Hello, Renae here! Thrilled to be sharing one of my absolute favorite US cities: San Diego. I loved San Diego before I had kids but now that I have a little tike I appreciate it even more. I’ll even proclaim it’s one of the best cities for an epic family vacay. There are so many family friendly options no matter what your age. And even lots of low-no cost adventures. Too many, I can’t even cover it all in one post! But I’ll give you a crash course on my San Diego faves focusing on Coastal Greater San Diego attractions.
If you live in Southern Cali your lucky, because San Diego is a very enjoyable Amtrak train ride along the Pacific Coast with incredible views. One of the stops is a pier on the beach! If your further, I’m telling you, this city is worth it! My hubs, Steve Trevino, performs at least two times a year in San Diego, so we’ve been able to explore so many sites & I’ve come to know the lay of the land pretty well.
I typically leave the name of the comedy clubs out of my posts because it’s not about that, but the La Jolla Comedy Store has become a second home and is such a huge part of the reason my family has so many amazing San Diego memories. I’ve been going there with Steve since I first moved to Los Angeles at twenty-one and we’ve remained friends with the staff through the years, so we have literally grown up together. They even threw us the sweetest baby shower in the club green room.
And this is a total over share, but our son was conceived there. So I think you get it! This club is pretty special. If you find yourself in San Diego on a date night, the La Jolla Comedy Store is the spot to see top notch comedians — like Steve Trevino in a laid back atmosphere with an amazing staff. (Seamless but so honest plug!)
Okay, more about San Diego. We’ve had the pleasure of staying in both Pacific Beach and La Jolla. Pacific Beach is known to be populated with a college crowd and gets rowdy at night. La Jolla is definitely more posh and refined, but still has the laid back beach vibe San Diego is known for. I turned in my college ID long ago, but honestly, even with a kiddo in tow, I still prefer the vibe of Pacific Beach. I love the boardwalk, restaurants and shopping that’s close enough to sneak off to during naptime. We stay near Crystal Pier and it’s a fabulous area with everything you need within walking distance.
You can rent a bike at the little shop at the entrance to the Pier. It’s one of my favorite things to do since San Diego has the most temperate climate pretty much year around. You can follow the boardwalk south to Mission Beach. Here there is an amusement center, Belmont Park, with carnival rides, some shopping and dining. Cut across to Mission Bay and there is a great bike path which will lead to a playground and volleyball courts right along the water.
If your looking to rent a paddle board, jet ski or even a boat Mission Bay is where you can do all kinds of water sports. I didn’t believe it until I saw it myself, but you can even rent a pontoon boat with a BBQ grill & hot tub on it. -Seriously! If you’ve got a group, splitting the cost of the boat rental to putz around Mission Bay is a great way to spend a day.
I’ll give away some of my traveling super shopper secrets here. I love shopping in San Diego and always score great stuff on the clearance racks here. The Urban Outfitters in Pacific Beach usually always has a fully stocked clearance section and all along Garnet Ave there are great boutiques. Several of which have a much lower price point than the boutiques in La Jolla. And the Fashion Valley Mall is huge and pretty fabulous. Convince your hubs to take the kiddos to see a movie here so you can shop!
If you want to get up close and personal with Sea Lions or Seals, La Jolla Cove is the place to do it. Don’t ask me the difference between the two. (One has ears and one doesn’t but I have no idea which is which!) While you won’t find a playground in the cove, the rocky coastline offers stunning views, lined with a path perfect for a morning stroll.
You can spot them all up and down Coast Boulevard, but my recommendation is to start at the Cave Store and make your way down to Children’s pool. You’ll see sea caves and a rocky ledge where the mammals like to sunbathe. Don’t worry there will likely be lots of sea lions so you’ll definitely hear and smell them before you miss them. Make sure your kiddos have proper shoes for trekking the sometime slippery terrain. Not sure how I let my kid get so close especially after seeing that video of a sea lion pulling a little girl out of a boat and her dad jumping in the water to save her. But you know me, for the sake of a good pic!
