Beginner’s Guide to San Diego with Kids
Hit the highlights of San Diego with tips from the locals, when you have 48 hours to get the best experiences with the kids in tow! Food, events, tips, and more!
We needed a break. And sun. Admittedly living in Seattle, we get used to the jokes about the rain. It’s not the rain that can get to you, it’s the gray skies. I love them, I do! The diffused light does give the best food photos. But even I crave some sunshine! And now that we are all emerging from our post-‘Rona bubbles, it was time for us as a family of four to take a mini-holiday together that wasn’t Hawaii, because everyone is going there!
So, I decided to hit up my favorite travel agent – Costco Travel – yeah, you read that right – and see what deals they had on offer to narrow down my search. Bingo! Found it, booked it, locked it in. And it was the best mini break ever.
Best Place to Stay in San Diego with Kids
Like I said, we booked through Costco Travel and found a great deal for our stay at San Diego Mission Bay Resort. It was 10 minutes from Old Town, 15 minutes to Downtown, the San Diego Zoo, and practically everywhere else we wanted to go. It is placed right on the water at Mission Bay, with lots of beach front access to the bay where you can rent boats, paddle boards, and more. Or, do like we did (and the locals) and walk the paved path through the park! For the kids, there was a brand new and huge playground that we hit a couple times a day to burn off the extra treats and energy.
The resort was super kid friendly and welcoming. There was s’mores on the beach the Saturday night we arrived, a saltwater pool, and kid’s pool that while it was too cold for Harry to enjoy Emmett was begging me to go take a dip in. And it had lots of space, corn hole games on the lawns, and just a great atmosphere to enjoy.
Booking through Costco Travel was a cinch, and with our booking it also included extras like
- Waived mandatory daily resort fee included
- $45 resort credit, which could be used for parking, or extras charged to our room through our stay.
Totally handy. Depending on the packages you choose, there are more extras you can accrue. For us and the boys, this suited us just fine. You know we love booking through Costco Travel – like our honeymoon, so this was a repeat and another reason we do it again and again.
Best Places to Eat In San Diego
One, there was no bad place to eat while we were there. And two, eat all the amazing Mexican you can.
The first thing I did when researching for our trip was to hit Instagram and ask for recommendations, and the locals DELIVERED on the best places! We took their advice. Drop onto my Instagram, and I saved all the recommendations to my San Diego Highlights!
Favorite Mexican Food In San Diego
Tuetano Taqueria – Hands down the best street tacos I have ever had in my life. It’s a small women-owned business in Old Town San Diego. Their claim to fame is the Birria Bone Marrow taco. I would have eaten here every day if given the opportunity. We got an array of birria and fish tacos from Tuetano and loved them all. Make it a place you stop on your adventures.
Cafe Coyote – Another sit down style family Mexican restaurant in Old Town was great for the whole family when we were dead on our feet. The margaritas were excellent and I am keeping their secret for amazing carnitas tucked away in my back pocket for a special day!! Oh man, were the legit! The boys loved their food, and we found out that Harry absolutely loves spicy food, because that kid could wolf down chips and salsa for days. WINNER!
Best Breakfast On The Go in San Diego
Spill the Beans – If you are wanting to grab a killer breakfast on the go, make sure you hit up Spill the Beans downtown by the marina. The lighthouse coffee shop is hands down adorable, and makes a slamming bagel. The boys split a bagel and cream cheese, Ben got a loaded breakfast sandwich, and I opted for a stacked up lox bagel with tons of veggies and cream cheese. It was amazing. The coffee was great, and I even got a kombucha on tap from a local maker served right there. We got to take the boys on a walk around the marina and park, so it was a great spot to find. And if you’re hitting down town for the day, this is a great spot to start.
