17 Best Things to Do in Carlsbad

Home to beautiful beaches, LEGOLAND California, natural wonders, shopping & more, explore our guide to the best places to go and things to do in Carlsbad.
Todd Sarouhan
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
Best Things to Do in Carlsbad
Best Things to Do
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A Tourist's Guide to the Best Things to Do in Carlsbad

Two Surfers on a Wave Left and Right at Tamarack Surf BeachClose up of Flowers at the Flower Fields

The breezy beachside neighborhood of Carlsbad was once a small village by the sea that was invigorated by the discovery of natural mineral waters. Today, it is a premier vacation destination in San Diego thanks to both its laid-back beach town vibes and the many things to do in town for visitors and permanent residents alike.

Carlsbad sits about 30 miles north of Downtown San Diego, and consists of a 7-mile stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline. Lovingly dubbed the “Village by the Sea” by locals, it’s a great vacation spot for foodies, families, and those seeking fun in the sun offering popular southern California activities such as surfing, yoga, and stand up paddle boarding (SUP).

Families with young kids will love exploring LEGOLAND California or any of the neighborhood’s hands-on museums. Discount admission to LEGOLAND California and many San Diego area museums is included with advanced purchase of the Go City San Diego pass using discount code GVSD5OFF.

Nature lovers can explore the grounds of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Calavera Nature Preserve, which support conservation efforts for native animals and plantlife. Animal lovers and families with inquisitive kids can take a local rideshare or the short drive up the freeway to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in nearby Escondido.

Some of the best shopping in San Diego can be found in Carlsbad at the Carlsbad Premium Outlets and along Carlsbad Village Drive. And of course, you’ll want to make time for the beaches as well! Catch one of the best sunsets in San Diego at Carlsbad City Beach or try surfing at Tamarack Surf Beach. Other popular area beaches include Warm Water Jetty Beach, North Ponto Beach and South Ponto Beach.

Are you feeling overwhelmed with so many amazing options for things to do in Carlsbad? We’ve got you covered below with our top picks for the best activities in Carlsbad!

Designed with families and their kids in mind, LEGOLAND Castle Hotel at the LEGOLAND California Resort in Carlsbad is a feast for the imagination. You're sure to have as much fun as Todd does on his tour!

Stay at the Legoland Castle Hotel

The Best 17 Things to Do in Carlsbad - The Village by the Sea

Make the most of San Diego’s incredible weather as you visit the top attractions in Carlsbad, from gorgeous beaches and historic sites to fun-filled museums, outlet malls, and theme parks. Explore this small yet charming community sandwiched about 45 minutes from Downtown San Diego and just an hour and 45 minutes from Los Angeles.

Enjoying the Legoland Ride
Enjoying the Legoland Ride

1) Spend the Day with Your Young Kids at LEGOLAND California

San Diego Attractions: LEGOLAND® California

As one of the best things to do in all of San Diego, LEGOLAND California should be high on your list of attractions to explore when you visit Carlsbad, especially if you have young kids. This family-friendly attraction is part of the all-inclusive Go City San Diego pass, which is well worth purchasing if you plan to visit many of Carlsbad’s greatest hits during your stay.

The theme park also includes the LEGOLAND California Resort, for those looking to stay near all the thrills the park has to offer. Go on roller coasters and other rides, build LEGO creations at activity stations throughout the park, and head to the attached LEGOLAND Water Park which includes pirate themed playgrounds, beaches, and water slides!

The dozens of rides, games, and live shows within the park are fun for the whole family. There are also multiple shopping and dining options, so you can easily spend the entire day making memories with your family.

Buy LEGOLAND Tickets
Surf Lessons at La Jolla Shores
Surf Lessons at La Jolla Shores

2) Take a Group Surf Lesson

San Diego Tours: 5 Best San Diego Surf Lessons & Rentals

Many of Carlsbad’s beaches are best known for their excellent surfing conditions. These include Warm Water Jetty Beach, Tamarack Surf Beach, North Ponto Beach, South Ponto Beach, and Terramar Beach. Even if you’ve never surfed before, or if your skills are a little rusty, you can make the most of these excellent waves by taking a group surfing lesson and learning the basics.

