In early November, Little T and I spent over a week in my hometown, sunny San Diego, California. San Diego is one of the most family friendly cities in the States and has so much to offer, with 70 miles of coastline, mild weather year round, hiking trails and scenic parks and loads of museums and attractions. I’ve been bringing Little T to San Diego for the past three years, since he turned one, and each time we discover new great activities and places to visit with kids.
I found a great deal traveling with Virgin Atlantic (during one of their sales), nearly the same flight times as in 2015, from London Heathrow to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The only delay we experienced on the previous trip was at Avis, chasing around for a car seat, and overall it was an easy drive from Los Angeles to San Diego which is only about two hours without traffic.
This time around, however, it took over 5 hours to get from LAX (from when we landed) to our hotel in San Diego. After an hour spent at baggage claim, it was fortunately a breeze to pick up our rental car, but once on freeway, we found ourselves slowly inching towards San Diego county. The traffic finally let up once we were out of Los Angeles, but it was plenty enough to nearly double the travel time. I think I’ll be going back to flying direct with British Airways next time!
Where We Stayed
We stayed at The Dana on Mission Bay, a casual waterfront 10-acre resort about a mile from Mission Beach. It’s a great place to stay with children, with two pools, water sport rentals and plenty of open space and gardens to play in and explore. We also stayed here a couple of years ago, and after our last trip staying in Mission Valley, I chose The Dana again because I prefer being by the water and having that open space and the resort is a great value conveniently located within minutes from the freeways and downtown.
There are two main areas of the resort: Marina Cove and the Water’s Edge (shown above). We were upgraded from a View Room in Marina Cove (which wasn’t available at check-in) to a Deluxe Bay Room in one of the two Water’s Edge buildings that overlook Mission Bay. We had this beautiful view of Mission Bay from our patio, which had a (lockable) gate so we could walk right out onto the grass from our room. The room itself was comfortable, with two queen-size beds, a sofa, a small table and armchairs, a microwave and a fridge and a kitchen counter with sink.
The Dana on Mission Bay is a place I’d recommend in the Mission Bay/Mission Beach area for great value, lovely grounds and comfortable rooms. There are several room types to choose from, and the only one I wouldn’t recommend is the Standard Room in Marina Cove – the rooms are dated and overlook the parking lot. All other rooms have a view of the bay, marina or tropical gardens, and the Water’s Edge rooms are particularly lovely overlooking the bay. Resort amenities include laundry facilities, two swimming pools and a spa, an on-site restaurant, a fitness center and dog-friendly lodging.
What We Did
We tend to split our activities between the beaches and local attractions or museums. This time we really enjoyed visiting the USS Midway Museum and the New Children’s Museum, and we lucked out with great weather, allowing for some time by the sea in Point Loma, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla.
There’s pretty much something for everyone in San Diego – it truly is a great place to visit. I hope this snapshot offers some inspiration if you’re planning a trip to this city – and if you have any recommendations for us to visit on our next trip, please let me know in the comments!
La Jolla Shores
One early morning we headed over to La Jolla Shores and walked along the beach towards Scripps Pier. The sky was just starting to lighten up when we arrived and the beach was already busy with walkers, joggers, surfers and even a yoga class. The water was a bit chilly, but that didn’t stop Little T from splashing about along the shore. It was a great way to start the day and one of my favorite memories from the trip!
La Jolla Shores is also a very family friendly beach, with facilities, nearby shops and beach rentals and plenty of activities to enjoy, such as surfing, kayaking and snorkeling. We’ve been out kayaking there and I’ve also taken surfing classes with Surf Diva (highly recommend). There’s a grassy area near the beach, great for picnics and a large free parking lot that can fill up quickly in the summer months, but you can also park for free on the nearby residential streets.
Coast Boulevard, La Jolla
One afternoon we visited La Jolla again, this time to take a walk along Coast Blvd. The views of the Pacific Ocean and along the coast are gorgeous there – and you are also treated with some bird and wildlife spotting as it’s a popular areas for seals, sea lions, pelicans and other birds. While last time we were here, the seals were lounging on the large rocks, this time we spotted them at Children’s Pool Beach. A sea wall was put up at this beach in the 1930s to create a protected swimming area for families but in recent years the area has filled up with sand and become a resting spot for harbor seals and sea lions.
The beach is closed to public access between mid-December to mid-May, when the seals give birth and wean their young. When we visited, we could go down to the beach and stand at a distance (behind a rope) to watch the seals.
We carried on walking towards Ellen Browning Scripps Park, a large grassy park overlooking La Jolla Cove that was busy with families playing sports or barbecuing. It was soon time for us to head for dinner, and we had this gorgeous view below of the sunset as we headed back to the car.
