Kid favorites in San Diego

Against a backdrop of natural beauty, surrounded by beaches, mountains and desert, and graced with average year-round temperatures of 70 degrees, San Diego is a terrific vacation destination with many unique attractions for families. Visitors have a choice of several major regions for lodging and each offers a different perspective on the city.

Coronado Island

Coronado Island is a seaside community with some of the most beautiful beaches in southern California. A low, narrow peninsula that separates San Diego Bay from the Pacific Ocean, it is easily accessible from downtown San Diego by a 2.3 mile bridge or ferry service. The U.S. Navy Air Station occupies the northern tip of the Island, which accounts for the noise overhead at times, and the remainder is made up of miles of powdery white sand beaches, charming homes on quiet tree-lined streets, and specialty shops and restaurants in its historic downtown.

Hotel del Coronado, Coronado Island, San Diego, California

Hotel del Coronado
The Island’s long history as a resort community began with the building of the grand Hotel del Coronado in 1888. Its developers, Elisha Babcock and Hampton Story, set out to create a resort that would be the “talk of the western world.” At that time, California was separated from the rest of the country by vast unsettled territories and wealthy travelers would journey for seven days by train to stay there. The Del was one of many luxurious railroad resorts, but today it is one of the few that has survived and still flourishes as a world-class hotel, a living legend that has hosted countless celebrities and dignitaries including fourteen U.S. presidents.

The Victorian hotel with its white clapboard and distinctive red-roofed turrets is a landmark on Coronado Island. White wicker rockers grace the front porch and a staff of bellmen in derbies and topcoats greet guests. The two-story lobby is dark with vintage paneling, adjoined by a library on one side and two dramatic banquet rooms on the other. The vaulted ceilings are architectural marvels, constructed of tongue and groove pine fastened without the use of any nails. The original Otis #61 elevator in the lobby is one of the first fully functioning electric elevators manufactured in America with the antique brass cage still hand-operated by men wearing uniforms similar to those worn by the monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz.” The rear of the lobby opens onto a sunny courtyard garden.

The Hotel del Coronado will be strangely familiar to fans of the classic Billy Wilder movie, “Some Like It Hot,” or even to those who have seen or stayed at the Grand Floridian in Disney World. The Disney hotel is a replica of the Del, only two times larger. The original Victorian building has been completely renovated, but you can still feel the undulating wood floors beneath the fresh carpeting and can’t help but feel reverence for the rich history surrounding you. Rooms are light and airy with Victorian decor and ceiling fans. Oceanfront rooms have balconies overlooking the pool, tennis, dining terraces, and out to the expansive beach beyond. The atmosphere is warm and friendly to families. In season, there are family pool activities, kids arts and crafts, teen center, and supervised programs for children ages 4-12. Additional resort amenities include a spa and fitness center, tennis courts with lessons and clinics, boat rentals and instruction. Casual and fine dining restaurants at the hotel offer indoor and outdoor dining and children’s menus. Downtown Coronado is just a short walk away and offers many additional choices.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort, Coronado Island, California

Loews Coronado Bay Resort
The Loews Coronado Bay Resort is another popular destination for families. Pets are welcome, too. The low-rise resort occupies its own private peninsula on San Diego Bay about four miles outside of downtown Coronado. Silver Strand State Beach on the Pacific is across the highway and is accessible by guests via an underpass or complimentary shuttle. The resort’s pool area features an adults-only pool, hot tub, and two long interconnected pools surrounded by lounge chairs and attractive gardens. Dining options include two restaurants, a poolside eatery, and small general store offering deli sandwiches, picnic lunches, coffee, sundries and snacks.

The Go Wild! Kids Camp offers supervised wildlife-themed kids activities for ages 5-12 during school holiday weeks and summer. Activities for the whole family ramp up over the summer with beach explorations, music, games, and Dive-In Movies in the pool. For water sports enthusiasts, powerboats, jet skis, sailboats, stand up paddle boards, and kayaks are all available for rent. Guests can also arrange water skiing and a surfing lesson with the Coronado Surfing Academy. And if you can arrange a getaway from the kids, the Gondola Company offers a cruise through nearby canals accompanied by a serenading gondolier. Bicycles for all ages are available for rent to take advantage of Coronado Island’s 15-mile bike path that extends the entire length of Coronado, from the Bridge, past the Loews, to Imperial Beach.

Mission Beach

Catamaran Resort, Mission Beach, California

Mission Beach and Pacific Beach define the stereotypical southern California beach scene. Teens and college students will especially enjoy the young crowd and non-stop beach action. The three-mile concrete boardwalk, connecting Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, teems with people biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, jogging or just plain strolling. Surfers fill the water and volleyball and sun enthusiasts fill the beach. The area is densely packed with tiny beach bungalows. Eateries, shops, and clubs dot the boardwalk and surrounding blocks. The exotic Catamaran Resort offers a unique location one block from Mission Beach and right on Mission Bay. Multi-colored parrots perch in the trees along the resort’s lush garden walkways and guest rooms are furnished in dark wood and tropical motifs. The heated pool is small considering the size of the resort, but water activities focus on either Mission Beach or Mission Bay where the resort offers surfboard and boat rentals and lessons. Bayside rooms feature patios and walk-out access to a 27-mile bike path that encircles Mission Bay Park, a once marshy mud flat turned major aquatic playground.

