We spent the past week on vacation in San Diego. We were on a 7:40 A.M. flight from Philadelphia on Monday, which involved getting up very, very early. The flight was very, very long, though I managed to read for about an hour while the baby napped on my lap. I spent some time counting seconds, but eventually we landed, got our car (a mini van for 7!), and went over to Sea World.
It was probably good we did Sea World first, as I would rate this as the least cool attraction we visited. A highlight (for me) was the Arctic exhibit, and the kids liked the Sesame Street part, but the aquariums were not particularly great, and my 6-year-old, after getting to go on the Manta roller coaster once, was told the second time he was not tall enough (he hit the mark everywhere else for that particular height, so go figure).
We had a fairly jet-lagged dinner at a BBQ place in Ocean Beach that night, and then settled into our rental house. It was a cute little place with views of the Pacific, and we all crashed, though unfortunately the baby was up at 3:40 A.M. due to the change to Pacific time. At least that was better than my last trip to San Diego a few years ago, when my then-baby woke at 3, ready to go! We were all up at 5 for breakfast, and by 7 A.M. we had gone down to see the ocean crashing against the cliffs. Blustery but beautiful.
That day was the day my husband got “off.” (We each had one). P (nanny) and I took the kids to the San Diego Zoo. We skipped the pandas — too big a line! — but we enjoyed the elephants, the Rio 4-D movie, the playground, and the moving walk way that took us up one of the hills. A highlight: the kids watched a short movie about dung beetles, and then spent a significant amount of time looking at a dung beetle display. If they had not seen the movie they would have walked right past it, given that we were right by the far more charismatic elephants. But hey, all creatures great and small, right?
We overspent in the gift shop, but each child had been told they could get one souvenir during the week, and the 8-year-old and 4-year-old elected to get theirs there. She bought a stuffed animal. He bought a 200-piece puzzle, which turned out to be a great buy. The kids did it 4 or 5 times while we were on the trip.
That evening we cooked fajitas on the grill, and took a quick trip to the naval base area to watch the sunset. Then I met blogger Wandering Scientist for a drink. We went to the same bar we went to 3.5 years ago. The beer was still good!
Wednesday was my day off. The others were out of the house at 7 to head toward Disneyland. I spent two hours getting on top of my inbox and then had a great day of running, reading, walking around town, eating fish tacos and drinking beer at lunch. They did not get home until 10 P.M.
Thursday we did Legoland. The park opened at 10 A.M., so it was a nice slow start. I really like and recommend Legoland for families with young kids. Sure, there are rides, but there are a lot of things to do that do not involve waiting in line, which is a huge plus from my perspective. The kids loved the playground, which was a huge castle-like structure with big rubbery Legos in it that you could play with. There is this walk-through exhibit where you find 6 keys amid various Lego scenes. There are all the Star Wars displays, and the U.S. cities. We loved looking at the miniature Central Park Zoo, where we used to take the kids all the time. Everyone got a good laugh at the cut-away of Grand Central, featuring a Lego figure going potty in the basement. Even lunch was better than the usual park fare; I managed to find these wonderful parmesan vegetable “fries” — asparagus, carrots, beans. I was thrilled to get any sort of vegetables. It was warm enough to go to the water park, and we spent about 90 minutes there. I pushed the 6-year-old and 4-year-old around the lazy river, and with the warm sun, blue sky, and happy kids, I would say that was a highlight of the trip right there. We went through the Sea Life Aquarium, and then my 6-year-old elected to get his souvenir for the trip at the Lego gift store. But not Legos! He bought two plastic swords, one for him, and one for a sibling to use. It is hard to have a sword battle on your own, after all.
We went from there to La Jolla for dinner. I was nervous about this, as the baby was hungry and tired, but I fed him in the car while the big kids and P and my husband went down to the beach to see the sea lions. We ate outside under heat lamps at a restaurant by the water. The kids were not perfect, but it was OK. I ate more fish tacos and drank a blood orange margarita. Everyone crashed after another long day.
Friday was a slow start too. Then we drove up to Escondido to hit the Zoo Safari Park. We had gone there 3.5 years ago too, but it was 100 degrees that day, which made the whole thing a bit difficult. This visit was a perfect 75 to 80 degrees. So it was a lovely walk in addition to some spectacular wildlife viewing. Highlights included the herd of rhinos, the lions walking around while we were waiting in line for the Africa tram, the 6 baby cheetahs, a whole family of gorillas, and seeing the tiger up close. We left relatively early (I tend to believe in quitting while we are ahead). The kids played for a bit, then we went back to the naval base to see the sunset again. Then my husband and I went to the Marine Room in La Jolla for a date night dinner. The food was OK, but the view was awesome — right there on the waves, with them splashing against the windows.
Saturday we packed up, went back to the naval base during the day while the light house park was open, saw the scenery, and then drove back to the airport. The flight was an hour delayed, and then it was a long time on the plane too, but we survived. We heard from some cousins flying to Disney World that day that their flight was 6 hours delayed. So it could have been a lot worse!
21 thoughts on “San Diego with the kids”
Legoland is so perfect for little kids. Your trip sounds really fun! And you REALLY lucked out (or were extremely smart) about your day off—missing 12+ hours at Disney sounds perfect.
Makes me want to go back to san diego; we did look into it for this summer, but couldn’t stomach the fact that everything was about twice as expensive as when we went off-season last spring.
@Ana- it was not luck! It was a total choice – I didn’t want to go given the long drive, and it was the one place my husband was really excited about going. I would have been a bit of a wet blanket there as I would have been pushing to leave by about 5 pm (they stayed until almost 9!)
