When Arizonans jump in the car for a California road trip, San Diego is usually the first city to come to mind. For good reason! San Diego is a superlative city – with idyllic weather, waving trees, and lots of family attractions.
Another terrific option is to go 45 minutes further up north to the city of Carlsbad in northern San Diego County. Carlsbad’s main attractions include LEGOLAND California, Carlsbad Premium Outlets, The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch (seasonal), and the Museum of Making Music.
Grand Pacific Palisades Resort & Hotel
If LEGOLAND California is on your itinerary, Grand Pacific Palisades is a super option. The park entrance is highly walkable from the hotel and there is easy pedestrian access. We walked to and from the parks to the hotel three times during our stay – without any complaints from our 6-year-old and 9-year-old (our 3-year-old rode quite happily in an umbrella stroller).
You can choose a traditional guest room or opt for a 1 or 2-bedroom condo. Our 2-bedroom condo came fully equipped with two spacious rooms, two bathrooms, a living and dining area, and a full kitchen. The kitchen included everything you probably have in your home kitchen – refrigerator, oven, toaster, coffeemaker, dishwasher, etc. Costco, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Vons, and Ralph’s are all within 10 minutes of the hotel so you’ll have plenty of grocery options.
You might also consider dining at Karl Strauss Brewing Company (which is right next door to the hotel!). Happy Hour is from 3-6pm, Mon-Fri. Try the boneless wings – $5 and finger-licking good!
The best amenity for kids at the Grand Pacific is the pool and adjacent splash pad. Our girls loved sliding down the submarine and running through the spraying water.
There is also an adults-only lap pool (with a great view) by the lobby.
Our kids also really enjoyed the on-site playground. It’s a good place to take in the breeze and let little ones get out their energy – without having to drive to a neighborhood park.
LEGOLAND California is a theme park based on the best-loved and best-selling toy. Recommended for ages 1-10, the park features a number of rides for small children and a few thematic shows.
Our top tips?
- Don’t make a mad rush for the rides. The best part about LEGOLAND, by far, is the awesome displays – made of (what else?) LEGOs!
- MiniLand is not to be missed, where you’ll see miniature versions of popular world landmarks (Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, The Capitol, etc.) – completely made of LEGOs.
- You’ll also want to see all of the Star Wars characters and get your picture with Darth Vader.
- Arrive early. On the day of our visit, the park officially opened at 10:00am – with turnstiles opening at 9:00am and select attractions opening at 9:30am. It was definitely worthwhile to arrive a few minutes before 9 because we were able to take photos, map out our strategy, and walk part of the park before the crowds descended. Note that you have special perks if you stay at the LEGOLAND Hotel – including early access to the latter part of the park!
- Pick up a FREE 1st Visit to LEGOLAND button to pin on your shirt from the Guest Services window.
- Bring your camera so that you can get your picture taken with a LEGO brick (walking costumed characters) or at lots of designated photo spots.
- Here are the don’t miss rides on our list: Volvo Driving School (and Volvo Jr. Driving School), Coastersaurus, The Dragon, and Fairy Tale Brook.
Museum of Making Music
The Museum of Making Music is a small musical instrument museum within walking distance of the Grand Pacific Palisades Resort and LEGOLAND. We walked through the whole museum in about an hour. Essentially, the museum allows guests to “walk through music history” – to hear music and see instruments from a variety of different time periods and cultures. Visitors also have an opportunity to try at least 20 instruments (ukekele, bass guitar, drums, keyboard, harp, more!). You can even put on headphones and take a mini lesson via a video recording.
Less than 10 minutes from LEGOLAND, you’ll find Carlsbad Premium Outlets (by Simon). It’s a pretty standard outdoor shopping mall with big names like Crate & Barrel, Nike, Merrill’s, Carter’s, Ann Taylor Factory Store, Bebe, Joe’s Jeans, Converse, Stride Rite, Disney Store, and more. If you’re on a mission for coffee, you’ll also spy a Starbucks for your convenience.
Not sure how to find the beach from your hotel? Navigate to Carlsbad State Beach or just head west until you reach highway 101. The beach stretches for miles. Find a promising spot, pay for parking, and you’re golden. Don’t forget sunscreen, hats, buckets + pails, boogie boards, beach towels, water, and snacks.
Of course, you mustn’t forget that San Diego is just 45 minutes away! You may also want to head down that way to stop in at Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, or Coronado Island.
All in All
Carlsbad is a suburb in north San Diego County with stand-out weather and a number of local attractions. The ideal season to visit is ANY season due to the breezy sea-city weather.
Stay tuned for future posts about other drivable cities from Tucson. Road trips make for fun memories without the steep cost of airline tickets!
What are your favorite things to do in Carlsbad?