Sea World

Our kids loved the opportunity to view and interact with the marine animals so closely at Sea World. With a focus on education, Sea World staff members give an introductory talk at each exhibit and then are available to answer questions. At different times during the day, feeding stations are open to purchase food for the bat rays, bottlenose dolphins, California sea lions and harbor seals. Stand-out exhibits were the Wild Arctic, Shark Encounter, and the orca show which highlighted the spectacular natural behaviors of killer whales. Sea World announced in March of 2016 it will be ending the orca theatrical shows and breeding program, so this will be the last generation of orcas at Sea World. The show pool will be converted to a more naturalistic habitat for the current orcas. The change begins in San Diego in 2017, followed by San Antonio, then Orlando in 2019.

Legoland Theme Park & Water Park

Legoland, San Diego, CaliforniaLegoland–California is the original Legoland in the U.S., now joined by Legoland–Florida and a number of Legoland Discovery Play Centers in 9 major cities across the country. Legoland is a colorful theme park with rides and water attractions designed for families with children between the ages of 2 and 12. Rides and scenery are crafted to look like Legos and throughout the park, you will find huge, real Lego masterpieces. Miniland USA depicts life from Washington D.C. to the California coast in detailed, animated reproductions of American landmarks and cities built from 20 million Lego bricks. Many rides are “kid-powered,” with the kids pedaling, driving, steering, and pulling to make them work. With the exception of two roller coasters, the rides at Legoland are tame and appeal to preschoolers and young elementary ages. Master Model Builders are at work in their headquarters at Miniland, and they are available for questions at the Lego Clubhouse, where children can build with Legos or ages 10 and up can sign up for a free Mindstorms workshop. The gift shop is a real treat for Lego enthusiasts to browse through more Legos and Lego merchandise than they will find anywhere else.

Sea Life Aquarium, next to Legoland, is designed to be a child’s first guide to the life of the sea with hands-on, interactive exhibits and educational talks. Lego diehards can spend another day at Legoland Water Park and even stay nearby at the Lego-themed hotel.

Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo

San Diego’s Balboa Park is a vacation all by itself. Encompassing 1,200 acres, the park is a mecca of horticulture and cultural arts, home to fifteen museums in beautiful Spanish Baroque-style buildings constructed for the expositions of 1915-16 and 1935-36. One-day and multi-day Explorer Passes can be purchased if you plan to visit multiple museums in the Park.

Balboa Park is also home to one of the world’s finest zoos, the San Diego Zoo, featuring nearly 800 species of animals in its 100 acres. The 40-minute guided bus tour gives an excellent overview of the zoo and saves on walking, then you can return to your favorite exhibits and take the walkways through climate zones not accessible by bus. The express bus allows you to hop on and off at five locations around the zoo. The Giant Panda Research Station houses two beloved giant pandas and their offspring.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, another facility of the Zoological Society of San Diego, is located 30 miles north of the city and is well worth the drive. Established in 1972 as a large animal breeding facility for the San Diego Zoo, the 1,800 acre sanctuary is home to 3,500 animals, many from rare and endangered species. A 50-minute guided tram tour lets you observe the wild animals as they roam free over the rolling hillsides and rocky slopes, similar to their native habitats in Africa and Asia. Walking trails through lush botanical gardens with exotic plant species lead to animal habitats in the rain forest or on the Kilamanjaro Trail. In the aviary, visitors can hand feed nectar to lorikeets, beautiful rainbow-colored parakeets. Two-park tickets are offered for both the Zoo and Safari Park. You can also purchase special themed safaris as add-ons and save 10% by purchasing advance tickets online.

Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium, the public education center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is a small, but beautiful aquarium and oceanography museum on the rugged cliffs overlooking La Jolla and the coastline. The Hall of Fishes exhibits marine life from the cold-water Pacific Northwest to the tropical south Pacific. Oceanography is explained through hands-on exhibits that allow children to ride an earthquake machine, read a seismograph, explore how waves are made, and shop in the ocean supermarket, a scanner that identifies hundreds of items containing ingredients from the sea. A climb to the beach below yields wonderful tidepools to explore at low tide.

Sunset Cliffs on the Pacific side of Point Loma peninsula is another exceptional spot for tidepooling. The rocky shoreline is ideal for discovering flowery anemones, shore crabs, elusive octopus, spongy deadman’s fingers and many other sea creatures. Cabrillo National Monument on the top of Point Loma commemorates the European discovery of San Diego Bay in 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and also provides a spectacular 360 degree view of the area. 

FAST FACTS

Plan

San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau
Ticket packages and discount tickets for all major attractions are available through the Visitors Bureau in San Diego and Coronado Island.
Visitor Information Center
1040 1/3 West Broadway (at Harbor Dr.)
San Diego, CA 92101
800.350.6205

Coronado Visitor Center
Historical Association Building
1100 Orange Ave.
Coronado, CA 92118
619.437.8788

Stay

Hotel del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave.
Coronado, CA 92118
800.468.3533

Loews Coronado Bay Resort
4000 Coronado Bay Rd.
San Diego, CA, 92118
800.815.6397

Do

SeaWorld San Diego
500 SeaWorld Dr.
San Diego, CA 92109
800.257.4268

Legoland California
One Legoland Dr., off Interstate 5
Carlsbad, CA 92008
760.918.5346

Balboa Park
Balboa Park Visitor Center
1549 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
619.239.0512

San Diego Zoo
Balboa Park
2920 Zoo Dr.
San Diego, CA 92101
619.231.1515

San Diego Zoo Safari Park
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
Escondido, CA 92027
760.747.8702

Birch Aquarium
2300 Expedition Way
La Jolla, CA 92037
858.534.3474

Cabrillo National Monument
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive
San Diego, CA 92106
619.557.5450

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