Staycation in Carlsbad
“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy famously said in The Wizard of Oz. Just ask skateboarder Tony Hawk, Olympic snowboarder Shaun White, runner and coach Steve Scott, and tennis legend Rod Laver, who have all hailed — not from Kansas — but Carlsbad. And after more than 15 years in Rancho Santa Fe (and 13 in Del Mar before that), Carlsbad is my home now, too. In recent months, my family and I have delighted in exploring this coastal community, with its seven miles of beaches, extensive hiking trails, shopping, museums, even amusement parks. We have played tourists in our own backyard, from walking the trails along the Batiquitos Lagoon to feasting on fish tacos at Harbor Fish Café in Carlsbad Village. And we’ve found new appreciation for the famous Carlsbad mineral water, from which the city sprang back in the 1880s.
It was John Frazier, a former ship’s captain, who dug a well that produced water said to have remarkable healing powers. When analyzed, the water was found to have the same mineral content as Europe’s famous spa in Karlsbad, Bohemia. To this day, people fill up on Carlsbad alkaline water at the site of the original well — a bargain at 70 cents a gallon. You can not only drink it, but also soak in it; the Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa offers mineral baths and massages. But this city has so much more to offer than a bubbling well.
Boasting more than 100 restaurants within the city limits, there’s no dearth of dining options here. Did you know there’s even a speakeasy in town? The Charles Kenneth Speak Easy custom hand-crafts classic cocktails in the basement of The Land & Water Company on Carlsbad Boulevard, where patrons are advised to “please speak easy and dress sharply, there are no second chances for first impressions.” You even need a password to get in. (Available on social media channels, it changes daily.)
Upstairs, The Land & Water Company takes its name from the real estate/well-digging company that occupied the historic Queen Anne-style home in which it’s located in the late 1800s. The restaurant’s Japanese-influenced menu includes sustainable sushi, pub-style chicken, and beef tongue skewers. The favorite “Water Roll” combines spicy tuna, avocado, stone crab, and layers of sashimi topped with ginger, ponzu, and citrus slices. Sip the “Carlsbad Sunset,” a specialty cocktail with apricot brandy, elderflower liqueur, and fresh orange and pineapple juices.
A little farther south, Bistro West is a favorite with families and couples alike, offering a seasonal menu inspired by its own three-acre farm, and attentive service. For comfort food, such as chicken pot pie and beef stroganoff, sample from the Bistro Classics menu. Wine is half price on Monday nights, and the bar features “7 for 7,” a daily happy hour from 3:30-6:30pm, with seven appetizers, wines, and specialty cocktails priced at $7 each. Locals also love Café Topes for the best breakfast in town; the Compass, a gastropub with inventive twists on classic bar food; Mazen@106 for Mediterranean fusion. Watch jets rolling down the runway at McClellan-Palomar Airport’s The Landings, an upscale eatery owned by former flight attendant Michele Slattery. Dine on the patio and listen to live entertainment. Twenty/20 at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa features “Tapas Thursdays,” serving appetizers and drinks on the expansive ocean-view terrace from 5:30-8pm. For fine dining, we like to sit outside at Paon, a restaurant and wine bar serving California Cuisine with a French influence (we can’t get enough of the crusty bread.) There’s also a lower-priced menu in the lounge, including Carlsbad oysters, escargot, and duck confit, as well as petite bites and wine in the tasting room.
One of our favorite places is the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa, named a Forbes (Travel Guide) Five-Star resort two years in a row and home to the LPGA KIA classic, which draws the world’s top golfers. The Aviara Golf Club is marking its 25th anniversary this year, but you don’t have to play golf to dine at the club’s Argyle steakhouse, known for its 18-ounce bone-in rib eye (not kidding). Choose from six sauces (cognac and green peppercorn is a favorite), crusts or rubs, and even your choice of steak knife. On “Surf & Turf Fridays,” Chef Joran Bouwman pairs fresh seafood with a filet, bison, or grass-fed tenderloin and wine pairings, topped off with chocolate cake. The bar also has a daily happy hour beginning at three in the afternoon.
In the Park Hyatt’s Lobby Lounge, savor such light appetizers as salmon bites, truffle fries with cilantro aioli, and a wild mushroom tart with ricotta. The spicy pomegranate margarita with jalapeño slices and sweet Chilean sea salt packs quite a kick! The lounge also serves English tea on weekend afternoons. For special occasions, we like to sample the regional Italian cuisine at Vivace, highly rated by Zagat for food, service, and décor.
This summer, you can even surf with the chef. Park Hyatt Executive Chef Pierre Albaladejo, who learned to surf in his native France, offers lessons at local beaches that include a “toes in the sand” picnic and your own personalized long board.
I also like to escape to the Aviara Spa for some serious pampering. During its “Healthy Hours” from 12-3pm Monday through Thursday, massages and facials are 20 percent off and include use of the fitness center, steam, sauna, and Jacuzzi. Afterward, you can lounge by the pool. The spa also offers “Couples Suite Escapes,” which include the “Spark at the Park” — two massages along with chocolate-covered strawberries and Champagne. The Hyatt also partners with VeraVia, a luxury wellness retreat that offers a structured program of fitness, weight loss, stress management, and lifestyle changes.
For a bit of history, explore Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park, once home to the Hollywood actor who played Pancho in the 1950s TV series, The Cisco Kid. The original owners who settled the property in the 1800s named it Rancho de los Quiotes (Ranch of the Spanish Daggers) after the plant that grows so abundantly here. Its leaves resemble a 15th century sword used by members of the Spanish military. The local Luiseno Indians used every part of the fibrous plant for making rope, baskets, spices, and soap.
Carrillo turned the property into a 2,500-square-foot working rancho where he also hosted Hollywood friends at splendid fiestas. You can tour many of the original buildings, restored and renovated in recent years by the City of Carlsbad. From now through August 28, take a peek at the juried exhibit of plein air paintings at Deedie’s House, the tiny adobe that Carrillo built for his wife. She used it primarily as a personal retreat, but it was also a guesthouse for Hollywood celebrities (Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, for example, spent their honeymoon here). Rancho Carrillo is also known for its peacocks; descendants of Carrillo’s flock still roam free and unfettered through the park, unfurling their rainbow of feathers to the delight of visitors.
For sparkle aplenty, take a tour of eye-popping exhibits of fine gems and jewelry at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the nonprofit dedicated to research and education in gemology and jewelry arts. Nearby, the Museum of Making Music is an interactive museum of galleries and instruments, with special exhibits and live events. Permanent exhibits explore music-making from the 1890s to today.
TGIF Concerts in the Parks kick off June 24 with a performance by the English reggae singer Pato Banton at Stagecoach Community Park. The free concert series, presented by the City of Carlsbad’s Cultural Arts Office in partnership with concert promoter Rob Hagey, runs through August 19 at various parks around town.
For some retail therapy, the Carlsbad Premium Outlets offer deep discounts at top brands including Barneys New York, Bebe, Bose, Banana Republic, Crate & Barrel, Coach, Cole Haan, Dooney & Bourke, Kate Spade, and Michael Kors, among countless others. When the grandkids are in town, we head for Legoland California, where we can train like Ninjas on the new Ninjago The Ride. Blast fireballs, lightning, and shockwaves on this interactive 4D ride with the wave of your hands, thanks to cutting-edge technology. And to think we didn’t have to hop a plane to get here — Legoland, with its own Water Park and Sea Life Aquarium, is just a few miles away.
Yes, Dorothy, there’s NO place like home. Andrea Naversen
Museum of Making Music: Photography by Sciacca