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.

Mommy Hiker’s Guide to North America’s Best Waterside Campgrounds

Summer is officially here and there’s no better way to beat the heat and commune with nature than a waterside campground. Here’s our guide to some of the best family-friendly campgrounds in North America situated right on the water. Now get outside and chill out!

El Capitan Canyon, Santa Barbara, California

Family Camping at El Capitan Canyon, Santa Barbara, California

Nestled between the picturesque Santa Barbara mountains and the vast Pacific Ocean, El Capitan Canyon offers families 300 acres of camping, cabineering and luxurious yurts perfect for adventure and relaxation. Read more about this campground at Examiner.com!

Twin Lakes Campground, Mammoth Lakes, California

Family Camping at Twin Lakes Campground, Mammoth Lakes, California

Twin Lakes Campground in Mammoth Lakes, California offers family tent camping at its best. Boating, biking, hiking, fishing; it has everything an active family could ask for and is also perfect for just sitting around and doing absolutely nothing. Read more about this campground right here on MommyHiker.com!

Leo Carrillo State Park and Campground, Malibu, California

Family Camping at Leo Carrillo State Park and Campground, Malibu, California

Located 28 miles northwest of Santa Monica, Leo Carrillo State Beach is unique with a protected cove toward the north and rocky tide pools that can be explored at almost any time of day (low tide obviously allows for more wildlife). It’s a great family beach and with the Leo Carillo State Beach Campground just a stroll away, it can also be a great place to stay. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Carpinteria State Beach Campground, Carpinteria, California

Family Camping at Carpinteria State Beach Campground, Carpinteria, California

With 200 sites, Carpinteria State Beach Campground is busy place. Reservations are snatched up the moment they become available (six months in advance) so make sure you’re on the ReserveAmerica website early if you want a spot. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Highland Lakes Campground, Arnold, California

Family Camping at Highland Lakes Campground, Arnold, California

Escape to the California Sierras, to Highland Lakes for a more rustic car-camping experience with the beauty of lakes and lovely mountain peaks. Read more about this campground at Chasqui Mom!

Sand Hollow State Park, Hurricane, Utah

Family Camping at Sand Hollow State Park, Hurricane, Utah

Camping with close access to National and State parks, slot canyons, plus crystal blue water and cliff jumping out your tent door! Check out Sand Harbor State Park in Utah. Read more about this campground at Kid Project!

Payson Lakes Campground, Salem, Utah

Family Camping at Payson Lakes Campground, Salem, Utah

Payson Lakes Campground is situated on the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway near Payson, Utah. Payson Lakes is known as a fisherman’s getaway since the series of three alpine lakes are a great place to paddle, fish or swim. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Preston Valley Campground, Logan, Utah

Family camping at Preston Valley Campground, Logan, Utah

All the campgrounds in Logan Canyon are right off the main road which leads to a lot of road noise at night. The benefit is that it’s also right by the river which allowed us some short fun kayaking runs. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Primrose Landing Campground, Seward, Alaska

Family Camping at Primrose Landing Campground, Seward, Alaska

Primrose Campground is located the shores of Primrose Creek and Kenai Lake – a great base for a fishing adventure. The campground has 8 sites, no hookups and is within a short drive of Seward. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Exit Glacier Campground, Seward, Alaska

Family Camping at Exit Glacier Campground, Seward, Alaska

Exit Glacier Campground is unlike any other campground. Being a tent only, walk in campsite there are no reservations, no individual parking spaces and no picnic tables for each site. A communal cooking and storage area has three picnic tables and space to put food overnight. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, Parksville, BC, Canada

Family Camping at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, Parksville, BC, Canada

For gentle waters to wade and paddle, head to Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, Parksville. This family-friendly park is conveniently located near Parksville and is a short drive from the Departure Bay ferry terminal. At low tide, the beach is about a kilometre long! Read more about this campground Play Outside Guide!

Green Point Campground, Pacific Rim National Park, Ucluelet, Canada

Family Camping at Green Point Campground, Pacific Rim National Park, Ucluelet, Canada

Enjoy epic beach walks along Long Beach, learn to surf, or hike in the coastal rainforest while camped at Green Point Campground, Pacific Rim National Park. Recent upgrades have made the campground better than ever – there are showers (finally!) and walk-in sites now have fire rings, so you can stay longer and more comfortably. Read more about this campground Play Outside Guide!

Wya Point Walk-In Campground, Ucluelet, Canada

Family Camping at Wya Point Walk-In Campground, Ucluelet, Canada

If you like getting away from it all, you will love the private, secluded beach at Wya Point Walk-In Campground, Ucluelet. Although this is a walk-in campground, it has the amenities of a front country campground (showers, dishwashing sinks, flush toilets). Not prepared to walk-in camp? Stay at the lodge or seaside yurts! Read more about this campground at Play Outside Guide!

Two Jack Lakeside Campground, Banff, Canada

Family Camping at Two Jack Lakeside Campground, Banff, Canada

This extremely popular campground in Banff has no power sites for RVs so expect a natural camping experience. Reservations can be made early in the season and are absolutely necessary if you want to camp here during the summer season. Read more about this campground at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies!

Interlakes Campground, Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada

Family Camping at Interlakes Campground, Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada

This beautiful campground is located right on the Lower Kananaskis Lake with approximately half of the 48 sites situated right next to the lakeshore. To get a site here in summer you’ll have to come mid-week because reservations are not accepted in advance. Read more about this campground at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies!

Crimson Lake Campground, Alhambra, Alberta Canada

Family Camping at Crimson Lake Campground, Alhambra, Alberta Canada

This campground has 173 sites with power for RVs and all are reservable in advance which really helps families planning ahead. There are bike trails, hiking options, and other fun things to do in the Rocky Mountain House area. Read more about this campground at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies!

Writing-on-Stone Campground, Aden, Alberta, Canada

Family Camping at Writing-on-Stone Campground, Aden, Alberta, Canada

There are 19 unserviced sites and 45 sites with power for RVs. There are also two group campgrounds and several comfort camping units. All sites accept reservations in advance. There is a great beach with sand and families can float the river in tubes from one end of the campground to the other on a hot day. Read more about this campground at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies!

Surveyors Lake Campground, Wasa, BC, Canada

Family Camping at Surveyors Lake Campground, Wasa, BC, Canada

The campground has approximately 100 sites but note that there are no power sites here for RVs. It is located just outside the mountain town of Fernie in British Columbia and is extremely popular! Plan to make a reservation well in advance if you want to get a site here in the summer. Read more about this campground at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies!

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.