A little more than an hour’s drive from Malibu midday (or perhaps a short Metrolink ride for you), we found ourselves in Carlsbad for a winter weekend. The small southern California town in North San Diego County is 87 miles south of LA on the water. With no expectations of what the area might be like, we never imagined to repeatedly ask, “Why doesn’t Malibu have this?” From outdoor community dining where families can bring their dogs and kids to beer tastings where you can sample and pour your own beer to many fun easily walkable restaurants and shops in Carlsbad Village, we actually kept questioning all weekend where we live. Prices shockingly were almost half of what we pay in Los Angeles for cocktails and food. Carlsbad felt like the best of everything and more than a small town could offer.
Besides the major attraction of Legoland for kids, the seasonal acres of Flower Fields, numerous top golf courses, and the Carlsbad Premium Outlets, Carlsbad makes a delicious getaway just to relax or wander around Carlsbad Village where the food scene rivals the best of a major city. The town’s rapid growth has created a stream of hip restaurants, specialty breweries, wine and coffee shops, boutique clothing stores, and artists leaving their mark.
Carlsbad was named after a famous spa in Karlsbad, Bohemia when in 1882 the water in Carlsbad was found to have similar mineral content. Did you know Carlsbad is where Boogie Boards were invented? The first skate park in the world opened here in 1976. Even the Jet Ski was researched and developed in this idyllic “Village by the Sea.” Also, Carlsbad is the golf manufacturer capital of the world and the Gemological Institute of America (the diamond authority) is headquartered here.
The remodeled Westin Carlsbad Resort and Spa (with the Sheraton adjacent) offered us a clean refuge from the smoky fall fire skies of Malibu. The spacious modern room with fluffy down comforter and crisp soft sheets looked out over an 18-hole golf course. The bathroom mirror let us know if we felt compelled to work out we could rent New Balance workout gear for $5. In true California style, guests can opt-out of daily housekeeping for $5 daily credit too. The lush rolling grounds meander around the property with a pool, jacuzzi, spa, and outdoor lounge areas with firepits nestled around the property.
The Carlsbad Village is a short drive away from the Westin Carlsbad. Along the 78 Hops Highway, seven craft breweries can be found in Carlsbad. Our Friday night started at Barrel Republic, a mecca for craft beer lovers. The freedom to pour and pay by the ounce while sampling and comparing as many beers as we liked was exhilarating. With a magnetic wrist band, guests can swipe and pour from over 52 beers rotating daily with no bartender needed. No need to commit until you find that beer you love. Hmmm! Hell or High Watermelon wheat beer from San Francisco, Ginger Pear Cider from Common Cider Company out of Sparks, NV, and Japanese Rice Lager from Trustworthy Brewing Co. from Burbank, CA excited my taste buds.
Communal tables allow new conversations to brew, so we decided to stay for dinner and indulge in Chili Dusted Crispy Pickle Chips, Bacon Wrapped Pork Belly, Parmesan Crusted Potato Barrels, and a Crispy Mozzarella BLT. We couldn’t get over this beer sampling fun and kept saying, “Why don’t we have THIS in Malibu?” Of course, after meandering around town we couldn’t resist dessert at Gaia Gelato.
The next morning we headed back to the Carlsbad Village to peruse the town stumbling upon a kitschy art show selling local goods, a flower shop turned Hawaiian goods store, and a beautiful coffee spot dripping with thousands of my favorite little desert plants called the Succulent Café. Besides the amazing coffee (hmmm white chocolate mocha, lavender lattes) and espresso in this peaceful open-air café, walls of succulents hang and embellished wooden holiday Christmas trees, stockings, tires, fountains, and walls.
For breakfast we found ourselves at a fun outdoor open-air cocktail bar called Crackheads where kids played corn hole, picnic tables housed friends celebrating over mimosas of every hue, and the $10 tater tots smothered with bacon, egg, cheese, and sour cream changed my morning outlook. It felt like neighborhood camaraderie at this new Village Yard space. “Why don’t we have this in Malibu?” we kept wondering.
To counteract the grub and prepare for our bike ride, I grabbed some chlorophyll alkaline water at Choice Juicery next door out of a white shipping container. By noon we were whipping down the coastal highway on a designated bike road path on zippy fast Pedego Electric Bikes which can be rented in Carlsbad Village. Ten miles of coastline past glistening crashing waves and numerous pit stops based on our mood made for the perfect Saturday to cruise into Encinitas, where we decided to come back at night for the local family-friendly holiday Christmas parade. We popped in vintage stores and perused a local outdoor market selling custom surfboards, expensive boho dresses, and men’s California fashion.
We flew with a few easy pedals careening through quiet seaside neighborhoods admiring homes decorated for Christmas, hopping off at various beach stops and the Self-Realization Fellowship Encinitas Shrine. The free lake shrine meditation garden and temple hang off the ocean cliff with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean til the end of the world. After zooming back up the coast around 20 mph pedaling like you would on a regular bike with the winds whipping against us, we marveled at the massive stretches of pristine coastline and didn’t have to worry about getting tired or climbing hills or even running out of a charge since the Pedego Electric Bikes use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that lasts all day.
After 20 miles of easy cycling where we could really pay attention to the details and then witnessing the cheerful Encinitas Holiday Parade with thousands of people on floats and kids in bands, we returned to our hotel happily to not leave for the night with dinner reservations already set at the Westin’s Twenty/20 Restaurant. As soon as we walked into this packed hotel restaurant we were impressed with the modern chic ambiance but we really were surprisingly wowed with our meal.
We shared the Crab Gratin with white corn, charred poblano, white cheddar, and parmesan with crusty bread, the Clam Chowder with smoked bacon, and the Pear Salad with goat cheese, arugula, pecans, pomegranate, and apple cider vinaigrette. The juicy tender garlic butter basted Prime Rib Eye was a generous cut served with grilled asparagus and wild mushroom ragu. If we had more energy, we would have found ourselves at Campfire, a rustic cool cocktail bar with an inventive menu that we perused in town earlier with lively flirty cocktails.
Sunday Funday included a stop at Carlsbad’s new multi-level community dining plaza-style complex called Park 101 in the heart of the Village. By noon $15 beer flights (4 beers) appeared on wooden boards with the name of each draft written on small chalkboards below each 6-ounce brew. Outside on high-top communal tables, we noshed on BBQ lunch in the sun. We weren’t afraid to sample the Park 101 Combo with tri-tip, brisket, pulled pork, seared ahi, and St. Louis ribs along with sides of eggs, baked beans, pickles, brussels sprouts, and seasoned breakfast potatoes.
Nearby a dog lazed in the sun and smiled at me, families enjoyed brunch, and firepits were available for nighttime revelry. Kids played on the turfgrass while upstairs the Spritz Bar was in full effect as friends created their own bubbly with bitters and fruit. The cute upstairs bar offered endless craft beers on tap and displayed their Cocktail of the Month called Wreck the Halls. The whole 8000 square foot complex with numerous food and drink options felt like a family affair, a way to bring people together. Again we mused, “Why don’t we have this in Malibu?” which became the quote of the weekend.
After our Carlsbad weekend, we left fondly thinking Carlsbad should be called CarlsGOOD!
This article was first published in print December 2018.