Beachy Carlsbad Offers Up Much More than Awesome Theme Parks

Carlsbad is likely on the bucket list of LEGO enthusiasts around the country, but there is much more to do aside from visiting LEGOLAND California and soak up rays at the beach.

If you are headed to the beach, Carlsbad has seven miles to choose from including the widest beach in the county. Though it can be rustic in spots, these beaches have plenty of white sand and opportunities for boogie boarding, surfing and other family fun. 

Did you know that you can take a private tour of The Gemological Institute of America to learn about the grading of gems all over the world? Well, the truth is that most San Diegans don't know this either. You will need to make a reservation in advance and don't forget to bring a camera.

Love music? Consider the Museum of Making Music just east of the freeway, also near LEGOLAND. Here, music enthusiasts can get their fill of music trivia and history from the ever-so-helpful docents and informative exhibits. A big room of fancy and unique instruments that guests, including kids, can actually play awaits at the end of the museum.

Without further ado, here is the list of 10 best Carlsbad attractions to consider for your vacation.


The GIA is the world's leading authority and educator on diamonds, colored stones, and pearls. Even most San Diegans don't know that you can actually tour The Gemological Institute of American by appointment, which has locations around the world. Guests can visit the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library & Information Center and see the Tower of Brilliance; the world's largest crystal octahedron. The Carlsbad location is also the world headquarters and it's a major attraction for gem lovers and collectors worldwide. As one might imagine, security is tight so you'll need to bring a photo ID with you. The tour is about a half hour long.

Recommended for Carlsbad's Best Attractions because: They are the world's leading authority on gems and originators of the 4 C's (cut, clarity, color, carat).

Katie's expert tip: Make an appointment in advance as it is not open to the public otherwise.

Read more about The Gemological Institute of America →

It's not stunning skyline views you'll find here at Bartiquitos Lagoon, but great views of a different sort: endangered birds that occupy the tranquil lagoons situated near the hustle and bustle of San Diego. Located between Carlsbad and Encinitas and identified as one of the few remaining tidal wetlands in southern California, the area is perfect for hiking and provides outstanding opportunities for bird watching. Interpretive signs along the trails assist with identifying these rare birds. Begin your hike at the lagoon's Nature Center. You can take a docent-guided tour or walk the trails on your own. Kids love it.

Recommended for Carlsbad's Best Attractions because: It's an opportunity to explore one of the few remaining tidal wetlands in California.

Katie's expert tip: Over 180 species of birds can be seen here throughout the year.

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A seasonal attraction, The Carlsbad Flower Fields provide an amazing seaside show of color between March and May of each year, showcasing the Giant Tecolote Ranunculus. It's one of the only working ranunculus farms in the world that allows the public to run through the fields, take photos, and ride on an antique tractor. Kids love exploring the maze of flowers, too. There is also a beautiful All-American Rose walk-of-fame that features 170 All-American Rose selection winners since 1940. No pets are allowed and parking is free though admission is $22 for adults and $12 for children ages 3 and under.

Recommended for Carlsbad's Best Attractions because: The opening of the flower fields is an event that all of San Diego looks forward to because it's so spectacular.

Katie's expert tip: Don't forget your camera because not only are you in a sea of color, the ocean is your backdrop, too. Check dates as it's a seasonal event.

Read more about Carlsbad Flower Fields →

Museum of Making Music

This is a fun and interesting museum where you can not only look at exhibits of musical instruments but you can try your hand at playing some of them. Each gallery represents 20 years, with vintage instruments as well as audio and video clips of that era's popular music. The final gallery is an interactive music room where visitors put on head phones and try out keyboards, guitars and uncommon instruments. Temporary exhibits usually take a more in-depth look at specific instruments such as the violin or the ukulele, or at certain genres of music. Regularly scheduled events include musical story times for children, performances by artists such as Laurie Anderson, and music workshops.

Recommended for Carlsbad's Best Attractions because: It's a small museum with enthusiastic docents and a cool vibe.

Katie's expert tip: Kids will love the instrument room at the end where they try their hand at real guitars and more.

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This is actually two separate beaches: Carlsbad State Beach and South Carlsbad State Beach. Situated at the foot of the bluffs, access in spots is a tad inconvenient, which makes them a bit less crowded. Surfing, swimming, boogie boarding and beachcombing are all popular. Carlsbad State Beach is close to restaurants, shops and other facilities; South Carlsbad has a great campground that gets booked up well in advance. A restroom and picnic area are near the parking lot. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer. Parking can be tough but look for it on Carlsbad Blvd. You'll notice many residents here come to watch the sunset.

