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'Play well' by the Pacific'Play well' by the Pacific

Carlsbad, CaliforniaCarlsbad, California

Lege godt means “play well” in Danish. For decades, this phrase has been translated into LEGO, the name of the colorful building bricks, likely the most successful children’s toys ever created. Kids find endless ways to play well at Legoland, the beautiful and imaginative amusement park in Carlsbad. The Legoland Hotel extends the colored-brick universe further, with themed rooms and restaurants designed to induce LEGO-Nirvana in young fans. Adults will find many other ways to play well in this sun-drenched resort town just north of San Diego. If you’re a golfer, you can upgrade your game by stopping by the Callaway Performance Center, right next to Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport. And make sure you throw an extra swimsuit in your bag because, between the beaches, lagoon watersports, and famous spas, we bet you’re going to get wet.

  • In 1932, Ole Kirk Christiansen began making toys in his workshop in Denmark. He named his company LEGO, for “play well.” Coincidentally, it was later discovered that LEGO in Latin means “I put together” or “I assemble.” For decades, the simple, open-architecture design of the colorful bricks has meant that their use is limited only by the imagination of the user and that their appeal is universal. Now you can step into the Legoland Hotel’s lobby, guarded by LEGO dragons, where kids amuse themselves in a giant mosh pit full of colorful bricks while you check in. Larger-than-life LEGO sculptures, made with over 3 million bricks, are scattered throughout the premises and the theme carries to the outdoor pool. Guests get access to select Legoland rides and attractions before the park officially opens. Photo courtesy Legoland California.
  • The Omni La Costa Resort & Spa sits just inland from the lagoon. A huge athletic club provides 270-degree views of the golf courses and ocean. Dining options include Bob’s Steak & Chop House, Vue (with great golf course views), and the Diversions Sport Lounge. Modern guest rooms soothe with blue, green, and terra cotta tones, top-tier bedding, and big marble spa showers. Suites and Spanish Colonial-style Villa rooms up to 1,800 square feet with Viking kitchens are also available. Photo courtesy Omni Resorts.
  • Rated #1 by Spa magazine, the La Costa Resort & Spa offers a full array of spa services. Drench yourself in a waterfall shower. Massages, facials, buffs—you name it—can be had with all manner of accoutrements like bee propolis, citrus, and a full complement of botanicals. Photo courtesy Omni Resorts.
  • At La Costa Resort & Spa, you can walk barefoot over rounded pebbles and lush landscapes on the Reflexology Pathway. The Chopra Center provides meditation gardens, retreats, and workshops. Photo courtesy Omni Resorts.
  • At La Costa Resort & Spa, eight sparkling pools include a garden pool, adults-only pool, Jacuzzi, and sandy family pool with 100-foot water slide. Photo courtesy Omni Resorts.
  • Luxury is everywhere at the La Costa Resort & Spa, an Omni Resort founded in 1965 and recently renovated for $50 million. Photo courtesy Omni Resorts.
  • Many people come here just for the Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa, the town’s original star attraction. Carlsbad rests on aquifers; in 1882 former sea captain John Frazier dug a well and began offering water at the train station. When the water was tested it was found to be nearly identical to that of Europe’s most acclaimed spa, located in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, also known as Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary means “Charles’ bath” in Czech, which translates to Karlsbad in German). To take advantage of the water, Carlsbad Land & Mineral Water Co. was co-founded by a German-born merchant, and Carlsbad was born. Photo courtesy Ludvik Grigoras.
  • The original well and Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa are now owned by Ludvik Grigoras, a Czech-born engineer actually raised in Karlovy Vary, who yearned to come to America since childhood but never dreamed he would live in and restore the well in the city named for his hometown. Spa treatments and mineral baths for singles and couples are available in the Roman Caesar Room (shown here), the Cleopatra Egyptian Room, and the couples’ Exotic Oriental Room. Photo courtesy Ludvik Grigoras.
  • Brown pelicans fly over Carlsbad’s sandy beach. These “living dinosaurs” nearly went extinct in the late 1960s. After DDT was banned, their numbers began to recover and now you’ll see them cruising above the waves every day. Photo courtesy Visit Carlsbad.
  • In 1986, Carlsbad voters passed legislation requiring the city to leave 40 percent of its land as open space. In early spring, the 50-acre Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch become a riot of yellow, magenta, and orange stripes as Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers bloom. Bring your camera and walk the paths or take a wagon ride. Photo by Karen via Flickr.
  • Don’t let the Museum of Making Music’s business-park setting fool you: MOMM, as it’s called, is a blast for kids while providing more than enough intellectual stimulation for adults. Cleverly designed galleries trace the evolution and spread of musical instruments and techniques across America, both geographically and culturally. Photo courtesy Visit Carlsbad.
  • Find your inner musician at the Museum of Making Music. Photo courtesy Visit Carlsbad.
  • Legoland’s Miniland is fascinating for kids and adults—it’s our world reinterpreted in over 24 million tiny bricks. You’ll see replicas of famous cities around the globe, as well as replicas of places from “a long time ago in a galaxy far away.” Photo courtesy Legoland California.
  • Nancy and Kris Nayudu’s Pelican Cove Inn is just two blocks from the ocean, three blocks from Carlsbad Village, and provides free airport pickup. Each of 10 rooms has a private entrance and bath, gas fireplace, and featherbed; all are uniquely decorated with tasteful antiques. Enjoy your breakfast in the dining room, garden gazebo, rooftop deck, or the privacy of your own room. Photo courtesy Pelican Cove Inn.
  • Boasting divine views of the Pacific, the highly-regarded Chandler’s serves locally produced California coastal cuisine at the Cape Rey Carlsbad, a Hilton property. Photo courtesy Visit Carlsbad.

