Thrilling Family Adventures: Unforgettable San Diego Spring Break
Hello fellow travelers! If you’re looking for a fun-filled family vacation spot, San Diego is a top choice. I recently spent 5 days in this sunny city with my family and we had a blast! The weather was a bit crazy, but we made the most of it and left the city wishing we had more time to explore.
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We chose San Diego for spring break to wrap up our Blossom and Root, Wonders of the World Beyond: Oceanography unit. San Diego offers a diverse range of marine ecosystems to explore and our itinerary focused on keeping us near the water as much as possible. The city is home to a variety of marine life, from dolphins and sea lions to sea turtles and whales, making it an excellent place to learn about marine biology and conservation efforts. Visitors can explore the local marine ecosystems in many ways, such as visiting the world-renowned San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, where they can see exotic sea creatures from all over the world. Additionally, the city is home to SeaWorld San Diego, where visitors can learn about marine life and conservation efforts while enjoying exciting rides and entertaining shows. For those looking for a more hands-on experience, they can explore tide pools at La Jolla Cove, where they can learn about the unique creatures that inhabit these intertidal zones. We only scratched the surface of available activities, but hopefully, this overview can help you organize your visit.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Springhill Suites Downtown and it was the perfect home base for all our San Diego adventures. We find the Springhill Suites work great for our family as they always include a pull-out couch and plenty of space in the room. (Although for this trip we were only four and could have fit into a room without an extra bed.) The hotel is within walking distance of popular attractions and dining options. The rooftop pool was perfect for the kids to enjoy after a long day walking around. They also had a great breakfast selection each morning. There were several other comparable options in the area.
We did rent a car for this visit and had to pay to park it at the hotel. We didn’t put a ton of miles on the car, but it was nice to be able to get around to all the different places, though I think you could easily use public transportation and Uber to get around.
Day 1: Arrival, Pool & Food Hall
Unfortunately, our flight on Frontier Airlines was delayed, but we finally made it to San Diego and took a quick Uber ride to our hotel. The ride was super easy, but we did have to walk out to the Uber pickup area. The airport pickup area is under construction, so be prepared to be confused. The ride to downtown is quick and scenic.
After we checked in to the hotel, we were excited to take advantage of the rooftop pool at our hotel, which had amazing views of the wharf, including an aircraft carrier and most of North Island! We soaked up the sun and enjoyed some refreshing drinks while taking in the stunning views.
Later, we walked to Little Italy, a charming neighborhood in San Diego, where we checked out the Little Italy Food Hall. This place is a must-visit for foodies, with a variety of vendors offering everything from tacos and pizza to craft beer and cocktails. We tried a little bit of everything and were not disappointed. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was lively and fun. Monday nights they have trivia going on, while we didn’t participate it was fun to be in the middle of the action.
On our walk back we popped into the Waterfront Park and Playground. The playground is temporarily closed for renovations, but the park is a great place to let the kids run around. We crossed the street again to pick up the path that runs adjacent to the wharf. You can see boats and ships of all sizes cruising by, and there are often street performers and musicians entertaining passersby.
Day 2: Whale watching, Tacos, Balboa Park, Swimming & Little Italy
After a hotel breakfast, we headed out to Mission Bay to board a morning whale watch with Legacy Whale Watch. You will need to make reservations for the whale watch ahead of time, as they do book up. Whale watching in San Diego is a popular activity that offers a unique opportunity to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. The best time for whale watching in San Diego is typically from December through April, as this is when gray whales are migrating along the coast. During this time, you might also see humpback whales, fin whales, and even blue whales if you’re lucky. We were able to see dolphins, sea lions, fn whales, and humpback whales on our voyage.
If you are prone to seasickness you should think twice about going whale watching or take preventative measures. We went out on a very calm day and many passengers on the boat got sick. Luckily, we don’t tend to get motion sick on boats.
The whale-watching tour takes up a good chunk of the day but is a great way to get out on the ocean and experience some marine life. We grabbed lunch tacos at this amazing Mexican taco stand recommended by a friend of my mom’s – Sara’s. There is limited seating on the street and its takeout only but it was delicious and relatively fast and cheap.
There are many other things to do on Mission Bay. One of the most popular things to do on Mission Bay is to enjoy its beautiful beaches. With miles of sandy shoreline, Mission Bay is a great place to swim, sunbathe, play beach volleyball, or simply relax and take in the scenery. They even have a dog beach.
In addition to the beaches, there are also plenty of water activities to enjoy on Mission Bay. You can rent a paddleboard or kayak and explore the calm waters of the bay, or take a guided tour on a stand-up paddleboard. You can also rent a sailboat or motorboat and cruise around the bay at your own pace.
If you prefer to stay on land, Mission Bay has several parks and green spaces where you can hike, bike, or have a picnic. If you love old-school amusement parks Belmont Park is a great option.
