Legoland California and Carlsbad Offer Fun for the Whole Family
There in the lazy river, floating atop an inner tube at the water park inside Legoland California Resort, I witnessed a side of my 70-year-old father that I almost forgot was there.
He was sprawled across an inflatable infinity symbol, holding my two older daughters, one on each knee. The girls — ages 9 and 7 — were splashing him and making fun of his pale, wet tummy. Then, almost stealthily, grandpa decided to fight back. He held his breath. He flapped his arms. In one fell swoop, he flipped the float, dunking my kids.
At first the girls were startled. Within seconds, they got their footing on the bottom of the 3-foot-deep river, and they started laughing, full-on belly laughter. My dad, relishing their reactions, invited them to splash him. As they obliged, he was giddy, playful, downright silly. I hadn’t seen him act like that since I was a kid.
This was just one transcendent family bonding moment in a weekend full of them on a summertime intergenerational trip to Legoland California in the San Diego suburbs. Though we had come for the Legos — my older girls and their 3-year-old sister are obsessed with the tiny plastic building blocks — we spent just as much time splishing and splashing around the attraction’s 10 acres of water parks and exploring the surrounding area.
To us, Legoland is theme-park lite, a destination that offers similar excitement to larger spots such as Disneyland but makes it manageable, digestible and fun.
Legoland California Water Parks, Rides and Hotels
My daughters and I have gone to Legoland California annually since 2010. Unlike Disneyland, which could be overwhelming and huge, to us the 128-acre Legoland is the perfect size — not too many other people, just the right number of rides and a good amount of walking. We also love Legoland for more practical reasons, like the bins of blocks at the entryway of rides to entertain the little ones while the grown-ups wait in line. There are legitimately healthy eating options, such as the salad bar at the market-style Urban Kitchen restaurant in Fun Town. We appreciate the fact that the kids can cool off (literally and, at times, figuratively) indoors with classes and building contests. We even geek out over the on-site Model Shop; my two older girls can spend hours peering through the window as master model builders bring their wildest visions to life. The water is a big part of what we like about Legoland, and it’s not just those rollicking water parks, which have nearly a dozen individual attractions between the two of them such as slides and a wave pool. My girls love seeing the city models in Miniland USA from the Coast Cruise Boat Ride. There’s also the Sea Life Aquarium, mixing Lego models with live fish and offering educational talks, dive shows and feedings.
Taking the aquarium concept one step further is the park’s newest ride, Lego City Deep Sea Adventure (pictured above), which takes visitors on tiny submarines for an underwater look at sharks, stingrays and other sea creatures. (Know before you go that the aquarium and water parks require upgrades to the basic park admission ticket.)
In recent years, we’ve discovered the benefits of staying at one of the two on-site, 250-room hotels. Sure, they are a bit more expensive than other options in the area, but it’s worth it.
These official Legoland properties — Legoland Hotel and the Castle Hotel — are fantasylands for Lego maniacs. The hotels have themed rooms, real Lego models and pits with tens of thousands of blocks. There are even daily scavenger hunts for Lego sets that kids get to take home.
Both hotels have pools with giant rubber Lego blocks that float. All rooms have training toilet seats for toddlers and bunk beds for the big kids.
The newer of the two hotels, made to resemble a castle, opened in April 2018. We stayed there during our most recent visit last summer and enjoyed the outdoor playground and movie theater.
Attractions Near Legoland California
We also have learned that there’s more to Legoland than, well, Legoland. We’ve grown accustomed to venturing off-property to explore Carlsbad and the surrounding communities. San Diego is only 40 minutes away; sometimes we even head down there.
Our favorite “field trip” from Legoland is a five-minute drive to Carlsbad State Beach.
This ocean beach is a perfect spot for flying kites and building sandcastles. My girls have spent mornings here cavorting in the surf, bopping volleyballs and watching surfers, including many young kids, shred some waves.
We also love exploring downtown Carlsbad, known as Carlsbad Village. The town sports about a dozen walkable blocks of restaurants and shopping, including a half-dozen surf shops.
Just off the main drag and up the bluff from the state beach is Park 101, an indoor/outdoor barbecue restaurant and brewpub that’s family friendly and welcomes dogs.
While the kids played cornhole and giant Connect Four in the open-air courtyard, the grown-ups sipped on cocktails from the bar and noshed on fried pickles and pulled pork. When my 3-year-old got tired, she pulled up a lawn pillow and took a nap in the faux grass. When the bigger kids were ready for dessert, they cashed in wooden nickels at the bar for a hefty helping of cotton candy, which the bartender happily spun into a paper cone right in front of them.
Other nearby activities we’ve enjoyed over the years include a wagon tour of the Flower Fields, a giant flower nursery in Carlsbad; the Museum of Making Music, a small but informative museum in Carlsbad that celebrates the music industry; and the expansive and iconic San Diego Zoo, usually less than an hour south on Interstate 5.
Block Out Time to Build Legos
Of course, no family trip to Legoland is complete without some uninterrupted time to build.
Nothing beats a couple of hours alone with a new Lego set purchased at the Big Shop, which says it has the largest collection of Lego sets under one roof.
I give each of the girls a shopping budget and they spend the better part of an hour casing the joint. Back in our hotel room, they don’t stop until every Lego creation has been built.
Over the years, this ritual has prompted us to nix dinner plans in favor of room service and triggered some of the latest bedtimes of the year.
Much like that episode in the lazy river with grandpa, Legoland has given us the chance to spend time together reconnecting to unfiltered versions of our best selves. At the end of the day, there’s no better family memory than that.
–Written by Matt Villano