San Diego Magazine

The Thrill Seeker’s Guide to San Diego

SeaWorld's Electric Eel - A Thrill Seeker's Guide to San Diego

Surfing is far from the only thing that will get your heart pumping in San Diego. Did you know you can jump from an airplane, swim with sharks, and hit 50 miles per hour on a boat? Yep—and all on the same day if you please. These adrenaline-laced activities will give you a taste of San Diego that will make your palms sweat. Continue reading

San Diego Magazine

Like Cats and Dogs: Meet the San Diego Zoo’s Most Unlikely Pairs

Forget what you might have heard about cats and dogs being natural enemies—at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park they’re getting along famously. Just look at the friendship between Ruuxa, a male cheetah, and Raina, a domestic dog. Continue reading

San Diego Magazine

3 San Diego Spa Trends to Check Out Right Now

Urban Calm Spa in San Diego

Want to really treat yourself? Relax, recharge, and rejuvenate with one of San Diego’s most innovative spa treatments. We talked with three San Diego spas about what’s hot, what’s trending, and how you can experience the best new treatments.

Rock Spa at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego

The trend: Multisensory

Imagine relaxation set to a rockin’ playlist. It’s easy if you try. The Rock Spa’s Synchronicity massage, part of its musical Rhythm and Motion series of treatments, pairs Swedish and hot stone massage techniques with a blend of classic and modern rock. Master massage therapist Kyra scrubs, rubs, and drums you – lightly, but with real drumsticks – into total bliss while booming bass vibrations resonate up through the table and tunes stream down from a domed speaker just overhead. The soothing smell of essential oils adds another element to the mix. It’s easy to zone out during a massage, but familiar songs help keep you in the moment as Kyra matches her rhythm, pressure, and strokes with the playlist.

Spa Director Brooke Zarconi says the Synchronicity massage is becoming one of the Hard Rock’s most requested services because it’s cool, unique, and so different from your average spa massage. The treatment can also be customized. Choose from four playlists: soothing sounds, softer rock, classic rock and covers, and a combination that will transform the spa setting into a cozy, cool venue. “We’re not the typical spa – we’re dark and intimate and small.”

Another bonus: the Rock Spa uses organic products, such as the sugar foot scrub that kicks off the experience. “We’re all trying to get away from the toxins,” she says. Experience this mix of classic, modern, hard, and soft all coming together in perfect harmony at the Rock Spa at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Where: 207 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about the Rock Spa at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego

Urban Calm

The trend: Eco-friendly

We love our sunshine here in San Diego, but tanning isn’t exactly healthy. So what about the alternative, spray tans? What used to be orange has gone green at Urban Calm. The East Village sanctuary promises to give its clients a gorgeous, sun-kissed glow using all-natural, organic ingredients. Owner Heidi Olden says that when she started out in the spa industry nearly 20 years ago, she had to search long and hard to find products that were free of harmful chemicals but still effective. “When I became an esthetician and learned about how much of what we put on our skin is absorbed into the body, I became even more passionate about natural skin care products.”

Now her business caters to clients seeking organic skin care treatments and clean beauty services. That includes spray tanning. “I’ve always tried to educate my clients about the damaging effects of too much sun exposure,” she says, “so I really wanted to offer a natural sunless tanning option as an alternative to lying out in the sun.” Urban Calm uses an Australian sunless tanning solution that contains Eco Certified DHA and a handful of other organic ingredients like green tea, aloe, and coconut. Olden says there’s no odor, it doesn’t streak or turn orange, and it usually lasts for five to seven days. “I love being able to offer this alternative to my clients so that they can have that nice, healthy glow without subjecting themselves to prolonged sun exposure, which can lead to premature aging, wrinkles, and sun spots.”

