Family Travels: San Diego – Haven for Kids & All by Robin Gorman Newman

Aside from the year round glorious weather that San Diego is known for, it’s a virtual haven of family-friendly activities, and a great travel destination.  We spent nine nights….staying at three different hotels….and had a blast.  I’d like to share, in the event that you’re looking for a trip with appeal for kids of all ages…and adults as well.

We flew out of New York to San Diego on Jet Blue.  It was my first time on the airline, and I was impressed. They promote the fact that they have the most leg room, and, I definitely felt like I had more space and therefore, a more comfortable flight.  The stewardesses were friendly and responsive. They serve cool snacks like Terra Blues Potato Chips and PopCorners.  My son loved the boxed snacks, priced at $5.99…not bad….and there were a bunch to choose from, including more healthy options.  Phone: 801-449-2525.

Our first destination was the gorgeous Coronado. We spent four nights at Glorietta Bay Inn. With elegant common areas, it boasts a convenient location to the “Best Beach,” as designated by the Travel Channel. It’s right across the street from the famous, stunning, historic Hotel Del Coronado, which is a must-go place to stroll and dine. Glorietta Bay Inn has a history of its own and old world charm and is within quick and easy walking of the lively downtown shopping and many restaurants.  You won’t want to miss the delectable, retro Moo Time Cremery serving up mouth-watering ice cream concoctions, and the largest hot fudge, banana split I have ever seen (I didn’t order it….just lived vicariously through a buff surfer who could afford the calories)! 

Glorietta Bay Inn has a lovely water and boat view from its front terrace, where the very nice continental breakfast, included in the room rate, is served.  We loved eating there daily….super relaxing.  They also serve afternoon refreshments.

If you have a car, parking can be a bit challenging at the Inn, but the staff is super helpful, responsive and hospitable, and I give the Inn an A+++ for service!

Free high-speed internet access in every room (all are non-smoking)….plus a small refrigerator and microwave.

Phone 619-435-3101.


Our family LOVES boat rides, and we enjoyed and highly recommend the following:

The Gondola Company is your Passport to Italy. When researching San Diego, I stumbled on this company, and who knew you could indulge in the magic and tradition of Venice in Coronado, California!?  A private gondola took us on a sunset cruise through the canals of the Coronado Cays, and it was lovely and relaxing.  The gondolier even serenaded us, and included in the fare was a choice of chocolate coated strawberries or antipasto.  We opted for the strawberries, only to find out afterwards that they came from Carlsbad, which is apparently famous for strawberries.  They were the best strawberries I’ve ever had…and the chocolate didn’t hurt either!

The cruise was 50 minutes.  Each gondola can accommodate up to six passengers. Soft blankets are provided. Guests may bring their own beverage. Ice buckets, glassware, and wine openers are supplied.

Cruises are available weekdays 3pm to midnight and weekends 11 am to midnight. Reservations are required.  It was a unique and memorable experience, and they even offer Wine Tasting Cruises and a Voga Massage Cruise.  Phone: 619-29-6317.


Also fun and memorable….San Diego Seal Tours: Sea and Land Adventures

When you climb on board the San Diego Seal Tour, get set for a cool excursion. Your 90-minute journey begins on the streets of San Diego and is narrated by a first mate who lives in and loves San Diego and has a vast knowledge of things to do and see.

You wind your way (on the bus-like vehicle) through picturesque San Diego streets before (it converts to a boat…a virtually unsinkable Hydra-Terras) splashing down into San Diego Harbor and crusing through the waters that are the playground of the California Sea Lion….and you get to see them too lounging on the dock…quite a thrill!

Sea Lions

You hear about San Diego’s history, including the military, and see first-hand many famous points of interest like the Maritime Museum where the Star of India, the oldest active sailing vessel in the world, is docked, The USS Midway, Lindbergh Field – the international airport dedicated to aviator Charles Lindbergh, Seaport Village, Shelter Island and other San Diego attractions.

The amphibious vehicles, driven by experienced captains, are specially designed and built to navigate on sea and land. Each is Coast Guard approved and meets all passenger vehicle and department of transportation requirements to ensure safety and comfort.

