the beach!
SheBuysTravel Tip: A complimentary shuttle service is available for guests within a five mile radius. Just perfect for getting you to and from the beach, LEGOLAND or Carlsbad Village with dining and shopping. Parking is complimentary at the West Inn & Suites, so consider bringing your own vehicle.
Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa
5420 Grand Pacific Drive, Carlsbad CA 92008
This lovely luxury hotel is located within walking distance to the LEGOLAND Resort. In fact, the hotel boasts a private walkway just for hotel guests visiting the theme park!
The Studio Ponto Suite offers views of the Pacific coastline along with a king bed and separate dual twin bedroom. Plan to spend time at the large pool with water slide and enjoy the onsite restaurant.
Sheraton Carlsbad shares a complimentary trolley shuttle with other area hotels with transportation to and from the beach and shopping locations.
LEGOLAND Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel
For families looking into a full LEGO experience, consider booking a stay at one of these two on-site properties. The LEGOLAND Hotel is the original, while the LEGOLAND Castle Hotel is the newer location.
Both are just steps from the front gate and offer themed rooms, kid-friendly amenities, onsite dining and more. A perk of staying at a LEGOLAND Resort hotel is early entry into the park.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Book your LEGOLAND Hotel and ticket package through Get Away Today for the best pricing!