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17 San Diego Staycations Ideas for Families this Summer

Skip the schlepping and act like a tourist in your own town
Courtesy of Belmont Park
Belmont Park Sign Family

Belmont Park Sign Family

Courtesy of Belmont Park

San Diegans often joke about being lucky enough to live where other people vacation, but it’s nice to actually take advantage of all the activities and amenities that may seem like they’re made specifically for tourists—like all those amazing hotel pools.

While it’s obviously a desirable family vacation destination for those from landlocked states seeking surf and sand, San Diego is equally magical for San Diegans who want a break from their regularly scheduled programming. Better yet, parents will probably find a vacation is less stressful and easier to pull off when travel is taken out of the equation.If you’re looking to do a staycation this summer, here’s where to stay, play, and eat in San Diego.

Hotel Del Beach Villas Balcony Ocean

Hotel Del Beach Villas Balcony Ocean

Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado

Family Friendly Hotels in San Diego

Hotel del Coronado

A short drive over the Coronado Bay Bridge quickly transports you into an “island time” state of mind once you hit the idyllic streets of Coronado. The landmark Hotel del Coronado is always a good spot to visit for beachfront eats, sunset cocktails, and gelato treats, but staying overnight at “The Del’s” Beach Village offers the quintessential SoCal family staycation experience.

These beachfront cottages and villas have their own kitchenettes and dining areas, plus enough space to veg out between activities like a private beach bonfire to roast s’mores or gathering around to watch classic movies on the beach during summer. Guests also have access to private, family friendly swimming pools, and beach amenities like loungers and umbrellas. Vacation mode, activated. | 1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado

La Costa Pool Exterior

La Costa Pool Exterior

Courtesy of Omni La Costa Resort & Spa

Omni La Costa

For those seeking help with childcare during their staycation, Omni La Costa has a dedicated kids’ club available daily by reservation. Aptly named Kidtopia, their daycare program and night camps are open to children ages six months to 12 years, with playground equipment, books, and games to keep them entertained.

The resort also offers year-round activities and programming for kids and families, such as scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, and movies by the pool. Children receive a backpack upon check-in that has activities to help keep them occupied, but there’s a good chance they’ll only have eyes for the eight swimming pools on property. Older kids can enjoy the two 100-foot waterslides, and little ones will have a blast on the toddler slide or running around the splash pad. | 2100 Costa Del Mar Road, Carlsbad

Balboa Park Kid

Balboa Park Kid

Photo Credit: Beth Demmon

Family Friendly Things To Do in San Diego

Balboa Park

Balboa Park may seem like an obvious choice to run around or throw a ball, but its museums shouldn’t be overlooked for an afternoon of kid-friendly entertainment. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is every aspiring engineer’s dream and the Fleet Science Center offers interactive learning, while San Diego Natural History Museum attracts little ones with its fossils, gemstones, and dinosaur skeletons. | El Prado, Bankers Hill

Alga Norte Park Aquatic Design Group

Alga Norte Park Aquatic Design Group

Courtesy of Aquatic Design Group

Alga Norte Park

Alga Norte Community Park is a great place for active kids to expend some of their energy. After bouncing between swimming pools, a splash pad, playground, skate park, ball fields and basketball courts, they should be ready to crash. There’s also a picnic area, dog park, and Jacuzzi for adults that makes the nominal admission fee well worth it. | 6565 Alicante Road, Carlsbad

Belmont Park Family

Belmont Park Family

Courtesy of Belmont Park

Belmont Park

Belmont Park is an ideal San Diego summer hangout thanks to its prime location along the Mission Beach boardwalk. Built nearly 100 years ago, this small amusement park is still home to the vintage Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, plus other rides, carnival games, bowling, rock climbing, and ziplining. Other onsite attractions include the Plunge Pool and Aqua Jungle inflatable obstacle course, as well as restaurants and an old-timey sweets shop selling cotton candy, funnel cakes, and ice cream. Go for the rides, stay for the nostalgia. | 3146 Mission Boulevard, Mission Beach

Local Beaches

Whether you’re the family on bodyboards hitting the surf or the one huddled under a canopy to build sandcastles, there’s no shortage of local beach activities for youngsters. San Diegans all have their favorite go-to spots, but a few are particularly popular among families for their accessibility. Thanks to its protected shoreline, Mission Bay has calm water that’s approachable for little ones splashing around in the shallow area. La Jolla Shores is adjacent to Kellogg Park, a grassy area for picnics and recreation that also has a playground, while Moonlight Beach has a concession stand, playground, and equipment rentals to save you from schlepping all the gear.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps Children

Birch Aquarium at Scripps Children

Courtesy of Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium at Scripps not only has the world’s smallest penguins (weighing two-to-three pounds each), but also a killer view from its interactive tide pool plaza overlooking La Jolla Shores and the Scripps Pier. Kids ooh and ahh their way through the Hall of Fishes that houses more than 60 different habitats, but it’s the penguin feeding presentation at 10 a.m. daily that draws the largest crowds. | 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla

Toni's Tree House San Diego Botanic Garden

Toni’s Tree House San Diego Botanic Garden

Courtesy of San Diego Botanic Garden

San Diego Botanical Garden

A garden may not be the first place you think of when trying to entertain kids, but San Diego Botanic Garden has an entire section dedicated to children’s activities and hands-on learning. Their Hamilton Children’s Garden area has a sizable treehouse, mountain stream to splash around in, an edible garden where tasting is encouraged, and a place to make music using nature as instruments. An uphill trek to the garden’s model railroad is worth it for rail fans of all ages. | 300 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas

Amusement Parks

Many San Diegans have already made their rounds to SeaWorld, Legoland, and the San Diego Zoo, but the city’s newest attraction is Sesame Place—a Sesame Street-themed amusement park with family friendly rides, wave pool and water slides, plus shows and parades. Geared mostly toward children between 3 to 10 years old, Sesame Place is a Certified Autism Center with low sensory areas, quiet rooms, and noise-canceling headphones available. | 2052 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista

Strawberry Fields and Pumpkin Patches

Put the kids to work at Carlsbad Strawberry Company and Pumpkin Patch, where the public can handpick their own fruit straight from the 40-acre fields. Load up a bucket of fresh strawberries at peak ripeness (season typically runs February – July) or select the perfect Halloween pumpkin (September – November) while also snapping some cute family pics and getting a little dirty along the way. | 1050 Cannon Road, Carlsbad

Navajo Canyon

Get outside and hit the hiking trail at Navajo Canyon Open Space, a hidden pocket of nature tucked into an otherwise busy area of East County. This easy, two-mile out-and-back trail can be conquered in under an hour thanks to its very moderate incline. Along the way, kids will have fun spotting wildflowers, lizards, butterflies, and other desert flora and fauna. | 5284 Adobe Falls Road, Allied Gardens

The Lullabar Children Area

The Lullabar Children Area

Courtesy of The Lullabar

The Lullabar

For moms who appreciate a “treat yo’ self” moment (or just need a break), The Lullabar is a brilliant concept where you can get a mani-pedi, grab coffee and treats, take a class, and meet other moms—all while your kids are attended to in their play gym. Place your drink order from their cafe during a nail treatment in their intimate salon; book an educational class on meditation, sourdough making, baby-wearing, or pelvic floor health; and enjoy finally being able to finish a sentence because your child is in good hands with their staff doing arts and crafts and other hands-on activities. | 7750 El Camino Real, Suite 5145-5150, Carlsbad

Hamburger Hut Sign Burger

Hamburger Hut Sign Burger

Photo Credit: Kimberly Motos

Family Friendly Places to Eat in San Diego

Hamburger Hut

Burgers, fries, and soft serve cones make up the straightforward menu at Hamburger Hut, a fast-casual eatery with tiki vibes and tropical adult cocktails. Their walk-up order window makes it easy for families who need to get in and out quickly before naptime. For those who stick around, the mood is laidback and welcoming here, especially in the back patio area where kids can run amok without getting any side-eye. | 576 North Coast Highway 101, Encinitas

The Taco Stand

Its name says it all—The Taco Stand has a focused menu of tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, plus other crowd-pleasers like elote and chips and guacamole. Locals line up here at lunchtime for quick counter-service at their five locations across San Diego, and typically more than half the tables have at least one kiddo begging for more of the house-made churros. It’s a no-frills, no fuss place where it doesn’t matter if things get a little messy at the salsa bar. | Locations in Convoy District, Downtown, Encinitas, La Jolla, and North Park

Corvette Diner

Corvette Diner

Courtesy of Corvette Diner

Corvette Diner

Corvette Diner isn’t just kid-friendly; it was made especially for kids. This ’50s-style diner with a soda fountain, arcade room, and waitresses in poodle skirts is over-the-top in the best way— staying on-theme with every detail. The menu is exactly as expected, filled with chicken fingers, sandwiches, and other classic diner dishes like meatloaf and burgers. Don’t skip the ice cream malts, shakes, and soda floats. It may be old-fashioned, but kids find the diner’s allure timeless. | 2965 Historic Decatur Road, Liberty Station

Sadie’s Hand-Crafted Mexican Ice Cream

It isn’t hard to find a good ice cream shop in most San Diego neighborhoods, but to give your kids a truly authentic local experience, take them to Sadie’s Hand-Crafted Mexican Ice Cream. Unique flavors like mazapan, cafe de olla, chocolate Abuelita, and beso de angel are listed on the wall of this Instagramable, family-owned shop named for the owner’s young daughter. As if the ice cream isn’t decadent enough on its own, guests can also get an ice cream sandwich with a Randy’s Donut serving as the bun. | 3001 Bonita Road, Suite 200, Chula Vista

Extraordinary Banana Pudding

A childhood favorite for many, there’s a reason banana pudding is a hit at family functions. At Extraordinary Banana Pudding, they serve up nontraditional varieties such as pistachio, red velvet, and chocolate. The owner takes pride in serving his family’s recipe that has been perfected over more than 30 years. He’ll even let you try a few flavors before deciding on which—or how many—tubs to take back for the family. | 8257 El Paso Street, La Mesa

By Kai Oliver-Kurtin

Kai Oliver-Kurtin is a San Diego-based writer who covers travel, dining, events, and culture. Her writing has been published in USA Today, Condé Nast Traveler, Fodor's Travel, Marie Claire, and HuffPost, among others.

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