All you need to know to plan a family vacation in Carlsbad California: best things to do in Carlsbad with kids, Carlsbad hotels for families, travel tips.
One of our favorite beach destinations for families in California is the delightful city of Carlsbad.
A laid-back village on the fabulous Pacific Coast, Carlsbad is located just to the north of San Diego.
It is a chilled out, pretty town and with plenty to do for kids, a wonderful sandy beach, tons of family-friendly hotels and restaurants and something kids will adore: Legoland and Legoland Water Park!
We were able to experience Carlsbad fully thanks to a home exchange here that allowed us to live the city like locals and we grew overly fond of the place.
Before we went, however, we knew next to nothing about this most beautiful corner of California.
We had heard that Carlsbad had Legoland but aside from that, we wondered: what is there to do for kids in Carlsbad? And is Carlsbad beach kid-friendly?
After our wonderful stay in Carlsbad, we got our answer to these and many more questions about visiting Carlsbad with kids. These are the many reasons why we loved Carlsbad for a family getaway and what makes it one of our favorite places in Southern California for kids.
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What there is to do in Carlsbad for kids?
Carlsbad is full of family friendly attractions.
The most famous of all is Legoland, which I am not going to cover here (you can find all the info on the official site) but there are many more that pleased immensely both our kids and us such as beach, libraries, family-friendly restaurants and historic park.
The best thing to do in Carlsbad with kids (that are not Legoland)
Enjoy Carlsbad Beach
I start my list of the best things to do in Carlsbad with kids with the gorgeous stretch of golden sand that is Carlsbad State Beach.
Soft, wide and clean, this is a fantastic all-around beach suitable for swimming, surfing, body boarding and of course sunbathing!
The beach has lifeguards of duty during the day and is popular with visitors of all ages including families.
In terms of facilities, the beach has public restrooms, an outdoor shower and beach volley equipment.
Cafes and restaurants abound along the coastal road and surf shops offer gear rental and surf lesson options to adults and kids alike.
Carlsbad has miles of beaches and depending on where you are you are exactly they have different names.
We spent the vast majority of our time on Carlsbad Beach just in front of Carlsbad village and shops but also stretched our legs to Tamarack, farther down, also nice.
We found these to be two of the best family friendly beaches in San Diego.
Learn to surf with a kid-friendly class
Carlsbad Beach is where our kids got their first surf lesson which was great fun.
We booked our class a the Offshore Surf Shop right at the beach and the children adored it.
At the shop, you can rent wetsuits and boards and the teachers are absolutely great. Our children had zero experience with the waves and got their confidence up in no time: we were able to enter the water with them and try to surf along with them and it all ended up being one of the best family activities we have ever done!
The classes can be booked one by one so you don’t have to commit to a course and can even do it if you are in Carlsbad just for the weekend.
Try water sports in Carlsbad Lagoon
When we didn’t feel like tackling ocean waves but still wanted to be near water, we headed to the Carlsbad Lagoon.
This lagoon has perfectly calm waters and offers the opportunity to do SUP, kayaking and motor boating.
The lagoon has a small sandy beach and is a great place for adults and kids alike to try their hand at water sports and, within the marked limits, has safe waters.
We fund the lagoon to be very popular with local families with small kids and also teenagers which is one of the reasons why we felt Carlsbad was great for kids: it is very easy to make friends here while staying active in the water, perfect for a summer vacation.
Have a healthy snack at the village juice shop
On our way between our house and the beach, we used to eye a gorgeous-looking juice shop, selling freshly pressed vegetables and fruit juice, gluten-free banana bread and healthy snacks in an outdoor, pleasantly kitted-out area.
Taking the first sip from a juice bottle and getting addicted to this place happened at once: this immediately became our favorite Carlsbad hangout and spend here more money and time than we are happy admitting.
Close to the beach and along the main street, this is an easy stop and one that we felt summarized our stay in the city: pleasant, hip and child friendly all in the right amount.
Eat to your heart content in Carlsbad family-friendly restaurants
Carlsbad has many family-friendly restaurants that are one of the many reasons why I considered this beach town one of the best beach destinations for families in the US – being able to skip cooking is a must for me, on vacation!
You can choose between a variety of styles and price points. Some of our favourite family-friendly restaurants in Carlsbad are:
Harbor Fish Cafe – lovely seafood restaurant and cafe, perfect for a meal of t even just a snack with tacos and fresh drinks, right beside the beach
Campfire – beautiful family-friendly restaurant in Carlsbad with an upscale feel and kid-friendly options. Go on the terrace on the back so the kids can play in the teepee! Camp-inspired refined kitchen perfect for adults and kids: the pretty s’mores dessert was a hit!
101 Park Carlsbad – wonderful family-friendly restaurant close to the beach with an excellent outside terrace with games and plenty, kids menu and fun offering such as cotton candy bar!