SEAL Tours depart from Seaport Village and at the Star of India at the Maritime Museum.  Note: The Maritime Museum stop is seasonal. Our trip left from Seaport Village, which is a quaint area to explore and shop or catch a light bite.

Phone 619-298-8687 for specific dates and tour times. Click here for discount tix.


USS Midway Museum – We weren’t sure if this was going to make it into our busy trip schedule, but I’m glad it did.  It was an absolute thrill for my son!  He and my husband enjoyed one of the interactive simulator rides, and we strolled around the several floors, as my son went in and out of an array of military aircraft carriers.  This was so up his alley, and there were places to sit for weary parents. There were interesting interactive exhibits and a chance to climb aboard cockpits, helicopters and planes.  You get a taste of life at sea aboard one of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers. Visitors to the USS Midway Museum enter a floating city at sea and walk in the footsteps of 225,000 Midway sailors who served our country and upheld the American ideals of strength, freedom and peace.  It’s impressive, to say the least and worth the visit.

Located at Navy Pier in San Diego Bay.  Open 7 days week, 10am – 5pm.  Phone: 619-544-9600.



One of the most beautiful towns we explored was La Jolla, and I was instantly smitten.  It’s a shopper’s paradise, between the many boutiques and novelty stores, and the spectacular views of the water, La Jolla Cove and sea lions lounging about in their natural habitat.  We had lunch in town at Georges on the Cove — enjoyed the fish tacos — before spending the afternoon at the La Jolla Festival of the Arts.  We love craft and art fairs, and this one was worth the trip!  An annual happening…. it featured 200 or so artists  in an intimate setting of original fine art, entertainment, and food plus fine wine and craft beer.  Set in UCSD Warren Field, it was a quick shuttle ride (transportation provided) from the parking area. This is not a street fair but an elegant, high quality showcase.  A wide array of price points were featured, along with a good mix of mediums from jewelry to paintings to sculptures, etc. The Festival is produced by the Torrey Pines Kiwanis, a non-profit organization that raises funds to support adaptive sports and recreation programs for San Diegans’ with disabilities. The cost was  $12 in advance, $14 at the gate, and if you appreciate creativity and handmade wares, you will want to visit this Festival in future years.  We made several purchases, and loved bringing home the memories with us.  June 21 and 22nd are the dates for 2014.

Phone: (760) 753-1670.


 If you plan to stay in La Jolla, as we did the last night of our trip, I highly recommend Grande Colonial.  The location in town can’t be beat, if being surrounded by wonderful shops and restaurants is to your liking.  Not to mention just a short walking distance to an outstanding view, and a walk or drive to the scenic La Jolla Cove.  It has a cute, heated pool,  valet parking, and a classy, regal vibe. They offer an array of room types (93 rooms in total), and all are non-smoking.  There is complimentary high-speed web access, and health club/spa facilities nearby. The NINE-TEN — a top La Jolla restaurant and bar — is on the premises — and is a lovely dining option. 



Our second stay was at the Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort & Hotel within the coastal Village of Carlsbad.  The smoke-free resort offers vacation rentals, condos and boutique hotel accommodations for family vacations, romantic getaways, corporate trips and group retreats. We stayed in a modern, spacious, comfortable (good bed), attractive suite with a fireplace, and it’s a convenient stroll to shops and dining choices and down a staircase and across the street to the beach. The hotel provides beach chairs, boogie boards, towels, umbrellas, board games, jogger strollers, and sand toys. There’s also a cozy heated outdoor pool and two hot tubs (one jacuzzi exclusively for adults).  They offer fun activities like movie night (outdoors), Glass Mosaic Class, Ceramic Painting, Karaoke and Pizza Bingo.  There is a fitness center and spacious lobby where you can relax.  In the evening, the grounds are beautifully lit up, and it’s a lovely place to spend some downtime.

There is no dining establishment in the hotel, but Daily News Café right next door is a good, well-priced choice for breakfast and other casual meals.  There is also a lively Mexican restaurant adjacent to the hotel. Mexican food abounds in San Diego, and we couldn’t get enough!

Phone:  760- 434-7020.





 We chose to stay in Carlsbad to be near LEGOLAND California Resort, and it was just a short driving distance.

LEGOLAND California

We spent 8 hours here, combined with the Water Park, and it was a super fun day. LEGOLAND California Resort is home to more than 60 rides, shows and attractions.We have been to a number of theme parks, and LEGOLAND California Resort is a real standout! 

Las Vegas Model

It’s not just about rides….there are some amazing LEGO structures, including everything from models of Las Vegas and Washington, DC, to the hugest Star Wars LEGO vehicle to a jaw-dropping LEGO replica of Mount Rushmore. There’s a lot to do, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming, and for parents, there are ample places to sit and wait for your child if they go on a ride themselves. 

They feature live shows, character meeting opportunities and special attractions. We took in the short film A CLUTCH POWERS 4-D ADVENTURE in the Imagination Zone area, and it was really fun and original!


LEGOLAND® California Resort features the world’s first LEGOLAND Water Park (separate admission..though within the Resort). The centerpiece is a 45-foot-tall tower designed to immerse children in the creative world of LEGO. The Water Park also features more than 20 LEGO models including giant LEGO friends who splash or spray water on guests, two sandy beach wading areas, retail shops and snack carts.  There are lockers where you can check your stuff, which is super convenient, and areas where you can sit and relax on a beach chair.  On a hot day, this is both welcome relief and a blast! 

If you have a little LEGO lover in your life…or a big one….LEGOLAND California is a absolute MUST DO! Phone: 760-918-5346.

While we didn’t visit, there is also SEALIFE AQUARIUM (separate admission).  And if you want to stay as close to LEGOLAND California Resort as possible, check out the new LEGOLAND Hotel.

There are many family friendly major world famous attractions in San Diego that make it a destination, and two of the most popular are Sea World and San Diego Zoo.

Sea World San Diego

With more than 150 million visitors since its opening on March 21, 1964, SeaWorld® is San Diego’s leading paid tourist attraction and one of the most popular marine-life parks in the world.  The founding principles of education, entertainment, research and conservation make SeaWorld an ideal place to learn about, enjoy and gain an appreciation for some of the ocean’s most fascinating animals.  SeaWorld San Diego is one of 11 parks operated by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment®. Spread across 190 acres on beautiful Mission Bay Park, SeaWorld San Diego is known for spectacular animal shows, interactive attractions, aquariums, rides, beautiful landscaping, dining facilities and education programs for all ages.  And of course, Shamu® 

Beluga Interaction Program



Blue Horizons


The following are some of the Animal Attractions, Shows and Interactions.

The Beluga Interaction Program begins with a behind-the-scenes tour of SeaWorld’s enormous Pacific walruses and gigantic polar bears. Then, guests slip into wet suits and set foot in the 55-degree water to touch, feed and giving training signals to beluga whales.  Program fee is $215 plus park admission and includes wet suits, booties, lockers, changing facilities and showers.  Participants must be at least 10 years old and 48 inches tall.  Advance registration:  (800) 25-SHAMU (press 7) or visit We did this program, and it was a once in a lifetime experience.  The water was chilly, and the wetsuits were clingy, but it was worth the effort to experience two beluga whale up close ‘n personal. We fed them fish, pet them, got kisses and got the insider scoop on these glorious creatures. A Sea World photographer captured the experience (you can’t bring cameras into the area since they will get wet), so we have the memory preserved.We had the opportunity to see the show Blue Horizons, and it was just beautiful! Blue Horizons® centers on Marina, a young girl whose vivid imagination sets the stage for an extravaganza of graceful dolphins, magnificent pilot whales and a rainbow of exotic birds.  This innovative production features a cast of divers and aerialists, dressed in eye-catching costumes symbolizing sea and sky. Not only are the performances impressive, but the music is beautiful and inspiring.  This is a MUST SEE show! 

