Often referred to as the “Village By The Sea,” the charming city of Carlsbad, California is home to world-famous theme parks, miles of pristine coastline, and an unparalleled gastronomy scene. This quaint seaside city in Southern California sits just north of San Diego.
Carlsbad is exploding with fun activities and experiences. It’s the ideal location for a unique San Diego getaway, whether you’re visiting with kids, best friends, or your sweetheart! Greg and I love visiting Carlsbad and frequently visit for a little weekend staycation or day trip from San Diego.
Are you wondering what to do when you get here? Follow through this list of exciting things to do in Carlsbad on your next vacation.
The Best Things To Do In Carlsbad California
Stroll Through Carlsbad Village
Carlsbad Village is the heart and soul of this coastal city. With charisma and culture, this adorable enclave has endless things to do to keep you occupied all day.
As a German, I always have to stop at Tip Top Meat Market, a German grocery store and butcher shop to pick up some goodies for the pantry.
More than a hundred locally-owned shops line the village’s packed alleyways, selling everything from kitchenware and jewelry to souvenirs and gift items. There’s even art galleries and antique stores, too.
For a break between shopping, be sure to stop by the Old Train Station. The historic station tells of the evolution of this small whistle-stop, dating back to the 1880s.
Small hipster bars are especially popular and come to life on Friday and Saturday evenings. Our favorite spot is Pure Project Brewery and its cute little beer garden. Or how about some old-fashioned ice cream at Handel’s Ice Cream? This place has been open for almost 80 years and offers 45 different flavors every single day.
With so much to do, one stroll through the magical streets of Carlsbad Village is never enough.
Behold The Floral Charm Of The Carlsbad Flowers Fields
Mother nature has gifted Carlsbad for over 60 years with colorful, hilly landscapes dotted with flowery fields. Today, it’s a major tourist attraction known as the Carlsbad Flower Fields.
An array of plant species are in full bloom for approximately six to eight weeks from March until May. If you plan a getaway this spring break, you’ll most likely catch the colorful sights of these rose-like flowers decorating 50 acres of Carlsbad Ranch.
The Carlsbad Flower Fields have plenty of gardens and games to keep you occupied during your visit, like the floral maze, rock hunting, and more. The younger ones will love Santa’s Playground, and the American Flag of Flowers is a hot Instagram selfie spot, so don’t forget your camera.
Release Your Inner Child At Legoland California Resort
Legoland tops the chart of Carlsbad attractions. It’s a treasure trove of family-centered entertainment, spanning over 128 acres and accented with 60 rides and shows.
Start your day with a medieval fantasy by getting lost amongst flying dragons and deep dark tunnels of Castle Hill. Miniland is another must-see, which your little ones will especially love. Whisk through mini versions of major US cities, like San Fransisco, Washington D.C and the latest addition: A Mini San Diego. How cool is that?
Install the Legoland App on your phone before you arrive. You can get the best up-to-date information about available rides, wait times, age requirements, and ticket prices.
Moreover, you can ask for early reservations, valet parking, and luggage services if it’s something you’re interested in.Book here
Soak Up The Californian Sun On The Carlsbad Beaches
If you’re wondering what to do in Carlsbad, this is one of the best.
Beach bumming is essential for every trip to Carlsbad. Nobody can resist the many white sand beaches stretching along the coastline and the humongous waves that test even the most skilled surfers.
Tamarack Beach is close to Carlsbad Village Drive and ideal for a family day out. You can surf, swim, scuba dive, or watch the sunset at the end of the day. There’s nothing better than easy access to the beach.
Another famous shoreline is at South Carlsbad State Beach. Unlike the previous, it has fewer amenities and offers more of a remote vibe.
Last, don’t forget to take a look at beaches like North Ponto and Terramar. These are great options if you’ve already paid a visit to the above beaches.
Sea Life Aquarium
Give your child an exciting interaction with marine life at the Sea Life Aquarium of Legoland.
With over 6,000 adorable creatures, you’ll get up close to all kinds of species, such as sharks, stingrays, seahorses, even shipwrecks. Throughout your visit, you’ll be able to take advantage of educational talks, thrilling games, and feeding experiences.
Try to plan your trip around the Radical Rays experience. This is where you’ll get up close and personal with stingrays and learn how they live their lives.
Get your hands on an exclusive Sea Life Aquarium ticket or upgrade your Legoland day-hopper pass to enter.