Where: 726 Ninth Ave #3, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Urban Calm

The Spa at Fairmont Grand Del Mar

The trend: Detox

Several treatments at the five-star Spa at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve center around flushing toxins from the body by stimulating the lymphatic system. Manual Lymph Drainage, a type of light, rhythmic massage, removes toxins and ushers in deep relaxation. A half-hour treatment focuses on the face and neck and can alleviate symptoms of sinusitis and congestion, improve the condition of the skin, reduce the appearance of puffy eyes and dark circles, and help speed up the recovery process after facial surgery. If that wasn’t enough to make you feel renewed, longer treatments are said to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and promote further healing.

The Spa at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar also uses dry brushing techniques to stimulate the lymphatic system in its touch-therapy treatments. In the “Refined” option, a full-body dry brushing is followed by a sea salt body scrup and finished with hydrating body oil. Detoxifying Epsom salts are also used in the spa’s hour-long Herbal Relexology hand and foot treatment.

Where: 5300 Grand Del Mar Ct, San Diego, CA 92130
> Find out more about the Fairmont Grand Del Mar

Brent Bernasconi

Top 10 Things to Do this Summer in San Diego

Nothing beats summer in San Diego. With friendly locals, 70 miles of beautiful coastline, world-class attractions and a laid-back vibe all its own, California’s Beach City is perfect for the young and young at heart.

Below are ten events, things to do and attractions you need to check out this summer in San Diego.

FYI – Beaches and Comic-Con have been excluded because they are a given.

1. 2016 MLB All-Star Week

2016 MLB All-Star Week

Take yourself out to San Diego for the 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Week, July 8-12, featuring the All-Star Fanfest, All-Star Concerts, All-Star Sunday, Yoga, Color Run 5K, Home Run Derby, All-Star Game and More!

When: July 8-12, 2016
> Find out more about the 2016 MLB All-Star Week

2. Centennial Nighttime Zoo

Nighttime Zoo at the San Diego Zoo

This summer, the San Diego Zoo is celebrating its centennial year in a big way, with live music and fun activities during Nighttime Zoo presented by Cymer. Evenings at the Zoo will be filled with plenty of toe-tapping, body-moving music, special shows, and tons of fun!

Where: 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA 92101
When: June 19 – September 5, 2016
Time: 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM
Cost: Included with Admission

Site: casino bonus
> Find out more about the Centennial Nighttime Zoo

3. Big Bay Boom & 4th of July Fireworks

Big Bay Boom - San Diego's Largest 4th of July Fireworks Display

Photo courtesy of Big Bay Boom

Whether you’re traveling with friends or family, San Diego is everyone’s first choice for 4th of July celebrations. Even locals can’t think of anything better than relaxing with loved ones on a long stretch of sand and watching an extraordinary show of lights in the sky, especially the impressive Big Bay Boom fireworks show!

> Browse San Diego’s 4th of July Fireworks and Celebrations

4. Balboa Park After Dark

Balboa Park After Dark

This Summer Balboa Park Comes Alive After 5! On Fridays from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend enjoy extended evening hours at nine museums, as well as food trucks and entertainment throughout the Park on select dates.

When: Thru September 2, 2016
>  Find out more about Balboa Park After Dark

5. La Jolla Zip Zoom Line

La Jolla Zip Zoom

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Zip Zoom

55 MPH – 2,500 Feet Long – Parallel Lines – Spectacular Views – That’s La Jolla Zip Zoom! Located in San Diego’s North Inland on the La Jolla Indian Campground, La Jolla Zip Zoom invites you to cool off this summer by flying through the air at amazing speeds along the longest zipline course in California.

Where: 22000 Highway 76, Pauma Valley, CA USA 92061
> Find out more about La Jolla Zip Zoom

6. San Diego Pride Parade and Music Festival

San Diego Pride Parade

Photo Courtesy of San Diego LGBT Pride

The annual San Diego LGBT Pride Parade is the 4th largest in the United States attracting over 100,000 cheering spectators and significant media participation. Following the Pride Parade honoring diversity and #OrlandoStrong, head on over to Balboa Park for the Pride Music Festival featuring musicians, bands, comedy and dance performers, an Art exhibit, cultural presentations, great food, and more! Did we mention that KESHA will be headlining this year?

