Hot Summer Spots

What's new for San Diego-bound families

By: Bryce Longton

San Diego has plenty lined up for the spring and summer seasons and a variety of hot spots for clients especially those with children in tow. Here’s an insider’s guide to what’s new and what’s off the beaten path in the destination’s four famed parks.


First stop, Legoland. Set in picturesque Carlsbad, Legoland is rolling out their largest expansion yet in time for summer, adding four wet-and-wild attractions under the umbrella name, Pirate Shores. (Tell clients to wear something they can wring out because these rides are interactive.) The must-do in Pirate Shores is Splash Battle, a high-seas adventure through exploding volcanoes, roving pirates and plenty of working water cannons, manned by the passengers and spectators.

Parents with a young or timid child, can instead opt to hang out in the Swabbies Deck, essentially the updated version of a broken fire hydrant, with pop-up water jets and squirt cannons.

Also just added to the list of replicated landmark attractions in Miniland is the monumental Freedom Tower, a 25-foot, eye-catching scale model of the real skyscraper already in existence are the Hollywood Bowl, the New England harbor and a Mardi Gras parade.

San Diego Zoo

Even for clients without kids in tow, not seeing the world-famous San Diego Zoo is akin to not driving over the Golden Gate Bridge while in San Francisco. The giant panda clan is a must-see baby Su Lin, who is not yet a year old, Mei Shing, who is nearly three, and parents Bai Yun and Gao Gao. Also, advise clients to stop by the Monkey Trails and Forest Tales, the most elaborate animal habitat in the zoo’s history. This multi-leveled, three-acre trek winds past Africa’s colorful monkeys, Asia’s elusive leopard and the rare pygmy hippo.

If clients are in town June to September, have them stave off the heat and take advantage of the zoo’s nighttime hours, when guests can walk the park until 9 p.m. Tech-savvy travelers can also download a few podcasts from the zoo’s Web site.

Wild Animal Park

Slap on some sunscreen and head east to Escondido to tour the expansive Wild Animal Park and take the Balloon Safari the park’s new tethered helium balloon ride. Just like hot-air balloon tours in the Serengeti, this tour gives clients a bird’s-eye view of the lions, rhinos and gazelles.

Also recommended is the Photo Caravan tour highlights include feeding wild animals, like giraffes and rhinos, and plenty of photo ops as the tour will stop any time guests have the urge to snap a picture.

Those who have dreamed of running 70 mph can take a peek at the Cheetah Run Safari that debuted last year. This rather exclusive tour is only available on weekends and books up quickly.

To make a Wild Animal Park trip more memorable, reserve a tent at the Roar & Snore Camp-Over (May 13-Oct. 28). Families camp out above the East Africa exhibit and sleep out under the stars. In addition, clients can come late and take a nighttime tour aboard the Wgasa Bush Line Railway (open until 10 p.m.).

Sea World

Probably the wettest of the four parks in San Diego is Sea World. The Shamu show has undergone another transformation and will be opening “Believe” this spring. The new two-story stage and the four giant moving LCD screens allow for stunning visuals of the killer whales, both above and below the water’s surface. Clients can also make a reservation with Shamu and dine alongside the killer whale habitat, normally a restricted area.

Also returning for another summer is the popular Cirque de la Mer with athletics, acrobats and fireworks.

Garden Tour

If you have clients in town May 20, you can book tickets for the eighth annual Secret Garden Tour of private gardens in La Jolla. Guests get to walk through a range of gardens including Mediterranean, minimalist, Hawaiian and English styles.

Cali’s Tourism Boost

The California travel industry is benefiting from a rebounding economy as figures for 2005 reflect an upswing in direct travel spending. Total spending in California from visitors was $88.1 billion in 2005, an increase of 7.6 percent from 2004, and the third consecutive year of positive growth, as well as the largest gain since 2000.

During 2005, travel spending directly supported 911,800 jobs (up 5.4 percent from final 2004 figures) with earnings of $28 billion and was responsible for generating the greatest number of jobs in arts, entertainment and recreation (229,100 jobs), food service (263,300) and accommodations (202,900).

The full report, California Travel Impacts by County, Preliminary Estimates, is online at