The saying is that the eyes are the windows to the soul but when it comes to place, an argument can be made that it’s the food. Find local eateries, places that have been around awhile or where transplants have determinedly staked a spot and personality rises to the top. Carlsbad has troves of character. When you join a walking food tour in Carlsbad, California the delight goes far beyond your taste buds. Of course, the city is a vacation paradise with a long wide beach and all the diversions that go with it. However, if history, passionate purveyors and local bites excite you sign up for a Carlsbad Food Tour. A speakeasy and winery, chocolate shop and donuts, Italian cuisine and adorable shops will compete for your attention. But don’t stray far from your guide as David Jensen has a lot to share.
David’s a natural. He’s easy with questions, sensitive about the group’s preferences and makes sure everyone on the small walking food tour has a good time. I walked all over the village for several hours and was amazed that a young ‘man,’ about 12, stayed engaged and even helped David with servings. Of course, young men get hungry and he was definitely interested in everything we tasted.
The village area is packed with shops and restaurants. Locally owned and operated specialty food shops, as well as ethnic eateries, are included. Previously I’ve stopped in Carlsbad for a bite or drink with friends so the chance for a walk and talk was perfect on a sunny winter weekday. The tours usually start late in the morning which allows you time to walk off everything you’ve indulged in before thinking about where to return for dinner!
Getting to the Carlsbad walking food tour
The Village is about a mile west of the Interstate 5 Freeway but there’s another option that fits into the local history neatly plus it reduces your carbon footprint– Take the train! Several lines stop in the village: The Coaster, Amtrak and the Metrolink, which runs from Orange County or Los Angeles to Oceanside where you can transfer to the NCTD Breeze Line 101 to VA/UTC. It also stops at the Carlsbad Village Train Station. There are links here.
One stop on the tour wasn’t about food but water. The history of how the city came to be poured out of our guide as we looked up at the statue of Captain John A. Frazier, a Civil War Veteran. The Captain settled in the region looking to farm. Unfortunately, the land was a dusty outpost between Los Angeles and Mexico at the time. He was determined to find fresh water and endured a lot of teasing by digging wells less than a quarter mile from the ocean. Going deep finally proved successful as he found fresh water at 415 feet but it was the well at 510 feet that made him famous. There’s a huge clay basin at that depth that holds Artesian water. The Captain started using it and his health improved. Today we know that Alkaline water is beneficial and balancing but at the time he called it Miracle Water.
The Captain started selling bottles of his miracle water to the train passengers at the station nearby. He labeled it: Therapeutic Eden in a Glass. Soon people would stop, get off the train, walk to the beach and word spread about the idyllic location.
Not long after, a group of wealthy developers partnered with the Captain to start the Land and Water Company which developed the town. One of the most beautiful Victorian buildings in the area still stands and in the last few years, Chef Rob Ruiz opened the Land and Water Restaurant in the lower level. He’s also behind the ‘new’ speakeasy in the basement. It’s a small dark space that was reputedly busy during Prohibition. You have to ask for a password at Land and Water to get in but prepare to wait in line.
Here are a few of the stops on the Carlsbad Walking Food Tour:
- Caldo Pomodoro – Set in a historical hotel the same family has run this Italian spot for decades. The best Marinara sauce ever!
- Humble Olive Oils – The storefront is packed with tureens – each a specialty from flavored vinegar to exotic imported olive oils. They’re happy to hold onto your purchases until the end of the tour.
- Gregorios – The current owner took over the original restaurant promising to keep everything the same as the last. Whatever he’s doing it works. We tried delicious and surprising Eggplant Sliders on Hawaiian King Bread.
- Witch Creek Winery – Tucked into a cavernous space filled with wood shelving, an inviting bar, casks for color and a coffee roaster draw in crowds. Each wine tasting was unique and my favorite was a sparkling Chardonnay. It filled my glass with Brut bubbles and buttery smooth sips.
- Senor Grubby’s – It’s one of those spots you can walk by dozens of times and never try but I’m so glad to have been introduced to this local hangout. David says it’s the first place to open in the morning and the last place to close. Don’t miss the sweet back patio bar and the incredible chicken tacos.
- Carlsbad Chocolate Bar – The corner location gets jammed from both sides of the street. What an array of chocolate choices with cordials and dessert wines as well. Definitely, a popular stop in town.
- Gaia Gelato – The Italian partners relocated here to open an authentic Gelato spot. Each flavor is full and unique. The dense traditional scoops are well worth the drive.
Once you’ve finished your walking food tour there are of course more reasons to return to Carlsbad. Check out Draft Republic, Campfire and pick up meats or fish at the Top Cut Deli.
The Green Dragon Tavern
For something entirely different, step into the Green Dragon Tavern on the east side of the Interstate. Open about three years the two-story story brick building could’ve been transplanted from the East Coast. That’s not far from true as the owner opened the place to house his personal collection of Colonial Historical artifacts. The bar is a delight – all wooden warmth, a cozy menu of American themed tastes, generous drafts and upstairs there’s a fireplace another rarity in this part of the country.
Where to stay in Carlsbad
There are campgrounds and hotels all along the coastline around Carlsbad. I had a wonderful staycation at the Hilton Cape Rey Hotel It’s a luxury boutique hotel with rooms facing the coast and you can cook smores on site or have the concierge set up a campfire on the beach.
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