Destination Wednesday: Thinking Spring Break, In San Diego

BHTP_DistressedLogo_Circle_PMSBy Stacey Zable

If you haven’t already, it’s time to settle on a Spring Break destination. And if you’re Spring Breaking with a family, here’s the perfect place: San Diego.

San Diego’s 70 miles of SoCal coastline is only one reason why California’s southernmost city is one of America’s most popular family destinations. The city has multiple attractions, museums and the spectacular weather to enjoy them, not to mention palm trees and flowers year-round, plus most of what you’ll want to see and do is within a relatively short driving distance, no matter where you stay.

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Here’s a packed two-day itinerary that can easily be doubled in length, creating a trip that’s as fun and exciting as it is relaxing.

Day One should begin with a light breakfast at Pannikin Coffee & Tea, north of the city in La Jolla. It’s right on your way to a full day of outdoor adventures at the nearby 2,000-acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

The reserve is astonishing on many levels. For one thing, it’s located inside the San Diego city limits. It’s like Central Park – if Central Park were an unspoiled wilderness. Torrey Pines bristles with chaparral plants and its namesake Torrey pine trees, has miles of warm, sandy beaches, and includes a lagoon teeming with migrating seabirds.

If you’re going on a weekend or holiday, start the morning with a free guided nature walk leaving from the Visitor Center at 10 a.m. If you explore on your own, the Guy Fleming Trail is a two-thirds-mile loop that lets families with small children see Torrey Pines up close – and see the ocean, too.

After building up an appetite on your hike, have lunch on the outdoor patio at nearby Seasalt Del Mar, where you can choose from an array of seafood favorites and a commodious kids’ menu. The afternoon can be spent on the more than two miles of spectacular sands at Del Mar Beach.

After washing up, catch dinner at the Corvette Diner in Liberty Station near the airport. A meal here transports guests to the ‘50s, with real rock ‘n’ roll, neon-‘n’-naugahyde furnishings, classic cars (including a beautiful Corvette) right inside, waitresses in poodle skirts and bouffant hairdos, and great burgers and shakes. Kids will love the free, made-to-order balloon animals and hats.

If you’re looking for something more authentic, combine Mexican favorites with ethnic music at Casa Guadalajara in Old Town. Every night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. plus noon to 3 p.m. on weekends, live music will get your kids in the mood to eat traditional favorites — and with Casa Guadalajara kids’ menu, the price is just right.

Day Two should start early at Richard Walker’s Pancake House in downtown San Diego, where the decadent Chocolate Chip Flap Jacks are our favorite. The Embarcadero, a winding path along San Diego’s beautiful waterfront, is your morning destination. Make sure it includes a stop at the Maritime Museum. The kids will love climbing aboard and exploring the historic vessels, including the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship.

For lunch, take it on the go at Seaport Village on the Embarcadero, where you can wander among more than 50 shops and 17 dining venues. If you’re there one of the days there’s free entertainment , so much the better. Another lunch option is the San Diego Pier Café, which comes by its great views naturally – the restaurant literally sits on top of the water! For your picky eaters, the kids’ menu includes a lot more than seafood.

After lunch, drive about 10 minutes to SeaWorld San Diego in Mission Bay. (If your Spring Break vacation extends past a weekend, you can also spend a full day here.) The almost 200-acre park features shows, rides, attractions and exhibits with a marine-life focus. Preschoolers can meet Elmo and friends, while older kids will love getting wet and screaming loud on the Shipwreck Rapids and Journey to Atlantis. There are plenty of choices for food on the run or sit-down dining in the park.

Optional Day Three: Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo

If the kids wake up with more energy than they have any right to have, take them to Balboa Park in downtown San Diego. It has lots of beautiful run-around space and more than 15 museums and cultural attractions, including the world-famous San Diego Zoo. The zoo’s steep hills are especially tiring when pushing a stroller, so the narrated double-decker bus tours are the best way to get around. Kids love sitting on the top and seeing all from high above.

Another option is to head to LEGOLAND California and spend a night in the world’s first LEGOLAND Hotel. Not only can you bunk down in a LEGO-themed guest room with separate sleeping areas for parents and kids, but you also get early entrance into the park to enjoy select rides and attractions. And yes, at LEGOLAND, everything is awesome.

Family Facts

Where to Stay: Embassy Suites San Diego Bay Downtown is across the street from Seaport Village. A one-bedroom suite offers extra room and includes a microwave, refrigerator and coffeemaker. Plus, a cooked-to-order breakfast and evening reception are included in the rate.

At Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego, kids will have fun at Splash Landing, a waterslide park that boasts three slides, a water play zone and a zero-entry kiddie pool with a sand “beach.” The resort’s Spanish architecture includes whitewashed stucco buildings and terracotta-shingled roofs.

Family Deal: The Go San Diego Card gets you into more than 40 San Diego attractions, activities and tours, including family favorites LEGOLAND California, SeaWorld, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Zoo, and more.

More Information: Visit the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website at

Stacey Zable is an award-winning veteran travel writer. She specializes in family travel, spas, cruises, destination weddings and honeymoons and luxury travel. Visit her site at


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