Visiting San Diego, California

San Diego is consistently rated one of the top destinations for families. If you live within driving distance, San Diego is no doubt one of your favorite getaways. Whether your family prefers glitzy theme park shows or quiet walks in a state park, there are endless options. The old favorites never lose their appeal, and the Gaslamp Quarter just keeps on getting better. Old Town Historic Park gives the history loving members of the family plenty to keep them occupied.

Whether this is your first trip to San Diego with kids or it’s an annual expedition, our family of experts took a trip and did some research to answer the question, “What’s new this year?”

The San Diego Zoo’s new Polar Bear Plunge lets families interact virtually with the bear’s world. Get a glimpse into what life might be like in the wild and meet the bears. The Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey features seven acres of habitat for the herd of eight elephants and some fun hands-on activities, including a replica tar pit, fossil dig and children’s play area.

Seaworld San Diego is debuting a new theatrical dolphin show, Blue Horizons, in May. The show features bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales and exotic birds as well as acrobatic human performers. The Sesame Street Bay of Play is a two-acre themed play area with rides for the younger set. The Quick Queue allows unlimited single-day access to the express entrance at three rides as well as a complimentary ride on both the Skyride and Skytower. Daily pricing and availability is available at the front gate ticket windows or guest services.

LEGOLAND California continues to expand their brands with a new LEGOLAND Water Park that opened in June, 2010. The park features the interactive play you’ve come to expect, with a Build-A-Raft concept where kids customize their own raft with soft LEGO bricks before cruising down the lazy river. There is also a six-person raft slide, single-person tube slides, body slides, a lazy river and hands-on toddler section. Upgrade your LEGOLAND California ticket to include the Water Park entrance for $10. Park Hopper tickets are available that include LEGOLAND California, SEA LIFE Aquarium and LEGOLAND Water Park.

Balboa Park is the largest urban cultural park in the country. 1,200 acres house 15 museums, eight gardens, the San Diego Zoo, art galleries and the Old Globe theatre. The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center combines fun with educational exhibits, and kids of all ages will have a great time. The IMAX theater is here, so check the web site as you plan your trip to see if any of the films interest your family. We think the best way to explore the park with a family is to take the Old Town Trolley tour. The ability to get on and off the tour as you wish is fantastic for families, and lets you see the parts of the park that are most interesting. Kids will also like riding on the trolley and you don’t have to fight parking at each attraction. Old Town Trolley also has a Seal Tour that combines tour bus and boat, sure to be a favorite with the kids!

Seaport Village is a popular waterfront destination for shopping and dining. It’s touristy but the shops are fun and the carousel is always a hit with the kids. The Busker Festival (April 10 & 11, 2010) is the only one in Southern California, and it’s free to attend. The walk along the water is a good way to let the kids unwind or watch the boats coming in and out of the marina, and you can take the ferry over to Coronado Island here. If there is a breeze, pick up a kite in the kite shop and practice your flying skills on one of the grassy areas nearby. Parents will appreciate the family-friendly dining options or having a cold beer while watching the kids get some exercise.

Just outside Seaport Village is one of our family’s favorite spaghetti joints. The Old Spaghetti Factory serves up no frills pasta in a super kid-friendly environment. The meals come complete with drink, salad or soup and spumoni ice cream, which helps picky eaters with the motivation for a balanced diet. It’s fun to try new things on vacation but kids really appreciate the familiar. Parents will like the prices and the proximity to the convention center and Seaport Village as well as the Gaslamp Quarter. Gluten-free and whole wheat pasta is available. A new feature is call-ahead seating. Call up to an hour before you plan to arrive and save the wait in line for someone without kids.

Where to Stay:

If you don’t have to stay at the convention center for meetings, Country Inn & Suites San Diego North has all the family amenities at a budget-friendly price. Free hot breakfast, complimentary wi-fi, pool, free parking, on-site lending library (in case you forgot a bedtime book) and warm chocolate chip cookies. Take the extra day and explore the Birch Aquarium or La Jolla. Take a whale watching tour or rent a kayak from La Jolla Kayak and see sea lions and other wildlife. Country Inn & Suites is conveniently located just east of the 805 on Mira Mesa, about 15 minutes from downtown, which makes it the perfect homebase for exploring the area.