Carlsbad has never been on my radar. I live just 35 miles from the home of Legoland—but until recently, I’d never spent a night in this upscale beach community in Northern San Diego County.
My wife and I now have a one-night staycation at the Westin Carlsbad Resort & Spa under our belts. With all due melodrama, I will equivocally state that neither one of us could have predicted how this trip would forever alter our lives.
Really? Yup. And it isn’t due to a visit to the theme park—even though we do love The Lego Movie (plus all its fast-paced, witty spinoffs) and the Westin Carlsbad does have its own private entrance to Legoland.
During our 24 hours in Carlsbad, we don’t have time to play golf at The Crossings, stop and smell the Flower Fields, or flash some plastic at the Carlsbad Premium Outlets. And drizzling clouds kill off our pool time. (This is June?)
So, we decide to focus on food and beverage. We’ll spend the afternoon in nearby Carlsbad Village, then we’ll cap the day with dinner at the Westin Carlsbad’s recently revamped 20|Twenty.
We’re winging it. And as we prepare to be tourists, we don’t realize the transformational encounter that awaits us.
The focus on food and beverage will turn out to be fun and delicious. What will spin off from dinner at 20|Twenty, back in the privacy of our guest room, is an experience that will forever change how my wife and I put the night-time exclamation point on future resort experiences.
It’s a simple act. Tale as old as time. But I don’t think everybody does it the way we now do.
A foray into Carlsbad Village
First, the rising action.
The Westin Carlsbad was formerly the Sheraton Carlsbad. Last year, Grand Pacific Resorts, which owns both properties, built a new, 169-room Sheraton next door and upgraded what is now the Westin, with the inclusion of 28 new ocean-view luxury suites.
The Westin operates a shuttle that takes guests anywhere within a six-mile radius. With no specific destination in mind, we board the shuttle and ask the driver to take us to Carlsbad Village.
We’re dropped off half a block from the “CARLSBAD” city sign that looms over the intersection of Carlsbad Boulevard and Carlsbad Village Drive. The vibe at nearby Park 101 catches our attention.
It’s an 8,000-square-foot, two-story plaza of dog-and-kid-friendliness mixed with adult beverages. Jules and I head upstairs, where we score a table with an ocean view. We have cocktails and nosh on surprisingly delicious fried Truffled Zucchini Chips dipped in sriracha aioli.
Still on a mission to discover new things, we walk up Carlsbad Village Drive to State Street and the unique outdoor sandwich counter/cocktail bar we’d noticed on the shuttle ride in: Crackheads.
The name is a play on the egg sandwiches sold here. Like Park 101, Crackheads is also lively. Components of the restaurant were built using converted shipping containers. People are sharing stories at wooden picnic tables, and playing Cornhole on the Astroturf flooring.
The Crackheads bartender informs us it’s “Crappy Hour.” Cool. To get in the spirit, I order a Cracksicle. It’s vodka, Cointreau and fresh orange juice mixed and shaken to taste like a 50/50 ice cream bar, or a DQ Orange Julius. Yes, of course it’s topped with whipped cream.
Everything’s better with whipped cream, right? Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.
20|Twenty and beyond
By dinnertime, we’re hungry, again.
Like the Westin Carlsbad, the indoor-outdoor, 5,200-square-foot 20|Twenty restaurant and bar is rebranded and upgraded. When the hotel was managed by Sheraton this was a more casual eatery.
Now under chef Julian Quiñones, burgers and flatbreads have been replaced with upscale California cuisine offerings that are locally sourced.
For starters, my wife and I shared the charred octopus, served with Lyonnaise potato salad and a perfect toasted-almond Romesco sauce.
We also split a half dozen Pacific oysters. They come with a honey ginger mignonette. We like to cry when we slurp oysters, so our perky server also brings out cocktail sauce and some industrial-grade horseradish.
My wife’s Verlasso salmon entrée is firm and textured, and served with fingerling potatoes, morels, tomato confit and sweet-pea Romesco.
I can’t resist the Cooks Ranch Heritage Pork Porterhouse. It’s a grilled, bone-in cut of the loin and tenderloin sections from pasture-raised pork. There are some interesting things going on with this dish. The meat is topped with zingy, house-pickled mustard seeds. And it comes with a side of sautéed cabbage mixed with sweet, caramel-flavored dates that taste like candy.
The 16-ounce cut fills me up. However, that’s not the end of the story…
The 20|Twenty dessert menu
When our server asks if we want to see the dessert menu, my wife and I look up at each other. Usually, the answer is, “no.” Tonight, we both have “yes” in our eyes.
Unfortunately, we’re both full. Then a thought rushes into my head. I confer with my wife. She blushed, and nods.
Back in the room, we’re splayed out on the white sheets of a Westin Heavenly king bed. We’ve clicked into our Netflix account through the TV. The only light comes from the flatscreen, where an episode of Bill Hader and Fred Armisen’s Documentary Now! is playing.
“Ready?” I ask my wife. Her eyes widen.
I reach into the bag on the nightstand next to the bed and pull out…two boxed 20|Twenty desserts.
My wife flips open the lid to a decadent horchata cheesecake, with cream cheese, streusel and strawberries. I’m naughtily spooning a Napoleon—banana mouse, chocolate rum glaze, Brûlée bananas, blueberries and pecans.
Getting dessert to-go like this is a first for us. It feels so right.
Iconic chef Julia Child once said, “A party without cake is just a meeting.” This staycation evening at the Westin Carlsbad, trust me, turns out to be no mere meeting. J&J