With 70 miles of pristine beaches, world class attractions and temperate year-round weather, it’s no wonder that San Diego is one of the most popular destinations in the world for families. For travelers who prefer exclusive experiences and opportunities to dive a bit more into the local scene, these six unique things to do in San Diego with kids in tow will fit the bill. (Header Photo Credit: Hotel Del Coronado)
1. Visit the San Diego Zoo Before it Opens
Beat the crowds and get closer to the animals before the San Diego Zoo officially opens to the public. Early Morning with the Pandas provides exclusive access to the panda enclosure as they chow down on bamboo for breakfast. The keepers share interesting details regarding personality traits of each panda and answer questions that guests have about these lovely zoo residents. An unobstructed view of the pandas is rare during opening hours because they are popular, but participants in this special program can snap close-up photos over the course of about 45 minutes. Next, guests hop into carts with keepers for a drive around the park to learn about other resident animals, and more close-up encounters like giraffe feedings are possible depending on the day.
Sunrise Surprise Strolls debuted this year and are most appropriate for tweens, teens and adults. Topics vary by the day, hence the “surprise,” but these strolls cover the history of the Zoo, as well as insider information regarding research and the animals all discussed during a 90-minute walk through the Zoo’s scenic hills and valleys. Here, you also get a glimpse at this world-class botanical garden with over 700,000 plants – some being rare or endangered.
Both experiences are great ways to get oriented with the Zoo before exploring on your own.
2. Take a Sunset Ride in a Private Hot Air Balloon
Hot air balloons navigated by experienced pilots launch in seaside Del Mar near sunset providing riders with 360° spectacular views up the coast, over the Pacific, down to Mexico and over the inland valleys. This adventure run by Sky’s the Limit Balloon Rides is for kids ages 5 and older. On clear days, these views are simply spectacular!
3. Spend A Luxe Day At The Beach
Anyone, not just overnight guests of the Hotel Del Coronado, are able to enjoy day rentals at Del Beach in front of this San Diego icon. This is one of San Diego’s most family-friendly beaches with expansive flat white sand and (usually) gentle, rolling waves.
Open March – October and select dates in winter, the first come, first serve equipment rentals include sturdy umbrellas, towels, comfortable day beds and lounge chairs. Boogie boards can be rented a bit south of Del Beach near the hotel’s pool.
Also, a menu of adult beverages, snacks, sandwiches and salads can be delivered chairside. This notation is especially important because booze is otherwise banned on this beach and most others throughout the county. A margarita here is quite a treat.
4. Dramatic High Tide Dining in La Jolla
One of San Diego’s best restaurants, The Marine Room in La Jolla, hosts special breakfasts and dinners during seasonal high tides. Why? The waves will likely crash against the restaurant’s expansive windows while you eat as the building is literally in the sand of La Jolla Shores Beach.
It is a fine dining experience (no dress code, however) though families go both day and night for a delectable seafood-based menu with global influences. High Tide dining dates are posted on their website but a meal here at any time of the year is a good idea.
5. Go Paddle Boarding At Night
Head over to San Diego Bay Adventures at sunset, located just steps from the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina. After a quick paddle boarding demo, guests hop on the LED-lit boards and paddle out into the calm marina for an unusual one-hour look at sea life, and the city after dark. These boards cause the water to glow as you glide through it which draws various fish to the surface, and mesmerizing for kids of all ages.
LED-lit kayaks are also available. The tour wraps up with authentic Hawaiian music and folklore as well as non-alcoholic drinks.
6. Spend The Night In The Wild
Book a special overnight camping adventure called Roar and Snore Safari overlooking the African Plains exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. See and hear giraffes, rhinos, antelope, gazelles, and other denizens of Africa go about their daily business long after the park closes. Guests are treated to guided walks and campfire programming and, yes, you’ll hear the rumble of animals throughout the night while sleeping safely in your tent. Speaking of tents, opt for ones with beds if you don’t feel like roughing it, though they sell out quickly. Breakfast and dinner are included.
Be sure to book all of these experiences in advance to avoid disappointment. Enjoy San Diego!