The Mom’s Guide to San Diego

A bit of an urban legend, I am what you’d call a San Diego native. I grew up in a town called Oceanside, about 30 miles north of downtown San Diego.

I have lived in the seaside town of Carlsbad with my two daughters, now 11 and 13, for the past 12 years, and it’s hard to imagine a better backyard. I’m excited to share some of our favorite local spots over the years.

What to do & where to play

An oasis for outdoor activities year-round, San Diego is an ideal family destination in November — and virtually every other month of the year. As I write this, the weather is 72 degrees and gorgeous.

If you’ve never been, a few obvious places to put on your must-see list include Legoland in Carlsbad, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. These places are amazing and are on everyone’s list for good reason. Believe me, I spent countless hours at these places when my kids were younger, and it was always worth buying the year pass.


Home to 31 beaches, you cannot go wrong spending a week visiting a new beach every day.

Coronado Beach, voted one of America’s finest beaches and home to the infamous Hotel Del Coronado, offers expansive white sand beaches and fun sand dunes to play on. You can lie on the beach and watch planes fly overhead (they get pretty darn low) and land at nearby Naval Air Station North Island.

Head about 18 miles north to La Jolla to visit the Children’s Pool, where you will not necessarily want to swim in the ocean, but you can watch tons of seals in their natural habitat — bathing, basking and even giving birth to their seal pups.

Drive about 20 more miles, and you will arrive at the seaside surfer town of Encinitas. Moonlight Beach offers a great family beach with a playground for kids. This locale is very close to downtown Encinitas on the 101, with tons of shops and restaurants.

When you combine the beach and a hike, you get Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Set on 2,000 acres of coastal state park located in the community of La Jolla, the reserve overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is juxtaposed against sandstone canyons and windswept cliffs. Torrey Pines offers visitors true coastal wilderness within the 8 miles of trails and five hikes trails ranging from easy to moderate. Hiking down to the beach from the cliffs is an invigorating experience. And a few times, we saw whales swimming in the distance.

Parks & culture

If you’re a baseball fan, Petco Park is a gorgeous stadium to catch a game. Located in the heart of downtown San Diego, the stadium has stunning views of the bay and is easily accessible by foot, car or trolley — which is fun to take around town. You can also hop on the trolley and stroll Old Town for some San Diego history dating back to 1824. Old Town includes 32 restaurants, hotels, shopping and museums.

The New Children’s Museum, also downtown, is a great place for families with younger children. From interactive activities to art installations, your kids will have a ton of fun exploring the center for hours.

For anyone looking for some maritime adventure, look no further than the USS Midway.

San Diego is a navel town, and the USS Midway offers a history and museum on the actual aircraft carrier Midway. Explore aircraft galleries and flight decks and even go below deck to see the inner workings of an aircraft carrier.

What to eat

Go to Farmer & The Seahorse on any given Sunday and plan to see plenty of kiddos running in the private grassy lawn and playing lawn games with Mom and Dad. Located nearby Torrey Pines Reserve (perfect for after your hike), the eatery features an approachable menu with plenty of options that little ones will love, including the kids waffle topped with fresh berries and whipped cream.

When you’re in Encinitas, be sure to stop by one of our favorite gourmet sandwich shops, Moto Deli. With a great outdoor patio for the kids and a low-key motorcycle vibe, our favorite items on the menu are the turketta sandwich and fried pickles. The Rueben is amazing, and if you are looking for a meatless option, go with the Impossible Burger. The local craft beer selection is always changing, and they recently added hard kombucha.

For a sweet treat in Encinitas, try Hendel’s Homemade Ice Cream. There are tons of house-made flavors, and choosing can be a bit overwhelming. There is also often a line out the door, but the ice cream is totally worth the wait.

Herb & Eatery, the casual market attached to Brian Malarkey’s Herb & Wood, is a gem for all -day fresh fare. Located in Little Italy near downtown, Herb & Eatery offers a menu of salads and sandwiches, plus a selection of entrées and appetizers at lunch and dinner. At breakfast and brunch, guests can dive headfirst into freshly baked croissants from executive pastry chef Adrian Mendoza along with house-made bagels with lox, smoothies, house-made kombucha and fresh-pressed juices.

Where to stay

Hotel Del Coronado offers an upscale beach hotel housed in a grand 1888 Victorian property. Steps from the beach, the hotel offers a huge pool, a larger grassy area for the kids to play, an ice cream shop and tons of restaurants and is within walking distance to the quaint town of Coronado.

Surfhouse is the recently renovated boutique beach motel in Leucadia that gives 100 percent SoCal surf vibes. Located one block from the beach, take the opportunity to rent bikes or take a surf lesson.

For a more luxe stay, you cannot go wrong with the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. It’s complete with world-class spa, golf course, tennis courts and kid-specific pool areas featuring two 100-foot waterslides, a toddler slide and Splash.

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