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This Coastal California Town You’ve Never Heard of Has Luxe Resorts, Colorful Flower Fields, and Lots of Live Music

Travel + Leisure

August 15, 2023

Welcome to Carlsbad, also known as “The Village by the Sea.”

Nicknamed “The Village by the Sea,” Carlsbad is a tranquil coastal city where visitors will find beautiful beaches, golf courses, five-star resorts, and a quaint downtown that remains true to its small-town image. The walkable Carlsbad Village is home to small businesses of all kinds, including coffee shops, artisanal donut sellers, and brewpubs. “Several e-bike and golf cart rental companies make it fun and easy to explore the Village and beyond,” Christine Davis, executive director of the Carlsbad Village Association, told Travel + Leisure.

May is a particularly popular month for travel to Carlsbad, right when The Flower Fields are at their colorful best and visitors can pick ripe strawberries to take home. Families flock to Legoland California Resort, where they can fill the day (or multiple days) with water park rides, an aquarium, and theme park attractions.

Fast becoming a destination for foodies, Carlsbad also offers a variety of restaurants, including two that have been recognized by Michelin, Campfire and Jeune et Jolie, with the latter boasting one Michelin star. According to Maria Riley of Visit Carlsbad, “Carlsbad Food Tours are great ways to learn about Carlsbad’s history while you experience tasty items from Carlsbad restaurants.” The annual Taste of Carlsbad is a popular event for locals and visitors as well — according to Davis, “It sells out every year.”

Luxury resort guests visit Carlsbad for golf, spas, and elegant surroundings. Others enjoy the outdoors and head to local hiking trailslagoons, and beaches. With all that Carlsbad has to offer year-round, and the many visitors who arrive for their favorite experiences, it’s impressive that the city retains its welcoming small-town style.

Best Hotels and Resorts in Carlsbad

Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club and Spa

This elegant five-star resort is set on 200 coastal acres, with an Arnold Palmer-designed championship golf course, six lighted tennis courts, and views of Batiquitos Lagoon. An ocean-view pool and children’s splash pool, private cabanas, two restaurants, and lobby bar make Aviara a family favorite. Adding to its charms, “The Miraval Life in Balance Spa features an array of wellness experiences, part of what makes the resort a true destination,” said Maria Riley of Visit Carlsbad.

Omni La Costa Resort and Spa

This expansive resort features The Spa at La Costa, eight pools (including an adult-only pool and children’s pool), two championship golf courses, 17 tennis courts, and five restaurants. Kidtopia Kids Club keeps young guests entertained, and there’s shopping and a variety of family-oriented activities.

The Westin Carlsbad Resort and Spa

Conveniently located near Carlsbad’s attractions, this resort features comfortable and stylish guest rooms, restaurants, a fitness center and spa, and a pool area with a billiards table and cornhole for family entertainment. Visitors to Legoland will appreciate the special back entrance to the park that’s just steps from the resort.

The Cassara Carlsbad, Tapestry Collection by Hilton

This property offers a range of guestrooms, including spacious two-room family suites equipped with coffee makers, mini-refrigerators, and convenient amenities. There’s a “Quiet Pool” with a hot tub, fire pits, and cabanas, in addition to a family pool with a splash pad for kids. Guests have access to a nearby spa and golf course.

Four Seasons Residence Club San Diego, Aviara

This Four Seasons location has more than 800 villas and residences, from guestrooms with kitchenettes to two-bedroom homes with full kitchens. Two heated outdoor pools, Driftwood Spa, a children’s pool, fire pits, and barbeque grills are onsite for guests, and Club 760 for kids features video games, books, and movies.

Best Things to Do in Carlsbad

Carlsbad Aquafarm

Visitors can tour this aquafarm to see the growth and harvesting of Carlsbad oysters and mussels. Along the way, you’ll learn about sustainable shellfish farming and experience the farm’s touch tanks. After the half-hour tour, there’s a half-hour shucking class and oyster tasting, which includes six oysters to enjoy. Note that reservations are required.

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

Every year from March through early May, 55 acres of blooming Giant Tecolote Ranunculus create a rainbow in Carlsbad. The celebration includes wagon rides, picnic areas, and benches for relaxing and enjoying the colorful scene. “There’s teatime in the gardens, educational programs for kids, outdoor concerts, yoga classes, dinners aux jardins, and more,” according to Travel + Leisure.

Legoland California Resort

Legoland California Resort includes a theme park with rides, shows, and attractions geared for families with children between ages two and twelve; a water park with a sandy beach, slides, and splash zone; and SEA LIFE Aquarium for hands-on learning with a variety of sea creatures. There are also two hotels here, Legoland Hotel and Legoland Castle Hotel.

Museum of Making Music

This museum celebrates musical instruments and the people who make, sell, and use them. Interactive exhibits let visitors play guitars, ukuleles, banjos, drums, and more. Instruments from antiques to synthesizers are on display, and docent tours are available.

New Village Arts Theater

“We have an award-winning, 99-seat theater with year round performances of Broadway shows, comedy, music, and more,” Davis told T+L. A full calendar of events and options for dinner and show packages are available.

Best Shopping in Carlsbad

Carlsbad Premium Outlets

Designer stores, boutiques, restaurants, and discount prices attract shoppers to this family-friendly outdoor mall. Among more than 80 designer brands are Calvin Klein, Coach, Ferragamo, and Karl Lagerfeld. Places to relax for a meal or snack include Panda Express, Wetzel’s Pretzels, Motto Japanese Grill, Jersey Mike’s, and Kream Factory.

