Carlsbad may be my favorite seaside city in southern California, with it’s miles of beaches, eclectic shopping, great dining, and abundance of things to do. Some cities look just like the last city you passed through and no different than the next you will go to, but Carlsbad is not one of those places. The character of this town is what draws me back again and again. The restaurants feel like local cafes, the coffee shops feel like neighborhood coffeehouse, and the shops feel like browsing through the treasures of your most stylish and sophisticated friend.
Everything about this beach village is eye-catching and quaint, from the murals painted on buildings to the diagonal crosswalks. The streets are both nostalgic and forward-thinking, lined with the tall draping trees of the quintessential American small towns while welcoming bicyclers with wide bike lanes.
Carlsbad Shopping – Quaint Shops for Everyone, from Books Lovers to Beach Combers
Carlsbad takes great pride in their businesses and their business owners, as is apparent the moment you enter the city – signs are everywhere reminding visitors of the importance of wearing masks to protect the people and to keep the businesses open.
Just like so many smaller communities, many of the businesses in Carlsbad are independently owned by entrepreneurs who rely on tourism to for their livelihood. We can be a responsible tourists by adhering to the guidelines posted in the places we visit. Do your part by wearing masks and observing the social distancing requirements while visiting the town, shopping in the stores or eating in the restaurants so the businesses can remain open and continue to serve the tourists.
Any town that has a great bookstore will always hold a special place in my heart, and Carlsbad has done just that as the home to Farenheit 451 Books. This used bookstore is full of gems covering a plethora of subjects. Be prepared to get lost in the rare and unusual books while browsing through your favorite standards.
Besides bookstores, Carlsbad is one of the best places to find beachwear, and not just swimsuits. The shops here have shorts, dresses, pants, sweaters, sandals – everything any man or woman needs to be stylish and comfortable at the ocean from the sunniest of days to the stormiest. (Stormy days are actually my favorite by at the ocean.)
Carlsbad Dining – A Treasure Trove of Culinary Treasures!
Dining is the most complicated decision for me whenever we go to Carlsbad. My first instinct is to go back to my tried and true favorites. On the other hand, every time I try a new restaurant in Carlsbad, it becomes a tried and true favorite!
No matter what you are in the mood for, you will find the perfect cafe, pub, coffee house, brewery, bistro or upscale restaurant to satisfy your culinary cravings or dietary restrictions. There are some chain restaurants here, but most of the eateries are specialized and unique.
The Daily News Cafe in Carlsbad is a great place any time of day because they serve breakfast all day long, which is their specialty. Their whimsical menu makes me smile and sets the mood before I even settle in with my first cup of coffee – who can resist Omnipotent Omelettes, or my favorite, Crepe Crusaders? They’ve been providing home-cooked meals and sweets for over 20 years. Enjoy the beautifully landscaped outdoor patio with umbrellaed tables year-round whether its sunny or rainy because when the temperatures cool there are plenty of heaters to warm the patio.
Norte Mexican Food is a favorite place for lunch or dinner because of it’s expansive patio seating, huge menu and plethora of margaritas. An afternoon can go by very quickly when spent here with good friends, salty cocktails, chips and salsa. The plates at Norte are generous and the prices are super reasonable, making it a great place to bring large families or groups without breaking the bank.
For an afternoon break or after-dinner dessert, I recommend Vinaka Cafe for organic coffees, teas, desserts and ice creams. I’m an ice tea drinker so I appreciate any coffee shop that offers a variety of ice teas, and this one did just that – and paired with a bite of something sweet, it is the perfect afternoon pick me up. The display case of desserts is more than just tempting, it’s also gorgeous with its decadent looking cakes and bars.
Dini’s Bistro is across the street from the Carlsbad State Beach, making it the ideal spot for a sunset dinner. Seating on the patio, both covered and uncovered, offers expansive views of the ocean. I high recommend the half avocado stuffed with blackened grilled chicken and Fritz really liked the Ahi Stack topped with cucumber, mango and avocado.
For a great atmosphere, great food and great music, check out the Coyote Bar & Grille in the village. The outdoor dining area includes lots of seating around heated firepits making this the perfect place to be after the sun goes down. The menu includes a wide variety of appetizers and entrees from Rattlesnake Eggs (shrimp and cream cheese stuffed jalapeño peppers wrapped in bacon) to ribs, fajitas, or pulled pork sandwiches. Kids menu and desserts are also available. Enjoy the cocktails, fire pits, local bands and dancing into the night. (Due to COVID restrictions, outdoor music may be limited at this time.)
Carlsbad Beaches – 7 Miles of Sand & Water to Enjoy!
Carlsbad offers long expanses of beach with varying terrains and varying uses so you can’t go wrong coming to this charming seaside town for a beach day. For a day relaxing on the sand, swimming in the ocean, and walking along the shoreline while still in close proximity to coffee shops, restaurants and one of my favorite book stores, our go-to beaches are the North Carlsbad Beaches and the State/Tamarack Beach.