When: July 16-27, 2016
Cost: Parade – Free. Music Festival – $15-$150
> Find out more about the San Diego Pride Parade
> Find out more about the San Diego Pride Music Festival

7. Beers, Wines and Dines Festivals

Summer Food & Drink Festivals

Photo courtesy of San Diego Brewers Guild

Sip and savor your way through a San Diego Summer. All summer long, festivals and taste-ofs offer you the chance to experience award-winning craft beer, enticing plates from local celebrity chefs, regional wines and more…all while wearing shorts and flip-flops!


> Browse San Diego’s Summer Food & Drink Festivals

8. Bike the Bay

Bike The Bay

Photo courtesy of Charlie Sears

Ride the bridge, Bike the Bay! Not only will the scenic 25-mile route travel through five of diverse communities but it will also allow riders their only opportunity of the year to ride over the beautiful Coronado Bay Bridge. All riders will return to San Diego for a post-ride festival with food, beverage, beer garden and entertainment.

When: August 28, 2016
Cost: $55-$60
> Find out more about Bike the Bay

9. Labor Day Weekend

US Sand Sculpting Challenge and Dimensional Art Exposition

Cap off the perfect summer by spending Labor Day weekend in San Diego enjoying the warm weather, cool beaches and everything the city has to offer including tall ship cannon battles, amazing sandcastles, 1812 Overture with fireworks and more.

> Find out more about Labor Day Weekend in San Diego

10. Kaaboo Festival

The KAABOO Festival will include performances by more than 100 musical acts on seven stages with internationally known headliners, established favorites and emerging artists. To unearth your inner foodie, KAABOO will feature celebrity, as well as local chefs from high quality restaurants, wine selections from vineyards throughout California, craft breweries from top markets including San Diego, craft distillers in various categories, mixologists and more. There will also be a dedicated comedy stage with comfortable seating and a unique after hours dance party highlighting additional performances and award-winning DJs.

Where: Del Mar Fairgrounds – 2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar, CA 92014
When: September 16-18, 2016
Cost: $449-$2499
> Find out more about the Kaaboo Festival

Want More Summer Fun in

San Diego?

Then make sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Summer in San Diego.

Brent Bernasconi

Celebrate the San Diego Zoo’s Centennial

San Diego Zoo Centennial

San Diego Zoo Centennial

In 1916, Dr. Harry Wegeforth, a local physician, exclaimed “Wouldn’t it be splendid if San Diego had a zoo! You know…I think I’ll start one.” With a rag-tag collection consisting of a row of cages along what is now Park Boulevard, with wolves, coyotes, bears, monkeys, lions, and a few other small species, plus groups of bison, elk, and deer in Balboa Park, Dr. Wegeforth and others established what would become the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

A century later, the San Diego Zoo is known for its two world-class facilitates in San Diego County, cutting-edge conservation efforts that span the globe, its pioneering concept of cage-less animals, panda and California Condor re-population programs, kids outreach and education programs, and more.

In 2016, the San Diego Zoo invites everyone to share their memories and celebrate 100 years of conservation, research, and most importantly, inspiring generation after generation to care for the world and the animals around us.

San Diego Zoo Centennial Celebration

The San Diego Zoo is turning 100, and we’re ready to celebrate. This is the Zoo’s way to say “thank you” to the community for a century of support! Join us for a spectacular evening filled with excitement and fun, including:

  • Family-fun crafts, food, face painting, hands-on activities…and an opportunity to set a Guinness World Record
  • Live bands, dancers, and Dr. Zoolittle
  • Animal presentations by Zookeeper Rick
  • Free entrance to several Balboa Park museums, including the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Photographic Art
  • And featuring a magical, musical extravaganza featuring a live orchestra, and Tony and Grammy award-winner Heather Headley at Spreckels Organ Pavilion at 8:00 PM.