U.S.S. Midway Museum
We had a great day out at the USS Midway Museum, located in downtown San Diego at Navy Pier. The USS Midway was one of America’s longest serving aircraft carriers (1945 to 1992) and is now a maritime museum dedicated to carriers and naval aviation. It offers a fascinating look into what it’s like to live and work on a carrier, with 60 areas to explore including the sleeping quarters, engine room, radio room, galley and war room.
The carrier also houses a wide array of aircraft, including several that you can climb into or sit in the cockpit for a great hands-on experience – Little T loved it! Ticket fare includes a free audio tour and there are often talks given by veterans and special events. It’s a very interactive, family friendly museum and a great value especially if you’re visiting with young ones as children 5 and under enter free.
You’ll find more details and photos from our day out in my USS Midway Museum review.
New Children’s Museum
Another place we enjoyed visiting was the New Children’s Museum, also in downtown San Diego. Little T loved the activities at this museum – painting a wagon (shown below), creating clay sculptures, racing cars on a track, building a cardboard fort and climbing around in a treehouse. The New Children’s Museum offers immersive art activities and interactive art installations that are updated regularly, along with a calendar of programs and workshops that include a toddler program every Friday morning (free with admission – check the museum calendar for the up-to-date schedule). It’s an excellent museum that caters so well to young children – no wonder all the local mothers I met are annual members!
More on our day out in our New Children’s Museum review.
Cabrillo National Monument
We spent an afternoon at Cabrillo National Monument, a scenic National Park at the southern tip of the Point Loma peninsula. While the tide was still a bit too high for rock pooling at the time, there are more frequent opportunities from mid-November through winter and this area is one of the best in San Diego for exploring tide pools. The scenery and views from the cliffs are amazing – on a clear day you can see as far as Mexico!
Mission Beach has an expansive beach, an oceanfront boardwalk with restaurants and shops, a nearby grassy area with playgrounds at Mission Bay Park and a historic amusement park, Belmont Park. Belmont Park is renown for its restored Giant Dipper roller-coaster that was originally built in 1925. The amusement park also has several other rides, bumper cars, miniature golf and an arcade.
After going on a couple of rides and taking a little train around Belmont Park, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach for sunset.
Balboa Park is one of my favourite places and we spent a morning there visiting the vibrant Spanish Village Art Center, wandering around the beautiful buildings and having a look inside the wooden lath botanical building which is free to enter (closed Thursdays). There’s a lot to see and do at Balboa Park, with 15 museums, several arts venues, events and exhibitions and the zoo. It’s also a lovely place, especially with young ones, to explore the gardens and parks, even at early hours (i.e. before the museums open) as the grounds are open 24 hours.
Old Town San Diego
We arrived in San Diego just as the historic Old Town was celebrating Dia de los Muertos, ending with a candlelight procession on November 2nd. We couldn’t make it to the procession, but we visited Old Town earlier in the afternoon when admittedly there wasn’t much going on since the other events and activities happened over the weekend before we arrived. It was still fun to browse the shops, where we chose two of these beautifully painted skulls and other souvenirs after a late lunch at the Old Town Mexican Cafe.
I always make a point to stop at our old neighborhood, Pacific Beach, when we’re in San Diego and a favorite place to visit with Little T is Fanuel Street Park, where there’s a playground right on Mission Bay. The calm waters there are also perfect for little ones.
Where We Ate
We were mostly back at old favorites, and mainly Mexican restaurants, during our trip. These restaurants were the highlights;
The Mission Restaurant, Mission Beach – I once again ordered a Papas Loco plate off the Latino breakfast menu – a heaping plate of rosemary potatoes, grilled jalapenos, black beans, cheese, avocado slices and sour cream, served with salsa, tortillas and two scrambled eggs. Little T had buttermilk pancakes with berries. Both were generous portions and we ended up having leftovers for breakfast the next day.
Broken Yolk Café, Mission Valley – It was pancakes and breakfast tacos again at this place! Little T had pancakes with scrambled eggs and fruit, while I went with Baja breakfast tacos with beef chorizo sausage, scrambled eggs and fresh avocado served with rice and black beans.
Casa Guadalajara, Old Town – This lively restaurant in Old Town came recommended and the tamales I ordered were pretty good. Little T meanwhile had the fish sticks with fries and fresh fruit.
The Old Town Mexican Café, Old Town – We also returned to this restaurant while we were in Old Town and shared a plate of tacos for a late lunch – pollo asado, carnitas and steak asado, which came with beans and rice.
More on San Diego
Overall, we enjoyed our November trip to San Diego and really lucked out with sunny skies to enjoy some time at the beach and parks. Stay tuned for more posts with a review on The Dana on Mission Bay and some of the highlights of our trip: the USS Midway Museum, the New Children’s Museum, La Jolla and Balboa Park.
Have you been to San Diego? Do you have any favorite activities or places there? Or do you have any questions about visiting San Diego? Let me know in the comments!
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