We usually park on the side streets between the beach and Carlsbad Boulevard, or directly on Carlsbad Boulevard. There are several pay-to-park lots, but we’ve been lucky enough to always find a parking space within easy walking distance of Carlsbad Village and the beach.
North Carlsbad Beaches
This beach has plenty of space to spread out with blankets, umbrellas, chairs, and anything else you need to relax by the water. There’s room to play Frisbee in the sand and run or walk along the shore. This stretch of beach includes gorgeous beach front homes, the Army & Navy Academy, and views of the Oceanside Pier.
The lifeguard towers only extend part way up North Carlsbad Beaches, but end as you go north of about Beech Avenue as this section of the beach has shared ownership with the private home owners here. There are no bathrooms, showers, or other amenities, but it offers beautiful views and amenities can be accessed by a relatively short walk.
To access the North Carlsbad Beaches, turn west off of Carlsbad Boulevard anywhere between Beech Avenue and Oak Avenue to look for parking. Walk toward the water until you get to Ocean Avenue, then start looking for the walkways off this street that lead to the beach, which are easily seen and available on every block.
Carlsbad State Beach/Tamarack Surf Beach
The Carlsbad State, or Tamarack, Beach is ideal for any activity on the beach or in the water. This stretch of sandy shoreline includes Carlsbad Seawall, which is a paved walkway extending 4 miles for use by walker, runners, bikers, skaters, and anyone else who wants to cover some distance while still smelling the ocean waves with the best view in town. Carlsbad is an active city, and the Carlsbad Walkway embraces the need for people to move.
Fishermen and women, kite-flyers, surfers, kite-surfers, and sailboats are all common sites along this beach, with plenty of room for everyone to enjoy it all. This section of the shoreline has a lot of greenery on the embankments leading up to the main roads, so the backdrop of the beach is just as gorgeous as the ocean view.
This beach is still near to cafes and restaurants, and has lots of lifeguard towers, restrooms, and showers. Everything you need or want to do is within reach at Carlsbad State Beach/Tamara Surf Beach.
This is a popular beach for surfers and beachcombers. Terramar Beach is secluded with no access to restrooms and no lifeguard towers (though lifeguards do patrol in vehicles) so come here prepared with everything and anything you need (and don’t forget to haul out anything you haul in!). This beach has stunning cliffs for the backdrop that really make you feel like you are miles away from civilization. If you want to focus on the beauty of the ocean and the wonder of nature, this is the beach for you.
South Carlsbad State Beach
South Carlsbad State Beach includes a campground and limited amenities due to it’s more remote location. The campground is situated on the clifftops above the shore with stairway access to the beach below. If not camping, you can still access this beach by parking in the turnouts available along the highway, which also include walking access to the beach.
This is another stretch of beach that is lined with dramatic cliffs and fantastic views. Once you are on the beach, there is great swimming, surfing, and beach hiking. There is a very wide swath of sand where the cliffs open up to Coast Highway 101. This large, relatively flat beach stretches all the way to the highway and is considered one of the nicest beaches in San Diego County. Though South Carlsbad State Beach is near Coast Highway, the area is undeveloped and cross the highway is Batiquitos Lagoon.
The beauty of this beach is its remoteness and lack of development, but that also means that there isn’t easy access to restrooms or any other amenities, so come prepared. The closed restrooms are at the South Ponto Beach parking lot.
South Ponto Beach
The southernmost beach of Carlsbad is popular for it’s wide beaches (some of the widest in the county), great swimming, fantastic surfing, and breathtaking sunsets. This beach includes setups for beach volleyball (bring your own net) and public restrooms and showers. High sand dunes keep this beach secluded from Coast Highway and the Batiquitos Lagoon beyond the highway.
The water is relatively shallow here, making it great for kids (though always keep an eye on children in the water as the ocean can be unpredictable and the sand beneath and water currents can constantly shift). There is also a beach break out a ways, making this a great spot for surfers and the site of several surfing competitions each year.
Carlsbad Attractions – Legoland, Flower Fields, and Outdoor Everything!
There’s so much to explore in Carlsbad that one day is not enough in this beautiful little seaside village. If the beach is not your scene, then Carlsbad offers lots of other activities such as hiking, helicopter tours, golf, bicycling, spas and brewery tours. It’s also home to Legoland and the famous Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch.
If the beach is your scene and you are looking for things to do other than reading a good book while stretched out on the sand or frolicking in the waves, there are lots of places offering kayak tours, surfing lessons and paddleboard rentals. Check out the Visit Carslbad website for a complete list of activities available.
Looking for a place to stay while in Carlsbad? Click here for to get the best deals on area hotels.
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