Best Doughnuts in San Diego
Sidecar Doughnuts – Admittedly, this isn’t in San Diego proper, but Del Mar. Either way, it was worth the 25 minute drive north for quite possibly the best Old Fashioned doughnut I have ever had in my life. And I’m a self-described expert. They have developed quite the celebrity following for a boutique doughnut shoppe, and while there we grabbed a few different kinds. Obviously, a Huckleberry old fashioned for our dear departed old dog. They were still warm, ultra tender, extra flavorful, and had a perfect crumb. My friend and I were trying to think of a way to conspire a day trip down to San Diego just for a doughnut run. Crazy? Sure! Worth it? ABSOLUTELY!
What to Do In San Diego With Kids
With kids, especially two small ones like ours (2 and 5 – and one who still requires naps) I wanted to be mindful of not overcrowding our days with too much stuff that would leave us all melting down, and over extended. So we picked ONE big activity for each full day we were there. For us it was the San Diego Zoo, and visiting the USS Midway. Being so close to everything means you can literally make the world your oyster, with Legoland and SeaWorld being a stone’s throw away it would be easy to pack it all in.
The balance was perfect. And we picked great. If you go for more than 48 hours, you can really see A LOT.
San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo was money, but totally worth it. We strategized our trip to NOT bring a stroller with us. And it was worth it to not lug it through the airport, and in and out of the car, etc. Instead, we paid the $20 and rented a double at the zoo. WORTH. IT. That way, both kids could ride if they got tired – and they did. That place is EFFING HUGE. Less whining, less fighting, less misery for everyone involved.
The zoo was a masterpiece. The animals you see at every zoo were predictably on display, but then were about five times the variety of the same animals. Eagles, sure. But then six eagles from all other continents that you would only ever see in a nature documentary. The habitats were out of this world detailed, the landscape architecture was sublime and so completely immersive. Each continent was represented so beautifully. So even if the kids are glued to animal watching, the parents can appreciate the environment and habitats that surrounds you.
The place is a literal maze. So be sure to grab a map. Wear the comfiest shoes you own, and if you forget your FitBit you will kick yourself because you will max your steps that day. It is so worth the price tag.
USS Midway Museum
If you are a history buff, this is a wild place to visit. And even if you’re not this is so super cool to walk on an aircraft carrier. Seeing the sheer number of aircraft parked on deck was incredible. There are docents there giving daily talks about life on board, history lessons on aeronautical warfare, and answering general questions about the ship’s history and making you and your kids feel super welcome. It was so cool. You can picture how grueling life on board could be. The kids took part in a scavenger hunt to earn flight wings by learning facts about the ship.
While the USS Midway didn’t fight in the actual Battle of Midway, it was commissioned after WWII, and named after the battle itself. It served through Desert Storm and was subsequently retired from service and turned into the museum it is today. It has been preserved and hosts a great display of period technology, which is fascinating that even though it fits within my lifetime still seems vastly outdated and borderline ancient by today’s standards. Also, at 37 I’m officially old. But it does capture that this ship has seen and gone through so much of our own country’s history and has a legacy all it’s own as the first Nimitz class carrier. Way cool.
This is an excursion that can take you a couple of hours with small kids, or if you are a history and military buff literally all day. With it being right downtown, it is easy to fit in lots of activities within walking distance to the marina, Petco Park for a ball game, and any other number of eats and activities to fill the day. Adding this to your list with kids is an activity I highly recommend.
I am really glad that we only picked one “Big” activity to do with the kids per day, that way we didn’t overwhelm ourselves, or the kids. Of course there are a multitude of other things you can do with the kids in San Diego. Check out this list below!
Kid Friendly Excursions In San Diego
- San Diego Zoo Safari Park
- LaJolla Tide Pools
- San Diego Air and Space Museum
- Balboa Park
- San Diego Natural History Museum
- Old Town San Diego
- Coronado Central Beach
- Mission Bay Park
So while this only skims the surface of what you can do in San Diego, this was our 48 hours there with the kids and we are dying to go back. You can make it your own and dang if you can’t get enough! The possibilities are endless. The resources you can find are easy to plan and to digest, and there is so much, you can make lists and lists.
Flights are cheap, the food is amazing, the sites are incredible, and the history is awesome. Enjoy San Diego and make some fabulous memories! I know we sure did!