Carlsbad’s history began with the Luiseño people (the Spanish name given to them because of their proximity to Mission San Luis Rey), as well as some Kumeyaay in the La Costa area. Nearly every reliable fresh water creek had at least one native village, including one called Palamai. The site is located just south of today’s Buena Vista Lagoon.
The first European land exploration of Alta California, the Spanish Portolà expedition of 1769, met native villagers while camped on Buena Vista Creek. Another Luiseno villages within today’s city of Carlsbad was a village at the mouth of the San Marcos Creek that the Kumeyaay called ‘Ajopunquile’. A Kumeyaay village that was visited by Portola was Hakutl, in the Rancho Ponderosa area.
During the Mexican period, in 1842, the southern portion of Carlsbad was granted as Rancho Agua Hedionda to Juan María Marrón.
In the 1880s a former sailor named John Frazier dug a well in the area. He began offering his water at the train station and soon the whistle-stop became known as Frazier’s Station. A test done on a second fresh-water well discovered the water to be chemically similar to that found in some of the most renowned spas in the world, and the town was named after the famed spa in the Bohemian town of Karlsbad (now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic).
To take advantage of the find, the Carlsbad Land and Mineral Water Company was formed by a German-born merchant from the Midwest named Gerhard Schutte together with Samuel Church Smith, D. D. Wadsworth and Henry Nelson. The naming of the town followed soon after, along with a major marketing campaign to attract visitors. The area experienced a period of growth, with homes and businesses sprouting up in the 1880s. Agricultural development of citrus fruits, avocados and olives soon changed the landscape. By the end of 1887, land prices fell throughout San Diego County. However, the community survived on the back of its fertile agricultural lands.
The site of John Frazier’s original well can still be found at Alt Karlsbad, a replica of a German Hanseatic house, located on Carlsbad Boulevard.
In 1952, Carlsbad was incorporated to avoid annexation by its neighbor, Oceanside.
The single-runway Palomar Airport opened in 1959 after County of San Diego officials decided to replace the Del Mar Airport. The airport was annexed to the City of Carlsbad in 1978 and renamed McClellan-Palomar Airport in 1982 after a local civic leader, Gerald McClellan.
The first modern skateboard park, Carlsbad Skatepark, was built in March 1976. It was located on the grounds of Carlsbad Raceway and was designed and built by inventors Jack Graham and John O’Malley. The site of the original Carlsbad Skatepark and Carlsbad Raceway was demolished in 2005 and is now an industrial park. However, two skateparks have since been developed.
In March 1999, Legoland California was opened. It was the first Legoland theme park outside of Europe and is currently operated by Merlin Entertainments. Merlin Entertainments owns 70 percent of the shares, and the remaining 30 percent is owned by the LEGO group and Kirkbi A/S.
Carlsbad is home to the nation’s largest desalination plant. Construction of the Carlsbad Desalination Plant at the Encina Power Station was completed in December 2015.