This is a Guest Post from Amanda Keeley-Thurman who writes Hot Mama Travel. Today she is sharing her hot tips for visiting San Diego with kids.
Amanda Keeley-Thurman is a mama, family travel expert and travel writer. She is always on the road and eager to share her tips with you. Follow her family’s adventures and gather great travel advice at Hot Mama Travel.
As Southern California resident, it is safe to say that we are frequent visitors to sunny San Diego. Whether it is a quick day trip to Old Town or a weekend long RV trip to Mission Bay, we always have a great time. However, San Diego is rather large and for first time visitors it can be somewhat overwhelming. With over 100 unique neighbourhoods to explore, each with their own special vibe and set of attractions, it is hard to see everything in one trip. Even with as many times as our family visits, we have yet to do it all. To help make it a bit more digestible, here are some of our favourite spots and tips to help you plan your family’s next trip to San Diego.
Old Town San Diego
There really is a lot to talk about, but let’s start with our family favourite of Old Town San Diego. Plus, it is technically the birthplace of California, so it just seems fitting to start here. I heart Old Town in a big way. Not only have I dedicated several posts on my blog about this beloved town, I have even written about it for Cigar & Spirits Magazine. Did I mention that I love Old Town?
We visit Old Town several times a year and by now we have a pretty solid routine. We usually start by checking into the Hacienda Hotel. We love this hotel for a few reasons. First, the atmosphere is lovely with its old-world Spanish-style, wrap-around verandas, fountains and foliage. Second, we don’t have to deal with finding a place to park, since it is walking distance from all the restaurants and main attractions in Old Town. Third, with our AAA discount we can get a pretty decent rate. Finally, each guest gets a free buffet breakfast at the Tequila Factory and one free cocktail. I usually save my cocktail voucher to use on a Bloody Mary with my free buffet. I usually don’t like to pay for buffets for kids, but when it is free it is awesome. The kids get to pick what they want and fill up for a busy day.
In town there is plenty to do and see. For one, it is rich in history and culture. I think that is what I love the most about Old Town. As soon as you get out of the car or off the train or off the trolley, you are immediately transported somewhere in time. Every building has some historical significance. Kids love places with a story as well as some ghosts and there are ample opportunities for the whole family to learn and explore together.
- Old Victorians: You can check out the old Victorians, which my daughter loves. Near the Victorians is a big lawn to run and play on and secret trails to explore, which all the kids really enjoy.
- Whaley House: According to the Travel Channel, it is the most haunted house in the United States. Although we have never seen any ghosts, my kids sure like to try by visiting the house every trip. Sometimes they put on story time in the theatre room, which is fun for the kids. It is just an interesting house to explore and you never know what you may see. Plus, it is right across the street from O’Hungry’s, where mummy and daddy can sip on yard beers.
- San Diego Sheriff’s Museum: Kids can sit in vintage helicopters, squad cars and on motorcycles. They can check out how crime scenes are handled, see what courtroom looks like and have fun taking mug shots or posing behind a jail cell. Next door is the cemetery with graves dating back to the early 1800’s. Kind of morbid, but intriguing and stirs up some interesting conversations with the family.
- Historical Plaza: A big grassy green for the kids to play, surrounded by shops and restaurants. There are often re-enactments in park area held on the weekend and there is always live music going on. Our kids love to dip candles, shop at the candy shop and check out the old school-house. We like to end the day at the Plaza then have dinner at Casa Reyes for some awesome Mexican food. As my 2 year-old son says, “It’s so freaking good.”
Its beautiful location on the bay makes this our favorite spot to take the RV for the weekend. Even if you aren’t RVing, visitors can still enjoy the gorgeous views and the kids can play the day away at the beach-side Mission Bay Park. We love Mission Bay RV Resort’s close proximity to our favourite San Diego attractions. When we stay, we usually allot some of the day for the kids to play on beach and then head to Old Town or Seaport Village for dinner. It is also really close to SeaWorld,and Downtown, including the San Diego Zoo, we usually include at least one these attractions during our stay.
- Best to stay during off-season for the best rates. This is Southern California, so weather is usually not an issue.
- Pay attention to the events calendar. There is always something exciting going on.
Located on Mission Bay, our kids love to visit SeaWorld. We try to in squeeze a visit whenever possible. The most exciting thing for the kids are all the interactive activities. Kids get to pet, play and touch a plethora of sea creatures. The first thing my kids do when we enter the park is make a beeline for the petting pools.
