Southern California Vacation w/Kids Ideas
February 7, 2013 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a good spot in Southern California for an August vacation with kids. Specific criteria inside.

My family will need to be near San Diego in late August for a wedding. We would like to build a 1-week vacation around it. We have two kids, 3 and 6. We can basically go anywhere from north of LA down to SD. We don't really know Southern California, so we don't have much insight into picking a spot in that large zone. We will have a car.

Here is what we are looking for:

1. Comfortable hotel or condo rental preferably on the beach or walking distance to the beach. We have a good budget for this.
2. We would prefer a walk-able area/town/neighborhood. E.g., we don't want to get in the car to get dinner or coffee.
3. We want a good "base" for fun excursions like going on hikes, visiting sights, etc. That is, longer "day-trip" drives are great.
4. Fun stuff for the kids is a plus, but we aren't that into theme parks and stuff like that. The SD Zoo and possibly Sea World hold some interest, but not Disney.
5. My wife is a total whale nut, so working that in would be good.
6. Contrary to most points above, if there is a good resort that you recommend that would mainly be a "lay around the pool" type of place but still near fun day-trip stuff, we would think about that too.

All ideas appreciated - especially specific hotels, towns, spots, etc. Thanks
posted by Mid to Travel & Transportation around San Diego, CA (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We rented a condo in Del Mar that was a short walk from the beach. I don't remember the specific condo but if you google "Del Mar vacation rentals" you'll probably find plenty. There was a pool and hot tub as well.

You can't miss the Zoo. I've always been sort of "meh" about Zoos but the SD one is amazing and beautiful and huge and interesting and any number of great things. Worth it just for the gorillas alone.

Also, you're about 30 minutes away from Legoland, which is indeed a theme park, but Lego. The rides are sort of lame but just walking around the giant Lego models is really neat. The three year old might not get it but your six year old will have his mind blown, as will you.
posted by bondcliff at 12:51 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You didn't say what your budget was but San Diego can be pretty darn entertaining. There is the SD Zoo and the Wild Animal Park. I can tell you the Zoo is excellent. It's a conservation Zoo and the animals are in really neat enclosures. When you see the elephants, you'll see all the enrichment the animals are provided. You can easily spend a day.

The beaches are inland lakes, or bays and are fun just to splash around in.

Normally I'd recommend taking a day trip to Tijuana, but with two very little kids, I'm hesitant. I've heard it's safe in the day time now. Here's a guided tour, which may be fun. I really like border towns!

The Del Mar has always been the best resort, but there are plenty of cool hotels and condo choices.

Scripps Aquarium in LaJolla is pretty great, and small enough to get through easily with two kids.

Here's an event calendar.

Things happening in August:

Vintage Car Show

Hillcrest Street Fair

Explor-o-Rama, they'll have exhibits from the Exploratorium in San Francisco (I was there in its opening weekeind in 1972!)

This also offers links to different tours and Whale Watching.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:03 PM on February 7, 2013

Look for a rental in Carlsbad. There are a lot of rentals on, including many on/near the beach. As mentioned above, Legoland is there - if you go, get the ticket that gets you in to all three parks; the water park is lots of fun.
posted by mogget at 1:20 PM on February 7, 2013

Agreed with Carlsbad - there's a bunch of condos, bungalows, and houses literally across the street from the beach, many of them right near Carlsbad Village where you can walk to restaurants and shopping. I work in Carlsbad and go pop by the beach along there all the time. It's more of a stroller town than a party town. As long as you avoid the 5 during actual rush hour, traffic south to downtown/Mission Bay/etc is not all that bad during the day.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:25 PM on February 7, 2013

The Del Mar has always been the best resort

Surely you mean the Hotel Del Coronado (sometimes referred to as just the Del)? Del Mar is a separate city 15 miles north of San Diego, but still south of Carlsbad - there are plenty of resorts up there too, but none with quite the reputation of the Del. It works as an all-inclusive type resort right on the beach, but is also pretty much across the street from a whole bunch of shops and restaurants if the offerings inside the hotel aren't your bag. It's just across the bay from downtown so other parts of San Diego aren't too hard to get to from it.

The beaches are inland lakes, or bays and are fun just to splash around in.

Inland lakes are, with few exceptions, reservoirs and do not allow swimming. There are a couple waterfalls around with punchbowls at their bottoms, but the streams may be dried up by August. San Diego Bay isn't really so great for swimming in, and there aren't many ways to do so anyway. Mission Bay is more of the all-purpose water park, and there are a number of resorts sprinkled around its edges. There are also just plain old beaches on the ocean.

3. We want a good "base" for fun excursions like going on hikes, visiting sights, etc. That is, longer "day-trip" drives are great.

