San Diego is the perfect destination for a family vacation. We recently went to San Diego for the first time and we brought with us our four kiddos age ranging from toddler to teenager. My only regret is that we hadn’t visited sooner. We were there for eight days and there was still so many things still left to see. Before we went we did our research and put together an itinerary to get the most out of our trip. Here is the list of the best places and things-to-do that we discovered in San Diego that your family will also love.
1. La Jolla Cave Kayaking And Snorkeling:
If you have an adventurous family that like to go on real nature adventures than this Kayaking stop is for you. People five and up can go and you can rent snorkel gear along with your kayak ride. You and your family will launch from the beach to kayak along the shore to a cliff/cave area. Here you can jump out of your kayak (wet suits provided) with your snorkel gear on and see some beautiful bright orange fish and other saline along the cliff line. This is a popular spot so other kayakers will be frequently entering and exiting. No need to buy the “tour package” you and your family can handle it on your own. Once you are comfortable snorkeling around you can take your kayaking tour up a notch and venture into the cave just around the corner. You can swim into the cave that opens up into a little sandy beach area that has no other access than to snorkel through the cave. This was the funnest part. Beware that the waves coming in are a little stronger than the ones outside so you will have to paddle a little harder to get out. My 12 year old did just fine swimming out. We did not take our five year old into the cave but let her hang out on the kayak with her dad while we took turns. This was my very favorite thing we did the entire trip and should not be missed.
2. Mission Beach Bike Ride & Boogie Boarding:
Playing at the beach is definitely on the must do if you are headed to the coast. We were so impressed with the clean beaches, clean water and also the variation in the beaches even though they are fairly close together. I would recommend taking time to hang out on a few different beaches. Mission Beach and Coronado Beach were our favorites. There is also plenty of places to rent bikes to bike along the very bike friendly beach sidewalks. And if you love playing in the water as much as my family you will want to try your hand at boogie boarding. My family and I discovered boogie boarding in San Diego and we are hooked. You do not need to know any special surfing skills and its kind of a learn as you go. Even if you wipe out a million times like we did you will still have a blast riding the waves up to the shore. We felt like crazy happy human dolphins and could have spent the whole trip just playing on the boogie boards. Tip: Wear sunscreen from the get go. San Diego always starts out foggy, cloudy and with an overcast because of the humidity and you will think you can forgo the sunscreen at first. Don’t. We made that mistake and traveled home the next day with souvenir sunburns that have lasted well over a week. Ouch!
3. Lego Land
Of course if you go to San Diego you have to visit Lego Land. I absolutely loved how many rides they have here that all of my family could get to go on including my two year old. Not very many theme parks have this many rides that are all-age inclusive so no one was left out. If you have a family of large age gaps and abilities this will be your favorite theme park you ever go to. There are not very many hard core rides here for the crazy teenagers and husbands but I liked how much we were able to do together with our little ones. Still very entertaining for even the big kids. You can easily spend a full day here so I recommend getting there right when it opens and plan to stay till close. The time goes by fast.
4. Sea World
I love how educational Sea World is about animals, ocean life and how to help keep our Oceans clean and thriving. You can also bring outside food and drink in which is nice if you want to save money and have lunch picnic style. There are some crazy impressive rides here, especially some roller coasters that will knock your socks off. I loved the rides here at sea world, they were so fun and exciting. They have a section with rides for littles ones as well. Sea World is very large and you will be walking a ton and probably won’t get to see it all in a day but you should give it a shot.
5. San Diego Zoo:
I have never seen a zoo so big! We only saw about 1/3 of it and we were there for four hours. You can also bring outside food and drink to save on money. Our favorite things here were definitely the sky tram and the bus ride tour. The bus ride tour is definitely worth it and is included if you purchase the go-city card admission ticket. You get to see a large portion of the zoo with a talking guide. I had never seen koalas before and they were definitely my favorite animal that we were able to get to. They have tons of koalas on a whole bunch of trees. Oh and the tree house cafe is a must.
6. San Diego Safari
While this zoo is not as big as the San Diego Zoo it is still impressive and very neat to see the animals in such massive enclosures. The enclosures are more savanah like so the animals can have more roaming space. There is also a train that takes you around the outside. Tip: visit the gorillas in the morning that is when they are most active and wanting to play and cause trouble. It’s so fun to watch. This zoo is about 45 minutes away from the San Diego area and closes around rush hour. Rush hour in San Diego is very slow. So plan accordingly. It’s so worth it though because you don’t see zoos like the safari setup they have to replicate the african animals natural large habitat.
