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Family Fun in San Diego

10 San Diego activities and attractions the whole family will love

It's not an exaggeration to say that everyone can find their happiness in San Diego. Young, old, thrill-seekers, curious minds, sports buffs, culture vultures, poolside loungers and spa seekers — San Diego has something for all of them, all year-round. Whether you're looking to squash screen time and tire out the teenagers or just relax on the beach and reconnect as a family, San Diego was made for the all-ages vacation.

It's full of world-renowned theme parks and museums

Visitors come from around the world to commune with the creatures at the San Diego Zoo and its sister Safari Park. With thousands of rare, endangered, and amazing creatures between them, it's easy to see why. The 100-acre San Diego Zoo houses more than 12,000 rare and endangered animals, including many in the brand-new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, which replaces the former Children's Zoo. And the 1,800-acre Safari Park in Escondido hosts another 3,600. (Insider tip: Go early in the morning just as the parks are opening to see animals at their most active and avoid the afternoon heat).

And those places are just the beginning! San Diego boasts an abundance of theme parks, museums and attractions spanning a range of interests. Smack in the center of town, Balboa Park alone houses 17 separate museums of art, natural history, science, air and space, anthropology, photography, automobiles, pop culture and more.

The city's waterfront shelters such maritime treasures as the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier and the Star of India — two jaw-dropping ships with very different histories on the high seas. Kids of all ages earn their wings, literally, after completing the Midway's extensive audio tour.

Farther north, The Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography provides a peek at what lies beneath the surface of San Diego's seas, as well as interactive exhibits on climate change and some of the most stunning views of the La Jolla coastline (insider tip: pack a picnic for the kids to enjoy on the outdoor patio). Visitors have the opportunity to take special behind-the-scenes tours that encourage safely engaging with animals while learning from experts on a variety of topics, such as seahorse breeding. 

For pure fun, nothing beats LEGOLAND, especially for kids under 12 years old – even the roller coasters and other “thrill rides” are safe for toddlers here, and the new LEGO Ferrari Build & Race will rev up young imaginations. And don't miss Belmont Park's vintage Giant Dipper coaster and modern carnival-style thrills.

Seaworld San Diego is also home to some brand-new rides – including the Emperor, California's tallest and fastest "dive" roller coaster, named for a species of penguin you can visit at the park. The coasters here complement SeaWorld's famed exbibits and shows centered around marine life and conservation. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment also operates the area's newest theme park, Sesame Place San Diego, about 20 miles south in San Diego's South Bay region. The attraction, which is the only "Sesame Street"-themed park in California, is full of watery wonders, with 11 aquatic attractions as well as a generous collection of “dry” rides.

Animals are everywhere

Outside the zoos and aquariums, it's easy to find animals in their natural habitat. In San Diego, that's as simple as heading to the beach.

At low tide, the rocky shores of Cabrillo National Monument become a tidepool wonderland. You'll discover anemones, barnacles, mussels, sea stars, urchins and other creatures of the not-so-deep here. On top of that, the national monument, located at the tip of the Point Loma peninsula, offers an unparalleled view of San Diego Bay, the downtown skyline and the mountains beyond.

In La Jolla, just strolling the promenade along the cliff-lined coast brings you within feet of seals and sea lions, particularly at the Children's Pool and La Jolla Cove, where the pinnipeds have permanent colonies and can be seen sleeping, swimming and clambering across the rocks and sand day and night.

From the shore you can also get glimpses of dolphins and whales, although the best way to see them is to take a whale-watching tour, of which many kinds are offered in San Diego's waters.

Those willing to get in the water can swim with harmless, 6-foot-long leopard sharks or colorful garibaldi, the official state marine fish of California. Located in the path of the Pacific Flyway and boasting dozens of wetlands and wildlife refuges, San Diego provides free and easy access to area wildlife.

Even the food is fun

Traveling with kids doesn't mean forgoing San Diego's epic food. Most hotels and resorts offer kid-friendly cafes and beachy picnic fare. But local neighborhoods also offer plenty of farm-to-table food with a nod to the little ones.

