Beyond Legoland: Outdoor family fun in Carlsbad, California

Ask any parent and they will tell you; Carlsbad, California is synonymous with uber-kid destination, Legoland, but if that’s all you see while you’re there, then you’re missing out on a ton of awesome outdoor fun. Known as the “Village by the Sea”, Carlsbad offers 7 miles of pristine Pacific beaches, a year-round summer climate, and nearly 50 miles of well-kept hiking and biking trails.

Situated 87 miles south of Los Angeles, and 35 miles north of San Diego, Carlsbad is the perfect weekend family getaway destination offering world class golfing, inspiring cultural arts events, and inventive cuisine. So, when our family had the opportunity to visit this little gem of a seaside city, we threw our bathing suits in a bag and hit the road.

Two hours and fifteen minutes later we had arrived, the kid was itching to get out and the adults were in need of a leg stretch, so we broke out the phone in search of a large green space. Technology led us to Hosp Grove Park, a sprawling 53-acre city park that invites its guests to bike, hike, or picnic under the shade of thousands of beautiful, towering Eucalyptus trees.

Hiking Hosp Grove Park

Separated into an East Grove and a West Grove, there’s plenty to explore on any one of its five well-maintained, unpaved trails. The West Grove three-mile loop ushered us up and down kid-friendly slopes, through eucalyptus-scented groves, and rewarded us kindly with a beautiful scenic overlook of the Buena Vista Lagoon.

Piled back in the car with tired feet, we headed to our home for the next two nights, the Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach and arrived just in time to catch their happy hour at Bistro Bar and devour a delicious steak dinner at the hotel’s Carlsbad Beach Bistro Restaurant. With satisfied tummies, we walked out the hotel’s front doors, strolled across the street, and were treated with a breathtaking sunset; the perfect end to a perfect day.

Sunset at Carlsbad Beach
Photo Courtesy of Kerem Hanci

The Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach is situated 400 feet from the rugged cliffs of Carlsbad Beach offering up outrageous Pacific views and tons of family-friendly amenities. All of their 161 deluxe rooms include a microwave, refrigerator, coffee/tea maker, complimentary WiFi, outdoor heated pool and whirlpool, complimentary shuttle service within five miles, and evening ping pong tournaments in their outdoor gazebo.

Ping Pong at the Hilton Inn Carlsbad

The next morning we awoke rested and ready for another day full of outdoor adventure, but not before we zipped downstairs to fuel up on mouth-watering omelets prepared by Executive Chef Ricardo Vargas, signature waffles, pancakes, fresh fruit, and a gallon of dark roast coffee. Then, we slathered on the sunscreen, filled up the gas tank, and set out in search of more scenic Carlsbad satisfaction.

First up on our agenda was a morning tryst through the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, boasting over 50 acres of land dedicated to growing the radiantly charming Ranunculus flower, a member of the buttercup family, all of which were in full bloom. The Flower Fields Foundation provides further discovery opportunities for kids of all ages by providing hands-on sustainability, musical, and artistic educational programs for children.

Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
Photo Courtesy of Kerem Hanci

Fully inspired by the vibrant hues of mother nature’s blooms, we pointed our compasses towards the wide open waters of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. A delicate and crucial 500-acre watershed in the heart of a booming north San Diego county metropolitan area, this vulnerable coastal wetland is home to a wide array of wildlife including juvenile fish, crabs, hundreds of species of marine life and waterfowl, including an array of threatened and endangered species.

We used the Carlsbad Lagoon to outfit our family with life jackets and kayaks primarily due to its convenient central location on the lagoon, and launched our vessels westward inland. Coasting past sand dune full of native flora and hidden beaches inviting us to stop for a rest, we charged on, delighted by graceful pelicans gliding across the water’s surface ready to catch an unlucky striped mullet in mid-leap.

Kayaking the Carlsbad Lagoon

Admittedly, our family had been to Carlsbad before, to visit said aforementioned amusement park because of our only offspring’s desperation for waiting around in lines all day to ride rides that made her squeal with excitement. But, I sure am glad we were able to come back to discover a whole other side of Carlsbad; the Big Outside.

Join #KidsToParks Day and Discover Mother Nature’s Biodiversity

Has your child ever wanted to sit in the middle of the trail and inspect bugs, or count how many bright yellow flowers line the neighborhood pond? Well, the National Park Trust, in association with National Geographic Kids wants to give them a chance to channel their inner naturalist.

This Saturday, May 21, 2016 marks the 6th annual Kids to Parks Day, encouraging families all across the U.S. to get outside into the great outdoors to play, protect and preserve our wonderful natural landscape. Organized by the National Park Trust and supported by a large group of regional and local groups and organizations, Kids to Parks Day is just one way to instill in our children an active lifestyle full of exploration and discovery.

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For the past decade, leading up to the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration, the NPS and National Geographic have been leading BioBlitz community events at a different national park each year. And the biggest BioBlitz blitz is happening now, with over 250 scheduled for 2016, culminating in a cornerstone nationwide event to celebrate Kids To Parks Day.

If you’ve never participated in a BioBlitz, you have a lot to look forward to this Saturday, May 21st, because in Southern California there are four biodiversity festivals to choose from. Join scientists, students, teachers and your community as we work together to identify, count, and log the local diversity of our natural places, animals, plants, fungi and other organisms.

