Mention the destination Carlsbad, California and proclamations usually pipe up – LEGOLAND! Yes, this brick-tastic theme park is located in the sweet beach town of Carlsbad. You’ll want to set aside time for further exploration outside the park, though. Just waiting to be discovered: the Museum of Making Music, Carlsbad Ranch Flower Fields, Carlsbad Lagoon, Campfire restaurant… So many good things that make Carlsbad a destination unto itself.
Just 40 miles north of San Diego, Carlsbad might look sleepy from the outset, but there’s a lot happening. And don’t be fooled by the theme park sharing residence. The town isn’t teeming with tourists. Neither are the beaches.
Some must-sees while you’re there:
Museum of Making Music (MOMM)
Just outside of LEGOLAND is 5790 Armada Drive. At first glance, it seems like an ordinary business park. Walk inside the lobby to be greeted by a front desk that doubles as a piano and you’ll realize – music lives here. In fact, this museum promises to take visitors on a journey throughout music’s history, along the way compelling getting hands-on with instruments and creating soundtracks of one’s own. I immediately gravitated to the drum kit in the Innovation Studio where my beats rivaled those of Sheila E. After all, this is a place that’s all about musical dreams being born.
Open six days a week (closed on Mondays), MOMM hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. General admission is $10, Students/Military/Seniors $7, Children Free. For more information visit: NAMM Museum of Making Music
The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch (seasonal)
Though it’s closed until next year, keep an eye out for lingering pops of color from these fields, 50 acres of them to be exact. Open from March 1 through May 12, the ranch is teeming with Giant Tecolote Ranunculus. There’s also live music, a maze of sweet peas (don’t miss this) and tractor rides through every hue of the rainbow by way of flower petals.
Hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.. General admission starts at $18 for adults, $17 for AAA members, $16 for seniors and $9 for kids ages 10 to three. Prices for tours and wagon rides can be found on the website. For more information visit: The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
Catch Carlsbad’s Pacific views and an urge to hit the water strikes. A spot with a plethora of activities — stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, aqua cycles, peddleboats, waverunners — is Carlsbad Lagoon. There are endless opportunities to commune with nature (keep an eye out for seabirds) or get downright drenched with cohorts. Take a picnic and sprawl at one of the shoreline tables. Didn’t pack dessert? They’re ice cream selection will do the trick (and spur some nostalgia). Words to the wise: Don’t. Forget. Sunscreen.
Hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Check the Carlsbad Lagoon for rentals information.
There’s nothing like cruising along California beach cities’ main streets. Carlsbad’s State Street is no exception. Stroll past the galleries, shops and boutiques with stops to sample beer on tap (Barrel Republic) or hot from the oven doughnuts (The Goods). Feeling the need for something green? There’s lots to be had on the corner where State meets Carlsbad Drive. Located inside a cargo container, Choice Juicery has fresh-squeezed creations for sipping on the lawn, or under the wall garden overseen by a robot. Highly recommended is heading a mile down the road to Giacoletti Music’s new location to purchase an ukulele.
Leo Carrillo Ranch & Historic Park
Squeeze out every second of daylight with exploring Carlsbad attractions like Leo Carrillo Ranch & Historic Park. This Historic National Landmark is the former estate of Leo Carrillo, a vaudeville/film star, who was also a cartoonist and conservationist. Here, there are 27 acres to be explored with historic buildings along the property. Though it’s possible to take self-guided hikes in the park, we highly recommend visiting on a Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and on Sunday at noon and 2 p.m., when free guided walking tours are available.
As dreamy sunsets go, California beach sunsets are notorious. Visit Carlsbad recommends five top local beaches. One of the list we love is Terramar, where it’s possible to watch surfers in action. You can’t go wrong with any of these beauties during sunset, though. The other four: Tamarack State Beach, South State Beach, South Ponto Beach and the North Carlsbad Beaches.
Don’t pack up and head home just yet. There’s still dinner to be had, and it’s around the Campfire.
A teepee, quonset hut, firepit… Just a few of our favorite things. Then, there’s the cuisine. Yes, we were besotted with Campfire. This fun restaurant doesn’t hold back when it comes to flavor.
Even kids will like the Roasted Broccoli with chermula, lime and candied peanuts. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Please. Indulge in the Beef Tartare as a starter. Kicking taste buds in for what’s to come are the appetizer’s truffle, garden nori, enoki and pickled mustard seed touches.
Choosing a favorite main could lead to long discourses as dining partners argue are which are best. Seafood Pozole Verde? The Pork Chop with cherry, alliums and mustard? Smoked Duck? Yes, yes, yes and six more options that are a YES!
How to best close out the evening? This is Campfire, which calls for s’mores. As these come with salted caramel, we consider them a good night kiss all their own. Have one. Or three. Then plan a return trip to Carlsbad so you can do it all over again.