Third Time’s a Charm for a Family Vacation in Carlsbad
Carlsbad is a tiny town, but even after three weekend-getaways to this charming coastal community, I have still not done everything I wanted to do there. Friends ask me, Did you go to the Flower Fields?” Well, not yet. “How about the Museum of Making Music? Er, not yet either. I have been to Legoland, three times, and my three-and-half-year-old son would say that was worth the trip, but there is in fact much more to see.
West Inn & Suites – A Sweet Surprise
Our most recent get-away-from-LA weekend excursion began at the luxury boutique hotel West Inn & Suites (www.westinnandsuites.com). Upon checking in, we were greeted by a gorgeous golden retriever behind the front desk. Indeed, this family friendly and dog-friendly inn was a welcoming place.
Don’t get the impression by the “Inn” in the title that this is a homey little B&B. They do have an outstanding full breakfast, where guests can dine at tables privately or with other guests, or, as in my son’s case, hang out on the sofa and watch cartoons with the other kids, but this is a full-service modern hotel, suitable for either vacation or business travelers. They have all the amenities any kind of traveler could want, from easy-access free wi-fi and complimentary business center to a fitness center and heated pool and spa. They also go the extra mile, such as serving cookies and milk nightly.
Our double- king-bed suite was impeccably clean and all the décor and linens new looking. The lobby was equally meticulous kempt and hospitable, with an upscale beachy theme, down to the polish mahogany wood floors and oriental rugs and velvety upholstered lounge sets. The staff were extremely professional and helpful, and I can attest to this fact as they were tested early on in my visit.
Just after taking our luggage to our room before heading to Legoland, we locked the keys in the car, along with my cell phone and wallet. What could have been a miserable episode was made exponentially easier thanks to the quick acting staff who launched into action. They got the number for my insurance company, connected me via the house phone, and alerted me when the locksmith arrived, as I sat comfortably in the hotel’s Bistro West Restaurant (www.bistrowest.com).
What could have been a vacation disaster became an opportunity for us to have a delightful lunch of one of the best gourmet cheese burgers I have ever tasted, along with a delicious thin crust White Pizza of roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, fresh basil and oregano. The whole experience made me think I should lock my keys in the car more often.
Legoland, Oh Boy!
Keys in hand, it was off to little kids heaven, Legoland (www.legoland.com). The hotel offers a free shuttle, but we opted to drive ourselves, along with our carful with enough provisions for a week in the rough. The five-minute drive from the hotel was an agonizing wait for my son who was about to burst with excitement by the time we hit the traffic circle just before the entrance. Although my son is a big boy at nearly four years old, we took along a stroller – which I advise to parents unless want to carry around an exhausted child in your arms toward the end of your day at the park.
The circular layout of the park is easy to navigate, and with the Water Park and Sealife Aquarium, there are endless attractions to visit. The best part for young children is that the rides are designed for them. Very few rides are too scary or fast for little ones, and the height requirement for most rides is under 42 inches. This year my son was just tall enough for the Dragon roller coaster, which was the highlight of his day, besides getting his face painted, as a tiger.
Another great feature of the park is that they appreciate that kids don’t like waiting in lines. While some lines can get long for popular rides during peak season, at least the park has anticipated this and created wait-and-play pens adjoining the attractions where kids can build with Legos while their parents stand in line.
We visited on an unseasonably cool summer day, so the Water Park was our last stop, so that we wouldn’t be cold and wet for the rest of our day. There are “family dryers” – huge warm blowing fans inside a three-walled booth, which we heard where pretty effective, but we didn’t get a chance to try them out. Ours was a good plan, as after a few plunges down the junior slides into the kiddie pool, my son was done with that, though he insisted we must come back again, “When it’s hot outside.”
Go West for Dinner
That evening, it was back to the Bistro West for dinner. At night the restaurant was illuminated by the glow of the color-changing “bubble wall,” an art installment that was so new it didn’t have a name yet. The modern décor, upholstered booths and surrounding wood wine cabinets created a cozy and comfortable atmosphere.
The vibe of the dining room was hip and happening but without the attitude. Our server, Christine, was exceptionally friendly, as was the general manager, Alex Sadeghee, who roamed table to table to make sure all the guests were happy.
Though I have no food allergies, I was glad to see the restaurant offered a gluten-free menu, for which all the foods are carefully kept from contamination down to the use of separate cooking pans and utensils. It’s that kind of attention to detail that was carried over in all aspects of our meal, such as hot – not just warm – bread served when we sat down.
We began with the gold and red roasted beet salad with goat cheese, tossed in a lemon horseradish vinaigrette and served with apple and candied walnut. I’m picky about my beet salad, as it’s a favorite of mine, and this one was outstanding. The goat cheese was warm and soft. The beets were fresh and aromatic with just the right crispness, and the dressing subtly spiced and citrusy.
For entrees we shared the halibut, which the server offered that the chef would prepare any style from the fresh fish menu, so I opted for piccata style, sautéed with lemon and capers in a bay shrimp butter sauce; and we shared the 8 oz. filet mignon, sautéed with cracked black pepper and brandy-cream-green peppercorn sauce. Though it may not be everyone’s style, I was thrilled that medium rare was actually prepared medium rare, with some red in the middle. The mashed potatoes and the sautéed spinach were both prepared homestyle, with lots of butter and salt – again, maybe not for everyone, but exactly to my liking.
We learned the reason the vegetables tasted so fresh was that they were harvested just minutes away at a garden farm near Palomar Airport. A visitor to the area soon learns that locals are very proud of their produce, especially their strawberries. In fact, I saw the genuine disappointment on our server Christine’s face when I declined to order buttermilk panna cotta dessert, with balsamic-roasted strawberries. I almost ordered it just to not hurt her feelings, but instead I indulged in the duo of crème brulee, a deliciously rich and smooth white chocolate and a Tahitian vanilla bean custard, with a just-the-right hardness crackly caramelized top, served in separate ramekins. Double delish.
To be Continued
It had been a full day, so we were happy to turn in early. We expected our son to be up at the crack of dawn for Day Two of Legoland – a bargain at only $10 each for a second day with our Park Hopper tickets, but he stayed snuggled in the down comforter past 9 o’clock. The hotel was very accommodating in giving us an extra hour with a late checkout, and then we were off again. More to see, more to do, but not all in one weekend. Which means of course, we’ll be back again.