Did you know that Carlsbad is home to Southern California’s only oyster farm? Oysters are every Californian’s favorite seafood snack. See what the fuss is about by taking a tour of the Carlsbad Aquafarm.
The 90-minute expedition will give visitors an understanding of how these shellfish are grown and harvested. You’ll even have the chance to taste a selection of oysters while looking out over the nearby lagoon. After a small shucking demonstration alongside the professionals, feel free to ask any questions before you part ways.
There’s one set entry price for the Carlsbad Aquafarm. With it, everything is included, from tastings to a guided tour of the complex. Following the tour, visitors can order fresh oysters and mussels to take home.
I did a tour there last year and really enjoyed it. It was fun to learn about the oyster farming process, but the best part was of course, when I learned how to chuck an oyster and then got to enjoy them. It doesn’t get better than that. I took a few dozen home and we had a feast at home.
Visit the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park
This 27-acre canyon is the legacy of LA actor Leo Carrillo who is famed for his role in the 1950 television series, Cisco Kid. He was an avid conservationist who set up the ranch after discovering the hidden beauty of the untouched valley.
The property features a vast plantation with reflecting pools, restored adobe buildings, and vintage windmills. All of which evoke memories of rich Californian history.
You can explore the State & National Historical Landmark daily, excluding Monday. If interested, 90-minute guided tours are available on Saturdays.
An additional item of interest is the Rancho Carrillo Trail. This trail connects with the citywide trail system and is considered an easy route for all levels of fitness, just be sure to wear suitable shoes.
Join A Paint Party Surfboard Class
Looking for something to do in Carlsbad that’s a bit out of the box? Add this Tamarack Beach Surfboard Paint Class to your to-do list.
Design your very own mini surfboard souvenir to take home, while learning some creative techniques from a professional.
Your guide will provide all the supplies you need to pull off an absolute masterpiece, from a wooden surfboard, to paint and brushes.
Don’t worry about exposing your amateur artsy skills, if needed, there are pre-drawn designs which are super easy to fill. Imagine the boasting you’ll get to do when someone asks where you got this splashy surfboard.
The course lasts two hours and snacks will be available to ensure nobody goes hungry.Book here
Shop Til You Drop At The Carlsbad Premium Outlets
As the name suggests, this outdoor shopping center is a premium destination for shopaholics in North County.
The open-air mall hosts over 80 designer brands, including Adidas, Nike, Coach, Tory Burch, and Michael Kors.
After your splurge, dip into one of the area’s top-notch dining spots to refresh after all that walking between stores.
Pick Strawberries At The Carlsbad Strawberry Company
A strawberry farm might not be the first thing that springs to mind when considering the best places to visit in Carlsbad, but it should be!
Carlsbad Strawberry Company allows visitors to pick strawberries for themselves through their U-Pick program. This is an exciting activity to do with your family or friends. Each person in your group will be charged a flat $5 entry fee, plus a fee depending on how many strawberries you collect.
After harvesting your own fruit, meander through sunflower mazes and lavender fields. Then finish up with a bite to eat at one of the food trucks serving gourmet meals and ice cold drinks.
Leave the kiddos in the bounce room to blow off some steam while you take time to unwind.
Discover Carlsbad On A Scavenger Hunt
Wacky Walks has figured out an epic way to explore Carlsbad and invites your whole group to join them.
Download the app upon purchasing and within minutes you’ll be racing around the city in search of landmarks and objects. Collect as many points as possible before the time runs out and see if you have what it takes to come out on top.
This activity combines a walking tour, scavenger hunt, and trivia game, all in one.
Multiple versions of this tour exist for various groups, such as bachelorette parties, birthdays, and dates. You can customize your route and the time spent at each landmark to your taste.Book here
Tour The Museum Of Making Music
Take a melodic turn during your visit to Carlsbad by touring the Museum of Making Music (MoMM).
The museum displays the rich history and splendid growth of the American music industry. Various murals and instruments mimic the timelapse from the 1900s through today.
Don’t miss a beat while watching the story of American music unfold right before you.
Get Your Hands On Local Produce At The Farmers Market
The Carlsbad Village Farmers Market is an excellent location for fresh local produce.
Sample delicious farm-to-table food from San Diego’s local chefs. Wander past florist shops that spread a pleasant aroma to every corner. Chat with vendors selling fresh fruits, veggies, olive oil, and hot sauces.
The Carlsbad Village Farmers Market takes place on State Street from 3 to 7 pm every Wednesday. In winter, the market closes one hour earlier than usual.