Blue Water grill – lovely seafood and fish restaurant with a nice outdoor terrace with view on the Amtrak line (our kids adored it!) and with nice kids menu and coloring set gifted on arrival.
Village Kitchen and Pie Shoppe – Another family-friendly restaurant in Carsblad with lovely pies. The atmosphere is quiet and pleasant and the pie portions huge! Lovely menu options for kids but also low-calorie diets. Great for a multigenerational family meal.
Pizza Port – our kids love the loud and fun atmosphere of Pizza Port and we love their choice of brews! Another lovely choice for a family pizza meal, especially if you have older kids who may enjoy the arcade games and busy feel.
Visit the Flower fields
Carlsbad is famous for its gorgeous flower fields. They are only in bloom in the spring and they are a great reason to visit Carlsbad with kids on a spring break – you can find info and exact dates here.
Learn history in Leo Carrillo Ranch
Leo Carrillo Ranch in Carlsbad is a historic park in what used to be a working ranch owned by actor Leo Carrillo.
The historic park is a great place to visit with kids as you can safely walk in the gardens, have a picnic and simply spend the day outdoors as well as of course learning about the history of California visiting the ranch historical buildings.
If, like us, you come from Europe, this is a great place for learning a piece of history that is easily overlooked in schools. You can find info on the ranch here.
Go to the library or a bookshop
Something we loved about Carlsbad was the abundance of bookshops and its great library.
Ours is a family of book lovers and Carlsbad was a bit of a special place in this sense.
On the way to the beach, we noticed several bookshops with new and second-hand books, we also find a wonderful Barns and Nobles Bookshop a short drive from the town center and the town also has a lovely library with a kids’ section and family events.
Go to the pool and enjoy Carlsbad waterparks
Legoland Waterpark is a real treat for kids and it is likely to stay as the highlight of their vacation in Carlsbad.
However, if you cannot commit to a day there you can also go to smaller swimming pool centres that ok, are not the same, but can still offer a lot of fun (they are also easier on the budget)
One out kids love was in Vista, a short drive from the town center: with slides, lazy river and floats, this was a huge hit with our kids and a great place to hang out on a got day with other local families.
Take the train
Carlsbad has an Amtrak train station and catching the train to see the area can be a great thing to do with kids in Carlsbad when they feel like a little bit of adventure!
For a day trip, we took the train into San Diego and then back at night, which was easy and fun. The train also serves other beach communities on the Southern California coast, with means you can easily use Carlsbdad as a home base to discover the area without driving much.
Make Music and the ‘Museum of Making Music’ of Carlsbad
Carlsbad has a lovely museum of music that is fun for kids to explore. Here, as well as learning about musical instruments, they find an interactive room when they can try their own hand at musical creation.
Really fun and something different in the afternoon after the beach. you can find info here
Pick your own strawberries
A lovely activity to do on Carlsbad with toddlers and young kids is to go and pick your won strawberries at the Carlsbad Strawberry Company.
As the name suggests, you can pick strawberries with the kids, which is super fun, but you can also do more than that! The place has a fun sunflowers maze, an apple cannon (!) and bouncy castles. Lots of family fun: you can find info here.
Family-friendly hotels in Carlsbad CA
Carlsbad offers a great selection of family hotels and rentals that will suit most families.
Some we checked out are are:
Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach – we like Hilton properties and this one is no exception. Located close to the beach it has a nice pool, excellent service and comes in at a good price point too. Find info and offers here
Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort – lovely and with a touch of old work elegance, this is a fantastic family friendly resort in Carlsbad. Right on the beach, it has nice family suites, swimming pools, wonderful sea views and it is in a great location for the beach, the village and Legoland. Info and offers here.
Tamarack Beach Hotel – nice family hotel in Carlsbad right in front of the kid-friendly Tamarack Beach, with nice family rooms, swimming pool, restaurant onsite and free wifi and parking. Find info and offers here.
What to pack for a vacation in Carlsbad with kids
Carlsbad is a wonderful beach destination so you need beach clothes and all your swimming gear.
You can find our full packing list for a family beach vacation here.
I hope you enjoyed this family guide to Carlsbad California and it inspired you to plan a visit. Safe travel planning!
More fun places to enjoy in Carlsbad with kids – in and out of town
Legoland – of course!
La Jolla – lovely for water sports, to see seals and with a great Aquarium – you can find our guide to a day in La Jolla with kids here
Old Town San Diego Historic Park – wonderful to learn history but also for a relaxing in the lovely Mexican restaurants and patios
Coronado Island – a wonderful beach for toddlers and a very pleasant part of San Diego, perfect for a relaxed afternoon with the kids. Find our guide to visiting Coronado as a family here.
Balboa Park – in San Diego, this park is a destination in itself and it is wonderful for kids as it has playgrounds, large spaces, museums, a theater (we saw the Lorax with the kids here) and San Diego Zoo
Family beach vacation in Carlsbad California: pin this!
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