Want to join a BioBlitz? Here’s what you need to know:

Joshua Tree National Park
Ethno-botanical BioBlitz
May 21, 2016 from 9am – 4pm
Joshua Tree National Park Oasis Visitor Center
74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA

Channel Islands National Park
BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival
May 21, 2016 from 9am – 4pm
Channel Islands National Park visitor center in the Ventura Harbor
1901 Spinnaker Drive Ventura, CA 93001

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Biodiversity and Science Festival
May 21, 2016 from 10am – 4pm
Paramount Ranch
2903 Cornell Road, Agoura Hills, CA, 91301

Cabrillo National Monument
Biodiversity Festival
May 21, 2016 rom 9am – 8pm
Cabrillo National Monument
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr., San Diego, Ca. 92025

Don’t live in Southern California? Check out National Geographic’s BioBlitz events map to join forces in your own community!

Tenaya Lodge: Rustic Luxury at the Doorstep of Yosemite National Park

As we cruised down winding California State Highway 41, past towering sequoias, spirited woodpeckers and stately deer, our senses were flooded by the sights and sounds of the forest. This 265 mile road trip from Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park marks our family’s fourth such adventure, and each one proves more exciting than the last.

Our previous experiences in Yosemite have always included tent poles, sleeping bags and camping bins carrying everything but the kitchen sink, but this trip promised to be different. With just one suitcase in tow, we turned off of Highway 41, through the rustic Tenaya Lodge entrance, and down a tiny paved road that led to a cozy cottage nestled among the cedars; our home for the next two unforgettable nights.

Just two miles from the south gate of Yosemite National Park, Tenaya Lodge has been serving outdoor families since the early 90s. Its 35 acres of pristine woodlands offers a treasure trove of year-round recreational adventure for every member of the family, and even the ultimate spa experience for aching mommy hiker feet.

Year-Round Tenaya Adventure

A plethora of organized activities will satisfy your inner adventurer, rain, snow or sunshine. In the winter months, sled down their private hill, take a spin around the open-air ice rink, go on a guided snowshoe hike or take a relaxing soak in the hot tub.

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Ice skating at Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite

In the warmer months, activities include everything from archery lessons and horseback riding to rock-climbing and guided fly-fishing.

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Naturalist-guided nighttime hike at Tenaya Lodge

Make sure to sign up for one of their guided nighttime nature hikes. This easy, two and a half mile round trip hike, led by a knowledgeable and friendly naturalist, was one of the highlights of our trip!

Kid (and Pet) Friendly Excellence

From the moment you enter the lodge’s impressive wood and stone entrance and spot the Kid’s Check In, you’ll understand this mountain retreat’s commitment to making kids feel right at home. In addition to kid-sized stools in every public restroom and baskets brimming with crayons and coloring books at every turn, you’ll also find a entire arcade with video games, pinball machines, pool table and air hockey. Tenaya Lodge’s Sierra Adventure Club offers kids fun-filled day and evening camp and professional child care so parents can squeeze in some much-needed adult adventure time.

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Kid-friendly check in puts families at ease from the start.

Named Sunset Magazine’s Best Pet-Friendly Resort in the West, Tenaya Lodge recognizes that our four-legged family members love vacations just as much as we do. Their Deluxe Pampered Pet Package includes pet amenities like a plush dog bed, water bowl and a freshly baked gourmet dog bone, as well as a pet concierge guide full of great ideas and helpful tips on how to enjoy the area with pets.

More Luxurious Creature Comforts

Don’t let this four diamond lodge’s rustic location fool you, its bounty of adventurous experiences go well beyond the outdoor variety. With the opening of Ascent Spa, a 10,000 square foot facility, Tenaya offers luxurious and relaxing therapies guaranteed to soothe your aching hiker feet and your cramping climber hands. From simpler nail services and sauna room soaks to exfoliating facials and blissful full body massages Ascent Spa has what you need to melt away the city stress.

Creating a Pathway to Green

As one can imagine, operating a 302-room property on the doorstep of one of America’s greatest national parks comes with its own set of challenges and its own keen responsibility. Tenaya takes its responsibility and raises the bar higher with the utmost awareness to environmental stewardship of local resources, reducing waste and creating programs to foster environmental awareness.

The property Double Silver Leed Certified, has implemented eco-designed lighting focused on eliminating light pollution, installed water-saving bath fixtures in each and every room on site and even ensures their housekeeping laundry detergents are biodegradable.

Hiking Right Outside Your Door

When tensions are running high and you don’t feel like one more day of piling all the kids into the car to brave the Yosemite Valley traffic, you can simply step outside your cottage’s front door. The lodge property and surrounding national forest offers a number of great kid-friendly hikes without the large crowds.

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Hiking the Sierra National Forest

Our family hiked the close-by trails for four hours without seeing a single other person. We wandered, got lost, sang songs, and made memories to last a lifetime. We can’t wait to get back!

Know Before You Go

Mountain weather is fickle and can change suddenly. When driving through the area (particularly from October to late May) be aware of road closures. Check local weather and get up-to-date information regarding road conditions/closures from the California Department of Transportation before you travel.

Summer is the height of the family vacation season, as such, you may encounter long lines, traffic jams and skyhigh rates. Traveling in the spring or fall will still provide fantastic opportunities to visit the area without all the stress. Even still, booking 4-6 months in advance anywhere near Yosemite National Park is highly recommended!

The air is thinner up there. Remember Tenaya Lodge is at an elevation of 5288 feet, so don’t push too hard or you just might find yourself sitting out on your trip of a lifetime. Symptoms of altitude sickness generally occur within hours of arriving at your destination and can vary drastically. If you experience headache, nausea, insomnia, irritability, shortness of breath or any sort of sudden onset of physical or mental limitation, seek a medical professional immediately.