Dining by the ocean seems to have an allure for many folks, visitors and residents alike.
It can be a simple as a picnic on the beach, a sandwich in the car parked by the road to enjoy the surfers at lunch or the sunset, or a sit-down meal at a restaurant.
There are a number of options for dining near the ocean in Carlsbad and nearby communities, although actually very few places that really are waterfront simply.
Cardiff, more formally known as Cardiff-by-the-Sea actually has the best oceanfront dining in the North County area IMO. Restaurant Row is along the Coast Highway (Route 101) just south of town and provides a number of options.
A favorite eatery is The Beach House.
The Beach House (with another location in Laguna Beach) is literally steps from the Pacific and affords diners amazing views of the ocean, sunsets, surfers and pelicans flying by. There are several places to dine - downstairs is more formal, with a couple of dining rooms plus the ever-popular outdoor tables just 20 feet from the sand (and behind the seawall). Their website seems to have some problems - you can read more here.
My favorite, however is the upstais bar/lounge. While indoors has great vistas, sitting outside on the glass enclosed deck puts you right at the water's edge, with the BEST views of the ocean and the setting sun and the roar of the waves perhaps 30 feet or less away (depending on the tide).
There is only room for about 20 people or so, and it is first come first serve (no reserved seating outdoors). And it IS popular because the views are so wonderful especially in the couple of hours before or during sunset. There are lights on the waves when it start getting dark and you will occasionally see surfers right in front of you.
The menu is appealing, there is a decent selection of wines, and the ambiance cannot be beat. Now this is not high end dining but the food is pretty good and the service when I have been there is friendly.
If you are interested in more formal dining with tablecloths, make a reservation for downstairs (allow plenty of time if you want waterfront/outside, especially on weekends as it gets busy.
Two other casual places to check out right on the beach are The Charthouse and Charlie's By The Sea.
Read: Carlsbad Area Restaurants - Faves, Raves and Waves for more dining options in the area.
Happy dining right on the ocean. Life doesn't get much better.