Family travel: San Diego with kids

Researching family travel? What to do on vacation in sunny San Diego, California, with your kids in tow.

Photo: iStock Photos: Katie Dupuis

This past June, my husband, Blaine, and daughter, Sophie, 2, met the Petersens (Scott, Erin and Quinn, 3, from Vancouver Island) in San Diego, California. When your best friends live on the other side of the country, getting together can be difficult. There are only so many times you want to go to the other family’s hometown. But we’re getting smart: Now we combine our visits with vacations to midpoint(ish) destinations, so we get time together with the added bonus of a new locale to explore.

It was easily the most kid-friendly city I’ve ever visited. With two young kids in tow, we opted for a cozy vacation rental in Mission Bay instead of a hotel (so the grown-ups could hang out long after the kiddos fell asleep) within minutes of all the necessary amenities. We rented a minivan so everyone could travel comfortably, and with our proximity to the major freeways, we could easily get to premiere attractions. And San Diego did not disappoint; it was like one giant, shoreline playground. The only problem was deciding which amazing thing to do next!


  •  Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh departed from San Diego, en route to New York, during his historic transatlantic flight to Paris in 1927.
  • San Diego is the second-largest city in California and the eighth largest in the United States.



If you do nothing else, visit the San Diego Zoo. Between being mere feet away from the giraffes and watching cheetahs take a leashed stroll with their trainers, around every corner was a new wonder. SeaWorld followed, where Sophie got to see her favourite animal – the walrus! This aquarium/amusement park has activities (like the Sesame Street Bay of Play area) and exhibits for everyone (bat ray petting, anyone?).

On the fourth day, we ventured out to the San Diego Padres game at Petco Park. The stadium has a unique feature that makes it perfect for families: The Park at the Park is a green space just beyond centre field where ticket holders can sit and watch the game. There’s a mini baseball diamond, a playground and food vendors, so we were set for the evening. Petco also has a sandpit kids can enjoy during games.


ONE-STOP SHOP Aside from the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park is home to gardens, art galleries, the Old Globe Theatre and 17 museums.


WORLD TOUR At Legoland, you can visit global landmarks like the Taj Mahal, the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower (and so much more) constructed entirely out of Lego.

FISH TACOS Scott and Blaine raved about this dish at the Coronado Brewing Company, on Coronado Island.

AFTERNOON TRIP The New Children’s Museum, in downtown San Diego, was great for a couple of hours of fun. (Sophie and Quinn loved the bubble-blowing station.)

BABY GEAR We rented all the necessary kid equipment from San Diego Travel Baby. They met us at the car rental agency with car seats, strollers and pack ’n’ plays. It was affordable and saved us many frustrated moments at the airport on both sides of the journey.

A version of this article appeared in our December 2013 issue with the headline "San Diego," p. 36.

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