Quaint, Clean Carlsbad

Beaches, blooms, beer, and bricks sum up the vibe.


Allejandro Mallea (CC)

Carlsbad is a seaside city of 112,000 whose refreshing history dates to the 1880s, when ex-ship captain John Frazier arranged freshwater and mineral-water wells for the locomotives that chugged through this region regularly.

Today, Carlsbad still has refreshments and trains, as well as modern familial pleasures including clean beaches. Walk down the staircase to Carlsbad State Beach for swimming and strolling on the sand. It is a long and expansive beach, and joggers and bike riders use paths that are above the beach’s bluffs. There is refreshingly little trash or debris here because the beach is tended daily by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

When hunger hits, hole in-the-wall chorizo breakfast burritos at Cessy’s adheres to a San Diego tradition of no rice. Cessy’s parking-lot murals are worth studying as much as its surfer customers with their flip-flops and still-wet hair.

Photo by Chris Hunkeler

On a sunny stretch off the Interstate 5 freeway just 35 miles north of downtown San Diego and 87 miles south of La La Land, Carlsbad and its train station are in an area known locally as the Village, which stands a few blocks from the bluffs fronting the Pacific Ocean and abounds in worthwhile stores selling art, books—check out Fahrenheit 451 Books and Lhooq Books—coffee, swim gear, and souvenirs. Surfers, snowbirds, military families (mainly from nearby Camp Pendleton), and diverse youthful packs amble along. But they all stop when the railroad gate lowers at the crossing while the ding-ding-ding of an approaching train announces that it will soon roar safely by.

Because whistles blow and brakes hiss steadily throughout the day and night near the Village, anxious types and other light sleepers might appreciate earplugs. The ongoing stream of trains is visually exciting—as each train whizzes by, its passengers might include navy-blue-clad Padres fans headed to a baseball game. Children under age 6 ride the trains for free, and an adult round trip costs $8 to $11.

The silver, navy, and turquoise Coaster train—on which many locals commute to and from work and whose colors perfectly suit a town that hugs the coast—is a calm and even fun mode of transit. Passengers pass the time observing crashing waves, further-afield boats, the occasional red helicopter, soaring birds, and more of those surfers. As the skies morph from blue to swaths of bluish pink, orange, and purple, the glowing orb of the sun on the horizon grows smaller and smaller.

Photo By Pavlina Jane (CC)


Also nearby and perfect for family outings are Legoland, u-pick strawberries, ample pizza, craft beer, and beautiful flowers. Over the last few years, San Diego County has experienced a craft-beer boom, and Carlsbad itself is slated to be home to 10 breweries by year’s end. Pizza Port, with two Carlsbad locations, has been serving beer for over three decades and rocks with pints and pitchers of varied taps such as Imperial Red Ale and Shark Attack. Loud video games beckon while pleasing pizza pies and baskets of chicken wings await. A visit to the Flower Fields of Carlsbad Ranch offers colorful beauty to behold.

In the Village, State Street has acquired a cool-kid reputation for hip(per) culinary offerings. At the Campfire’s outdoor dining space, a teepee provides glee and a respite from those rare nighttime shivers, as well as a chance to kick back. It’s also a nice twist on outdoor dining, because the teepee is within sight of the restaurant’s wooden tables. Further sweet fun awaits under the teal umbrellas at Baba Coffee, where a VG doughnut dipped in Pannikin Coffee is ample fuel for the rest of the night.


Good to Know

Carlsbad State Beach, Carlsbad Boulevard, Highway S 21 at Tamarack, Carlsbad, 760-438-3143, Parks.ca.gov.

LEGOLAND, 1 LEGOLAND Drive, 877-376-5346, Carlsbad, LEGOLAND.com.

Carlsbad Village Association, 2788 State St. 760-453-7076, Carlsbad, Carlsbad-Village.com.


Published online May 23, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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