Its year-round mild, sunny climate, pristine beaches and growing culinary scene attract surfers, golfers, craft-brew fans and families to this coastal Southern California town located between San Diego and Los Angeles. Once a sleepy village, it has transformed into a bustling city, but its casual, small-town charm remains.
Where to stay: Stroll through breezeways lined with bird of paradise blooms to arrive at your room at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. This expansive property has eight pools and the Chopra Center, which offers daily meditation and yoga classes.
What to do: Carlsbad became a mineral springs destination in the late 19th century and today features several luxurious spas. A top spot is The Spa at La Costa, which features a reflexology path and herb garden, Roman waterfall and outdoor café.
Where to eat: Fresh, sustainably grown food is easy to find in Carlsbad. Two great dishes are grilled albacore and kale coconut tofu salad with creamy cilantro cashew dressing at Urban Plates and pesto and artichoke heart quesadillas at Naked Cafe.
Where to stay: Visitors to Carlsbad may not realize you can check into the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara, as you would a hotel, for any length of stay. The resort’s new Coastal Photo Safari includes a helicopter ride and free ocean diving with world-renowned surf photographer Aaron Chang.
What to do: The options are endless for outdoor adventurers; stand-up paddleboard or surf along the 11-kilometre coastline, hike among the cliffside sage and wildflowers, golf one of five courses or explore the coastal wetland at Batiquitos Lagoon, a birdwatching favourite.
Where to eat: After an exhilarating day, reward yourself at Campfire, one of the city’s best new restaurants. Most of the menu is cooked over an open fire, imparting deep, smouldering flavours on meat, fish and vegetables. Broccoli, lightly fried and dressed with chermoula aioli and lime vinaigrette, is a sleeper hit, and the cocktails are smoky and sublime.
Where to stay: Check in to the boutique West Inn & Suites, only a few blocks from the beach, and sign up for its Hops Highway Retreat package, which includes a chauffeured four-hour private tour of neighbouring San Diego’s finest breweries along historic Route 78 with all-inclusive tastings.
What to do: Let someone else do the driving as you sample lagers, porters, stouts, ales and IPAs on a tour with Scavengers Beer & Adventure Tours. You’ll be ferried in a vintage Swiss Safari vehicle to three local breweries including Arcana Brewing Company and Culver Beer Co.
Where to eat: With more than 50 local and international beers on tap and a pour-your-own-pint concept (pours are tracked via wristband), Barrel Republic, in the heart of Carlsbad Village, is built for beer-lovers. The menu is largely share plates and pairs perfectly with many of the beers on offer.
Young at heart
Where to stay: The pet-friendly Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa offers complimentary beach trolleys, a heated outdoor pool and a private entrance to LEGOLAND. Kids can even set up a pint-sized tent in the hotel room and camp indoors.
What to do: Ride one of the more than 60 LEGO-themed rides at LEGOLAND California, and then visit the adjacent LEGOLAND Water Park (opens March 18) and Sea Life Aquarium, which offers marine fun including a pirate-themed, water-cannon battle.
Where to eat: Chow down on the best pizza in San Diego County, including barbecue bacon cheeseburger pie, just a few blocks from the beach at Pizza Port in Carlsbad Village. Pair it with house-made root beer while playing old-fashioned arcade games.