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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

San Diego's Carlsbad: Best Photo spots in historic coastal beach town

We've been exploring the great California beach towns on recent episodes of PhotowalksTV, and on the face of it, they're all the same, right?

You've got the ocean, beachfront homes and beach culture, cool mom and pop local shops and a laid back California vibe.

But come on--every one of them is actually different.

In recent weeks, we went to Pacifica, the last coastal town before San Francisco on Highway 1, which is surrounded by dramatic Northern California hikes and the world's greatest beachfront Taco Bell and Oceanside, 45 minutes from San Diego and the last great undiscovered SoCal beach town. It's no longer the sleepy hamlet near a military base it once was, and now home to major investment from new hotels and restaurants.

Oceanside is incredibly photogenic--and so is next door neighbor Carlsbad, the site of the latest PhotowalksTV episode.

When I saw this tag line on the Carlsbad tourism blog, I was hooked.

"Stop and smell the photos."

How's that for a PhotowalksTV episode?

As Larry David would say, "Pretty, pretty good."

Or, let's give it to Tony, the Tiger. "G-R-E-A-T!"

I found so many terrific photo spots in Carlsbad--let me tell you about them.

The Flower Fields

Carlsbad is known for its 55 acres of colorful giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers in every hue imaginable--orange, yellow, green, red, purple and then some. The Fields, however, are only open for viewing from March 1 to Mother's Day, a ten-week display during peak season, so plan accordingly. Rows and rows of flowers make a fantastic backdrop for any photo shoot, and in the video, I've got tons of tips for how to get great flower photos with your phone. Here I can cut to the chase and give you the best one, however: get on the ground and look up at these babies. They seem even more impressive from down there.

Strawberry Fields

Unlike the stems, the berries across the street can be picked (for a fee) and are quite edible. (They taste amazing during the spring season.) You can buy a fresh flat of strawberries here for about $35, or pay $15 to pick them yourself. (Note: doing this is a lot harder than it looks. The rows in which you stand to do the pickin' are very narrow and not made by guys like me with size 13 feet! Photo wise, visiting the fields allows you a great wide shot of the property and a close-up of a strawberry and beautiful sunflowers.

Cassara Hilton and Road

The Cassara Carlsbad is up on the hill with a killer view overlooking the flower fields. Our room even had a glimpse of the not totally in bloom yet American Flag flower arrangement. The standard flower shot is in the daytime, with the sun enriching the bloom with 100% color. But have you ever considered a sunset shot? The sun is perfect position from the hotel grounds to watch the sun set over the fields, and it makes a great shot for a still, or a timelapse--I did both.

You don't have to be a guest of the Cassara to walk by the pool on the deck and look down over the fields. You can also drive up Armada Drive, right outside the hotel property, go up the hill towards Legoland, pull over and gawk at the fields from the street. There's even a viewing deck.


Speaking of the young in heart theme park, it is truly right up the road from the Cassara and other large resorts, and is targeted towards 4-8 year olds.

Springhill Suites

In the heart of downtown is another great hotel view, this one of the beach, from the Tower 39 Rooftop Bar at the Springhill Suites by Marriott hotel. Most rooftop attractions these days have giant windows or bars holding back the people and making it a challenge to get a good photo. Tower 39 doesn't. Thank you for that Marriott.

The Beach

But as I say in the video, as great as the overhead shot from the hotel is, it's hard to top the feeling of being down on the sand, watching the sunset with the crowds. Carlsbad has a long paved 4 mile walkway by Frazee Beach--with an entrance directly across from the Suites, and it's called "The Wall," because, there is a long, cement seawall that comes up to about half of your body, to protect from overflowing water. I learned from tourism officials that this was the place to be. "Every night people gather at the north end of the beach, on the watch the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean," Visit Carlsbad notes on its blog. "The walkway atop the Seawall is another romantic spot for watching the sunset and enjoying the ocean view."

Village Faire

I think you can learn a lot about a city by visiting the local Handel's Ice Cream, and seeing the images it chooses to put in its local mural behind the scoopers. Here, it was the fields, the Twin Inn victorian building, the iconic Carlsbad sign in the center of town and the beach. So the Twin Inn. This is one of the oldest buildings in town, dating back to the late 1800s, a stopping off point for people driving from San Diego to Los Angeles, a hotel and restaurant best known for its fried chicken. Today, it's the Village Faire, a large shopping facility anchored by the Sun Diego surf shop, a big bike rental facility and tons of coffee shops, restaurants, bakeries, galleries and such. If you do want to get the great shot of the Carlsbad sign, you'll want to do it from right outside the victorian. If you stood on the other side of the street, looking towards the building, you would see two big stop lights that obscure the view.

Carlsbad Food Tours

During our time in Carlsbad, we joined the Carlsbad Food Tours for an interesting, 4-hour twist on the traditional walking tour. We walked--about 1 mile or so--but also stopped into five restaurants for quick bites (Italian, Mexican, crepes, donuts, wine and my favorite--Strawberry Shortcake) and some history. Right next to the old Twin Inn was the most interesting. Mineral water was discovered in the late 1800s, and it put Carlsbad on the map as people believed it had medicinal attributes. A "sanatorium" was the main attraction that brought hundreds to visit--now it's a senior home! But the water is still bottled and sold to this day.

Agua Hedionda

We ended our time in Carlsbad with a visit to Agua Hedionda, home to a major hiking trail to see the Lagoon and if you're early, local birds. The Discovery Center teaches kids about the area and lets them get up close and personal with animals like snakes, a tortoise, a bunny and chickens.

And that's Carlsbad. Next stop, Las Vegas, following by Barcelona and Siciliy.

Stay tuned!

Thanks to Visit Carlsbad for the hospitality and showing me so many great photo spots, the Cassara for the amazing room, Carlsbad Food Tours for the fun adventure, Senor Grubby's for the best street tacos I've had in a long time and the Village Faire for helping me get a fun overhead shot of the Carlsbad sign,

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