Carlsbad has become something of a spa-haven. If you want the top-rated spa according to Spa magazine, just head over to the La Costa Resort and Spa, where the breadth of treatments available is unmatched. The Deepak Chopra Center provides meditation gardens, retreats, and workshops. Walk barefoot over rounded pebbles and lush landscapes on the Reflexology Pathway. Drench yourself in a waterfall shower. Massages, facials, buffs—you name it—can be had with all manner of accoutrements like bee propolis, citrus, and a full complement of botanicals. Combined with the pools, luxury villas, and fine dining, a La Costa vacation will give you all the pampering you can handle.

You can play well here, too: La Costa’s premier hard and clay tennis courts are staffed by U.S. Professional Tennis Association pros. Southern California’s only Gold Medal Golf Resort, La Costa’s Champions Course is frequented by PGA legends. Their Golf Learning Center offers lessons for adults and kids. If you want to play well without spending a lot on greens fees, Rancho Carlsbad Golf Club is an inexpensive alternative to the resort courses. But before you hit those links, make an appointment for the Callaway Performance Center, where you can have your swing analyzed and be custom-fitted for the perfect clubs.

Now we know where Santa goes to hide out, relax, and have fun after Christmas! Carlsbad’s mild climate makes it a year-round destination, and its lagoons provide safe kayaking. Photo courtesy Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center.

Many people visit Carlsbad just for the Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa, the town’s original star attraction. Check out the turreted Alt Karlsbad House and, for $0.80, fill a gallon water container with sweet artesian water. Spa treatments and mineral baths for singles and couples are available in themed rooms.

Just west of the airport, seven miles of wide, warm, uncrowded, sandy beach await, with surf that invites year-round. The nearby Agua Hedionda Lagoon provides safe havens for numerous water-dependent species, yet a separate large area is reserved for splashy recreation like jet-skiing, wakeboarding, boating, kayaking, and canoeing. You’ll also find hiking trails and a native garden. The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center is at the eastern end of the estuary. Each March, they hold the Tip Top Run to raise money to keep the lagoon in tip-top shape. Participate and then dig into a smorgasbord supplied by local Tip Top Meats, an excellent European market, deli, and restaurant.

A LEGO team builder puts the finishing touches on a row of homes in Miniland’s “San Francisco.” Photo courtesy Legoland California.

From March 1 through mid-May, you can visit spectacular flower fields that overlook the ocean (they’re worth a flyover, too). The Museum of Making Music offers engaging exhibits on the evolution of American music. MOMM, as it’s called, is also a blast for kids, who can make their own music and not worry about anyone “shushing” them for being too loud.

But Carlsbad’s biggest draw for kids is Legoland California, a must for any LEGO fanatic, with over 60 family rides, interactive attractions, and shows. Enchanted forests, cities, dragons, pirates, Star Wars, even a water park—you name it and you’ll find it in LEGOs here. And now you no longer just visit Legoland, you can sleep in it. Rooms are decorated in themes; parents get a queen bed while kids occupy their own sleeping area that includes LEGO bricks to build with.

If you just want to hang out around the beach, stay at the peaceful Pelican Cove Inn, just two blocks from the Pacific. Nancy and Kris Nayudu provide free airport pickup, Wi-Fi, and a delicious breakfast. Walk over to the Harbor Fish Café for fish tacos or fish and chips, or try Dini’s Bistro, right on the waterfront. If you have a car, dine at Chandler’s at the Cape Rey Carlsbad, a Hilton resort. In otherwise heavily populated Southern California, Carlsbad provides the open space, slower pace, and mild climate that let you truly play well, any time of year.

Give your game a tune-up at La Costa’s Golf Performance Institute. Photo courtesy Omni Resorts.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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