It’s a short walk to Children’s Pool. There is a barrier sea wall you can walk out onto when the waves aren’t too high that’s really cool. You’ll also find a small beach here where seals like to hang out. It’s a little crazy how people and seals all just hang out and play on this beach, but they do. It’s a neat place to stop and stick your feet in the water and every time I’ve been here there has been a lifeguard in the tower.
Playing In Balboa Park is another low/no cost activity. San Diego knocks it out of the park with Balboa Park. It’s another one of those amazing city parks that offers more than you could squeeze in in one day. There is so much to see just strolling around the park. Pepper Grove is a large playground and If your kids are into planes, you can get an awesome view of them right over head coming in to land.
The playground is tucked away right behind the amazing Fleet Science Center. We visited when our little guy was just a year old and while the Science Center did have a designated area for the littles, we could have saved the cost of admission and just gone to playground. The Fleet is perfect for families with multiple or older kiddos or on the rare occasion you end up with unfavorable weather and need to take cover. Balboa Park also offers both a carousel and a train ride, so make sure to bring your cash stash if you want to catch a ride.
And there’s still more in Balboa! The Artists Village is a treat for the eyes with beautifully colored tiles. You can roam each of the little cottages selling art and hand crafted trinkets. The center courtyard has tables so it’s a great place to grab a seat and have a snack.
Then for something completely different stroll over to El Prado, a promenade lined with buildings in the Spanish Colonial architectural style housing 15 museums. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Europe.
My little man is really interested in trains at the moment so we visited the San Diego Model Railroad Museum which boasts being one of the world’s best model train museums. Garrett loved peeking through the glass to check out all of the trains. We spent a lot of time in the Toy Train Gallery, which had buttons to press to make the trains go and all kinds of cool replicas. They also have a room specifically for the littles to build their own trains and offer a train themed story time and craft making on Thursday mornings.
And if you’ve got a group of animals like me, then the San Diego Zoo is a MUST. Admission is pricey, but once you experience all this zoo has to offer, you’ll understand why. I recommend starting the day with the double decker bus tour that takes you through the whole park. It’s a great way to get a lay of the land and a glimpse of everything because the park is so vast.
There’s a huge sky bridge that takes you through the treetops and even a gondola ride. And this place has a playground and a petting zoo! —I’m telling you, it’s amazing. Even if I didn’t have kids, its an awesome date. It’s a full day attraction, so make sure to take a break, grab a good meal and an alcoholic beverage. There are restaurants where you can actually get food much better than your typical theme park fair so keep an eye out for those cause your gonna work up an appetite with all the walking.
If your like me and love the experience of seeing a live game and eating all the stadium junk food your stomach can handle, check out a Padres baseball game at PetCo Park in downtown. We took Garrett to his first pro game here. Traffic and parking is super congested and tricky downtown, so I strongly recommend taking Uber to the stadium. It’s a gorgeous new facility with a grassy knoll where families can lay a blanket and relax next to a playground so your kiddos don’t feel confined to their seat -I’m telling you, I love this city because kids can be kids and parents can still be big kids too.
Those are some of my San Diego favorites, but there is still so much more! You could spend a day in Ocean in La Jolla and Kellogg Park offers a playground on the beach to keep the kids entertained.
And if your craving a good Margarita or homemade tortillas, Old Town San Diego is a great a place to explore. Walk into Old Mission San Diego Church, explore the Old Town Square with its Western Style buildings and shop in the market selling Mexican Imports.
I’m dying to do Legoland with our little man, but we’re opting to wait till he is older and can really enjoy it. I hear it’s a big hit with the 3-9 year old crowd & crazy moms like me. I know I threw a ton of San Diego sites at you, so feel free to hit me up if you have any questions or want more specifics about any of the places.
Here’s a quick recap on traveling San Diego with little ones:
- All the parks… San Diego has permanent park weather
- Seal and sea lion watching
- Fleet Science Center
- The Artists Village
- El Prado and their 15 museums
- San Diego Model Railroad Museum
- San Diego Zoo
- Padres game
And of course there’s Legoland and Sea World!
Till the next city, follow us and our adventures on Instagram!