Editor’s note: This post is part 3 in a 3 part series that explores three distinct beach destinations in Southern California. be sure to see our earlier articles on Long Beach and Huntington Beach!
Carlsbad is in North County that encompasses the communities of Carlsbad, Encinitas and Oceanside. Carlsbad is located about 40 minutes north of San Diego proper, close enough to be a part of the San Diego vibe but far enough to have its own identity and feel.
The city of Carlsbad is easily accessible via the San Diego airport (40 minute drive north) and also by the Orange County airport, being just an hour south.
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Our unique and welcoming accommodations
Our home in Carlsbad was, in a word, outstanding. We stayed at the Villagio Carlsbad Cottages, which are a cluster of 10 small homes that are all connected via a common area. Villagio is located just one block away from the heart of downtown Carlsbad, meaning you’re within walking distance of amazing restaurants, coffee shops and dessert spots downtown. The beach is close by too – a mere 5-10 minute walk, which our 3, 5 and 8 year old kids were easily able to handle.
The Villagio homes have 2+ bedrooms and can accommodate groups from 4 – 8 people with various bed arrangements. Some cottages have bunk beds and others have queen beds in the rooms.
Each cottage has the comforts of home including a full kitchen, bathroom and living room. The cottages are beautifully decorated and are perfect for small groups of travelers including families or even small groups of friends who want to get away. There’s a shared room in the center of the Villagio complex that has laundry (which is complimentary to use) and games to play while you stay.
Our unit had an adorable small back yard featuring a barbecue, bench and sitting area and a wagon that had all the accessories and fun toys for a walk to the beach.
The Villagio cottages are perfect for family stays because they have the accommodations and comforts of home in an ideal location. The cottages are like the best an Airbnb but without the hassles and unsure nature of renting a place where you’re unsure of your total experience.
Carlsbad is known for their food, beer, the beach and of course, Legoland. During our first night in town, we dined at Vigilucci’s Cucina Italiana, located right in downtown in Carlsbad Village (downtown) and a short 5 minute walk from the Villagio cottages. As the name might suggest, Vigilucci’s is an Italian restaurant. The establishment is family owned and there are two locations – the one we visited and another near the beach in Carlsbad about two miles away.
We were promptly greeted by the staff and enjoyed some amazing wine and pasta. The service was on point the entire time and the kids were as smitten as we were. Viggiluci’s is recommended for families also for couples who want a lovely meal out, sans kiddos.
The next morning, we dined at the Cafe Topes, which is an adorable breakfast spot that’s enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. We opted to sit outside as it was 70 degrees at 10AM, so why not?! 🙂
Cafe Topes has locally roasted coffee, creative egg dishes and sweet treats such as pancakes, french toast and the like. Families, do know that this restaurant is mainly self-service as far as utensils and bussing are. Our little family did just fine but if you have little babies, just take note.
Being in North County, so close to a beer mecca such as San Diego, I was dying to sample some local beers. At the same time, my family was super hungry one evening and the perfect meal was pizza! Luckily for all of us, Carlsbad is home to a really awesome pizza place called Pizza Port.
In operation since 1997, Pizza Port is at the corner of Roosevelt and Carlsbad Village Drive (one block away from the Villagio cottages) and features yummy pizza, local beers and is also home to their own craft beers made on site. We hit Pizza Port on a Thursday night and it was hopping. As a local favorite, it gets crowded so it’s suggested that you go between 4:00 and 5:15 or later in the evening.
Our clan had no problem finding a pizza we would love on the menu and grabbed a seat on the long bench arrangements. Like most fine pizza establishments, there are arcade games to entertain the kids. Pizza Port is a little loud, but for families and groups of people who can talk over the noise, it’s ideal. The pizza was off the charts good and the beer was just devine. I had an IPA and my wife enjoyed a local golden ale.
Much To Do In Carlsbad
Ok, enough about food! 🙂
Let’s talk about what there is to do in Carlsbad. And to begin, let’s discuss the most well-known tourist attraction for families in Carlsbad, Legoland.
