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Best of San Diego 2023: For The Kids

These are the city's top family friendly activities to keep your little ones busy this year

By SDM Staff & Contributors

JAB Candid Education and Conservation Center

JAB Candid Education and Conservation Center

Best Place to Pet a Wolf

JAB Canid Education and Conservation Center

It seems like this category isn’t totally fair—this nonprofit rescue in Santa Ysabel is probably the county’s only place to pet a wolf. At least the only place to pet a wolf and maintain all your fingers. The Judith A. Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center began as an effort to protect domesticated foxes who were part of a breeding program in the Soviet Union, but has now expanded to care for coyotes, New Guinea singing dogs, fur-farm fox rescues, and a gray wolf named Lucan. Visitors can tour the center and cuddle with foxes, meet the other canids, and— if they’re lucky and Lucan’s mood is right—pet a wolf. –CT

Best Way to Kill Time With Bored Toddler

Ride the Blue Line Trolley to UTC

When it rains in San Diego, there aren’t many options for getting little ones out of the house. You can fork over a big chunk of cash to go to one of those indoor playgrounds where your kids will inevitably pick up some new cold virus from the ball pit. You can jam yourself into the Children’s Museum or Science Center along with every other family in the city. Or you can do something completely different and hop on the new Blue Line trolley. Start at the Old Town Transit Center and ride north, where you’ll get high-up views of Mission Bay, the ocean, and all the cars and houses below. It’s sure to captivate your kiddos, and then, as an added bonus, you can get off at Westfield UTC and buy them a scoop at Hanna’s Creamery. –CT

If I Were a Bird Yoga Studio

If I Were a Bird Yoga Studio

Best Childcare with Chaturangas

If I Was A Bird Yoga

Sure, there are plenty of so-called “Mommy & Me” yoga classes, where you’re trying to manage your kindergartener and somehow downward dog at the same time. Then there’s If I Was A Bird Yoga studio, which has locations throughout the county (Liberty Station, Mission Hills, Del Mar) and offers drop-off kids’ yoga classes. You can send in your little to learn cat-cow with a very patient instructor, and then head to your own workout class. They even offer an art and yoga class for children as young as two, where you have the option of bidding your baby adieu or staying for the class. –CT

Best Club for Budding Architects

San Diego Library Lego Club

Get this: Library branches throughout the city of San Diego have set up Lego Clubs, where they dump out mountains of bricks and let any kid who happens by make their own creation. Various branches do it slightly differently— the Point Loma/Hervey Library photographs the Lego creations and votes on winning designs, while the La Jolla/Riford Library and Allied Gardens/Benjamin Library display the colorful masterpieces in glass cases until the following week. Most Lego seshes are after school hours, making them more accessible for kids and families. And, like everything else at the library, they’re completely free. –CT

Best Haunted ‘Hood


Secret’s out: Halloween in the Rolando neighborhood just east of SDSU is beyond epic. We’re not just talking about copious amounts of candy, although there’s tons of that. Expect full-fledged haunted houses. Entire streets filled with sugar-crazed kiddos and their more-than-a-little-tipsy parents. There’s a certain house, on a certain block, that decorates with a different theme every year. Last October, it was an Aztec-inspired pyramid, complete with an active volcano and Quetzalcoatl flying in on a zipline. You have to see it to believe it. –BD

Most Creative Birthday Party

The Hot Spot

There are loads of ceramic-painting cafés, candle-making studios, and succulent nurseries across the county, but seldom are they under one roof. Liberty Station’s The Hot Spot has those crafting options and more. In need of a fidget toy? Make slime. A handmade gift? Tile mosaic. The wide array of options at the warehouse space with both indoor and outdoor seating makes it an excellent party venue for creative people of all ages. –DS

Best Furry Freak of Nature

Platypus Exhibit

The quirky residents at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s platypus exhibit playfully swim and climb like aquatic cats through the multi-level enclosure. A reverent hush falls once you enter the dimly lit tunnel that shields the platypuses from sunlight, offering artificial night for the nocturnal creatures. Unless you have visited Australia, this will probably be your first time seeing the peculiar mammals. Insider tip: They are most active in the morning and evening. –DS

Best Free Time Travel

Old Town

Play tourist for the day and rediscover Old Town. There’s so much here that little ones love: petting Seeley Stable’s donkeys, hearing the sizzle of the blacksmith’s red-hot metal, perching in desks at San Diego’s first public schoolhouse, and taking family photos in a covered wagon. There’s even an interactive scavenger hunt that teaches curious kids more about the area. Live mariachi and folklorico performances, lots of free parking, a grassy knoll for a picnic, and happy hour make it fun for parents, too. –CG

Aqua Jungle at Plunge San Diego

Aqua Jungle at Plunge San Diego

Best American Ninja Warrior-Style Obstacle Course

Agua Jungle at Plunge San Diego

Kids can bounce between tunnels, hurdles, and other challenges atop this new floating obstacle course inside Fit Mission Beach at Belmont Park. With a retractable roof and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the boardwalk, Aqua Jungle is an increasingly popular spot for swim parties. While the heated, 175-foot pool is one of the largest in Southern California—offering lots of space to play and swim with lifeguards on duty—it can get crowded on weekends. –CG

Best Playground That’s Also a Gym

Tecolote Shores North in Mission Bay

Let’s face it, taking your kids to the playground usually involves parking yourself on a bench and reading your phone.Maybe you’re pushing your toddlers on the swings or wandering around slowly and monitoring their antics, but none of that does much to get your own heart rate up. The new playground in Mission Bay, Tecolote Shores North, has workout equipment for adults in a ring around the periphery. There are lots of ellipticals, plus strength equipment and cool bay breezes. –CT

Best Bird-Watching Architecture

William E. Cole Family Hummingbird Habitat

With the spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza across the western US, many of the aviaries in the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park became less welcoming for visitors. By contrast, the gorgeously designed William E. Cole Family Hummingbird Habitatstill hosts a wide variety of brightly colored birds. Its square footage matches the size of its eponymous fowl, but a soaring, sky-lighted ceiling makes the trail through winding walls of plants and water features feel spacious. –DS

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