With year-round warm weather, miles of gorgeous beaches and fun outdoor activities, San Diego is a top vacation spot in the U.S. because of its fun family vibe!
One of the most-visited cities in the world and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S., families can explore 70 miles of shoreline during their San Diego family vacation. San Diego also features some of the top tourist attractions for families; there’s plenty to do and see for kids of all ages.
The perfect place to start your family vacation is in Mission Bay, minutes from downtown. Renowned for its 27 miles of shoreline, the 4,600 acre Mission Bay Park is the largest manmade park in the world. It boasts tropical beachfront hotels and resorts and nearby attractions like Belmont Park and SeaWorld.
Best to rent a car so you can explore San Diego bay easily.
Where to stay
The tropical Bahia Resort Hotel is right on the water, and all of the rooms have private balcony or patio. Bayfront guestrooms are right on a private beach with complimentary cabanas.
The resort also has a heated outdoor Olympic-size swimming pool, fitness center, lighted tennis courts and shuffleboard courts. Guests can rent sailboats, kayaks, aquacycles and paddle boats at Action Sport Rentals; bicycles/Segways are also available to cruise the boardwalks of Mission Bay.
For dining options, Café Bahia serves a Sunday brunch buffet, the Pool Bar & Grill is open all afternoon, and the Tangier Bar has live music karaoke on weekends.
The Bahia is home to two friendly outgoing seals named Gracie and Billy who can be found swimming in a spacious pool by the front entrance. Kids will love Ice Cream Hour, Movies at the Pool, and kids activity workshops and the video arcade. During the summer, the Bahia has beach parities with live music.
From June to September, there are nightly cruises on the Bahia Bell – complimentary for hotel guests. The Bahia Belle is a turn-of-the-century, Mississippi-style sternwheeler for a relaxing cruise on Mission Bay.
For some relaxation, visit the Bahia’s sister resort, the Catamaran Spa, San Diego’s only beachfront spa. The Catamaran Spa offers innovative treatments ranging from massages and body wraps to Vichy showers, hydrotherapy, facials and rituals, all inspired by South Pacific and Asian healing traditions and feature marine and botanical-based products. Guests can enjoy the spa facility which includes a robe, slippers and locker for the day, shower facilities, steam room, sauna, outdoor Jacuzzi, relaxation lounge with hot tea, infused water and fruit and fitness room.
What to do
A few minutes by foot, Belmont Park is San Diego’s iconic beachfront amusement park on Mission Beach. It’s the quintessential Southern California beach boardwalk experience. Kids will love the rides including the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, a wooden roller coaster built in 1925, which is a National Historic Landmark. Walk along the boardwalk, bring a picnic or just find a spot on the beach and people-watch!
San Diego Botanic Garden
For nature lovers, the San Diego Botanic Garden in nearby Encinitas is a stunning sanctuary. There are 37 acres of garden trails, restful vistas, ponds and waterfalls, flowering trees, majestic palms and the nation’s largest bamboo collection. Thanks to San Diego’s mild climate, plants from all over the world thrive here. The garden’s diverse topography provides a variety of microclimates including a tropical rainforest. The Hamilton Children’s Garden is especially wonderful for children, with a giant treehouse and creative spaces to explore.
San Diego Zoo
Kids will want to visit the world-famous San Diego Zoo which has thousands of animals, dozens of elaborate and extensive exhibit areas, gardens, and animal-themed events. Set aside a morning or afternoon if not a full day to enjoy the exhibit. The Children’s Zoo is more popular for kids as it has a petting zoo, animal feedings, naked mole-rats, spider monkeys, and other exciting animals. When you get tired of walking, hop on the double-decker guided tour buses which are free with the day pass. Another fun way to explore the zoo is via the Skyfari Arial Tram, which takes you from one end of the zoo clear out to the other, offering excellent views of the zoo.
Cabrillo National Monument
For a little history lesson, take the kids to Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma, which commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s discovery of San Diego in 1542. Cabrillo was the first European to set foot on the U.S. West Coast. You’ll love the picturesque views of the harbour and downtown skyline. Explore the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and tidepools in one of the best protected intertidal ecosystems in Southern California.
San Diego Speed Boat Adventure
Forget the tour bus – take a tour boat! For the adventurous family, and to see the bay by boat, you must go on a San Diego Speed Boat Adventure. Take the wheel and be the captain of your very own speed boat as a tour guide introduces you to the sights and beauty of San Diego Bay. Be prepared though, it will be a bumpy ride as you go full throttle following the other speed boats. The guide will give an entertaining tour narration through two-way communication systems mounted in each boat.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
The Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla features more than 60 tanks of colorful marine life, including coral reefs, colourful fish, sharks, jellyfish and octopus. An interactive museum showcases research discoveries on climate, earth and ocean science. There’s also a tide pool area where kids can touch tide-pool animals.
La Jolla Cove and Shores
While you’re in La Jolla, you must check out La Jolla Cove and its shores. You could spend an afternoon exploring the 6,000 acres of ocean floor and tidelands, the cove and surrounding beaches teem with marine life, including sea lions, bright orange Garibaldi fish (California’s state fish), pelicans and more. The cove is also famous for its seven sea caves. I found a coffee shop right along the coast and enjoyed an afternoon cup of java overlooking the cove – perfection!
Where to eat
Foodies will love exploring the new Liberty Public Market, San Diego’s first year-round food hall – recently named one of the “Top 20 Food Halls of America”. The market offers a variety of delicious fare, including hip eateries, bars, specialty food and craft vendors.
I enjoyed a delicious roasted chicken bowl with grilled vegetables from Roast, and then sipped on an Americano and macarons from Le Parfait Paris. I stopped into Pacific Provisions and took home a specialty BBQ spice, and Southern BBQ kettle popcorn. If I wasn’t gluten-free, I’d be trying Parana Empanadas!
Oceana Coastal Kitchen in the nearby Catamaran Resort features California cuisine and a modern, ocean-inspired design. Executive Chef Steven Riemer’s playful interpretation of classic dishes highlights the flavors of local California produce and a commitment to sustainable ingredients. A cold bar with sushi options, small bites and main dishes includes the freshest seafood available from the coast of Baja and the Pacific. There are several gluten-free options – yay! I savoured the Northern Halibut with roasted cauliflower, fingerling potatoes with tomato fennel coulis. The Chocolate Pistachio Cheesecake with chocolate ganache with a gluten-free cookie crust was to die for!
You can’t visit San Diego without having tacos! Galaxy Taco in La Jolla is a must-visit. The menu is rooted in the flavors and traditions of Mexico while celebrating San Diego’s local seasonal ingredients; a delectable example of San Diego’s signature “Cali-Baja” food revolution. Of course I had to try the chips and guacamole as I sipped on a refreshing homemade Tamarind Agua Fresca. I also enjoyed two tacos, the Chicken pipian with burnt jalapeno crema, cucumber, onion and cilantro, and the Carnitas frijoles puercos with escabeche, queso fresco – hold the chicharron!
You can see why San Diego is consistently rated one of the top family destinations in North America! It’s the ideal destination for children of all ages offering a variety of family friendly activities and world-class attractions throughout the year.
In October 2017, San Diego celebrates all things family-friendly with Kids Free San Diego Month featuring FREE deals at more than 100 hotels, restaurants, attractions, museums, tours and more. For more, visit www.kidsfreesandiego.org.
Thank you to Visit San Diego who hosted this trip.