The 2-hour private surf lesson in Carlsbad is the perfect place to pick up a new skill while having fun with friends and family. An experienced surfer and personal instructor will be your guide, as you learn the basics of balancing and paddling on a surfboard, surf etiquette, safety, and recoveries.

Once you’ve honed your skills, you can rent a surfboard and head out to any of San Diego’s best surfing beaches for fun in the sun. The Go City San Diego pass is a great way to save on the cost of surf lessons and board rentals.

Book Surf Lesson
Eat at Swamis Cafe in the Village of Carlsbad
Eat at Swamis Cafe in the Village of Carlsbad

3) Go on a Food Tour in Carlsbad Village

San Diego Tours: 10 Best San Diego Food & Beer Tours

Carlsbad Village is full of incredible, locally-owned restaurants serving fresh meals with locally-sourced ingredients, to the extent that it can be hard to choose where you want to have lunch. Luckily, you don’t have to pick just one eatery when you take the 3-hour local food tour, where you’ll get the opportunity to learn about the neighborhood’s history and culture as you take a walking tour to various popular restaurants and sample tasty flavors from around the city.

Selections include offerings from specialty food stores, authentic ethnic cuisine, romantic dining options, bakeries, and even a winery! You’ll also get to check out local art galleries, stores, and various historic landmarks.

As one the overall best things to do in San Diego, the unique tour is not just one of the best food & beer tours in San Diego, but also an educational resource for those looking to learn more about the town they’re visiting!

Book Food Tour
Beachgoers at Tamarack Surf Beach
Beachgoers at Tamarack Surf Beach

4) Enjoy San Diego’s Best Beach Activities at Tamarack Surf Beach

Beach: Tamarack Surf Beach

Of the many beaches in Carlsbad, the Carlsbad State Beach, also known as Tamarack Surf Beach, is one of the best choices for traditional beach day activities like sunbathing, surfing, and swimming. It’s easy to spend a relaxing day on the wide, sandy shore soaking up the sun and cooling off in the ocean, but if you prefer your time on the beach to be a little more active, there are plenty of opportunities for that as well!

As the name implies, one of the standout activities here is surfing, with year-round excellent conditions for jetty breaks that can occasionally create hollow waves. This is a good spot for surfers with more experience, as the waves can be a little larger than beginner-friendly ones.

Other family-friendly fun activities include walking along the Seawall, fishing, paddle boarding, beachcombing, scuba diving, and kayaking. Rent kayaks and snorkeling gear before you arrive at the beach, and for cheap, with a Go City San Diego pass.

With so much to do at Tamarack Surf Beach, a visit easily makes our ultimate list of the best things to do in San Diego.

Having a Beer at Pizza Port Brewery in Carlsbad
Having a Beer at Pizza Port Brewery in Carlsbad

5) Take a Brewery Tour

San Diego Tours: 10 Best San Diego Food & Beer Tours

Just a few steps away from Carlsbad, the North County San Diego area is a haven for bars and breweries. It’s an especially appealing locale for craft beer enthusiasts, or anyone who wants to spend an afternoon or evening drinking and enjoying the company of friends. Sample beer from some of the area’s best breweries on the Cruise & Booze Brewery Tour, which is a half-day tour offered to small groups of no more than six people.

On the tour, you’ll get to take a backstage look at the area's local breweries, learning more about the brewing process and what gives each beer its unique flavor. You’ll also get to try a variety of samples, snack on light bites, and enjoy the beautiful weather in large outdoor biergartens. Take commemorative photos, play a few rounds of pool, and above all else, enjoy craft beer!

Book Brewery Tour
Beautiful Flowers with a Tractor at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad
Beautiful Flowers with a Tractor at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad

6) Visit The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

San Diego Attractions: The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

If you’re visiting Carlsbad in the spring, the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch are uniquely San Diego, and a must-see attraction!

Each year, the huge fields fill with blooming flowers between March and May, with dozens of species on display including sweet peas, ecke poinsettias, giant tecolote ranunculuses, roses, petunias, and orchids. You can explore the fields by antique tractor wagon ride, traverse the sweet pea maze, pick fresh blueberries, visit the demonstration garden, sift for gemstones, and see an American flag made entirely of flowers.

Visiting the flower fields is a great family-friendly activity that also has educational demonstrations and films about water wise farming and flower varieties suitable for encouraging a love of sustainable gardening in young children. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or you just want to see a truly breathtaking sight you won’t find anywhere else in the world, the Carlsbad Flower Fields are well worth a visit.

Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture some commemorative family photos or the perfect shot for Instagram!

White Rhino San Diego Zoo Safari Park
White Rhino San Diego Zoo Safari Park

7) Get Wild at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Attractions: San Diego Zoo Safari Park

While the San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park, an offshoot of the zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, can be found in Escondido not far from Carlsbad. The safari park is an incredible way to get up-close and personal with many exotic species of animals you won’t find anywhere else along the West Coast.

Drive through the park on a tour to see species environments that mimic habitats from all around the world, and check out specially designed stations and educational animal encounter shows where you can learn about the park’s inhabitants. Exhibits include Condor Ridge, Elephant Overlook, Lion Camp, Hidden Jungle, Heart of Africa, and Wings of the World Aviary.

Suitable for wildlife lovers of all ages, visitors are invited to check out the hands-on Discovery Station for kids, the Petting Kraal where you can pet deer and antelope, and a stunning Frequent Flyers Bird Show featuring an East African crowned crane performing aerial tricks.

Buy Safari Park Tickets

8) Visit Mission San Luis Rey

San Diego Area Museums: Mission San Luis Rey

California’s Missions date all the way back to the earliest days of European settlements along the Pacific coast. Many of them have been lovingly restored and maintained throughout the years. They now serve as educational resources and immersive museums, and you can visit the Mission San Luis Rey right in Carlsbad to step back into history and explore San Diego’s early days.

Mission San Luis Rey was founded in 1798, and it includes many artifacts from Native American, Spanish, and Mexican residents throughout the years. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark, showcasing the way Spanish culture has influenced the development of San Diego and how European and Native American populations interacted as settlements expanded along the coast.

This is one of the largest of California’s 21 missions, and it includes various interesting archeological and architectural exhibits, as well as unique sunken gardens.

Sea Life Aquarium Sea Horse
Sea Life Aquarium Sea Horse

9) Learn About Aquatic Life at the SEA LIFE Aquarium

San Diego Attractions: SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND® California Resort

The SEA LIFE Aquarium is located inside LEGOLAND California, and must be selected while purchasing a ticket to the park. This is an exceptionally entertaining aquarium, especially if you’re looking for a way to spend the day with the kids while also learning about marine life.

The SEA LIFE Aquarium has thousands of fish from hundreds of different species, and includes everything from various types of brightly colored tropical fish to rays, octopi, seahorses, and sharks. In addition to watching sea creatures in their tanks, where they swim together in large schools, you can also explore breathtaking walk-through tanks as well as hands-on touch tanks.

With so much for the whole family to do and see, the SEA LIFE Aquarium is just one part of what makes LEGOLAND California so special! Extend the magic with a Go City San Diego pass and bundle admission together with other popular, nearby sea life attractions such as SeaWorld San Diego and Birch Aquarium at Scripps.

Ocean Views from the Coast Highway in Carlsbad
Ocean Views from the Coast Highway in Carlsbad

10) Ride an Electric Bike on the Beach Boardwalk

Neighborhood: Carlsbad

Cruise around the boardwalk bordering the beach at your own leisurely pace, or enjoy a quick and speedy way to get from one end of the boardwalk to another for a shopping spree. Either way, a 3-hour electric bike rental is sure to get you where you need to go, all for an affordable price that’s much more convenient than traveling with a standard bicycle.

As you ride your e-bike, you’ll be able to easily stop in and visit various shops, enjoy a bite to eat at one of the boardwalk’s many dining options, or simply get some exercise in while feeling the sea breeze in your hair and soaking in the scenery. You are free to take the bike wherever you like, so you can also explore the nearby towns of Encinitas and Leucadia.

Bike rentals come with all necessary gear, including safety equipment and a bike lock.

Rent an E-Bike
Outdoor Pool at Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach
Outdoor Pool at Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach

11) Stay at Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach Resort

Hotel: Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach, A Hilton Resort & Spa

Of the many beach resorts along the coast in Southern California, the Cape Rey Beach Resort is one of our favorites! This Hilton hotel has all the amenities you’ll need for a truly luxurious stay plus offers easy access to Carlsbad State Beach, South Carlsbad State Beach, and Carlsbad Lagoon.