Next, we headed to Balboa Park, a sprawling urban park located in the heart of San Diego. With over 1,200 acres of green space, gardens, and walking trails, Balboa Park is a must-see for any visitor to San Diego. What’s even better is that parking is free! We decided to skip the museums and instead just walked around and enjoyed the park’s lush greenery and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. It was the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon, and the playgrounds were a hit with the kids. We also learned that Balboa Park is home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo and several other popular attractions.
Balboa Park has multiple playgrounds with equipment for various ages, so it’s perfect for families with kids of different ages. The playgrounds are well-maintained and clean, with plenty of shaded areas for parents to relax while their little ones play.
One book I highly recommend for kids to read before visiting Balboa Park is “The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever” by H. Joseph Hopkins.
The kids were dying to head back to the pool, so that is exactly what we did. After a swim in the pool, the whole family voted for Italian food. There are so many options in Little Italy so we just headed down in that direction till we found an open place that looked good. We ended up at Petrini’s San Diego.
Petrini’s San Diego is a classic Italian restaurant that has been around since 1954. The restaurant has a cozy and inviting atmosphere, and the food is delicious. They serve traditional Italian dishes, such as pasta and pizza, as well as salads and sandwiches. They were very kid friendly!
Day 3: Kayaking, Back to Balboa Park & A Brewery
As we kicked off our day three in San Diego, we decided to head over to La Jolla for some adventure on the water. We started with a quick stop at the Brick & Bell Cafe for coffee and some sweet treats.
Next up, the Big Little, the Middle Little, and I went sea kayaking with La Jolla Sea Cave Kayak. We paddled through the crystal clear water, taking in the stunning views of the California coastline and the impressive sea caves. The tide was high enough that we were able to go into one of the caves. We also were able to see lots of fish below us and sea lions playing in the water around us. A storm started to blow in and we had quite the paddle back to shore. Despite the sudden rain, the experience was unforgettable.
After kayaking in the rain, we were grateful for the La Jolla Sea Cave Kayak’s spacious changing room, where we could change into dry clothes. I had forgotten to bring a towel, but fortunately, they had some available for purchase. It ended up being a practical and memorable souvenir of our adventure.
Meanwhile, my parents took the Little Little to the Birch Aquarium at Scripts, which required timed tickets for entry. The aquarium features more than 5,000 fish and other sea creatures, interactive exhibits, and daily animal encounters. Kids can learn about marine life in the Tide Pool Plaza and explore the wonders of the deep blue sea in the Hall of Fishes. Make sure to book timed tickets in advance for a stress-free visit.
After a wet and wild sea kayaking adventure, we were definitely ready for a warm and cozy break. Luckily, the kayak place gave us a coupon for a nearby pizza and brewery joint, Dough Mama Pizza. We took full advantage of the deal and enjoyed a slice (or two) and some local brews while we dried off and warmed up.
The rain was really starting to pour down, so we decided to head back to Balboa Park to take refuge in the museums. First, we visited the interactive exhibits at the Fleet Science Museum, where we all had a great time learning about space exploration and technology.
Next, we explored the Natural History Museum’s fascinating exhibits on the history of California and the region’s natural ecosystems. Don’t miss the frogs and snakes on the main floor! Both museums are part of the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) reciprocal program, which allowed us to get in for free with our membership from a science museum in our home city. The museums are not very large and we spent about an hour in each. There are many more museums in the park, so you are sure to find something your family will enjoy.
After spending several hours at the museums, we were ready for a good meal. We decided to try out Bolt Brewery, which was conveniently located nearby. We found Bolt Brewery to be a great spot for dinner, offering a variety of tasty food options and delicious brews. What’s more, it’s a family-friendly spot where the kids were welcomed.
Day 4: The San Diego Zoo & Pizza
We spent Day 4 at the San Diego Zoo, which is a must-visit destination for families. The zoo is located in Balboa Park. The zoo is massive, so I highly recommend taking the bus orientation tour in the morning to get an overview of the entire zoo. The shuttle is also helpful for getting around, as there’s a lot of walking involved. Be prepared for changing weather conditions as there isn’t much cover, so bring rain gear or sun protection accordingly. At one point we had to take refuge under a waterfall to avoid the rain.
We enjoyed seeing the polar bears and the wide range of animals on display. The zoo is well-maintained and has many exhibits that allow you to see the animals up close. Don’t miss the sky ride which takes you up over the zoo for stunning views. (It’s included in your admission.) We also nearly missed the great play area and animals in Discovery Outpost.
We spent the whole day at the zoo, and I suggest that you do the same if you can. While there are food options available, they can be pricey, so consider packing a lunch to save some money. The zoo is also reciprocal with other zoos and aquariums, so be sure to check if your local zoo participates in the program to save on admission costs.
