Carlsbad has an identity crisis. Visitors to the North San Diego County beach town think of one spot: Legoland. It’s the 800-pound gorilla of local attractions—one made up of brightly colored pieces of Danish-designed plastic. But Carlsbad is not Legoland. With loads of outdoor activities and seven miles of beach, it can be a prescription to cure the annual August panic attack that grips those who forget to plan a summer vacation. Try this Rx for Carlsbad without the plastic palace.
SEE Carlsbad boasts five great beaches. South State Beach is a classic, but also try less-crowded Tamarack and Ponto. For beachfront reading, stash your tablet and go retro at
Farenheit 451 books, one of California’s increasingly rare independent bookstores. Many titles even unknown to Oprah—new and used. Or venture to the Museum of Making Music ($8), where there’s a place to try guitar, keyboards, and drums. Events this month include MO’RHYTHM, an interactive drum concert Aug. 1 ($25 to $30), Paraguayan harp virtuoso Alfredo Rolando Ortiz on Aug. 15 ($20 to $25), and a guitar workshop Aug. 29 ($20).
TASTE It’s a meat safari at Paon Restaurant & Wine Bar: Deer, duck, pheasant, lamb, pig, and cow along with the all-star edibles from sea and stream (entrees $21 to $44). Copious globes of red wine soften the summer evening glow. Get the Whiskey Brined Pork Chop ($26) and other Americana comfort food at Bistro West. For finer dining, go next door to West Steak and Seafood and try the Lobster Mac & Cheese ($18), wholly unlike what Mom used to make. Detox from surf and turf at Naked Cafe, featuring vegetarian dishes. Even carnivores enjoy Tree Hugger—three pancakes topped with mango and toasted coconut ($9).
RELAX Sit around the cozy fire pits and swap tales of the storied Omni La Costa Resort & Spa ($235 and up). New-age guru Deepak Chopra still schools golfers about using mystical Aurevedic methods to fade iron shots to the green. Between Interstate 5 and the train tracks, the motel-like location of West Inn & Suites ($219 and up) seems an unlikely top sleep spot, but the rooms are far more luxurious than any motel. Being on the water is no problem at The Beach Terrace Inn ($259 to $629), right on the lip of the Pacific. A triangle-shaped pool is perched above the breakers. Flip-flops are as fancy as it gets here.