At Swami's Cafe in hip North Park, kids can chow down on animal-shaped pancakes while the grown-ups enjoy omelets, breakfast burritos and other brunch fare.

La Jolla's Farmer and the Seahorse sports a green turf lawn and provides corn hole, hula hoops, soccer balls and Frisbees. Locals flock to its Sunday brunch, which often boasts live music, too.

Adults love the Crack Shack for its epic fried chicken and salads; kids can order nuggets and cruise through the bocce court, sand pit and (at the Encinitas location only) a mini golf course.

The Corvette Diner lets kids party like it's 1950, as poodle-skirt-clad servers and arcade games bring the midcentury vibes.

Save room for sweet treats, such as a multitude of goodies at the Old Town House of Jerky & Root Beer (where a mind-boggling array of jerky and root beer types are available) or at nearby Cousin's Candy Shop, well stocked with a rainbow of sweets.

Locals also flock to Caroline's Seaside Café for pancakes, acai bowls and BLATs (the A is for avocado) served up right above the beach in La Jolla. Parents can enjoy a second cup of coffee while the kids play in view on the grass below.

San Diego has science in spades

Balboa Park's kid-friendly Fleet Science Center shows IMAX films and hosts permanent and limited exhibits touching on all kinds of cool science topics, including volcanoes, space and electricity.

Learn about California's rare coastal waterway ecosystems plus eco-friendly building techniques at the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center in Encinitas.

Little ones become artists and creators themselves with The New Children's Museum's interactive exhibits workshops, and educational installations.

For the family looking for hiking and nature in the inland valleys, don't miss Mission Trails Regional Park. The park's Nature Center exhibits the native flora and fauna of San Diego's foothills, offers simple crafts projects for kids, and provides parking for access to some of the region's most popular trailheads.

Budding artists can get crafty

Visit the studios of more than 200 painters, sculptors, metalsmiths and other artists at the Spanish Village Art Center. Daily demonstrations including glass blowing are a big draw to this enchanting spot in Balboa Park adjacent to the San Diego Zoo.

The Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater's live weekly puppet performances are a smash hit with wee ones.

A dose of more sophisticated performance can be found on the stages of the nationally renowned La Jolla Playhouse and the Old Globe, San Diego's two Tony Award-winning theaters, as well as an abundance of other theaters around town, including Downtown's venerable San Diego Rep.

And the San Diego Model Railroad Museum — the world's biggest museum of its kind — is a must-see for the train-obsessed.

Adventures abound, on and off the water

Get their little feet wet in the sport of surfing with lessons — the waves at San Diego's gentler spots are conducive to learning how to paddle, pop up and ride waves most days of the year. Harness the power of the wind with sailing classes, offered in a variety of small sailboats in both Mission Bay and San Diego Bay.

Kids can tee up at Del Mar Golf Center, home to mini golf, or learn to kayak at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center.

Young skate rats will know San Diego as a breeding ground for skaters of all stripes and, accordingly, the skate park scene does not disappoint. Between public parks and facilities, the region hosts dozens of top-quality parks with bowls, vert, mini-ramps, ledges — you name it.

Whether along flat, mellow beachside paths or on mountain trails or roads, a lifetime of cycling awaits in San Diego.

Hiking, too. Although the summer sun can be hot in the inland valleys, San Diego's mild climate usually provides excellent hiking weather. To keep things cool, trees protect plenty of trails. And some trails lead to year-round or seasonal waterfalls.

Every day is a beach day

No matter where you are in San Diego, you're never far from the beach. With 70 miles of ocean coastline, there's a patch of sand for every age and stage of vacationer.

The cliff-lined stretch north of La Jolla makes for dramatic scenery and a fun, easy hike through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Just south, you'll find La Jolla's rockier beaches exposed at low tide, great for tidepool exploring and close contact with crabs, anemones and other sea life. Farther south lies La Jolla Shores' wide, sandy beach and walkable village with restaurants and rentals.