Finding parking on the day of the market can be difficult, but if you head south of Carlsbad Village Drive, you’ll find some.
Get Your Fill Of Water Sports At Hedionda Lagoon
Carlsbad is home to a handful of peaceful lagoons, one of the most notable being the breathtaking Hedionda Lagoon.
This is an expansive stretch of saltwater separated from the sea, dubbed Agua Hedionda, that facilitates diverse species and daring water sports.
California Watersports Rental provides visitors with a selection of exciting activities which thrill seekers are sure to love.
Whether you want to paddle slowly on a kayak or take a ride on a power boat, there’s so much to choose from.
Carlsbad is arguably the best place in San Diego to explore the great outdoors, thanks to challenging walking trails and mountain peaks like Mount Calavera.
Locals particularly enjoy the extensive Aviara trail system which offers something for both hikers and bikers. Routes range from kid-friendly to strenuous.
If it’s your first time in Carlsbad, I recommend you take the Golf View Trail. It’s not too long, and you’ll come in contact with outstanding vistas, diverse water features, and beautiful views of the Aviara Golf Club.
Take A 2 Hour Surf Lesson
Hit the Pacific Ocean and tackle the Carlsbad waves while taking a 2 hour surf lesson. Whether you’ve surfed before or are just starting, your trainer will have you well on your way to scraping the top of the rolling waves.
This is a private lesson, so you’ll have plenty of alone time with your guide, making it more of an intimate experience. All gear required is provided, including a wetsuit and surfboard.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to hit the ocean.Book here
Get To K1 Speed For Head-To-Head Karting Action
Do you have the need for speed? K1 Speed indoor karting track is the ultimate way to get your kick of adrenaline in Carlsbad.
Choose between junior and adult karts, which clock up to 45 mph, as you race around one of San Diego’s high end tracks.
The track’s Arrive & Drive policy makes it easy to visit. No reservations are required, just show up and hit the pedal. K1 Speed is open all year, safe, and filled with lots of fun.
Imagine competing in a winding race against your loved ones for bragging rights. It’s the perfect way to spend one of your days in Carlsbad.
Hit The Carlsbad Skate Park
Pass by the Carlsbad Skate Park and watch the experts flip their boards and pull off some unbelievable skills.
This is an ideal location for beginners to learn the tricks of the trade and provides skaters with a blend of street and small transition boarding.
Grab your skates or rollerblades and see if you have what it takes, just don’t forget your safety gear.
Cruise Across The City On An Electric Bike
Have you ever ridden an e-bike before? Well, now’s your chance.
This 3 hour ride takes you across majestic beaches and past landmarks on a fully charged electric bike.
Pick up your bike at Pedego Carlsbad, and embark on a self-guided tour.
What sets this e-bike tour apart from others is you choose your own itinerary. Decide if you would rather travel through cute towns like Leucadia and Encinitas, stop for food at a boutique cafe, or just hit the road and see where it takes you.
You’ll be fully trained by a staff member before hitting the streets, so no worries if you’ve never ridden an e-bike before.Book here
Deep Dive Into The Carlsbad Restaurant Scene
San Diego is known across the US for its diverse culinary scene, and Carlsbad is no different.
The city is overflowing with delightful restaurants and eateries where you can meet your friends and family for an exceptional meal.
When it comes to dinner time, you’ll be spoiled for choice when choosing where to dine. If you’re feeling seafood, you need to check out Bluewater Grill, but if Italian is more your thing, nowhere beats 264 Fresco. And if you want a special treat, get yourself a reservation for Jeune et Julie, which recently received a well-deserved Michelin Star. Greg and I celebrated our last wedding anniversary here and it was fantastic!
Eat As Much Food As You Can On The Carlsbad Food & Wine Tasting Tour
This 3 hour, nonstop eating tour through Carlsbad Village is a unique mix of sightseeing, culture, history, and lots of gourmet food.
Make 6 expert-vetted stops and eat mountains of tacos, piles of vodka-drenched gnocchi, artisan donuts, and too much gelato. You’ll even make a stop at Witch Creek Winery for your favorite wines.
Let’s hope you don’t get too full before the final whistle.Book here
The list of the best things to do in Carlsbad can go on and on, but I have made sure to mention all of the unmissable attractions so you have a phenomenal time.
Travel Resources for Planning Your Trip
Last Updated on June 27, 2023 by Maria Haase