A Family Guide to Fun in San Diego
I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. San Diego is my family’s favorite weekend getaway. It’s two hours south of Los Angeles and there are so many things to do that we still haven’t done everything on my list. We take a San Diego roadtrip at least two to three times a year.
If you are taking a SoCal vacation, I highly recommend adding San Diego to your travel list. We normally drive down on a Friday and return on Sunday afternoon. Even in that short time, we can squeeze in a lot of family fun.
Here are my family’s San Diego must do activities. They are kid and parent approved.
Take a Road Trip to San Diego
My family usually leaves for San Diego on a Friday, immediately after school gets out. That means we usually hit some traffic driving south. To break up the sometimes three hour drive, we’ve started making a dinner stop in Oceanside.
Oceanside is north of where we normally stay but we recently discovered the Pier and it is now a must. The sunset from the Oceanside Pier is nothing short of spectacular.
In addition to the amazing view, we get an early dinner at Ruby’s Diner. This kid-friendly 50s style diner has great hamburgers and milkshakes to take away the pain of sitting in traffic. The wait can be long at dinner time, so I recommend snacks in the car leading up to your stop so you don’t have hangry (hungry + angry) kids (or adults).
Family Friendly Activities in San Diego – Day 1
Outside of dinner on Friday, we don’t do anything else. We try to keep the boys on somewhat of a schedule the first night so that they are rested for our big activity day on Saturday.
We usually make Saturday our day to do a big activity since both the boys and I need time to recover before getting back to the regular work/school week. Here are a few of our favorite family-friendly San Diego activities.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park:
While the San Diego Zoo gets a lot of the fame, really, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a must for my family. The first time we went was 5 years ago and I have to say, while my son, who was 2 at the time, had a blast, my husband and I were mesmerized. It was truly one of the best animal parks that we have ever been to. The San Diego Safari Park is a wildlife sanctuary that is home to more than 3,000 animals. Unlike a standard zoo setting, the animals have the ability to roam in large open spaces that is more similar to life in the wild. The first time we visited, we saw a rhino that was one of three left in its species. We have since gone every year.
Special note to parents with disabilities or invisible illnesses – I highly recommend paying the additional fee for the priority parking, which is at the top of the hill, rather than having to climb the hill. Additionally, for the first time ever, I rented a motorized scooter on our last visit. I truly wish I had done it before. The Safari Park is huge and I have never been able to get to the back of the park. For the first time, we saw the animals at the back of the park. I also was able to recover better since I did much less walking.
San Diego Air And Space Museum:
We are a short metro ride away from the California Science Museum, but even though we’ve been there hundreds of times, my kids still enjoy the San Diego Air and Space Museum. The museum is packed with airplanes and space craft. We recently went with my pre-teen/teen nieces and they also had a blast, so this museum doesn’t just appeal to the younger set.
LEGOLAND California is by far my family’s favorite amusement park. We actually prefer it to Disneyland. There are so many fun rides appropriate for younger kids and there are also little playgrounds and building areas for kids to enjoy. I find it much more fun than going from line to line to ride a 60 second ride. Also, as someone with chronic pain, it is great to be able to sit down and let the kids play at the playground rather than having to rest with mama.
Newport Landing Whale Watching:
If you are visiting during whale watching season, I highly recommend taking a tour. I have done whale watching tours in Long Beach and we never see as many whales as we have in San Diego. We took this tour a few years ago and spotted several whales. Unfortunately, they can’t guarantee sightings, so there is the possibility that you won’t see whales, or that you’ll just see one, but the boat ride itself will be fun for the kids.
Old Town San Diego:
Old Town San Diego is a state-protected historical park is like walking through San Diego in the 1800s. You can walk through restored historical buildings, shop in cute little retail shops and enjoy a tasty meal, complete with Mariachi music or guitar players. It’s a great place to go with kids who need to run off energy since there are tons of open spaces for them to run. We have also enjoyed live music in an open-air setting.
Low Key Family Friendly San Diego Activities – Day 2
Our second day in San Diego is always low key since we have to return to school and work the next day. We try to leave no later than 3 p.m. so that we can grab take out on our way and eat in our own home.
We typically take that day to hang out at the hotel pool, weather permitting or stroll around Old Town San Diego or Seaport Village. If we are a bit more ambitious, we hit one of the many beach towns.
Here are our favorite San Diego beach towns to stroll around and have lunch:
The first time I went to La Jolla was for a wedding. We stayed at one of the coastal hotels and the wedding was at Torrey Pines. We were wow’d by the beauty, which is impressive since we have been to most SoCal beaches.
After the first visit, we went back another time with a family who lived in La Jolla and spent time at La Jolla Cove. The views are stunning and my kids enjoyed watching the seals, climbing trees and riding scooters.
Encinitas has a cool beach-y vibe on the main drag. There are plenty of kid-friendly restaurant options and lots of little shops to visit. One of my favorite things to do in Encinitas is walk around the Self Realization Fellowship. You can walk the grounds of this beautiful meditation retreat and take a moment to just breathe in the beauty.
We went when my son was three years old and he enjoyed walking through the gardens and the koi ponds. The only caveat is, if your kids aren’t able to stay quiet and respectful of the space, you may want to skip this and go to the San Diego Botanic Garden instead. We haven’t been with my youngest son because he isn’t a quiet child and I’m not sure we could be respectful in that space at this season of our lives.
Our favorite part of San Diego is Carlsbad. In fact, it is where we always choose to stay. It’s a beautiful, laid back coastal community. We love walking around the “downtown” and always have at least one meal in Carlsbad Village. On our last visit, we had dinner at Coyote Bar and Grill, which is in Carlsbad Village Faire. They restaurant had live music that can be heard throughout the center. We enjoyed hanging out in the courtyard listing to music while the kids played near the fountain and we had gelato from GAIT Gelato.
If you are planning a trip to the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend taking two days to head down to San Diego. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. I still have a giant list of activities and places I want to visit and we have been there at least 30 times.