As the first mother of a child who is now 16 months old, the words “family vacation” arouse many emotions. “Mostly fear. Of course there is always the hope of having fun and spending time with the family. “” The pink visions of frolicking on the beach while you toss your baby in the air as the sun goes down provide the perfect photo opportunity and memories to last a lifetime.
But more realistically, and here on earth, it’s daunting to pick a “vacation spot” and figure out what to see and do with an unpredictable infant or protesting toddler in tow. “” I understand!
Sometimes we can barely navigate through Target without a core meltdown or diaper breakout occurring. So are we really expected to drive to an unknown destination or fly (gasp for breath) and explore an entire city?
Where to push your stroller in San Diego
The answer is yes, but the right goal is key. And when the right destination is key, San Diego will open the door to a happy and fun family vacation. I won’t lie to you; It will cry and spit, and you will likely forget to pack a pacifier or a beloved blanky, but the sunny San Diego weather makes everything seem very mild and, above all, manageable.
While everyone knows about the big attractions like the famous San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, LEGOLAND and SeaWorld, everyone should still be making their lists of what to see in San Diego, but I’m here to shed some light on the hidden gems that exist makes this beautiful city a mecca for family fun, even for the fearful family with a baby or toddler in tow.
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La Jolla Cove, San Diego
Best places to go with a baby or toddler in San Diego
Here are my favorite places, approved by my mom, for San Diego visitors or moms to have fun with a baby or toddler on a “stay”: There are so many great things to do with toddlers in San Diego, and here are a few my favorite spots.
The Nat backyard Sarah Kurliand – nature-loving mom)
We recently visited the NEW Nat Backyard exhibition in the Natural History Museum and my two children (7 and almost 2 years old) loved it. It was much smaller than I expected but very clean and cute. It’s an enclosed space inside the natural history museum that resembles a typical backyard in San Diego, and it was very accurate.
In the main play area there was a large tree structure, artificial grass, flowers, a fence and a gate – all looking very real. Behind the fence is a really fun mural of San Diego with all the symbols and places we all know and love. It’s been broken down by age, so there is an area where babies can crawl safely, toddlers stumble, and older children run around with butterfly wings. Everything is made of soft, squishy mats. There is a super cool light table with insects, blocks and other shapes to play with and clock faces for your child to change the colors of the light. The fence had small peepholes through which one could see specimens of insects.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
When your toddler is something like mine; If you are curious and want to try everything yourself, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park is a must. With interactive, child-friendly scientific exhibits, you can easily explore for half a day here. Children under the age of 5 should allow ample time for the center’s Kid City, which is where toddlers can play on fire trucks, shop in a mini-grocery store, play music, and more. The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is open daily at 10:00 a.m. and in the summer and on weekends in the evenings. For more information: www.rhfleet.org. While you’re already at Balboa Park, check out some of the other great museums and traveling exhibits, and enjoy lunch on the terrace at the Prado while you sip on the freshly made fruit soda (they are amazing!).
SEA LIFE Aquarium
One of my favorite things to do in San Diego with toddlers is the SEA LIFE Aquarium. The SEA LIFE aquarium is part of LEGOLAND, but you can buy tickets separately and it is usually less crowded in the aquarium than in the park itself. This aquarium is perfect for babies and toddlers as it is stroller-friendly and the aquarium windows are kid-friendly, so that they can run or crawl to the glass and encounter sharks, octopuses, jellyfish and stingrays, just to name a few. Toddlers will also enjoy the tide pools, where they can touch marine life like starfish. There’s also a handy restaurant at the end of the aquarium, great for starving toddlers (and parents). The SEA LIFE Aquarium is open daily. Save 20% on ticket prices when you buy your tickets online at least 7 days in advance.
La Jolla bay
La Jolla Cove is a beautiful place to spot some unique birds and of course lots of barking seals and seal pups with your little one. You can push your stroller along the oceanfront path and stop at benches and lookouts to observe the wildlife. There is also a huge park which is perfect for picnicking or for the baby to crawl or run around. One of my favorite family-friendly restaurants, Cody’s, is right next to the bay and serves the best lobster rolls in San Diego, as well as views of the Pacific. La Jolla Cove is free and open to the public.
Cardiff State Beach
Of course, you have to save space for some beach time! Cardiff State Beach, North County, is family (and dog friendly) with convenient parking. After building a sandcastle, kite flying, and trying your baby to eat a handful of sand, pack your stroller and ride the ocean path that stretches from Cardiff to Encinitas. You need to counter your exercise with some good ol ‘San Diego Mexican food. So be sure to make a stop at the Bull Taco at the San Elijo State Beach Campground. Enjoy world-class, casual Mexican food and snow cones as you dine at picnic tables with great views of the ocean. Bull Taco is open daily at 8:00 a.m. (5:00 p.m. (winter hours) and daily at 8:00 a.m. (7:00 p.m. (summer time)).
Padres in Petco Park
Between April and October, check the Padres Baseball schedule and watch a home game at Petco Park. Buy cheap “Park in the Park” tickets so you don’t have to worry about your baby being entertained for 9 long innings in the stadium (ha ha ha – yea right). These grass seats give you the baseball experience with enough space for your child to roll around on a blanket and keep your older toddler entertained with a playground and kid-sized baseball field. Bonus points, there are changing tables in ALL Petco Park toilets (men and women!). Padre’s season is April. “” October. Children under 3 feet are free. For more information: sandiego.padres.mlb.com.
San Diego Botanical Garden
Be sure to wear your walking shoes and pack your stroller for 4 miles of lush garden paths, vistas, and the country’s largest bamboo exhibit. Perfect for a relaxing and unique stroll while your baby is napping in the stroller, or for a fun playground for your toddler to explore the interactive Hamilton’s Children’s Garden and fun sandpit. Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Children under 2 years are free. For more information: sdbgarden.org.
Westfield UTC Mall
If you feel like shopping, head straight to the UTC Mall in La Jolla. Not only does this mall have top-notch retailers in a trendy San Diego alfresco setting, it is also very baby-friendly. Hop on the Choo-Choo train with your little one as you circle the route and see all the (fake) wildlife in the “jungle” (this was a huge hit with my 16 month old). There is also a toddler playground in the middle of the mall for your son or daughter to run around and release some energy before mom recharges the credit card bill. If you have lunch in the food court, I recommend Tender Greens for a healthy and delicious shopping fuel made with local produce from Southern California.
Leo Carillo Ranch
Carlsbad’s hidden gem, this historic ranch owned by an old Hollywood actor, is stroller-friendly and full of beautiful peacocks roaming the grounds. The peacocks are a big hit with babies and toddlers. You can opt for a guided tour of the grounds and rooms or explore them on your own. No matter what you choose, make sure you have your camera phone ready to take beautiful photos with your little one on the go. Open Tuesdays “Sat. 9 am and 5 pm. 11 am 5 pm. Closed on Mondays. For more information and tour schedule: www.carrillo-ranch.org.
For more information on these locations, including current opening times and prices, visit the websites.
Ruben Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park, San Diego
Thanks again to Kristin Helms for sharing her favorite San Diego family treasures. Kristin is a blogger at The Mommy Project in San Diego and writes about first-time thoughts from mums, tips on baby and toddler trips, family-friendly restaurants, and how to stay fit in sunny San Diego. She is also the co-founder of Tribe Magazine, an online magazine for women that covers topics such as travel, motherhood, recipes, fashion, and health and fitness.
When Kristin is not writing and editing articles, she walks around San Diego with her family – usually eating, drinking, or playing on the beach.
Find her adventures on Instagram in Tribemagazine.
Map of Things to Do With Young Children in San Diego
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