Participating Food Trucks:

  • New Orleans Food Truck: New Orleans Cuisine
  • Seoul Man Food Truck: Korean
  • Smoothie Rider: Fruit Smoothies
  • Salt + Lime: Mexican
  • Totally Tasty: Sliders & Burgers
  • Bella Vita Pizza: Pizza
  • Sun & Sea: Mexican Seafood
  • Wishbone Wings: Chicken
  • Slider House: Sliders & Burgers
  • Back to Foods: Spanish Sandos
  • Sushi Uno: Sushi

Where: Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Balboa Park
When: May 14, 2016
Time: 6:00 to 10:00 PM
Cost: Free

More Centennial Highlights and Events

Wegeforth Bowl

During 2016, the history of the San Diego Zoo is part of the daily Centennial Show at Wegeforth Bowl. It opens with a film sharing 10 reasons to celebrate the San Diego Zoo’s 100th birthday – including the amazing animal collection and world-class Safari Park – leading into an exciting new animal show that incorporates special video clips and features some of the Zoo’s most beloved animal ambassadors.

Where: San Diego Zoo
When: All Year

Centennial Plaza and San Diego Zoo History Mural

After the show at Wegeforth Bowl, a new costumed character experience designed especially for children features performances on a gigantic birthday cake stage in Centennial Plaza. Characters include Dr. Harry Lion, Bamboo Panda, Churchill P. Bear, Matilda Koala, and Sydney Koala. Kids join in a rousing chorus of “You Belong in the Zoo” and have the chance to dance with the characters. Then take a stroll down memory lane with the San Diego Zoo History Mural: a 75-foot-long graphic art installation located next to the birthday cake stage, which features historical photos from the San Diego Zoo archives with descriptive captions of 10 extraordinary decades.

Where: San Diego Zoo
When: All Year

Centennial Theater and Guided Bus Tour

For their 100th birthday, the San Diego Zoo has opened the Centennial Theater at the bus depot. Before boarding a double-decker tour bus, groups of guests enter a standing theater and are treated to a beautiful short film about one of San Diego Zoo Global’s many conservation field projects. The 40-minute guided bus tour then shares details about the Zoo’s history, and efforts underway to end extinction by saving one species at a time. The Guided Bus Tour is included in the 1-Day Pass admission price. A Spanish version of the bus tour is offered Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 PM.

Where: San Diego Zoo
When: All Year

Nighttime Zoo

The summer nighttime activities for 2016 will carry the theme from the community event throughout the summer. Nighttime Zoo will include special presentations and a fun procession to add centennial dazzle, plus a special centennial-themed show from zany Dr. Zoolittle and lively musical entertainment.

Where: San Diego Zoo
When: June 19 – September 5, 2016
> Find out more about Nighttime Zoo

The Lore Behind the Roar

In collaboration with the San Diego Zoo, this celebration of the Zoo’s centennial explores its evolution to the World-Famous San Diego Zoo. Lore explores the Zoo’s contributions to popular culture, to San Diego and to the animal world, from the pioneering concept of cage-less animals to the high-tech Frozen Zoo.

Where: San Diego History Center – 1649 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
When: Through January 1, 2016
Cost: Included with Admission
> Find out more about The Lore Behind the Roar

> Find out more about the San Diego Zoo Centennial

Brent Bernasconi

See Christmas Lights in San Diego this 2015 Holiday Season

Warm up the car, fill a thermos to the brim with hot chocolate, pack some cookies and head out with the family for an evening of twinkling Christmas lights in San Diego.

Please note, some light displays and events are weather dependent.

Here are just a few of San Diego’s Christmas Lights highlights:

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights


More than 80 lavishly decorated boats will sail over the calm waters of the Big Bay during the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. The parade starts at Shelter Island and makes it way down to the Ferry Landing on Coronado. Make sure to arrive early at one of the viewing spots that include: Harbor Island, Shelter Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village and along the pathway on Coronado.

Dates: Sundays, December 13 and 20, 2015
Time: 5:30 to 7:30 PM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights

