Explore San Diego

75 Hours With the Kids

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Where magazine. As part of our ongoing celebration, we came up with the perfect kid-friendly 75-hour San Diego getaway.

If you’ve got 75 hours in San Diego, start with the world-famous San Diego Zoo. First, head over to The Mission Café in East Village to fuel up for your day with kid-pleasing banana blackberry pancakes, cinnamon bread French toast or the more adult-friendly scrambled eggs with grilled rosemary bread. If you get there when the zoo opens at 9 am, you’ll not only beat the crowds, but you can catch the animals at their most alert. Don’t miss the newest exhibit, Elephant Odyssey, which offers insight into Southern California’s prehistoric past. The highlight for children is the Elephant Care Center, where you can watch keepers performing routine care—like filing down the animal’s giant toenails. Grab a quick lunch on your way out at Poppy’s Patio, next to the Children’s Zoo, or sit down in the air-conditioned Flamingo Sandwich Company, which offers a great view of the Flamingo Lagoon.

In the afternoon, head over to the other side of
Balboa Park to stroll through the 1,200 acres of gorgeously landscaped grounds or stop in at some of the kid-friendly museums. Best bets for kids include the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego Hall of Champions and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

San Diego in the summer means baseball at downtown’s
Petco Park. Five dollars gives you access to Park at the Park, a grassy area beyond center field with a Little League diamond and a kids’ play area.

A visit to S.D. isn’t complete without a trip to the beach. Pacific Beach and Mission Beach offer miles of boardwalk, plenty of restaurants and shops and even a beach-front amusement park. Start your day on the ocean-view patio at Kono’s Café, where breakfast basics include pancakes, eggs, bacon and hash browns. Warning: The line can be long, and Kono’s only accepts cash. If you don’t feel like waiting, grab a coffee and hot chocolate at the adjoining coffee cart and take a walk out onto the pier.

After breakfast, pick a spot to plant your blanket and enjoy a morning of sea, sun and sand. At lunchtime, head south into Mission Beach to the
Wavehouse Bar & Grill. Outdoor tiki bars, fire pits, hammocks and palms give the place a relaxed, tropical vibe. The menu features salads, burgers and wraps, but the main attraction is the up-close view of the FlowRider wave machine, where riders can surf an endless, manmade wave.

Right behind the Wavehouse is
Belmont Park, San Diego’s historic beach-front amusement park. The Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, built in 1925, is one of just a few oceanfront coasters still operating on the West Coast. The park includes an arcade, a carousel, midway-style games and the newly opened Octotron. Whirling on a coaster-like track, Octotron riders control the forward and backward motion as well as the speed of the spinning ride.

Once you’ve brought your heart rate back to normal, head over to world-famous
SeaWorld, which opens two new attractions this year. The all-new Shamu show, One Ocean, is a celebration of life under the sea featuring the park’s signature killer whales surrounded by dancing fountains. Turtle Reef includes more than 60 threatened or endangered sea turtles and a 300,000-gallon aquarium with a massive underwater viewing window.

The perfect end to your quintessential San Diego day is dinner in Old Town. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s historic, too, and kids will love the mariachi musicians at
Casa Guadalajara. The wait can be long on weekends, but you’ll be rewarded with oversized margaritas, tequila-lime shrimp and grilled fish tacos.

On your last full day in San Diego, get in the car and head north to either Safari Park, outside of Escondido, or Legoland California, in Carlsbad. Don’t try tackling both of these in one day, especially if you’ve got younger children in tow.

The 1,800-acre
Safari Park (formerly known as the Wild Animal Park) started out as a breeding facility for the San Diego Zoo, and now the animals roam free in wide-open enclosures. Explore the park in the African Tram Safari and spot rhinos, gazelles and giraffes in an open-air guided tour, or go at your own pace on the Kilimanjaro Safari Walk, a walking safari along two miles of pathways. Don’t miss the Discovery Station, a kid-friendly area filled with musical instruments, puppets, books and craft activities.

Geared for children ages 2 to 12,
Legoland California features more than 60 rides, shows and attractions, all based around Legos. Pay a little extra and you gain admission to Legoland Water Park, which is jam-packed with slides, rides and Build-A-Raft-River, where kids can build their own raft made out of soft Lego bricks. Located next door to Legoland, the new SeaLife Aquarium showcases sea life from shrimp to sharks, as well as hands-on encounters and interactive play zones.

Cap off your day with dinner at
Beach Grass Café in Solana Beach. Reasonably priced and family friendly, this spot is casual California chic at its very best.

What to do if you have only three hours in San Diego? Head to La Jolla Cove and stroll along winding paths with breathtaking views of sandstone cliffs dropping off into the ocean. Stop by the Children’s Pool to check out the seals and sea lions, and then continue north to Ellen Browning Scripps Park. From here it’s a short—but steep—walk into La Jolla Village, where you can end your visit browsing the shops, restaurants and cafés along stylish Girard Avenue.