What to do with young-ish kids in San Diego in late March?
March 17, 2019 11:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm taking my girls, ages 6 & 9, to San Diego for five days (including travel) at the end of March. I haven't been there since I was 6 myself. Trying to plan an itinerary.

We're staying in Mission Valley and will have a car. We're already planning on going to LegoLand and either Sea World or the Zoo/Safari Park, so that's pretty much two full days right there. What else should we do?

They're pretty active, but they also like artistic and educational stuff, so I was thinking about a sail on the San Salvador...although 4 hours seems like a long time? Tijuana is out, sadly (passports expired).

Where's best place to take kids to the beach? Are the tide pools worth checking out? Good places to eat, or neighborhoods to explore? Which is better at that age, Sea World or the Zoo/Safari Park?
posted by gottabefunky to Travel & Transportation around San Diego, CA (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I was just at the Cabrillo tide pools and honestly they were not teeming with life. The views were beautiful, though.
posted by kerf at 12:20 PM on March 17, 2019

I personally prefer the Zoo/Safari Park over Sea World, but that's because I have Definite Feelings about Sea World. The San Diego Zoo is arguably one of the best zoos in the world and is a leader in the conservation movement.

I can't speak to tide pools, but we were in San Diego a couple years ago and went to Coronado Beach and just loved it. We had other things on our agenda and didn't get out to Cabrillo or Sunset Cliffs and I really wish we had.
posted by cooker girl at 12:41 PM on March 17, 2019

The beach in March isn't going to be a typical beach visit - the water will still be too cold to really do anything other than look at it. But walking along the coast around La Jolla is really pretty. Mission Bay is kind of a big park with a number of playgrounds scattered around, and is also close to Mission Beach, where there's a sort of mini-amusement park (old wooden coaster, a number of carnival-type rides, a midway), and the actual beach at Mission Beach is one of the more beach-y beaches in the area. The neighborhood between the bay and the beach has a number of restaurants and other places to get food at, but nothing terribly exciting that I know of. cooker girl's suggestion of Coronado is good too - the main drag through town has a lot of stuff near the ocean side of town and Coronado's just generally a nice walkable area, plus you can stop by the Hotel Del.

I'd pick the zoo over any other option, with the Safari Park second. Sea World might be fine for kids, but as an adult I've found it to be super commercial and depressing. I probably have the Definite Feelings cooker girl mentions. The zoo packs a lot of stuff into a fairly small area, has a bus tour that will take you through most of it (but you can also walk), and you can usually get fairly close to the animals to be able to see them. The Children's Zoo area is also a lot of fun. The Safari Park is a bit of the opposite of a normal zoo - the visitors are mostly constrained to smaller areas while the animals have a huge reserve to run around in, and the only way to really see them is to take the bus tour (which should be included in the admission cost). There are some smaller exhibits that are more like a standard zoo, but all the African and Asian herbivore species are out in the reserve.

The zoo is also in the middle of Balboa Park, which has a lot of other museums, a few oriented more towards children, and other cultural attractions.
posted by LionIndex at 12:54 PM on March 17, 2019

Whale-watching tours run around 3 hours; sometimes dolphins are spotted, too. The SD Zoo (not the safari park, which is amazing but a schlep to Escondido) is in Balboa Park, which has attractions of its own. Decent kids' outings round-up, by category, with ticket advice; see the entry on Old Town for a mix of the historical, educational, and artistic that can be built around a meal on one day.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:55 PM on March 17, 2019

Oh, and if you go to to the Zoo (no-one cares for Sea World, ha HA/N. Muntz), Albert's Restaurant is a great sit-down place overlooking a waterfall or gardens; see if the menu holds appeal for your kids. Plan to take the double-decker bus guided tour, and sit (wearing hats and sunblock) on the upper-level passenger side for the best view. The zoo is big; have your girls choose a couple of not-to-be-missed animals and plan your walking around those exhibits. (Bear in mind that the big cats sleep a TON -- if they're on the list, aim for dusk / scheduled feeding times).
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:09 PM on March 17, 2019