Recommended for Carlsbad's Best Attractions because: Carlsbad State Beach is great for families for its ease of access, good swimming and beachcombing.

Katie's expert tip: Kid-friendly Carlsbad State Beach is also known as Tamarack Beach.

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Carlsbad Lagoon is a more relaxed hub of watersports activities ranging from paddleboarding on peaceful waters to wakeboarding to jet skiing. It's technically called Agua Hedionda Lagoon, located just east of the freeway and utilized by residents who have homes on the water there. However, Wakesports Unlimited offers gear like kayaks and WaveRunners and aqua cycles in addition to the above. They even offer youth camps during the summer. Near the beach where you'll launch is a private area for water play that is free from other boats and wakeboarders. And, you can even paddle yourself under the freeway to an even quieter side from which you can kayak out into the ocean.

Recommended for Carlsbad's Best Attractions because: It's a relaxed and quiet place to enjoy watersports without a ton of crowds.

Katie's expert tip: For glassy, calm water go first thing in the morning.

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Located right next door to LEGOLAND, SEALIFE Aquarium is the perfect place to start or end a theme park-filled day. Kids will love seeing LEGO people woven into the aquarium displays as well as a handful of hands-on interaction opportunities. Check the schedule for show times where staff narrate an educational yet entertaining story about a resident sea creature. The average visit time is about 45 minutes. As you weave through the aquarium and out through the gift shop or cafeteria, there is a salad bar and even design your own mac and cheese on offer. The aquarium is fairly easy to navigate with a stroller despite some narrower walkways.

Recommended for Carlsbad's Best Attractions because: A part of LEGOLAND California Resort, the aquarium (though not terribly huge) is extremely well done.

Katie's expert tip: Honestly, the food here is pretty good for a theme park with plenty of healthy options for young kids.

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This state beach is known by locals as both South Carlsbad State Beach and South Ponto Beach. The beach is rustic, considered a rare gem and boasts some of the widest sand in the county. Its one of the few beaches in the area with public restrooms and showers, making it a family-friendly choice in Carlsbad. Here, visitors can sunbathe, surf and even play volleyball (bring your own net and ball). No dogs are allowed. Camping is allowed and parking for $8 per day is offered at the south end of the beach though there is free parking further north.

Recommended for Carlsbad's Best Attractions because: It's one of the few undeveloped beaches left in the county.

Katie's expert tip: Kids love this beach but it can get crowded during peak times making parking a hassle.

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This park was once part of the original 2,538 acre working ranch and vacation retreat of Leo Carrillo (who acted in almost 100 films from 1927 to 1950 and co-starred in the TV series The Cisco Kid). Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park's 27 acres opened to the public in 2003. You can take a guided or self-guided tour of historic ranch structures including the hacienda, reflecting pool, cabana, cantina, carriage house tack shed, stable, barn and foundry, equipment shed and hand-crafted adobe buildings. Be sure to start at the visitor's center. Dogs are not allowed but kids will love exploring the scenic space and the peacocks.

Recommended for Carlsbad's Best Attractions because: It's full of history and a designated local, State, and National Historic Landmark.

Katie's expert tip: Kids will love the peacocks roaming everywhere and it makes a stunning backdrop for professional photographs.

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LEGOLAND California
Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona

This is the place for kids and the kid in you. LEGOLAND California is perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Carlsbad, a 40-minute drive north from Downtown San Diego. Everything looks like it was built with LEGOs. Miniland USA, with its miniature models of famous cities and landmarks, is one of the most popular exhibits. The SEA LIFE Aquarium next door offers educational and hands on exhibits and a walk-through tunnel where you can view sting-rays and other sea creatures swimming right in front of your eyes. An interactive water park is a great experience during warmer months and boasts a 45-foot-tall LEGO tower. A new LEGO Friends area geared toward girls has just been added and a Ninjago area is coming soon. You could spend a half-day or even two days here, easily.

Recommended for Carlsbad's Best Attractions because: LEGOLAND California Resort is the number one attraction in Carlsbad.

Katie's expert tip: LEGOLAND is best for kids ages 12 and under and completely fine for a half-day visit if you are short on time.

Read more about LEGOLAND California →


Meet Katie Dillon

Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as...  More About Katie