San Diego's public piers and boardwalks also make for breezy strolls and a fine place to watch pelicans and surfers ply the waters. Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach is the most central, with plenty of shops (for souvenirs, ice cream and more) nearby as well as rental outlets for bikes and beach toys.

And the sandy beaches of Mission Beach, Coronado, Oceanside, Encinitas and Del Mar, which often stretch on as far as the eye can see, promise hours of body surfing, building sand castles, playing paddle ball, reading, and otherwise soaking up the sand and sun. Lifeguards staff most the beaches from sunrise through sunset in the summer months. And most have bathroom and shower facilities. Parking can be tough in the summer, so allow extra time (and pack your patience).

Mission Bay sports an additional 27 miles of park- and beach-lined shoreline along calm water (no waves or surfing here) as well as a dozen miles of paved, flat paths perfect for bikes, scooters, strollers or just an easy jog at sunset. East Mission Bay's grassy knolls are known by locals as “kite field” for the great gusts and open grass areas. Didn't pack your own kite? Watch the many locals who come to fly high on weekends.

San Diego was made for sunsets

They might be the most iconic sight in San Diego, so be sure to take in at least one sunset during your visit. Pack a picnic and snag a spot on any one of the sandy beaches or these special sunset spots. To make it an epic evening on the water, snag a firepit (Ocean Beach and Mission Bay have the most pits) and grab the s'mores essentials for a family-friendly bonfire. Be aware that alcohol is prohibited on most beaches in the city of San Diego.

History and heritage come alive

San Diego has a rich history dating back thousands of years. All of its various chapters are on display for curious minds at museums around the region.

Learn about the Kumeyaay, the native people who inhabited the area for thousands of years before the Spanish arrival, and continue to do so at the Junípero Serra Museum, the site of the first Spanish mission in what is today California.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, known as the birthplace of California, houses historic exhibits, including the new Iipay~Tipai Kumeyaay Mut Niihepok (Land of the First Peoples) outdoor exhibit area. There are also Mexican artisan shops, festive restaurants and even one of America's most haunted museums, the Whaley House. Conveniently, Old Town is one of the stops on San Diego's entertaining and informative 25-mile trolley tour that visits 10 different neighborhoods.

Old and young salts alike will take to theOld Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument, which first shined over San Diego Bay's entrance in 1855. You can tour the old lighthouse, wade through the tidepools or bring binoculars in the late winter and late summer to catch the spouts and flukes of gray and blue whales migrating off the coast.

Enjoy a time out – for the parents

While San Diego's beaches, attractions and restaurants are hugely kid-friendly, there's a distinctly adult side to the city, too. So whether the kids are in summer camp or with a sitter for a few hours, moms and dads can easily relax and enjoy their time off, too. San Diego is home to award-winning spas and wellness centers perfect for quiet time, as well as next-level dining experiences such as Richard Blais' Juniper & Ivy restaurant or the Omakase-only sushi spot Hidden Fish in San Diego's thriving Convoy District. George's Ocean Terrace is perfect for a romantic lunch or sunset dinner for two; or hit the nightclub scene in the Gaslamp Quarter for some hopping adult playtime.

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Friday, July 22 - Sunday, September 11, 2022

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First Post 2 PM most racing days, 4 PM on Fridays. 

 

*dates and times subject to change. Visit DelMarRacing.com for up to date information.

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San Diego horse racing takes place where the "turf meets the surf" at the Del Mar Racetrack. Fans flock to the track each summer to wager on their favorite horses during the popular, annual Del Mar Racetrack racing season, mid-July - early-September. Be part of the magic and nostalgia of this long-time horse race tradition dating back to 1937 when Bing Crosby greeted the first guests, and Seabiscuit won by a nose in the infamous race in 1938. This season features the nation's top racehorses, trainers and jockeys, and plenty of fun in the sun.

 

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First Post 2 PM most racing days, 4 PM on Fridays. 

 

*dates and times subject to change. Visit DelMarRacing.com for up to date information.

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