Ask anyone for a family vacation recommendation, and you’re sure to hear about the lure of San Diego. From its consistently temperate weather and incomparable beaches to its famed zoo and Old Town history, San Diego makes for a great weekend retreat. There’s enough to keep you busy for a week (or more). But if you only have a weekend, we’ve highlighted our favorite activities to help you make the most of a San Diego weekend getaway with kids. We know you’ll eventually be back for more!
Written by Amanda Geronikos
Day One: Old Town History
Explore Old Town, which is the birthplace of California. Mexican restaurants and shops line the town's streets, where you'll often find entertainers and festivals. On weekends, Old Town hosts an artisan market, with handmade jewelry, clothing, blown glass and more.
When you reach the harbor, you'll find the Maritime Museum of San Diego, one of the country's best maritime museums. Kids will love exploring an actual aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, as well as submarines and sailboats. You'll want to dedicate the entire afternoon to discover every nook and cranny.
Go for a stroll around the Gaslamp Quarter. (Tweens and teens will love it here; younger kids won't be as enchanted.) There are lots of restaurants to grab dinner, and the Victorian-era buildings are worth a gander. Be aware that later in the night, San Diego's party crowd comes out to drink and play here, so head back to your hotel to avoid the rowdiness.
Day Two: Balboa Park
After breakfast, stroll through Balboa Park, the city's piece de resistance. Here, you'll find 17 museums, including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Automotive Museum and the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum. Pick one for the morning or enjoy the park's playgrounds, trails and picture-perfect gardens. Younger kids will especially love the 1910 Carousel and Miniature Train, which take families on a short ride through the park. When you need a break for lunch, enjoy one of its many restaurants.
Afternoon into Evening
We know it's a big park with a lot to see, but be sure to end your afternoon with a visit to the San Diego Zoo, which is also located in Balboa Park. As a world-famous zoo, it shouldn't be missed! For a unique tour of this famous zoo, consider one of the Special Experiences offered. We like the Inside Look Tours, which allows up-close encounters and pictures with penguins, elephants and other animals.
Day Three: Sand and Sea
Where To Stay With Kids: Luxury San Diego Hotel
Where to Stay With Kids: Mid-Range San Diego Hotel
Where to Stay With Kids: Budget San Diego Hotel
Top 5 San Diego Restaurants Not to Miss
It's loud in this 50s-themed joint, but kids will love the food and lively staff members, many of whom wear poodle skirts and break into impromptu dances. Order a milkshake (there are 22 flavors!), and check out the arcade while you're waiting to eat.
2. Station Tavern
At this restaurant in South Park, parents sip on craft beers while kids play in a sandbox. The atmosphere is casual (picnic tables), as is the menu. It's also inexpensive. The Lil Riders menu offers a hot dog, grilled cheese sandwich, or Tofu Pup (vegetarian hot dog).
3. Barra Barra Saloon
You can't go wrong at any of the Mexican restaurants in Old Town, but Barra Barra Saloon yields short or nonexistent wait times, and kids under 10 eat free. The kids' menu includes both Mexican and American options, such as chicken fingers. Parents -- order the guacamole and a margarita, and opt to eat outside.
4. Coronado Brewing Company
If you visit Coronado (and we strongly suggest you do), grab some grub at Coronado Brewing Company. The brewery restaurant has a kids' menu and a staff member who makes balloon animals. The menu includes inexpensive, yet delicious sandwiches and salads.
5. The Mission
This casual cafe has three locations in San Diego, and while it serves a delicious lunch menu, you have to go for the breakfast. There isn't a kids' menu, but everyone in the family will find something they like, from the Banana Blackberry Pancakes to the Chicken Apple Sausage and Eggs.
Planning & Tips
San Diego is steadily warm throughout the year. During the winter, when many tourists flock to the city, the lowest temperatures might dip into the -- gasp -- 50s. And with consistently perfect weather, it's easy for San Diego to host several outdoor -- and indoor -- events. They include San Diego Museum Month in February, when families can enjoy half-priced admission at 40 museums, the San Diego County Fair in June, and the Big Bay Boom, a fantastic fireworks display on the Fourth of July. Other noteworthy events: San Diego Comic Con (July), Julian Apple Harvest (September through November) and December Nights.
Most major cities are difficult to maneuver by car, but that's not the case in San Diego. You'll be able to find free or metered parking in many areas of the city, except the Gaslamp Quarter, which gets especially crowded on weekends. There are also several parking garages in town, but they'll cost you.
Bus and Trolley
The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System comprises mostly buses and trolleys. One-way fares start at $2.50, and on weekends, two children under 5 ride free with a paying adult. Day passes are available. San Diego also has two train routes: Sprinter, which is the inland railway, and Coaster, the coastal railway.