We don’t fly often as a family but when we do it’s usually in and out of the same destination. When planning a Southern California trip with my son we opted to fly into Los Angeles and fly out of San Diego. This resulted in a week long road trip with fun stops in Pasadena, Huntington Beach, Dana Point and ending in San Diego. Before flying home, we enjoyed a San Diego day trip of site seeing, architecture and food.

En-route to San Diego we made a slight 3-hour detour to Dana Point for a whale and dolphin watching excursion which I would highly recommended.

WHERE TO STAY

We stayed in the city’s Liberty Station, restored historic military complex near Naval Base Point Loma. It’s a nice mix of government and residential buildings, entertainment and dining options as well as a lot of open park space. My son and I loved walking along the waterfront when visiting various areas in the community.

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Staying at the Homewood Suites was more like a one-bedroom apartment, giving us sleeping space in the bedroom and living room but also a full kitchen. The later meant we could save on our travel budget though breakfast was included with our stay.

WHAT TO DO

Whether it’s your first time in San Diego or a return visit, I love the Old Town Trolley Tour. As first time visitors this took my son and I through some of the city’s highlights. The Hop-On/Hop-Off feature means you can visit multiple stops without worrying about traffic and parking.

We passed the US Midway in the marina and drove through the historic Gaslamp Quarter. We drove over the bridge to the Island of Coronado and stopped off to visit the beach and Hotel del Coronado, known by many as being haunted.

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We hopped back on our trolley and stopped at Balboa Park where we spent most of our day. With its collection of museums, art attractions, gardens, zoo and amazing architecture you could easily spend countless days exploring this large urban collection.

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Some of the sites we took in during our visit included:

  • San Diego Zoo – This urban park is built into the hilly and lush landscape, with steps and pathways winding around. Getting around the zoo is an adventure in itself for kids but you can also try the Skyfari (an ariel tram that takes you from one end of the park to the other) or the Kangaroo Bus (an open air hop-on/hop-off double-decker bus that stops at four locations within the zoo).

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  • The San Diego Natural History Museum – This compact museum will give you a peek at some of the area’s habitats and animals from the Southern California area. The hands-on scavenger hunt charts and exhibits will keep kids engaged.

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  • The San Diego Museum of Man –  This museum had a number of thought provoking exhibits that kids would also enjoy, our favourite being the magic and mythology behind monsters in the Monsters exhibit. Younger kids will enjoy playing the part of an archeologist, dressing in costumes, uncovering discoveries, or try building a life-size sarcophagus puzzle

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That’s just a tip of what you can discover in this amazing urban park. Purchasing a San Diego GO Card can help you save on the cost of enjoying some of the city’s key attractions.

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WHERE TO EAT

For something fun try the Corvette Diner located in Liberty Station, an easy enough walk from our hotel on the waterfront. This was one busy place and as they don’t accept reservations be prepared for a bit of a wait. Luckily for the kids they have an arcade onsite as a form of distraction.

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This retro diner will serve up tasty burgers and sandwiches as well as real milkshakes with your leftovers served on the side, as it should be. Kids may enjoy the hairstyling skills of the servers as they wrap your tresses in straws. The DJ will spin nostalgic music and every once in a while the staff perform a number at the serving counter. The night will be loud and fun.

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For a more food oriented experience head over to the Kona Kai Resort and Spa in the marina. I love the boutique feel of this resort, like a lakeside cottage that is upscale without being uptight. Even if you’re not staying onsite you can enjoy the food and view of the resort’s Vessel Restaurant.

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The first thing you’ll be drawn to is the center circular bar open to a glowing green column that climbs up the center. If you’re lucky you’ll secure a window seat to catching the changing sky’s hue as the sun sets over the marina.

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I like that the dinner menu is organized by small and large plates versus traditional starters and mains. I think this system encourages families to dabble into new food areas to try. Some must try dishes are the Lobster Mac n Cheese, Tuna Tataki (a favourite of both myself and son). The Cast Iron Carrots with ginger, hazelnut and cranberry were also delicious.

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No meal is complete without a sweet delight. We sampled the Vessel’s two top sellers, the Chocolate Lava Cake and Key Lime Pie. Both were lovely. I was especially pleased with the lava cake as I find not too many places can do a really good job of balancing the liquid center with a moist outer cake. This dining experience alone would be enough to convince me to book a stay at the Kona Kai.

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That’s a pretty full day trip experience in San Diego and still doesn’t even begin to cover what this city has to offer. If anything our trip has us dreaming about a return visit.

You can see more from our 7-day road trip highlights here:

Thanks to the folks at Visit California and San Diego Tourism Authority for their hospitality during this visit.