I could spend months in San Diego and still have more to discover. There are tons of well documented activities for families and even more great sights waiting to be found. City spots. Beach excursions. There’s something for everyone.
The New Children’s Museum. The museum’s tag is: Think, Play and Create. The exhibits are interactive, educational and a lot of fun. We’ve been every year since C was born and each time there is something new for him. The exhibits cater to young children, so even when he was 6 months old it was worthwhile. The museum also has an outdoor playground free to the public. The play structure is enclosed and gets locked at night. It opens around 9, so if you’re staying downtown and have an early riser like us you can go play here for free.
Petco Park. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy San Diego’s new baseball stadium. According to our tour guide, it’s the only ballpark in North America built to be open to the public on non-event days. Bumblebee Field was literally a hit; we bought a small bat and ball at the Padre’s shop and spent the next couple of days making pit stops at the field so we could play baseball. We also sprung for the stadium tour, which took us behind the scenes to the locker room and dugout. If, however, you’re not a baseball lover there is a terrific playground just outside the stadium. It’s located beside a trendy café, so you can grab a coffee/tea or snack for your little one. There is a grassy area great for running around. (Full disclosure: my toddler is baseball obsessed and has an unusually long attention span when it comes to America’s favourite pasttime… we don’t know where he gets it from!)
Seaport Village. This spot is located along the water overlooking Coronado Island, just down from the massive convention center. There are all kinds of shops and restaurants. Pirate-themed stores, athletic wear, toys, you name it they’ve got it. The kite shop was amazing – best kid-friendly service I think we’ve ever experienced. The village is along a walkway and you can take a stroller without a problem in a few directions. On the weekends there were car shows in the small embarcadero marina parks (north & south). It was stress-free watching our little one run ahead. There isn’t shade, which makes this a great early riser activity. And looking is free.
Balboa Park. One of the most popular destinations, Balboa Park is home to the famous San Diego Zoo. The park is home to all kinds of museums and entertainment though. On this trip we went to the San Diego Automotive Museum because we traveled with my father-in-law who is a car buff; it was ok, but I wouldn’t rush back there. Instead, we loved the sculptures and entertainers. We also had lunch before heading off in a new direction. It isn’t the most stroller friendly location. You can get around, but you have to find alternate routes sometimes. There are places to rent four person bikes and on our next trip we’d definitely do that for a fun activity. Parking is free and there is a lot of it. It’s also free to get into the park if you want to explore sites like the rose garden.
North Park. We found this trendy up-and-coming neighbourhood through a great blog post by Chrissy Powers. It was a very cool little spot to wander around. We loved spotting the diverse murals and unique shops – look for gold chairs and carved motorcycles. If you travel down 30th Street, you’ll find Shaper Studios where you can take a class to design and manufacture your own surfboard. One of the owners was so friendly and offered to tour us around the studio and explain how everything is made. They’re also located beside a fabulous mural with “San Diego” on the wall if you’re searching for a great place for a family photo op.
Little Italy. In the fall we happened to be there for the Little Italy Festival, but if you check the calendar of events you’ll find there are interesting things going on year round – you can definitely find a spot to play bocce ball, enjoy pasta or pizza and generally take in this cute little neighborhood.
Waterfront Park. Basically Little Italy’s play ground. What a fantastic place to take your kids and let them run, climb and interact with beautiful sculptures. Located just across the road from the maritime museum, you could easily tour boats or hop on one of the ferry tours. There isn’t sun coverage, so this was a great early riser outing. There was a great bathroom and a little café to get water, fruit and other snacks for the kiddies.
Liberty Station. This historic site is a former navy base for training new recruits. It’s been transformed into a multi-use space that is a wonderful place to take children of all ages. It’s stroller friendly – just know on a busy market day on the weekend it will be crowded. First, you can enjoy the architecture – wander around the covered walkways of the Spanish Colonial revival features and gaze out (or play on) the manicured green space. We, however, most enjoyed the Liberty Public Market. The market starts to wake up just before it opens at 11. There are all kinds of yummy food vendors and artisans to explore. We arrived a bit early and had the pleasure of watching one of the resident artists hang some new works on display. There is lots of cool art around Liberty Station to enjoy (including a beautiful wooden sailboat that you can play on). Nearby there is Liberty Station NTC Park – we spent a lot of time enjoying this awesome playground.
Liberty Public Market – You can enjoy just about every type of food. Here are the ones we tried that were very kid-friendly: Le Parfait Paris – we enjoyed traditional French pastries for our post-breakfast snack. Pasta Design was great for my pasta-only boy at the time of the trip (note, the pasta at Halloween was on-theme!). Parana gave us a taste of our first-ever empanadas., which were handmade and totally delicious! We also celebrated my birthday while we were there and had a delicious slice of cake from Crafted Baked Goods… yum. There is an indoor and outdoor lounge area. The outdoor area even had some games to play.
North Park – Encontro. We ate at Encontro and had a delish meal. It wasn’t set up for kids, so if you need a high chair this isn’t the spot, nor if your child is not an adventurous eater. There was a food tour on when we went and as we strolled we saw all kinds of delicious food on offer, no matter your taste or that of your child.
Little Italy – Ironside. This seafood restaurant was delicious and visually fed the soul. Everything was detailed like a giant old ship, with anchors adorning inlaid floor light fixtures and a giant octopus wrapping around the lamp in the bathroom. There was no children’s menu, but the staff were still accommodating (but I wouldn’t bring a child needing a high chair here). We were able to get our big stroller inside without problem though.
The Prado. On a couple of trips we’ve eaten here with our family. It’s a sit down restaurant, but we found it relaxing every time. Great food for adults and kids alike. They had kid-friendly cups (which for some reason I always find stressful when they’re not) and we were seated outside by the fountain.
Whole Foods. Until recently we didn’t have a Whole Foods in our city, so we often go there and load up from the hot bar. There are a few in the city and if you’re out near Balboa Park its very close. You can eat at tables there and its got a good mix of healthy and delicious food. It’s expensive though.
Green Bellies. The café at the New Children’s Museum has great healthy options and snacks. The patio is lovely and all the seating is very kid-friendly.
Cheesecake Factory. Sometimes its nice to go somewhere simple and familiar. There is a CF in the historic portion of Seaport Village.
Manchester Hyatt Club Level. We found a really great deal online for the Club Level at our hotel. As advertised, they offered “snacks” in the morning and evening. We found for breakfast it was perfect – a combination of hot and cold foods, including scrambled eggs and oatmeal. For dinner it was a little light, but if we splurged on a big lunch, there was enough to keep us full. They had a variety of veggies to make salads for adults, corn for my sometimes picky boy, and often a nice pasta salad for him too.
We lucked out and found a great deal at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. It was a total paradise. Located on the water beside the Seaport Village its within walking distance to a number of major attractions. We were also able to rent bicycles with a child seat right at the hotel from Stay Classy Bicycle Rentals — they were so great, even providing tips on playgrounds to stop at along our route. If you can swing it, I highly recommend the Hyatt – there is a fire pit, multi-use sports courts, a pool and weekend yoga for adults. We splurged on a s’mores kit sold in the lobby tuck shop and had a few great nights with this evening treat.
We rented a car. Parking was pretty expensive, but easy to find. We wanted to do a lot of day trips, and so the car was convenient. However, there is great transit so having a car isn’t essential. For example, we took the tram out past Old Towne. There is also a Trolley, but with the car we didn’t need it.
We rented bikes downtown that had a child seat for our little one. As a result, we did a little exploring and found great playgrounds all along our journey. Highly recommend StayClassy Bikes, which now has an arrangement with the Hyatt to rent at the hotel. There is a relatively easy path from Seaport Village that follows the water all the way to Liberty Station along North Harbor Drive. There were several playgrounds along the route to stop if the little one is restless. There wasn’t sun cover, so make sure you’re covered in sun screen, hats or long sleeves.
MTS transit is handy if you aren’t interested in renting a car.
San Diego Trolley Tours. They operate the Old Towne Trolley, which looks like fun and a practical way to travel around the city to key spots.
Bike Coalition: San Diego County. If you’re planning on doing some bike riding, there are great resources on this site.
Chrissy Power’s blog on North Park has other great ideas, including yummy eating options.
Balboa Park. There is so much to see and do here you could plan a month just to visit everything. If you’re looking for a free play space, there are several located in the park. You could picnic, but there are also a lot of restaurants.