A Local’s Guide to Carlsbad

By Elisa Foster

If you haven’t visited Carlsbad, California, think of it as San Diego’s fun cousin to the North. It has all that San Diego has to offer with a beachy, small-town feel. Carlsbad’s proximity to the ocean makes for sunny days paired with a comfortable mild climate. You could not ask for a better weather combo to make the most of your vacation. When it comes to finding something to do, the options seem endless, but we are here to guide you to the best places to maximize your stay.

Carlsbad Village

Where to stay – Relax at the Coastal Casita

The Carlsbad Village is located right at the beach and is a great option as everything is within walking/biking distance. If you’re opting out of renting a car, this is the place to be. Located within the heart of the Village is the Coastal Casita, a beautifully curated one-bedroom condo that sleeps four. This is a great value especially for the location. It is within walking distance to pretty much everything, most importantly, the beach!

Coastal Casita in Carlsbad Village

Great Eats

It is no surprise that Café Topes was voted the best breakfast in Carlsbad. Open only for breakfast and lunch, this is a perfect laid-back beach spot to start your day. Famous for their huge cinnamon rolls, egg benedicts and coffee, you’re sure to please everyone at this spot.

The Goods offers locally sourced artisan donuts made from scratch every hour. Need I say more. AND they offer vegan and gluten free options. They proudly brew Stumptown Coffee and it is top-notch if you haven’t tried.

If your first stop is the beach, Board & Brew is the perfect place to grab sandwiches and salads to go. And don’t forget the secret sauce. Not sure what is in it as it is, well a secret, but it is gluten-free, nut allergy free, vegan friendly and you won’t regret dipping your sandwich in it.

Of course, you can’t visit San Diego without partaking in some authentic Mexican food. Norte is a local favorite and has a nice patio with firepits that pairs well with margaritas and chips and salsa.

When you walk into Jeune et Jolie, you feel that you have been instantly teleported to a bistro in France. Chosen as Esquire magazine’s list of the 22 best new restaurants in America for 2019, it is a perfect date night spot and a great excuse to get gussied up. The food, the drinks, the service, the décor are all impeccable. But be sure to make a reservation. They normally book solid a week prior.

Jeune et Jolie

Where to Wet Your Whistle

Known for their Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé, Carruth Cellars Urban Winery and Tasting Room is a fun option for a pre-dinner wine tasting. Owner and wine-maker, Adam Carruth, is a Carlsbad native who used to truck grapes down to Carlsbad from Northern California’s premier wine regions to make wine. Carruth Cellars has been operating since 2006.

With its innovative self-pour tap system, Barrel Republic is a fantastic experience for beer lovers. There are no bartenders or lines and all you have to do is swipe your personalized wristband to sample 52 beer taps and 6 wine taps from locally and nationally renowned craft breweries! Don’t get too carried away as you pay by the ounce at the end of your visit!

On those hot days, Park 101 is a day drinker’s dream. Hang on the adults-only second level deck or play lawn tic-tac-toe down below. The froze (frozen rose) is a great option, but there is also a variety of craft beers, wine and cocktails to choose from.

If craft cocktails are more your speed, Campfire has an array of tasty options. Their cocktails are based on personal tributes to the people, places, and things that inspire them daily within the community.

Campfire Carlsbad

In need of a pick-me-up? Baba Coffee is an open-air coffee shop serving local SD favorites such as Pannikin Coffee and Pastries, Prager Brothers Bread, VG Donuts and Hot and Iced Tea. They also offer fresh juices, acai bowls, matcha bowls, lox bagels, and hummus plates including vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options. The coconut almond cold brew and the avo toast is my go-to.

Baba Coffee

When You Need a Little Retail Therapy

The State Street Farmers’ Market located between Carlsbad Village Drive and Grand Avenue takes place every Wednesday, year-round, from 3pm to 7pm (Spring and Summer) and from 3pm to 6pm (Fall and Winter). State Street shuts down to cars and is turned into a food market offering products from over 50 vendors, live music, and seating for dining.

The Carlsbad Farmers Market offers fresh local strawberries. (Photo courtesy of Carlsbad Farmers Market)

There are several quaint boutique shops of all kinds in the Village. There are also malls in the area such as the Forum, Carlsbad Premium Outlets and The Shoppes at Carlsbad.

Outdoorsy Things to Do

If you happen to be here in the spring, and have never witnessed 50 acres of ranunculus in bloom, the Flower Fields are a must see.

Carlsbad Flower Fields

Agua Hedionda Lagoon sometimes referred to as Carlsbad Lagoon, is a hot spot for kayaking, boating, wakeboarding and stand up paddle. And for something completely different, they offer private E-Foil lessons, which allows surfers to basically fly above water – no waves needed. Seems super fun if you have the balance and coordination…and the bravery.

Another great thing about the Village is that you can hop on the Coaster and arrive in Downtown San Diego in an hour. If you’re visiting during baseball season, a Padres game at Petco is a must. There are a number of local restaurants and breweries at the park and tickets are affordable.

If you’re up for a tour, try Scavengers Beer & Adventure Tours. Named one of America’s most unique beer tours by Forbes Travel, you ride around in a vintage Swiss safari vehicle and sip on ice cold beers while traveling to different breweries in the area.

It is never too late to learn how to surf. So Cal Surf lessons offers year round surf lessons in Carlsbad. All of the instructors were born and raised in Carlsbad and have many years of experience. Professional surfers Che Stang and Rusty Friesen give daily lessons, and all are certified CPR and first aid instructors.

Carlsbad Beach

So, have you been to Carlsbad? If so, what did you think of this list? Would you add anything else? Share your thoughts with us below and be sure to pin this post for future reference!