Carlsbad’s history began with the Luiseño people (the Spanish name given to them because of their proximity to Mission San Luis Rey). Nearly every reliable fresh water creek had at least one native village, including one called Palamas. The site is located just south of today’s Agua Hedionda Lagoon.
The first European land exploration of Alta California, the Spanish Portolà expedition of 1769, met native villagers while camped on Buena Vista Creek. 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 in the Czech Republic.
To take advantage of the find, the Carlsbad Land and Mineral Water Company were 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 the 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, George 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.
The northern area of the city is part of a tri-city area consisting of northern Carlsbad, southern Oceanside, and western Vista.