In addition to incredible views from room balconies, Cape Rey offers guests access to an outdoor pool and whirlpool, a dedicated children’s pool, an upscale restaurant with outdoor patio seating, a complimentary beach care package, and access to the hotel’s fitness center and full-service spa. For an additional fee, rent your own private cabana by the pool, which comes complete with a TV, loungers, and WiFi.

All guests are guaranteed a classy and comfortable stay in the Cape Rey’s well-appointed rooms, whether your ideal California resort vacation involves sipping cocktails on the beach or a city-wide tour of the area’s best attractions and shopping!

Book the Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach Resort
Legoland Waterpark Playground
Legoland Waterpark Playground

12) Splash Around at the LEGOLAND Water Park

San Diego Attractions: LEGOLAND® Water Park

LEGOLAND California includes its own LEGO-themed water park. It must be selected when you purchase a ticket if you wish to access both parks.

On San Diego county’s hottest and sunniest days, LEGOLAND Water Park is the perfect family-friendly place to cool off. Kids and adults alike can enjoy the wave pools and beach access from the park, and there are plenty of fun water slides and other rides if you’re seeking something a little more fast paced. Cruise down the build-a-raft river at a leisurely pace, or let the kids play in Pirate Reef while you sit back and relax in a lounge chair around the pool and waterpark playground area.

The water park also includes access to the themed CHIMA water park, as well as Surfers’ Cove in the summer. For added convenience, book a stay at the onsite LEGOLAND Castle Hotel, or explore one of the best hotels near LEGOLAND California.

Great Shopping at Banana Republic at Carslbad Premium Outlets
Great Shopping at Banana Republic at Carslbad Premium Outlets

13) Shop at the Carlsbad Premium Outlets

Shopping in San Diego: Carlsbad Premium Outlets

Walk through a huge open-air mall with dozens of places to shop, eat, and rest at the Carlsbad Premium Outlets. Smart shoppers can find great deals on premium brands and local boutique wares alike. The outlets are a great place to shop for gifts and souvenirs, and there are plenty of family-friendly stores with goods for kids and adults alike.

In addition to the many stores in the mall, there are also multiple places to eat, from standard mall fare chains to locally owned businesses offering up unique flavors. Refresh and fuel up before shopping great deals on accessories, jewelry, cosmetics, electronics, fragrances, home decor, and more.

Since the Carlsbad Premium Outlet Mall is outdoors, it’s best enjoyed when it’s warm and sunny out, but that’s rarely an issue given San Diego’s year-round excellent weather.

Books for Sale at the Museum of Making Music
Books for Sale at the Museum of Making Music

14) Visit One of the Best Museums in Carlsbad – The Museum of Making Music

San Diego Area Museums: Museum of Making Music

For aspiring musicians and music enthusiasts alike, there are few locations in Carlsbad that are as uniquely appealing as the Museum of Making Music. The museum includes exhibits detailing the history and inner workings of the music industry, mostly focusing on the production of instruments and songs, with plenty of behind-the-scenes facts and stories you won’t hear about anywhere else.

The Museum of Making Music is full of interactive exhibits that appeal to all ages. Galleries focus on various topics like instrument development and distribution, pop music through the ages, and music retail, and each exhibit is carefully designed to inspire a love of music in young and old visitors alike.

Like many popular attractions in Carlsbad, the Museum of Making Music is part of the Go City San Diego pass, which allows pass purchasers to enjoy discounts on admission.

Buy Museum Pass
Temecula Wine Tasting Tour
Temecula Wine Tasting Tour

15) Go Wine Tasting at Witch Creek Winery

Neighborhood: Carlsbad

Looking for a fun activity for a ladies’ weekend or couples’ vacation in Carlsbad? Look no further than Witch Creek Winery, the oldest Urban Winery in all of San Diego!

Dating all the way back to 1993, this site has wined and dined patrons with completely natural, additive-free products. As an Urban Winery, grapes are grown outside the city in large vineyards, then transported to Carlsbad for crushing, fermentation, and aging.

Try six different signature wines in the wine tasting room, paired with light bites and beautiful ocean view. There are a wide variety of wines to choose from, and if you find something you like, you can purchase a bottle to take home.

Even if wine isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty to enjoy about Witch Creek Winery. You can order a coffee, listen to live music, use the complimentary WiFi, and even shop for antiques.

