The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Carlsbad: La Costa and Legoland
Named for the European spa town of Karlsbad, in Bohemia of what’s now the Czech Republic, Carlsbad (pop. 105,328) was established in the 1880s as a spa town and vacation resort. A few remnants of the historic resort area still survive along old US-101 in the center of town. A few flower and strawberry fields surround the town, surviving against the ever-expanding tide of sprawl. These days Carlsbad’s spa-town heritage lives on at La Costa Resort and Spa (2100 Costa Del Mar Rd., 760/438-9111, $299 and up), a 500-plus-room complex of luxurious rooms, health spas, golf courses, and tennis courts covering 400 acres of hills on the inland side of I-5.
Carlsbad’s other main attraction is the first American outpost of the popular European children’s theme park Legoland (760/918-5346, $78 adults, $68 children). Built out of millions of Lego bricks, and covering 128 acres above the Pacific Ocean, the park is divided up into multiple areas, including Miniland USA, where miniature landscapes modeled on New York, New Orleans, New England, and Southern California have all been constructed using more than 40 million of the trademark plastic bricks.
South Carlsbad State Beach (760/438-3143, $12 per car), three miles south of town, is one of the nicest and most popular places to camp on the Southern California coast, with its spacious campsites ($35-50) with hot showers spread out along a sandstone bluff above a broad beach. However, swimming can be dangerous because of strong riptides. If you don’t want to camp or pay the parking fee, leave your car at the park entrance, which is well marked on a surviving stretch of the old US-101 highway.