The Forum Carlsbad

Set in a lush open-air environment, The Forum Carlsbad offers upscale shopping and dining. There’s an Apple store, as well as Anthropologie, Allbirds, Loft, Lululemon, Madewell, Sur la Table, Talbots, Warby Parker, Urban Outfitters, and more. Shoppers can dine at Urban Plates, Panera, Kaiseki Sushi, and McConnell’s Ice Cream.

The Shoppes at Carlsbad

This expansive mall includes an array of shops and restaurants, plus a movie theater, 24-hour Fitness, and beauty salons. Forever 21, Francesca’s, H & M, Hollister, JCPenney, Macy’s, Lenscrafters, and Zara are among retail stores, and dining spots include The Cheesecake Factory, Dave & Buster’s, Panera, and Yard House.

Carlsbad Village

This walkable shopping, dining, and entertainment area has a small-town feel and is just two blocks from the beach. Unique stops include Village Rock ShopOlde Ivy AntiquesTrove Marketplace, and hands-on options like Barrio Glassworks and Fired Up. Stop for coffee at Baba Coffee or Sleeping Tiger, and have dessert at GelatoLove or The Strawberry Shack.

Nightlife in Carlsbad

The Camp Store

This stop is many things rolled into one. It’s a restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a market and beach equipment rental shop. And as a family-friendly, beachfront entertainment venue with a full calendar of musical performances, it’s a hot spot for locals and visitors alike.

Coyote Bar and Grill

This longtime (since 1989) local hangout features indoor and outdoor dancing, heated fire pits, and live entertainment seven days a week. There’s weekend brunch and a menu that includes tacos, nachos, ribs, and “bottomless chips” and salsa, along with cocktails and local beers.

The Crossings at Carlsbad

This venue has plenty to entertain, including the “Friday Unwind” series. The weekly event is a time to kick back, relax, and lounge around a fireplace on the Sunset Patio, as live music from local bands sets the scene. Drink specials and tastings from local companies are also part of the party, as are sunset and ocean views.

The Landings Gastropub

Overlooking the runway at Carlsbad Palomar Airport, The Landings features live music every Wednesday to Sunday and happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday. On Fridays and Saturdays, music starts at 6 p.m. They serve a pub-inspired menu along with local craft beers, cocktails, and wines.

Best Restaurants in Carlsbad

Windmill Food Hall

This casual food hall serves more than delicious dishes, craft beer, and cocktails. It’s also a place for happy hour, live music, and trivia competitions, which pair quite well with sushi, pizza, tacos, New England lobster rolls, coffee, and donuts. Head to The Mill Bar for wine, craft beers, and cleverly named cocktails, and lookout for weekend brunch specials.

Jeune et Jolie

Whether you’re in the dining room, outdoors on the garden patio, or enjoying a casual dinner at the bar, you’re sure to agree that the French cuisine here deserves the Michelin star and acclaim it has received. A four-course tasting menu with optional wine pairings highlights local seafood and seasonal produce.

Blue Ocean Robata & Sushi Bar

The extensive menu here includes sushi, teriyaki, Korean BBQ ribs, soups, and salads. The restaurant also uses a traditional Japanese robata grill fueled by hardwood charcoal for its specialties, which include meat, seafood, and vegetable skewers with combinations like filet and pineapple and scallop and bacon.


Centered around a custom-built, wood-burning hearth, Campfire‘s homey atmosphere extends to the dining room and outdoor patio. The menu, with headings that continue the camping theme, includes grilled Maine lobster, brisket, ribeye, and a Wagyu skewer appetizer, and dessert options naturally include s’mores.

Gonzo! Ramen

This dog-friendly, retro-themed restaurant serves a variety of ramen dishes in its dining room or outside on the patio. Tonkotsu ramen, miso ramen, and signature Gonzo ramens are on the menu, along with a pork chashu bowl, chicken karaage bowl, and several appetizers.

Best Time to Visit Carlsbad

The beaches in Carlsbad are spectacular year-round, from the summer swimming and surfing season to cooler times when biking, strolling, fishing, and stunning sunsets continue to attract locals and visitors. In addition, the small-town atmosphere, destination resorts, and natural beauty make Carlsbad a welcome respite throughout the year, and especially during times of special events.

From March to May, The Flower Fields are a favorite stop for both residents and tourists. The Carlsbad Village Street Faire, held each May and November, is another draw for visitors. “Our year-round Farmers Market, set in the heart of downtown, is heading into its 29th year,” added Davis.

In autumn, families love the Carlsbad Strawberry Company’s Pumpkin Patch, open from September through early November. The Haunted Corn Maze is a popular Halloween attraction, ideal for teenagers and adults, while younger visitors can enjoy a non-spooky corn maze, tractor rides, and encounters with sheep and goats. In spring, visitors can pick their own delicious strawberries.

How to Get There

Carlsbad is about 90 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport, and about 35 miles north of San Diego International Airport. The drive from San Diego takes about 40 minutes depending on traffic, and it’s a scenic trip along the coastal Interstate 5 freeway. A drive, either by car, shuttle, or shared ride is the quickest and most convenient way to get to Carlsbad.

Three miles southeast of Carlsbad, McClellan-Palomar Airport serves corporate aircraft, commercial services, and the general aviation community. The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner travels from San Luis Obispo County in the north to San Diego, hugging the coast much of the way for a scenic trip. The closest stop to Carlsbad is Oceanside, about five miles away.

Getting Around

It’s convenient to get around with trains, buses, taxis, and shared rides.