Bowl of Ramen at Tajima Ramen
Bowl of Ramen at Tajima Ramen

16) Shop, Eat & Drink at Carlsbad Village

Neighborhood: Carlsbad

Carlsbad Village is a shopping, dining, and entertainment center located in Carlsbad’s Downtown area. This is one of the most hip and happening places in town, with the highest concentration of businesses. Start with shopping at local businesses and worldwide favorites, grab a delicious meal or take a Carlsbad food tour and experience regional flavors, then head down to the bluffs for a day at the beach.

There are many stores focusing on art and entertainment in Carlsbad Village. These include movie theaters, live theater venues, fine art shops, pottery studios, record stores, and galleries.

Events are held at Carlsbad Village throughout the year, like the annual Taste of Carlsbad restaurant festival and the weekly State Street Farmers Market and fish market, one of the best farmers markets in San Diego. Other fun events include Flicks at the Fountain, an outdoor family-friendly movie screening; Art in the Village, an art showcase; and Village Voices, a recurring business and resident meeting.

Book Food Tour

17) Explore Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park

Neighborhood: Carlsbad

Founded by actor and preservationist Leo Carillo, the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park dates back to the 1980s, when it was first envisioned as a developing park that could assist with public outreach and education programs designed to teach visitors about California’s history.

The ranch still maintains this mission to this day, with a number of family-friendly educational presentations, pamphlets, and exhibits, but you can also immerse yourself in history simply by strolling around the park.

Take a walking tour through the grounds at your own pace as you learn about the native plants in the park, check out historic landmarks, and observe examples of Spanish architecture at the Hacienda compound. Visit historic gardens, and stop and take a photo or two under the Bride’s Arch, which is surrounded by the perfect scenic view. Be sure to stop in the Old Hay Barn, which serves as the ranch’s visitor center and plays a video presentation detailing the park’s history.

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Kids looking at knight at LEGOLAND California
Visit LEGOLAND California!
Create family memories at LEGOLAND California! Admission is included with your All-Inclusive Go City pass - enjoy over 60 rides and attractions! Bundle admission with Birch Aquarium at Scripps or the Safari Park for the ultimate day of savings!
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Local Tips
What attractions are included with a Go City San Diego pass?

Attractions that you can visit with a Go City San Diego pass include:

The San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, SeaWorld, Safari Park, LEGOLAND, Harbor Cruise, USS Midway Museum, the NAT Museum, Whaley House, PETCO Park Tour, iFLY San Diego and many, many more!

Want to save more? Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra 5%!

Things to Know Before You Visit Carlsbad

Carlsbad is an incredible community with plenty of beautiful beaches and fun activities. Ensure you have an amazing time with the help of these tips.

Receive Discounted Admission to Carlsbad’s Top Attractions

Maximize your fun in sunny Carlsbad when you pick up a Go City San Diego pass in advance of travels. The pass offers discounts to many of the best attractions in Carlsbad and throughout San Diego.

It also includes discounts on surfboard, kayak, and other gear rentals - plus, get an additional discount when you purchase your pass using savings code GVSD5OFF!

Take a Detour to the Best Theaters in Carlsbad, California

In addition to the many fun activities above, Carlsbad is also home to multiple historic theaters! If you’re in search of an activity that speaks to your cultural side, check out a live production at Carlsbad Village Theater, New Village Arts, or Carlsbad Community Theater.

Explore Carlsbad’s Natural Wonders

While popular areas like Carlsbad Village drive most of the neighborhood’s traffic, there are plenty of things to see when you get out in nature. These include natural wonders like the Carlsbad Cavern and National Park, as well as the secluded South Carlsbad State Beach, the Leo Carrillo Ranch, and other stops tucked away from Carlsbad Boulevard.

Featured Hotel
Legoland Castle Hotel
Legoland Castel Hotel
Near Beach
Near Beach
3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars
Kid-friendly fun, LEGOs, treasure hunts, and medieval and fantasy themed rooms are just some of the great features you’ll experience at LEGOLAND Castle Hotel.
Prices Starting at $339
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Tours & Adventures
LEGOLAND Water Park Hopper Ticket
LEGOLAND Water Park Hopper Ticket
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The World Famous San Diego Zoo
The World Famous San Diego Zoo
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