Carlsbad, Calif., is a destination in itself, especially for those who love the ocean, yet the surrounding area also offers a wealth of other outdoor activities. Even if you stay several days, you can do something different every day, making this a great place for a well-rounded getaway.
Approximately a five-hour drive from Las Vegas, it’s in north coastal San Diego County. The town’s most obvious attraction is a 7-mile stretch of ocean frontage, ideal for surfing, body surfing, paddle boarding or relaxing on the beach. (Of course, if you have children, their top priority may be nearby Legoland.) Besides those, there are also opportunities for hiking, birding and one of the best spring flower displays in America.
The ideal times to visit are upon us. From March through May, temperatures remain mild with an abundance of sunny days. The celebrated flowers put on their best show during this time, and the beaches aren’t yet overrun with the summer crowds.
For getting close to nature, one of my favorite places in Carlsbad is one of the three lagoons that together encompass more than 1,000 acres. The Agua Hedionda Lagoon, also known as the Carlsbad Lagoon, offers year-round recreation such as birding, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding and motor boating. This lagoon is made up of 400 acres of mud flats, salt and freshwater marshes and deep water. It offers a relaxing day on the water without having to deal with the heavy surf of the open Pacific. There is even an excellent place to rent any equipment you didn’t bring with you: California Watersports, on the lagoon. For more information, visit carlsbadlagoon.com or call 760-434-3089.
Birders will especially like Batiquitos Lagoon, a 610-acre salt marsh with mud flats. There are 185 species of documented birds, and you can take a docent-led nature tour or a self-guided walk along the 2-mile trail. For more information, visit batiquitosfoundation.org or call 760-931-0800.
Unique to this area is The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. In springtime, for more than 60 years, visitors have been enchanted by a solid carpet of real flowers stretching as far as the eye can see. The gardens encompass more than 50 acres of rolling hills overlooking the Pacific, an area so large you can take a tractor ride through the fields.
The featured flower is the Tecolote Giant Ranunculus, a member of the buttercup family. Its annual bloom lasts approximately six to eight weeks, peaking from mid-March to mid-April. Other acres are devoted to specialty flowers. The Flower Fields are open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through May 11. For more information, visit theflowerfields.com or call 760-431-0352.
When in Southern California, every child’s dream is to visit a theme park, and one of the most popular is Legoland, in Carlsbad. Your children might not only build with Legos but build their imagination and creativity through educational elements as well as enjoy amusements for the whole family. This is a full-service park that also offers roller coasters, a water park (open during spring break), Sea Life Aquarium and one vast exhibit that features miniature landmarks from around the globe, created solely out of Legos. Those with a lot of energy can easily spend an entire day, or longer, at the park. The park has a good variety of restaurants with food to please all ages and diets.
Legoland now has a hotel on the property. It is kid-friendly with a pool, restaurant and cafe as well as play areas. For reservations, visit california.legoland.com or call 760-918-5346.
For those who prefer accommodations that are a bit more grown-up, Carlsbad offers them to fit just about every budget. In the middle, where you will get a lot more bang for your buck, I would recommend the Hilton Garden Inn, Carlsbad. It is only steps from the ocean and has an excellent pool, upscale yet reasonably priced restaurant, and other amenities not seen in town. Good discount package deals are available on the website, and it offers discounted tickets to area attractions. The bonus is the free shuttle service to and from anywhere in the area. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/hiltoncarlsbad or call 855-261-1567.
But if you’re one of those rugged individuals who prefer pitching a tent wherever possible, this area offers a great place to do it: South Carlsbad State Beach has a campground with more than 200 sites, on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. For more information and reservations call 760-438-3143 or visit www.parks.ca.gov.
Deborah Wall is the author of “Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide” and “Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States,” published by Stephens Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.