We visited Legoland on our first full day in Carlsbad and had such a wonderful time. As school in Southern California had begun already, Legoland offered fun, dancing and mingling with Lego characters with zero lines. The weather was perfect as it was sunny and 75 degrees.
Legoland has slow ride-along train rides, roller coasters for bigger kids, lots of dancing characters that invite you to join the show and much more. Legoland is perfect for families with smaller children because 85% of the rides and experiences are aimed at kids from babies up to 12. In fact, there’s so much to do at Legoland, it’s my recommendation to buy a multi-day pass to you feel enabled to take your time in each part of the park and you don’t miss anything. There’s even a full water park attached to Legoland if you feel like getting wet. 🙂
Our families’ favorite experiences at the park were the roller coasters, the driving rides where my 5 and 8 year old girls were able to drive their own car on a challenge road track and the Lego Friends interactive show. We dined in the park and were surprised at the healthy options available in the park. Whereas normal theme park food is chicken strips and hot dogs, Legoland offers salads, fresh fruit and other options – which was a welcome option for this family.
Getting outside in nature. Carlsbad is surrounded by so much natural beauty that you’re neglecting yourself if you don’t get out into it. We ventured out to Agua Hediona Lagoon Discovery Center to see this outstanding lagoon and natural area. We visited the Agua Hediona visitors center, which, during the school year, hosts local students in elementary and middle school classrooms for educational activities. The welcome center has an array of reptiles, birds, fish and other wildlife on full display. We were lucky enough to get an up close tour from Samantha, the center’s Educational Manager and also a local girl who loves Carlsbad and North County.
Our children were able to touch snakes, get up close with a desert tortoise and even see the center’s active beehive. In the center, you’re also able to learn about the native populations that called the area home before it was settled by missionaries.
After our tour of the center, we took an hour-long hike with amazing views of the lagoon that leads into the perfectly blue Pacific Ocean. It was truly amazing.
Visiting an American History Museum
At the conclusion of our hiking and petting tortoises, we were a hungry little family. We visited the Green Dragon, which was a short drive from the lagoon. This unique establishment is a fun walk through history as owner John Lek has collected historic documents, photos and artifacts that brings Boston to Carlsbad.
The “Green Dragon” name originates in Boston itself, as the Green Dragon Tavern was the bar where Sam Adams, Paul Revere and other patriots met in secret to plan the Boston Tea Party and other revolution-sparking events. The Green Dragon in Carlsbad is part restaurant and part museum (which is free). The museum is comprised of documents, some are originals and some are replicas, that enable west coasters to be witness to the events and developments that sparked the origin of a new nation.
As for dining, Green Dragon offers a Boston/New England pub dining experience with cod sandwiches, clam chowder and other yummy dishes you’d expect to have while looking at Boston Harbor. The pub also features New England beers and local favorites from the west coast as well.
Let’s hit the beach
While staying at the Villagio Cottages, you’re only 4 blocks from the beach. So, as one does, we grabbed the wagon mentioned above and stacked it with the complimentary beach toys, towels and chairs and headed to the beach! We walked for 10 short minutes and navigated a flight of stairs and enjoyed a spectacular day at one of Carlsbad many city parks set on the beach.
We were at Carlsbad City Beach, as it is known, which is actually state property within Carlsbad State Park. This beach is located along Ocean Street with many different stairway accesses to the beach. Public access is provided by the city at Ocean Street and Carlsbad Village Drive, Grand Avenue, Christiansen Way, Beech Avenue, and Rue des Chateaux.
The Pacific Ocean was a warm 72 degrees, perfect for playing with the kids in the surf. You can also bodyboard and frolic in the sand. Another idea is to bring some beverages and wait for one of those beautiful California sunsets.
Families should note that there are no lifeguards on duty or bathrooms down on the beach. So, plan accordingly!
Disclosure: Thank you to Visit Carlsbad and their local partners who graciously provided accommodation and activities assistance for this trip.
My opinions, however, can never be bought. 🙂