I wouldn't plan on doing too much hiking around then, especially in inland areas. Torrey Pines State Park (just south of Del Mar) might be workable, but it'll generally be too hot in August to want to do much in the mountains or foothills besides sight-seeing by car. August temps are typically high-70s /low 80s near the coast, but you'll pick up 10-15 degrees as you go inland, and then maybe lose 5 as you head into the mountains. Walking around the zoo won't be a problem, since there's plenty of shade and canyons.
posted by LionIndex at 1:45 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it fits your budget, Hotel Del Coronado is lovely. It has a seriously excellent beach, and is a gorgeous historical property. Even if you don't end up staying there, it's worth a visit!

Also worth a visit if it's not too hot: the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park (now called the Safari Park apparently) in Escondido. It's about 40 minutes from San Diego. You can see the animals safari-style on a tram tour.
posted by yasaman at 2:55 PM on February 7, 2013

Ex-Solana Beach resident here.

Hotel Del Coronado is a famous hotel, and the island it sits on (Coronado Island) would be a great place if you can locate a rental there.

Another option would be to stay in La Jolla, near the 'Village'. I've stayed before at the La Jolla Shores hotel, which sits right on the beach, and you can rent canoes or just lie on the beach. There are some other hotels in the area, such as The La Jolla Village might be a bit of a hike (as the terrain is hilly and the Village sits above the cove), but the Village is close and has a lot of interesting shops and places to hang out. There are others in the vicinity, such as Hotel La Jolla.

Coronado Island is very small, not much development, mainly the Hotel and surrounding campus which makes a nice visit or brunch. La Jolla has a nice ambience, great shopping selection, a neat cove with seals and distance ocean swimmers and a pleasant grassy park overlooking the ocean.

Other choices would be to stay in Del Mar, it's a great kind of sleepy place, with a neat 'main street' on El Camino. Villa La Auberge sits next to a luxurious spa next door, and may be a great option if your budget could afford it.

One other option that I've also stayed is the Sheraton Carlsbad Hotel, popular for golfers with kids as it sits right behind LegoLand. It's not that close to the ocean (although the ocean is less than 2 miles away), and the beaches of Carlsbad while serviceable aren't as nice as in Del Mar or La Jolla. (Just sayin'...)

When we lived there our 3-year old loved going to the Wild Animal Park in Escondido. It is toward the east, and while a little drive (about say 25 minutes from Del Mar or perhaps a little further from La Jolla or Carlsbad) seeing animals in a natural environment is great.

The SD Zoo has already been mentioned, next to Balboa Park (not far from the San Diego airport); both make a great visit, there's a nice model train exhibit and some interesting other museums for kids.

A few years ago a new Children's Museum opened, being down toward the Gaslamp district could be combined with a visit there, or perhaps the USS Midway.

Sea World may well be a must-see, perhaps for more than one day. Lots of great shows.

Here's a nice rundown. Have fun!
posted by scooterdog at 4:01 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. I'd definitely recommend Carlsbad, especially since you're 'near' San Diego. It's a charming, suburban, family-oriented city with lots of beachfront rentals. You'd want to stay by Tamarack/South Carlsbad State Beach--there's a huge run of beachfront rentals right there. Be warned Carlsbad is about 30-45 minutes from the San Diego airport and downtown area.

2. This right here is where I can tell you're not familiar with SoCal. Of your limited options, I'd still say Carlsbad (there's Dini's for food/coffee and the rest of downtown Carlsbad is more or less walkable from the beachfront. Mostly less with kids). Encinitas has some walkable areas but not as many rentals near it. The Del is always lovely but it's a Coronado Bay Bridge drive away from most things.

3. San Diego County is huge (4,500 sq miles!) so it's easy to recommend day drives within it: Mt Palomar, Julian, Borrego Springs. Late August, as LionIndex points out, is one of San Diego's hottest months. I wouldn't really recommend Borrego Springs at high noon in August. Julian and Mt Palomar, being in the mountains, should be more temperate. You could also venture further afield and go to San Juan Capistrano or Catalina Island.

4. There's truly an incredible number of things to do in San Diego (the Zoo and the rest of Balboa Park and/or the Wild Animal "Safari" Park, Legoland, Sea World, Torrey Pines, Swami's tide pools, the Gaslamp, the tall ships from the Maritime Museum, Old Town, Mission San Luis Rey or Mission San Diego de Alcala, and so forth). It's a tourist town, though as a native I'd say it's got a lot of heart in it for all that.

5. Your wife has lots of options for whale watching (though peak season is Nov-April, there's a smaller rush in summer as well). My pick for a tour would be the Maritime Museum, where a good friend worked for some time. La Jolla Children's Pool is also a great way to see lots of seals and sea lions fairly up close.
posted by librarylis at 8:16 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

growing up my parents took us to the hotel del coronado for a week in the summers. it's affectionately known by locals as The Del. amazing historic hotel with it's own private beach. if you do decide to go there stay in the old building as it's just beautiful and the dining room is amazing. it might be a bit more out-of-the-way because it is on coronado but it is well worth it. there are restaurants in town too that are reasonable and good. it's an experience none of you will forget.
posted by wildflower at 1:06 AM on February 8, 2013

« Older How to age gracefully, or how do the elderly...   |   Sonographers, do you enjoy your job? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.