San Diego Zoo over Sea World, which people should be discouraged from visiting. Jesus Christ, the poor Orcas.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:29 PM on March 17, 2019

Yes, and a month ago park visitors were having a rough time: SeaWorld San Diego guests stranded on stalled gondola ride for hours [NBC]
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:23 PM on March 17, 2019

Nowadays there is enough stuff in Balboa Park to keep you and your kinds entertained for weeks. Museums, concerts, exhibits, theater, all inside funky architecture and an actual huge park. When I was in the Navy, once a year or so my ship had to travel from Everett, Washington to San Diego's Navy base to have our flight deck resurfaced. I had a bicycle hidden in the bottom of the signal flag locker, and I would ride my bike to Balboa park every time I got liberty. So much to do, I never even branched out to the rest of San Diego. In those days you could put you bike on the last train car for public transport, which I don't know if it is still a thing, but was a helpful assist if I was tired. They had Shakespeare plays there one year, and I saw the spittingest Hamlet I have ever viewed. By which I mean the actor playing Hamlet spit a lot. Anyway, Balboa Park is fun.
posted by seasparrow at 3:46 PM on March 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you want a bit of marine life then Birch Aquarium is nice and manageable for all ages. There are tide pool exhibits with feedings, and also lots of cool seahorses and pipefish. You can look out and see the whole coast of La Jolla too.
posted by expialidocious at 4:08 PM on March 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

You could go and live in Balboa Park for a week and not run out of things to do. The Ruben H. AFleet space museum is excellent. Museums galore, of all types, playgrounds, THE ZOO, carousel, etc., etc., etc.
Plus Sea World, and the safari park.
Check out the waterfront by visiting the Star of India and other ships. The Midway Aircraft carrier is excellent. Though it might be a bit much for the 6-year old.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:20 PM on March 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

LEGOLAND is good for two days if you spend one day on the water park bit and the other on the rest. Costco sells cheap 2 day tickets.

The zoo is OK but it has an exhausting layout and only has the same stuff as every other zoo.
posted by w0mbat at 8:20 PM on March 17, 2019

Maritime Museum! There’s a clipper ship, and a submarine, and many more! You can go all thruough them. It’s very cool.
The children’s museum downtown is also super neat.
posted by exceptinsects at 10:49 PM on March 17, 2019

I'm also Team Safari Park (because I personally am not a fan of zoos and if we're going to hold the animals captive at least they have a bit of room to move around at the Safari Park) and also it's a great time of year to go whale watching.

Your kids are the perfect age for LL, they will have a great time, it's way more fun than DL; much shorter lines, and the overall venue is more parklike and nicer for strolling throughout during the day.
posted by vignettist at 9:20 AM on March 18, 2019

Also, the Temecula region is boasting on their native wildflowers right now, that might be something you'd care to see. Or maybe head out to Julian.
posted by vignettist at 9:22 AM on March 18, 2019

As others have said, 100% Zoo rather than Sea World. Sea World is focusing on roller coasters these days -- they just shut down a major aquarium -- even aside from their other issues. The Zoo is excellent, and the rest of Balboa Park is also beautiful, dotted with museums (and the famous carousel). The museums are small, generally good for a few hours or a half day. The Fleet science museum ought to be my favorite (I love science museums) but the Exploratorium in SF spoiled me for everything else. It's not bad or anything, but not an absolute must-see if your time is limited. If you'd rather spend time outdoors, no arguments here.

I love Julian, with the mountains and the old-timey stuff there; YMMV depending on the interests of your kids. It can be fun to take the ferry to Coronado, and there's an amazing beach with fine white sand that impressed me greatly as a Wisconsin transplant; there aren't a lot of activities on Coronado, but it's very pleasant to walk, and the Hotel Del Coronado can't help but be impressive. Seeing the seals at Children's Pool in La Jolla is also neat, and there are a lot of little shops and stuff around there.
posted by kite at 10:10 AM on March 18, 2019

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