Clayton’s Coffee Shop // © 2015 San Diego Tourism Authority
Feature image (above): Parents and kids can roast s’mores together on Coronado Beach. // © 2015 San Diego Tourism Authority
San Diego is the perfect choice for a Southern California family vacation. There are countless cool things for families to do, and the weather is almost guaranteed to cooperate at any time of year. And because of San Diego’s unique location between the Pacific Ocean, the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Laguna Mountains, visitors can easily experience coastal, mountain and desert activities in a single vacation.
By the Ocean
San Diego has 70 miles of beaches, so there are plenty of places for family fun by the water, but just across the bay from downtown is one of the best. The quaint island community of Coronado is known for its most famous structure, the iconic red-roofed Hotel del Coronado, as well as its stretches of sparkling sand beaches (courtesy of the mineral mica) and family-friendly activities.
There’s kayaking, biking and — perhaps one of the island’s best kept secrets — authentic Italian gondola rides with The Gondola Company. In town, there are dozens of shops and restaurants, including Clayton’s Coffee Shop, a fun throwback diner with a huge horseshoe counter and jukeboxes on the tables.
Hotel del Coronado has been a symbol of luxury and grandeur since 1888, but it’s also extremely family-friendly. With one of San Diego’s best beaches on its doorstep, complimentary s’mores at night and a skating rink on the beach during the holidays, there is always something interesting to do at the property. Plus, its Sunday brunch is the best in town.
The hotel has quite an interesting history, which includes royalty, celebrities and even a ghost or two. It’s also believed to be the inspiration for the Emerald City in L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” which he wrote in a little yellow house near the property. Baum also designed the chandeliers in the hotel’s Crown Room. Families can hear all of Hotel del Coronado’s best stories on a 90-minute walking tour of the property.
In the Mountains
An off-the-beaten-track San Diego gem is the mountain gold-rush town of Julian. A unique activity to do in Julian is to explore one of the original gold mines. A guided adventure with Eagle Mining Co. takes families deep into the mine tunnels to see what it was like for miners in the 1870s, and young prospectors can learn how to pan for gold. Since mining is such hard work, the perfect reward is a stop at Moms Pies for a slice of Julian’s famous apple pie, considered to be one of the best in California.
Out in Downtown
In downtown San Diego, families can visit one-of-a-kind interactive art installations at The New Children’s Museum or hop on a bus to Balboa Park. Often noted as one of the best parks in the world, Balboa Park is home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, which is celebrating its centennial this year. It also boasts 15 major museums, including San Diego Hall of Champions, the largest multisport museum in the U.S., and San Diego Air & Space Museum, where visitors can see the Apollo IX Command Module, one of only two Apollo Command Modules flown in space on display west of the Rocky Mountains.
Families can stop for a bite at Hodad’s, a San Diego burger institution since 1969. While the original location is still in Ocean Beach, visitors can now taste “The Greatest Burgers in the World” right in the heart of the city. Hodad’s serves up a mean bacon cheeseburger, but the restaurant also makes a great veggie burger.
On the west edge of downtown is the Embarcadero district, where families can board one of the many cruises around San Diego Bay or explore one of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers, the USS Midway.
There’s plenty of outdoor fun to be had in San Diego thanks to its nearly year-round temperate climate. Whether parents and kids are looking for activities beachside, in the mountains or in the heart of the city, San Diego’s blue skies beckon.
WHEN TO GO
With an average of 266 sunny days per year in San Diego, the odds are certainly in favor of good weather any time of year.
San Diego International Airport is located just 10 minutes from downtown San Diego and is serviced by 22 passenger airlines. For travelers visiting from other parts of California, the Santa Fe Depot located downtown is the main hub for Amtrak train service, including the Pacific Surfliner train.