We didn’t do the following, but they sound interesting…


 Dine With Shamu is more than just a dining experience — it’s exclusive, intimate and unforgettable.  While enjoying a delicious buffet on Shamu’s private poolside patio, guests meet killer whale trainers and see Shamu in a whole new light.  The cost, not including tax, gratuity and park admission, is $39 for ages 10 and older ($19 for ages 3–9).  Breakfast With Shamu also is offered on select days for $26 for ages 10 and older ($16 for ages 3–9).  Advance registration:  (800) 25-SHAMU (press 5) or visit

The Dolphin Encounter at Dolphin Point is for guests who want to get closer to bottlenose dolphins without getting in the water.  During this 10-minute, trainer-guided experience, guests are guaranteed to touch, feed and train bottlenose dolphins, while also learning about their natural history, conservation and training.  Cost is $60 plus park admission.  Advance registration: (800) 25-SHAMU (press 7). 

The Dolphin Interaction Program was created for guests who want to enter the water with these beautiful animals.  After donning a wet suit and booties, participants take a dip in the dolphins’ habitat where they get to feed, touch and even cue the animals for trained behaviors.  The program fee is $215 plus park admission and includes wet suit, lockers, changing facilities and showers.  Participants must be at least 10 years old and 48 inches tall.  Advance registration: (800) 25-SHAMU or visit 

At Dolphin Point, guests can interact with bottlenose dolphins throughout the day (trainer-led sessions are listed on the park map), or sign up for a Dolphin Encounter (a trainer-led interaction from poolside) or a Dolphin Interaction Program (an in-water, immersive experience that guests can reserve). 

Guided Tours offer guests an exclusive behind-the-scenes view of SeaWorld and the chance to learn fascinating facts about the animals that most people don’t know.  Participants get up close and personal with amazing bottlenose dolphins, or interact with other incredible animals such as threatened or endangered sea turtles, penguins or sharks.  Advance registration: (800) 25-SHAMU (press 4) or visit                  

Manta, SeaWorld’s new mega-attraction, features a 100,000-gallon marine-life habitat with California bat rays that guests can touch and feed.  Manta® also includes a double-launch roller coaster with a 54-foot drop and twists and turns that make riders feel like they’re soaring and diving like a giant manta ray. 

Otter Outlook features California sea otters who can be seen playing with toys and foraging for shrimp and clams in their pool.  At specified times each day, keepers treat guests to an otter presentation during which they educate guests about the species and demonstrate enrichment activities for the otters.

The Penguin Encounter features more than 300 penguins representing five Antarctic and sub-Antarctic species (gentoo, Adélie, macaroni, king and emperor).  Guests get a close-up look at these delightful animals as they swim and waddle in the 25-degree, snow-filled habitat.  The Penguin Encounter® is also home to more than 90 puffins and murres and has one of the world’s only successful emperor penguin breeding colonies outside the Antarctic, with 21 successful hatchings since 1980.  Warm-weather Magellanic penguins, native to South America, live outside the Encounter.   

Shamu’s Underwater Viewing offers unparalleled views of Shamu® and friends as they swim, play and socialize.  With a specially-designed observation area and a panoramic underwater viewing gallery, the opportunities for close-up observation of these magnificent marine mammals are unsurpassed.

Shark Encounter takes SeaWorld guests underwater with sharks and tropical fish.  The 280,000-gallon attraction features a 57-foot acrylic tube running the length of the sharks’ habitat.  Sand tiger, bonnethead, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks are among the species living in this popular attraction.

Turtle Reef features a 280,000-gallon, coral reef-themed aquarium with more than 40 threatened green sea turtles ranging in age from four to more than 50 years old.  Turtle Reef also features thousands of tropical fish; a game called Race for the Beach; a touch-screen map, Turtlelink, where guests can learn about sea turtle tracking and SeaWorld’s rescue efforts; and a ride called Riptide Rescue. 


Sesame Street Bay of Play at SeaWorld  This whimsical, 2-acre play area features three family-friendly rides (Abby’s Sea Star Spin, Elmo’s Flying Fish and Oscar’s Rocking Eel), Sesame Street® character meet-and-greets, photo opportunities, impromptu Sesame Street character performances and interactive play elements, including net crawls, climbing tunnels, punching bags and more.


Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute is a public, non-profit organization dedicated to providing solutions to conflicts that arise between human activity and the marine world.  Celebrating its 50th year of service, the Institutefocuses on rare, endangered and threatened species and habitats, replenishing depleted fishery resources, conserving marine animals, and advancing science literacy.  Access to SeaWorld’s extensive marine zoological collection and facilities are unique assets that provide the Institute with unparalleled opportunities to advance its public-trust mission “to return to the sea some measure of the benefits derived from it.”  For more information, visit

              Through the SeaWorld Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program, SeaWorld’s mammal, bird and fish specialists have rescued, treated, rehabilitated and returned thousands of animals that were ill, injured or stranded.  In 2012, SeaWorld rescued 131 marine mammals: 98 California sea lions, 18 northern elephant seals, eight harbor seals, four common dolphins, one fur seal, one Guadalupe fur seal and one southern sea otter.  In addition, SeaWorld took in 451 birds (276 of which were brown pelicans) and four sea turtles for rehabilitation. Guests can learn about SeaWorld’s rescue program by visiting the Rescue Plaza, near Shamu Stadium, where two video screens play looping footage of marine mammals, sea birds and turtles that were given a second chance at life.

SeaWorld Camps offer the experience of a lifetime, with activities ranging from touching and feeding marine animals, to kayaking and snorkeling on Mission Bay.  Resident Camp, for grades five through 12, is a five-night adventure where campers discover firsthand how to care for SeaWorld’s animals.  During Day Camp, preschoolers through ninth graders learn about the park’s animals, make crafts and play games.  One-night Sleepovers and multiple-night group camps are available throughout the year.  For more information, visit or call (800) 25-SHAMU (press 4). 

SeaWorld’s Oiled Wildlife Care Center is an example of a successful private and public partnership dedicated to environmental stewardship.  This facility employs lessons learned from past oil spills and improvements in wildlife rescue, care and rehabilitation.  When not being used for oil spill response, the 8,000-square-foot complex houses ill or injured animals being cared for in SeaWorld’s Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program.

San Diego Zoo

The 100-acre San Diego Zoo is dedicated to the conservation of endangered species and their habitats. The organization focuses on conservation and research work around the globe, educates millions of individuals a year about wildlife and maintains accredited horticultural, animal, library and photo collections. The Zoo also manages the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, which includes a 900-acre native species reserve, and the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. The important conservation and science work of these entities is supported in part by The Foundation of the Zoological Society of San Diego. There is also San Diego Safari Park, (we didn’t visit here) formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park —  a 1,800 acres zoo in the San Pasqual Valley area of San Diego, California, near Escondido. 

The San Diego Zoo is impressive and massive.  There is tons to see and tons of walking. Be sure to wear your most comfortable shoes, and make the effort to map out your visiting strategy before arrival so you can maximize your time and focus on what you most want to see. We zeroed in on the koala bears and pandas and saw other cool animals and birds along the way.  There was a line for the pandas, and we were pressed for time at that point….they are hugely popular and not commonly seen…so we handed our camera off to a visitor with a good view who took a shot for us. The koalas were adorable, and my son would have loved to give one a squeeze!

New at the San Diego Zoo is a 4-D Theatre….featuring ICE AGE: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (extra admission fee).  

There are shows including Camp Critter Sea Lion Show and Animal Encounters.  There are various talk by zoo keepers.…animal feeding opportunities……and a petting zoo.

There is a Skyfari Aerial Trainthat offers fab views and transportation over the treetops to the other side of the Zoo.

The Zoo comes alive at night with Zoo Character visits, music, acrobatic/aerial acts, and more.

You could easily spend days here if you’re an animal lover!!  It’s a trip unto itself, and it’s easy to see why it attracts visitors from all over the world.

Phone: 619-231.1515.


Other areas we explored on the trip — Old Town San Diego (loads of Mexican wares and eats) — and the beach towns of Del Mar, Encinitas, San Clemente, Solana Beach (cool home furnishings and gift shops) and Laguna Beach.  Fab shopping in Laguna — an artsy town with many galleries and gorgeous beach areas- worth the trip!!