We used miles to fly over there. So that kept the total cost down — as did renting a house (vs. 2 hotel rooms for the whole week, which also would have necessitated eating out for breakfast)
yeah, miles would help. we are renting a house for the trip we decided on this summer—cheaper than a hotel + getting to eat breakfast & some other meals at home. (and have kid-free space to hang out once they go to bed!)
I took my 7yo and my 14yo to Legoland last summer. Legoland has much to offer to anyone who grew up on Legos and especially to a kind of engineering/ design-minded teenager or adult. Also fun for anyone with encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars or well -traveled to the cities depicted in Legos at Legoland. We all loved it. So, I would change your sentence above to “I really like and recommend Legoland” –full stop!
@J – so glad to hear your big kids liked it! I thought the rides might be a bit snore-seeming to teenagers, but I agree that the models are awesome.
Glad you had such a nice time. I love how you and your husband managed to get alone time and a date night on your family vacation.
My sister moved to California about a year ago and I haven’t visited yet. These family attractions make a trip out there a little more enticing.
@Harmony – there really is a lot of stuff for kids – that’s why we’ve gone 2 times now! We’ve done northern California too. There’s a bit less, but we did like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
welcome back! it sounds like so much fun. As C has passed the 2 yo mark, I am getting more and more excited for family travel. That trip sounds fantastic – as well-balanced and fun as a trip with 4 kids could be! The ‘one day off’ idea is something new to me, but it does sound like a great idea. You (and the above commenters ) had me looking up Legoland FL. It’s a 3.5 hr drive . . . but so is Disney World and A&C are princess/Mickey obsessed, respectively. I’m sure we will make it there eventually though!
@SHU- I have not been to the one in Florida, but if it’s like CA it’s probably good for your-aged kids. Since you’re local and not in school yet you should go during a non-break time. Though I guess that goes for Disney too! I did not want to go to anything Disney related during spring break – we went 3 years ago in FL during spring break and it was like walking through the gates of hell. There were parts of the sidewalk where you literally could not move. I have fantasies of bringing the kids back on a Tuesday in January when there might be fewer people…
agree, would NEVER go during spring break! we will just pick a random weekend and go, even just leave early saturday AM and get home sunday night.
i think we will do Disney for C’s 3rd birthday – in Feb 2017 🙂 At his current age there is just still zero – and i mean ZERO – tolerance for waiting in any sort of line. Which kind of makes the whole theme park thing really really difficult. But if legoland has lots of cool open play spaces (and less lines) then maybe it would be a good option for a weekend this fall!
I don’t know about FL but we went to Legoland CA in mid-April, mid-week and there were NO lines for most things. Literally we could finish the ride and just get back on again. It was so perfect. I’m petrified of Disney but we are planning to go (Florida) next winter…on a random tuesday in January.
It sounds like you had a lovely trip! Coincidentally, we are bringing the kids to Legoland this week for the first time. We’ll be staying 1.5 hrs away at the grandparents. It’s a splurge for us, but I found out that since we’re members of the PTA, we can get a discount on tix. I love how you gave each other a day off – that’s very sweet!
@Kelly- have fun at Legoland! We pretty much opened the park up and shut it down.
I made the highlights reel! I’m honored. 🙂
Legoland is my favorite of our local attractions, I think. We have memberships at the zoo, so we go there more often, and don’t feel pressured to make the most of any single visit. We don’t live close enough to Legoland to make a membership a smart choice, so we go once every other year or so. My kids both still enjoy it, and I think my husband will always love it.
There are a lot of other places we like to go, too, though – the botanical gardens, the museums in Balboa Park, not to mention the beaches and things like that. If you’re looking for good aquarium exhibits, next time skip Sea World and hit the Birch Aquarium. It also has an excellent outdoor exhibit on energy and waves and the like.
We have only been to Disneyland twice: once for each kid’s 6th birthday. The first time we went at the end of spring break, and that actually worked better than the time we went on a weekend in October. I suspect that had to do with the fact that San Diego and Orange County (and LA) do not have the same spring break weeks!
@Cloud- it was a highlight! I was laughing in the zoo because some children were having all sorts of fun on the playground and their dad was yelling “We have playgrounds at home we didn’t have to pay $50 to see! We need to go see the animals!” It reminded me of the phenomenon of kids going to Disney and preferring to play in the hotel pool.
Sounds like a great trip!! We did a similar trip a few years ago and loved San Diego. Legoland was a big hit with my kids too. They still talk about it. My husband and I are going solo in a few weeks and really looking forward to it as well.
@Jamie- wow, a solo adult trip to Legoland! I hope you guys have fun!
We did Disneyland and Legoland the week *after* Thanksgiving in 2014 (arrived the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend) and it was wonderful – not crowded, not hot, and decorated for the holidays. We visited Disneyland again in the summer for my birthday last year and it was too hot and too crowded. So I’m hoping to make the post-Thanksgiving trip a family tradition, even though we don’t have free passes anymore since TJ no longer works at ESPN (sniffle).
@ARC- I just found out my husband’s company will be doing the retreat this fall in Orlando. So…back to Disney again! Here’s hoping October is better than March.
Thanks for reminding me of fun trips to Legoland 16 & 14 years ago! a quick fyi for those traveling with children under 6 or 8 years of age: They might feel cheated later. Our 2nd daughter “doesn’t remember”Legoland, Disneyland, etc and complained she didn’t get to “do”them. One of my all time favorite memories is captured in a photo of me with (toddler) her on the beach in SanDiego.
@Denise – this is somewhat how we have felt about Europe. While we did take the 3 kids to the Netherlands 2 years ago, I am pretty sure 2 of the 3 will not remember it. I think we will begin those sorts of trips in another 3-4 years when more of them will remember it and also be slightly better about things like museums (I hope).