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This family-friendly coastal town has feel-good appeal

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Carlsbad’s legacy as a tourist hot spot dates back to the 1880s, when a local farmer tapped into mineral springs and a spa town was born. Today—thanks to a theme park, golf courses, a nice beach, and more—Carlsbad has become a popular family destination.

Thirty-five miles north of downtown San Diego, Carlsbad offers family-friendly adventure everywhere you look. The biggest presence, no doubt, is LEGOLAND California Resort, which encourages imagination and interactive play for kids—typically for ages 2 to 12, but really for anyone who loves those iconic plastic bricks. It features classic theme park rides, a sprawling Star Wars Miniland, a water park, an aquarium, and two themed hotels (the LEGOLAND Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel). Older kids, meanwhile, may gravitate to nearby attractions like the Alga Norte Community Park (with a lighted skate park for skateboards) or the K1 Speed go-kart track. Come spring, the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch make for a lovely afternoon for all ages, with 50 acres of colorful ranunculus blooms.

And what about those mineral springs? The site where that farmer uncovered the alkaline waters is now the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa. The Spanish Colonial–style getaway sits on 400 rolling acres outfitted with 17 tennis courts, eight separate pools, a stunning spa, and two legendary golf courses. A few miles away, the Park Hyatt Aviara has its own golf course (designed by Arnold Palmer) plus a huge spa, fine dining, and a kids’ club. For a back-to-nature getaway, stay at South Carlsbad State Beach Campgrounds: Tucked among the bluffs, the seaside campsites offer ocean and sunset views.

Also close to the water, Carlsbad Village has more than 100 unique shops packed within a few walkable blocks. Don’t miss State Street, dotted with such trendy boutiques as Humble Olive Oils and on-trend restaurants, like the local ingredients charred to perfection on Campfire’s wood grill or the craft beers at Barrel Republic. A few miles down the coast, another culinary (an educational) adventure awaits at Carlsbad Aquafarm. The only shellfish farm in Southern California that raises Pacific oysters and Mediterranean mussels, this more than half-century-old operation now offers an Oyster Farm Tour, which includes a Farm Discovery Walk, where visitors learn about the tools of the trade and sustainable aquafarming techniques, followed by an oyster shucking class and a generous oyster tasting.

It’s not all relaxation and culinary pleasures though—this city holds a special place in the hearts of serious runners. The oceanfront Carlsbad 5000, held at the end of March, is a flat-and-fast all-day event that can include everyone from toddlers to Olympians. January’s Carlsbad Marathon and Half-Marathon are equally popular, thanks to a breezy course and ocean views.

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