Since its discovery by Spanish troops in the late 1700s, Carlsbad has been known for its water. With about eight miles of coastline and beaches, that’s still true today. But the county’s fifth largest city continues to evolve, keeping pace with modern trends and making it one of the best places in San Diego to be for a day, a week, or a lifetime. Agua Hedionda was named “stinking water” by the Spanish explorers because of its proximity to an old fishing village. Now, more than 200 years later, it’s the only North County lagoon to allow water sports. Wave runners, wakeboards, water skiing, kayaks, canoes, power boats, and aqua cycles have been offered by California Water Sports since 2005.
The latest craze is stand-up paddleboard yoga, launched in May by the Carlsbad Paddle Club. “Some people say they can’t even do yoga on a mat, let alone the water. But we use specially designed fitness boards so it’s easy even for beginners,” says owner Caitlin Cantor, who continued to paddleboard throughout her two pregnancies. “People are falling in love with it,” she says. “They call it fitness the Southern California way.” Cantor offers stand-up paddleboard Pilates and other fitness classes as well. Traditional stand-up boards are also available and are a great way to see the nature preserve in the back of the lagoon.
On Agua Hedionda’s eastern end is the Discovery Center, which houses exhibits and displays about the historical and environmental aspects of the lagoon. It also hosts festivals, lectures, seminars, and programs.
For those who prefer drier workouts, Carlsbad is home to a variety of walking in Aviara, Hidden Valley, and Calavera Hills, to name a few. The city also recently added new bike lanes and widened existing ones to become more bicycle-friendly.
After a workout — or anytime, for that matter — check out one of the many resort and boutique spas, including the Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa, which is housed in a European-style building on the site of the original historic mineral water well that brought thousands to Carlsbad in the 1880s for its alleged healing powers.
Home to Callaway and TaylorMade-Adidas, Carlsbad has become synonymous with golf. The city boasts the Arnold Palmer-designed course at Park Hyatt Aviara, the legendary La Costa Resort & Spa course, and public links at Rancho Carlsbad Country Club and The Crossings.
For entertainment, the city has been hosting Friday night jazz concerts since 1986. The free events take place at Stagecoach, Poinsettia, and Calavera Hills parks from 6- 8pm beginning in June and lasting throughout the summer. The line-up is available on the city Web site.
Another “little-known” but interesting place to visit is the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum, with hundreds of functional miniature engines plus miniature guns, ships, autos, cranes, clocks and tools. This year’s featured exhibit is a collection of miniature guns and knives. Other displays include small running steam and gas engines, model airplanes, and dollhouses. There is also a working machine shop where visitors can watch a master machinist make parts for a one-quarter-scale five-cylinder plane engine. Additional devices can be run on request. The museum, located at 3190 Lionshead Avenue, is open Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. Admission is free.
Those who prefer life-sized machines might consider an aerial tour of San Diego with Air2Air Corp., which offers 30-minute sky tours taking off from Carlsbad’s Palomar Airport and heading south along the coastline. It’s a unique way to cap off dinner at one of the city’s many restaurants, which range from fine dining to a plethora of palate-pleasing casual options that include the increasingly popular gourmet burgers.
In the Village there’s Knockout Burgers, offering heavyweight fare at lightweight prices. Pure Burger in Bressi Ranch promises organic, free-range, California grass-fed patties. Notorious, in the space previously occupied by Joey’s Smokin’ BBQ, serves up hand-crafted burgers and beer, while The Counter in The Forum allows diners to build their own burger from the more than 312,120 combinations.
For one of the most distinctive dining experiences, try Boxd, Carlsbad’s only hybrid kitchen. Boxd serves waffles and waffle sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner out of a recycled shipping container on the corner of Carlsbad Village Drive and State Street. Choices include a lemon cream and berry-stuffed creation that can double as an early morning meal or a tempting dessert, and a chicken, arugula, and brie sandwich with garlic aioli.
Locals are excited Board & Brew is now open in the Village and at Bressi Ranch. The 30-year-old sandwich shop that started in Del Mar keeps customers coming back with fresh ingredients, a relaxed atmosphere, and that secret sauce.
Pizza Port, another local favorite, is opening its fifth location in Bressi Ranch sometime in June. The brew-pub will feature a two-story restaurant with 40 taps, canning line for four-packs, with the first being Swami’s IPA; and commissary, where pizza dough for all the locations will be made. The new facility also showcases two fish tanks made on Tanked, a reality show on Animal Planet.
Top off a meal at Sub Zero Ice Cream & Yogurt, as seen on TV’s Shark Tank. Customized frozen desserts are created on the spot at -321 degrees using liquid nitrogen. It’s located in the Westfield Mall, with another shop opening soon in the Village.
Some of Carlsbad’s popular wine stores have kept up with the latest trend and evolved into wine bars. Owned by La Costa residents, La Costa Wine Co. seeks to demystify the world of wine with its new tasting room and cheese deli.
The Wine Loft in The Forum recently expanded its wine bar and added menu items that include crostini, cheese boards, and salads.
Relm promises its patrons will relax, enjoy, laugh more, since that’s where it got its name. Located in the Village, the shop has a casual atmosphere where beginners can learn about wine, connoisseurs can discover new finds, and everyone can eat, drink and “relm.”
Also in the Village is Paon, with petite bites and a wide selection of specialty wines.
Village diners may notice some of their favourite restaurants have begun to pop — right into the street, thanks to a two-year pilot program called curb cafes. The city is allowing a limited number of restaurants to replace some parking spaces with small decks to accommodate more tables. The concept has been used successfully in New York, San Francisco, and Long Beach, and lets more customers enjoy outdoor dining.
Carlsbad also continues to offer myriad shopping choices. With more than 90 stores, the Carlsbad Premium Outlets are still a major attraction for residents and visitors alike, while the Village provides a more local shopping experience.
The Forum remains popular — so much so that La Costa Town Square will mimic it in ambiance and architecture. Located not far away on the corner of Rancho Santa Fe Road and La Costa Avenue, it is a mixed-used project slated to open in 2014.
Also coming in the future is a development by Caruso Affiliated, a Los Angeles company known for upscale projects such as The Grove and The Americana. Caruso purchased about 50 acres of land from San Diego Gas & Electric east of Interstate 5 and north of Cannon Road. Caruso is currently in the community outreach phase. A company spokeswoman said it could be at least a few years before plans are developed.
Meanwhile, Bressi Ranch Village Center continues its evolution with new restaurants, retail shops, offices, and services opening frequently.
For visitors, Carlsbad is home to every type of hotel, motel, and resort. Its newest addition is the Legoland Hotel, with 250 themed guest rooms that include treasure chests for the little ones. Throughout the facility are models made from the tiny colorful bricks, seven of which are animated, play areas and elevator disco balls that turn on when the doors close.
For a slightly less stimulating stay, the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa is right up the hill. Designed for every type of visitor, from families to business travelers, the resort includes the Twenty/20 Grill & Wine Bar that features organic, local produce and seafood, as well as picturesque ocean views that are perfect for watching the sunset.
There’s always something new to see and do in Carlsbad, so dive in and make a splash. BIANCA KAPLANEK