- Get a pass: If you are local enough or plan on visiting more than once a year, get the pass. We scored an awesome deal when we bought a day and upgrade to the year, because we also received the whole next year for free! We visit at least four times a year in order to checkout all the holiday events such as the Spooktacular and the Christmas Celebration.
- Save your refill cups: When you buy a beer (we always do), you receive cheaper refills. This is also true for souvenir soda cups and popcorn buckets. So, we keep our cups and bring them back every visit and save a ton.
- Bring a change of clothes: The kids are going to want to get wet, so let them have fun and sit in the splash zone. Getting splashed by the dolphins and the whales is something my kids still talk about constantly.
- Don’t run from the Surprise Squad: People dressed in tie-dyed jumpers running towards you may make you hesitant. If they approach you, greet them with a smile, because they have gifts! My brother-in-law almost missed out on our free framed photo, because he didn’t want to talk to the hyper guy in tie-dye.
Like any downtown area, there is a ton to do and see. We used to love to take the train into downtown and walk to Horton Plaza to shop and eat for the day. If you are with the family, you may not be able to check out all the cool bars, but there is still plenty to do.
- Petco Park: Right in the heart of Downtown you and your family can catch a Padre game.
- Gaslamp Quarter: Lined with gas lamps, this is a gorgeous spot to visit in the evening. This strip of town has tons of restaurants and shops to explore and hosts some the city’s biggest events. I’ve always wanted to check out the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with the kids. Maybe next year.
- Seaport Village: It is basically a collection of shops and restaurants overlooking the sea and the Navy Pier. There is a historic carousel, built in 1895 that my kids ride every visit. There is always live music and interesting street performers, like the silver robot guy and bird man to keep the kids entertained. My nephew was the only one with the guts to let the flock of parrots climb all over him. Kind of freaky, but made for great photo. My kids, in particular, took to the silver robot guy. He was fascinating to them and I captured an awesome series for shots of my daughter getting quite a surprise.
- San Diego Zoo: Same as SeaWorld, the kids will love seeing and interacting with all the animals. It is only a trolley ride away from Downtown. If you can get a pass, do it, because it is super reasonable and also gets you into the Safari Park in Escondido and free passes to various attractions. Just like SeaWorld, keep those refill cups! My biggest tip for the zoo is to go in the evenings, because the animals are more active. During a hot day all you will see is a lot of sleeping animals. Boring. As soon as the sun starts to go down you will hear that lion roar and you will know you are in for a good time. Both the Zoo and Safari Park offer overnight camping, which is awesome for the kids.
- Balboa Park: This big urban park, featuring galleries and cultural museums, is located right next to the San Diego Zoo and only a trolley ride away from Downtown. There is a carousel and a mini rail-road for the kids in addition to the cultural attractions. By purchasing a passport to Balboa Park you receive over 50% admission into 14 museums, which might be a little much with kids. I’d recommend the Day Pass, which gives you free admission into 5 museums.
La Jolla holds a special place in my heart, because it is where HotDaddy (my hubby) used to go to college. It is beautiful artsy beach town that is great for shopping, dining and water sports. Off the shores of La Jolla Cove, is a well-known spot for people who love to snorkel. The Seals and Sea Lions are always basking in sun and there are tons of tide pools to discover, which the kids will love. La Jolla Shores is just a great beach to hang with the family.
Hotel del Coronado
Across the bay from Downtown is Coronado Island, which houses the famous and picturesque Hotel del Coronado. This gorgeous historical hotel was built in 1888 and has hosted a number of celebrities as well as several famous ghosts over the years. Throughout the year the hotel holds amazing events, but I recommend checking out Christmas celebration. Ice skating on the beach, themed dinners and many more exciting events go on during the holiday season. Not to mention, the décor is outrageous and every year they have a new theme along with their annual Christmas ornament.
A theme parked entirely designed with a Lego theme. What is awesome for the kids is that it is totally interactive. Every activity requires some action by child, which keeps them interested and wears them out. Yay!! It is pretty pricey, but if you have AAA you can score a decent discount.
Phew! I think I covered most of it, but there is so much more. The important thing is to not overwhelm yourself or your family. Break it down by neighbourhoods and stay somewhere centrally located to the attractions you will be spending the most time. Talk with the kids and focus on the things that interest them most and don’t be afraid to leave stuff out. I also recommend scheduling at least a couple of days of doing nothing but enjoying some of San Diego’s fantastic beaches. San Diego is a beautiful laid back city and should be approached as such.
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