7. Balboa Park Museums
There are soooooo many cool museums to see at historic Spanish style Balboa Park and you will need a couple of days to see them all. For an extra fee you can take a guided tour up the tower of the historic Museum of Man and get a rare view of the massive park and city of San Diego. The japaneese flower garden was beautiful and relaxing. The kids made a quick trip of it because there was not very much interactive things to do there but the massive koi fish are impressive, there is a neat assortment of bonsai trees and the plants and water features were beautiful. I read you can do early morning yoga there which sounds amazing. The Museum of Man is not very kid friendly but there are many more museums that are family friendly like the Air & Space Museum, The Natural History Museum, and the Children’s Science Museum to name a few.
8. Whale Watching & Harbor Cruise Tour
We on purpose started our trip with this Harbor cruise because we thought it was the perfect way to jump in to discovering this beautiful city and we were right to do so. They are so great to give you a tour and tell you all about the various things you see as you exit the historic harbor area with all of its rich history and military ships. You will see a light house, military base, submarine base, active submarines, light house, south east most point on the american continents, ships, dolphins and whales, and other points of interest all while gliding along on a a beautiful ship on the pacific ocean. You will also get a glimpse of some twin islands and Mexico from the ship.
9. Historic Old Town Discoveries
When we go to new cities I love to learn the history of that city. There is a great history center at the Balboa park but you can also visit the historic Old Town area where a lot of the original buildings from the original city center of San Diego have been carefully preserved or replicated. There is such rich history here and you can visit many beautiful historic sites here in small area. Its small enough to walk around. We loved the Mormon Battalion Historical visitor center and was so impressed with how well this museum was put together. You and your family will be taken on a one of a kind interactive faith filled journey with the Mormon Battalion as they journey on foot from Iowa to San Diego. You will be blown away by the interactive technology used to bring their brave story to life. This was one of our top places to see not only because of how well this museum was put together but also because our own family history has connections to this story and we are of the same Latter Day Saint Faith as these brave men and women who took a chance to journey to San Diego to help settle this beautiful city.
10. The Famous Del Coronado Hotel
If I ever visit San Diego again I would probably stay at the national historic landmark of Del Coronado Hotel, the oldest luxury hotel on the west. This unique hotel has hosted many famous historical figures and celebrities and has been in so many movies I can’t name them all, but my favorite movie made here is Marilynn Monroe’s comedy Some Like It Hot. The beach here is stunning white and clean and looks out to Mexico, two islands and the light house. Its a must see destination even if its just for a few minutes to say you got to see it.
11. USS Midway Military Ship Museum
You will never get to tour a ship like the USS Midway Museum. This ship is massive and there are so many areas to explore. You can spend hours here and still not get to see it all. We love that there is an audio headset tour and that there is even a kids version of the tour so our little ones could enjoy the headset tour as well. You get to take yourself along and inside the ship with many stops of interest along the way that you can scan your headset to and learn about that display or room. So the tour can take as long or as short as you want. Some of the men who served on the ship originally back in the day are there as tour volunteers so you can hear from the original crew themselves in person. It is really wonderful. There is also a little cafe, the food is overpriced but good and you can eat on the ship overlooking the bay.
Small Extra Gems:
There is this amazing freeway bridge that you will probably use a bunch to get around the city. This water bridge highway goes clear up in the sky so massive ships can go under it and it feels like a highway on the ocean because it practically is. We got a kick out of it every time we went over it
Historic Pirate Ship
The pirate ship on the harbor next to the USS Midway Museum is incredible and you will rarely see anything like it in this day and age. Its definitely a must see feature of San Diego.
We went in the first week of September so the weather was perfect, the prices have gone down and all the lines were short. It was definitely the perfect time of year to go.
Where to stay:
We stayed at a water front beach cottage we rented off Airbnb. This was our first time using Airbnb and my family and I were so impressed with their prices and variety of unique homes to get to stay in. Getting to stay at a real beach house through airbnb added so much to our San Diego experience. We really felt like we got to be a part of the city staying in a locals home. So much better than any hotel. I will definitely be making airbnb my first destination when looking for accommodations.
There are so many places to see in San Diego and awesome stops and destinations all along the way to the city San Diego. Our dream vacation is to one day rent an RV and spend a summer driving around the US with our kiddos. We love the thought of hanging out in a mini house (while the hubby drives) and not having to unpack every time you get to your nightly hotel. Plus if you were to RV it to San Diego you could also stay on the side of the beach at a much lower cost and still get the view of the ocean.
No matter where you stay or go, just go. Investing in a family vacation is one of the most worthwhile thing you can ever spend your time and money on. Even if it goes poorly you are still making connections and memories.
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