If you’re planning a visit to the San Diego Zoo, I highly recommend setting aside a full day for your visit. And if you have any energy left after your day at the zoo, just outside the gates is a small train and carousel as part of Balboa Park that you may want to check out.
For dinner, we went to Isola Pizza Bar in Little Italy. The pizzas were incredible and cooked to perfection in their wood-fired oven. The menu had a good variety of toppings and sizes, so everyone could find something they liked. We also enjoyed some delicious appetizers, including their famous meatballs and garlic bread. The restaurant had a nice atmosphere, and the service was friendly and attentive.
Day 5: Cabrillo National Monument & Coranado Beach
On our last full day in San Diego, we decided to explore the Cabrillo National Monument. We started our visit by watching two great movies at the visitor’s center which helped us learn about the history of the area. The lighthouse was also worth a visit and had great views of the ocean.
There were several hiking trails available at the monument, and we decided to try the Bayside Trail which offered stunning views of the San Diego Bay. It was a bit steep in places but manageable for our family. We also saw some interesting wildlife along the trail, including several types of birds and lizards.
However, the highlight of our visit was tide pooling. It’s important to note that you can only tidepool at low tide, so plan your visit accordingly. (Using a tide chart is easy!) The volunteers on the beach were very helpful and pointed out all kinds of interesting creatures to the kids. It was important to stay away from the cliffs, though, as there were signs warning about falling rocks. We also made sure to wear appropriate footwear for walking on the rocky beach.
For families with young kids, the Jr. Ranger program is a great way to engage them with the park and its wildlife. The program provides a booklet of activities that kids can complete throughout their visit, and they can earn a badge at the end of the day. Our kids loved doing the activities and proudly wore their badges for the rest of the day.
Liberty Public Market is a great spot for food and shopping. The market is located in a former naval training center and is a historic landmark. It features a wide variety of local vendors selling everything from fresh seafood to handmade chocolates. We decided to grab lunch at the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, which had great food and even better beer. After lunch, we walked around the market and found some mini donuts from The Mini Donut Company, which were a perfect sweet treat. It was a great place to spend a few hours exploring and trying different foods.
After lunch, we decided to head over to Coronado, a beautiful island just across the bay from downtown San Diego. Coronado is known for its stunning beaches and the historic Hotel del Coronado, a grand Victorian hotel built in 1888. The hotel has hosted many famous guests throughout the years, including presidents, movie stars, and even royalty. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
When we arrived, the kids were eager to hit the beach, so we spent some time soaking up the sun and enjoying the gentle waves. The kids had a blast building sandcastles and searching for seashells. The weather was perfect, with just the right amount of sunshine and cool ocean breeze.
While parking in Coronado can be a challenge during peak season, we were able to find free street parking just a few blocks from the beach. It may take a bit of driving around to find a spot, but it’s definitely worth it to save on parking fees. Plus, walking through the charming streets of Coronado is a great way to see some beautiful architecture and unique shops.
Day 6: Harbor Walk, USO & Flight Home
On our final half day in San Diego, we started with a leisurely walk down the path near the harbor, which offered stunning views of the waterfront and the city skyline. Along the way, we saw the USS Midway Museum, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that has been converted into a fascinating museum showcasing the history of naval aviation. We also stopped at the statue of the iconic Navy sailor, the Bob Hope memorial, and the Maritime Museum of San Diego, which houses a collection of historic ships and exhibits on the region’s maritime history.
As we made our way down the harbor, we couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, which was docked at the naval base. The harbor is also home to many restaurants, cafes, and shops, making it a perfect place to grab a bite to eat or shop for souvenirs.
However, despite our lovely morning walk, I made a major travel mistake by arriving at the airport with way too much time to spare. Rather than visiting the USS Midway Museum or other nearby attractions, I had us go to the airport way too early, leaving us with several hours to kill. Luckily, we stumbled upon the USO lounge, which provided a comfortable place for us to relax and pass the time until our flight.
San Diego is truly a gem for family vacations, with so much to offer for kids and adults alike. From the beautiful beaches and family-friendly attractions like the San Diego Zoo to the historical sites like Cabrillo National Monument, we found ourselves constantly entertained and fascinated. Even with all that we managed to do, we could have easily spent another week exploring all that San Diego has to offer. I highly recommend this destination for any family looking for a fun, educational, and relaxing vacation.
We’d love to hear from our readers about their experiences in San Diego or any additional tips and recommendations for things to do in the area. Please feel free to share in the comments below. We believe that the best travel advice comes from the community of travelers themselves. Whether it’s a hidden gem that you discovered, a great restaurant recommendation, or a fun activity that you think we missed, we would love to hear from you. Let’s help each other make the most out of our travels and create unforgettable memories.