Restaurant-wise….two standouts for dinner on this trip were:

Sheerwater Restaurant in Coronado, CA

Featuring an expansive outdoor dining terrace and giant fireplaces, Sheerwater is the Hotel del Coronado’s refined, yet casual oceanfront restaurant. Sheerwater’s “Fish by the Sea” menu takes advantage of the restaurant’s beachfront location (with outstanding views) and features classic bistro-style cuisine with a focus on fresh and sustainable seafood. The menu also includes a variety of meat and vegetarian options, plus some old favorites. A special children’s menu is  available and includes original takes on traditional childhood favorites.  Their hours are — Breakfast buffet (7am – 11:30am), Lunch (11:30am–3pm), Cocktails, Light Fare and Dinner (5pm–9pm) daily.

The service was impeccable, and Sheerwater serves the best fresh lump crab meat I have ever had!  Though an appetizer (and a generous amount), it would have been a most satisfying meal unto itself.  My son had the Crispy Chicken Fingers, which he liked.  My husband had the Salmon with Dijon Caper Vinagrette, and I had the Pan Roasted Wild Pacific Sea Bass with Lobster Sauce.  Both were high quality cuts of fish and well-prepared. 

Some of their Classic menu choices include Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese (gotta try this next time!), Famous Fish & Chips, Organic Quinoa Burger, Chicken and Crab Pappardelle, White Cheddar Bacon Burger and more. 

For dessert, we all shared the Warm Caramel Banana Chocolate with Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream (pictured)….and it was truly worth every calorie!!  One of the best desserts I have ever had….and that’s saying a lot….my son practically licked the plate!

Phone for reservations: 619-522-8866.





 Bistro West in Carlsbad, CA

 Bistro West, dedicated to serving contemporary comfort food, is inspired by freshness and quality. The chefs plant, harvest and create a seasonally-evolving menu from their own three acre farm.

Utilizing only top quality ingredients that are fresh daily, Executive Chef Eugenio Martignago and Chef Jason Connolly combine an authentic farm-to-table approach with classic French and Italian influences.  They offer healthy kids choices, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options. Everything on the menu is made from scratch including the marinades, sauces and dressings.

“The Classics”, feature the local favorites such as Filet Mignon Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Pot Pie in addition to hand-made pizzas, pastas, and burgers. Bistro West is dedicated to providing “real food” served in a modern atmosphere.  My husband had the pot pie and enjoyed it. My son had the cheese pizza…which he gave a thumbs up.  I ate the Seafood Tortelinni which was unique, tasty and well prepared.  A decadent standout (pictured) was the Bistro West Mud Pie — For Two or More. Yowza is all I an say!  Really really good….my son polished off almost the whole thing.  It features an Oreo cookie crust, coffee and vanilla-banana ice creams, chocolate ganache, topped with choclate & caramel sauce, sliced almonds and shipped creme…and was a pretty presentation.  Be sure to save room for this!

The restaurant is open ‘n airy, casual with an elegant motif featuring natural lighting from glass-block windows with mood-setting light variations and a very cool floor to ceiling water-filled bubble wall.

West has two restaurants – Bistro West and West Steak and Seafood – and West Inn & Suites, a 86 room boutique hotel in Carlsbad, adjacent to both restaurants.

Bistro West menu highlights include:Pear and Prosciutto Pizza, Scallop and Truffle Sauce Pasta, Seared Ahi Steak, Kobe Beef Blend Meatloaf, Kobe Beef Blend Bistro West Signature Hamburger, and Homemade Meatloaf.

WINE: An extensive collection, recognized by Wine Spectator, features the finest global and California offerings.

HOURS: Open daily for lunch and dinner and Sunday brunch.  Phone 760-930-8008 for reservations.

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  1. 2 Responses to “Family Travels: San Diego – Haven for Kids & All by Robin Gorman Newman”

  2. Holy Moly!! I’m exhausted! But WOW! You sure had a BLAST! Next time i visit, I’ll know better places to go, dine and stay!! Love it!

    By Cara Meyers on Aug 23, 2013

  3. You have a great website and you represent San Diego well. When travelers arrive to San Diego, if they are interested in family friendly fun activities and events that are mostly free and up to the minute, I would suggest that they go to for more ideas. Thanks!

    By Patty on Oct 3, 2013