San Diego, “America’s Finest City,” is one of the nation’s top tourist destinations for a reason – there is so much to see and do and the weather is accommodating year-round. When things are cold and dreary, a trip to San Diego with the family won’t disappoint. Here are some of my favorite places to explore should you be lucky enough to find yourself in San Diego with kids!
1. Balboa Park is a must when visiting San Diego. Families can spend an entire week touring this gem of the city, so that’s why it’s #1 on my list of San Diego family attractions. From breathtaking grounds, fun playgrounds, water fountains, and world-class museums; there is something for everyone in the family and every budget as well. Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is an educational, interactive museum for all ages. San Diego Natural History Museum is another great choice. Balboa Park is also home to the world famous San Diego Zoo. One of my favorite events occurs on Sundays when the San Diego International Houses are open to the public and give a “taste” of each country’s tradition. There is ample parking at Balboa Park and if you have to park on the outskirts, take the really cool shuttle. Simply walking around Balboa Park is entirely free and entertaining for the whole family. I can never get enough of Balboa Park!
2. Old Town San Diego is another fantastic choice for an all day adventure. Steeped in history and entertainment, walking the well-maintained and historical grounds is another must that provides something for every family member, and every budget. Start at the Visitor’s Center and plan your adventure around Old Town. Most of the buildings are free of charge and provide informative San Diego history. Old Town also houses eclectic shopping, and some fantastic dining options as well, including the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Restaurant, and Casa Guadalajara. If you want to bring your own food, there are picnic benches and sprawling greens. Make sure to visit The Whaley House, one of the nation’s most haunted buildings! Old Town has its own public transportation stop so this is a good attraction to utilize San Diego public transportation.
3. Inland North County San Diego offers a really unique wild animal experience with the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Located in the beautiful San Pasqual Valley in Escondido, a day trip to Safari Park is well worth the visit. The Africa Tram takes visitors on a tram ride around open space plains that resemble an African savannah. The tram driver offers insightful narrative and each trip is unique, depending on what the animals are doing. Spend a little more money and visitors can book a Safari Tour for an up close and personal experience with the animals.
4. USS Midway is a top recommendation for a distinctive San Diego family attraction. The decommissioned aircraft carrier is a floating museum that once sailed the seas as a Navy “floating city.” This is a perfect adventure for the whole family – even little ones can roam and are entertained. Self-guided audio tours are told by former USS Midway sailors and are available in different languages for international tourists. The top deck offers gorgeous views of San Diego Bay.
5. See San Diego in style and fun on the Old Town Trolley Tours. The trolleys start in Old Town and tour visitors around the city to designated stops. Old Town Trolley is a fun way for families to see the city and jump on and off at some of San Diego’s best attractions. Kids love riding on a trolley too, that’s half the attraction!
6. Along San Diego Bay you will find Waterfront Park and Seaport Village on the Embarcadero. There is a scenic 2-mile walk connecting the two sites, a beautiful way to enjoy San Diego Bay or “The Big Bay.” Waterfront Park is an 8-acre park in front of the County Administration Building with playgrounds, water jet fountains and grassy areas that provide plenty of room to enjoy a picnic or just relax by the bay. Waterfront Park is free and fun! After Waterfront Park, continue south on North Harbor Drive to Seaport Village. Seaport Village offers great dining, shopping, and outdoor family fun, including its historic carousel. Boasted as “The Big Bay” the 2-mile walk along the Embarcadero is full of adventures. Along the walk you will pass museums, public parks, restaurants and shopping. Enjoy a day along The Big Bay!
7. Follow the iconic bridge to Coronado Island, just a short drive or ferry ride from downtown San Diego, and across from Seaport Village. Coronado offers pristine beaches and is consistently voted as one of the top beaches in the nation. Coronado is divided into five main regions consisting of: Bayside & The Ferry Landing; Historic Downtown; Beaches; Glorietta Bay; and the Silver Strand. Take a ride on the ferry from the Big Bay and enjoy Ferry Landing. Don’t forget to stop by historic Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1888, and the inspiration for Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City. There are lots of bike rentals and plenty of pedestrian fun on the island, so a car is not necessary.
8. A drive to Julian is a great chance to enjoy the country, but is just a short distance from city hustle and bustle. The quaint downtown is charming with great food, shopping, and scenic hikes like Volcan Mountain. Julian is best known for its apples and the entire community celebrates its apples beginning in October with Julian Apple Days. You can visit year-round and enjoy delicious Julian apple pie at one of its many popular pie restaurants. There is plenty of agritourism including the off-beat Oasis Camel Dairy and wine tasting at local wineries. You can also dig into Julian’s past by panning for gold at Julian Mining Company. Julian hosts wildlife adventures at the California Wolf Center, an educational and rewarding destination. Enjoy a slice of the backcountry while visiting San Diego!
9. A trip to San Diego would not be complete without a trip to one of its many beaches. Beaches are a fun, free activity that everyone in the family will enjoy. From North County to South County, the beaches are enjoyable year-round. Try some of these family friendly beaches: Moonlight Beach in Encinitas; Oceanside Harbor and Beach; Coronado Central Beach; Mission Beach; Del Mar City Beach; and Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach. Each beach offers a unique experience, but all are appreciated for being family-friendly and fun.
10. Located in Carlsbad, North County San Diego, LEGOLAND is worth the 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego for wholesome family fun. LEGOLAND consists of three parks: LEGOLAND, Water Park, and SEA LIFE Aquarium. In 2013, LEGOLAND Resort Hotel was completed for families that want an all-inclusive vacation. There are multi-day tickets and annual memberships that make the adventure more affordable. While in Carlsbad check out one of its many beaches, downtown Carlsbad, The Carlsbad Premium Outlets, Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park, and The Museum of Making Music.
Got any other San Diego favorites? Leave them in the comments!