This year for our kid’s spring break, we decided to do something a little different. Instead of spending our entire vacation in Tucson with my parents, we split our vacation in half and spent four days in San Diego and the remainder of the week in Tucson. We had never been to San Diego before and had heard it was a great place to visit with kids. We booked our ticket to fly from Minneapolis to San Diego and return from Tucson, Arizona. Given the high price of airline tickets, it really wasn’t that much different and would save us driving time.
I had high expectations for San Diego and I wasn’t the least bit disappointed. It is a fabulous city with tons to do, beautiful weather, excellent outdoor dining and enough sunshine and ocean air to make anyone smile, even a grumpy kid. What I loved so much about San Diego is its ease for pleasing everyone and its endless amount of things to do outside. By carefully planning a trip that involved a little bit for everyone, we all had a fabulous, memorable time.
When traveling with kids, it is easy to fall into the trap of doing everything that is kid-focussed and kid-friendly. But after you read this post, you will see that you can easily find enough fun for all ages making San Diego the perfect place for a family vacation.
Here is my top five list of what to do in San Diego with Kids:
An evening in La Jolla
La Jolla is magical, simply serene in its beauty and tranquility. And, what can be better than seeing all the mama and baby seals in the wild? The kids loved this place as did I. We meandered along the boardwalk taking in the gorgeous views, watched the seals and their pups and then finished with a spectacular Italian meal on an outside patio near the beach. In my book, it was the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.
A day exploring the San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is famous and is one of the best zoos in the world. After spending a day there, I see where it earns its reputation. It is a phenomenal zoo. Although it gets crowded as the day goes by, the place is so incredibly gorgeous that somehow you forget the crowds. The highlights for us were seeing the giant Pandas and also the amazing pairing program between the Cheetahs and dogs who live together from birth on. It is probably the most beautiful zoo I’ve ever seen.
Dinner outside at Coronado Island
Coronado Island is a special place in its own right. Located right outside of San Diego across the water lies this perfect, idyllic California place loaded with gorgeous views, beaches, shopping, homes and of course restaurants. We were overwhelmed by all the dining choices but ended up having Italian once again since it is an easy sell for the kids. We were not disappointed.
A family hike at Torrey Pines State National Reserve
Our hotel was only about a ten minute drive from Torrey Pines State National Reserve, a spectacularly beautiful park set up high on the cliffs leading down to the sea. I had my heart set on visiting Torrey Pines despite the reluctance from my tired, theme-park children. But we went anyway and it ended up being one of the highlights of our trip especially for the kids who loved playing in the waves.
A sunset dinner on the ocean in Del Mar
For our last night in San Diego, we treated ourselves right by eating ocean side in Del Mar. While we sat outside under the stars, we heard the waves crash against the shore. It was a night we’d never forget and a reason to come back.
Things that were overrated (in my opinion) but were fun to see for the kids:
Theses three tourist sites were rated highly in the guidebook and within my kids minds for a must-do in San Diego. Although we visited them all, I think I had to “take one for the team” and grin and bare it. But the kids really enjoyed these places so it is worth mentioning below and giving a few tips for how to make it enjoyable.
San Diego Safari Park
Pros: The drive to the Safari Park is lovely and the park itself is beautiful and gorgeously done. Also, it is a rehabilitation center meaning it is doing awesome work to help endangered animals around the world.
Cons: After seeing the zoo and hearing all the hype about this place, it was a huge letdown. They nickel and dime you for every single thing and you could seriously walk away $1,000 poorer for a day visit for a family of four. We of course had to say no to all the extras that were not included. It is best to get there early to avoid the largest crowds.
Lots of people love this park however and maybe I was just comparing it too much with Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida which I love. I was just bummed that the safari wasn’t as amazing as the one I’d seen at Animal Kingdom. The animals were very far away and hard to see. (Of course for over $100 a person you can do a personal safari).
Pros: The kids absolutely loved this place as they are Lego fanatics.
Cons: Extremely expensive, crowds are overbearing and lines for each ride are over an hour-long. The food sucks and the whole place is one big headache for adults. The minute I walked inside I whispered under my breath “I hate this place“. But oh the kids loved it so much.
Pros: Gorgeous architecture and free live classical music performance. Free to walk around and enjoy all the beauty of this wonderful place plus there are many museums (which we didn’t go in because the kids would have been easily bored).
Cons: What I didn’t like here were all the scam artists. There were face painters, balloon makers, caricature drawers and then the religious stands one after the other with such signs as “Save yourself with the blood of Jesus” (the right wingers), “Have you met Islam” (the Muslim group), and “Does He exist” (the Atheists), all right in a row and obnoxiously bothering us. My daughter saw the face painting and of course had to have it. It wasn’t until after she sat down and was picking out her design that the woman said “you know, my face painting starts at $20 for the most basic design“. Too late. We were scammed.
A special treat:
Driven mad by the crowds at Legoland, I took a break and left my husband and kids to see the neighboring Flower Fields. All the flowers were in bloom and it was absolutely stunning.
I got enough peace and space to make it back to Legoland for while. Thankfully I had a nice bottle of California red awaiting me at the hotel.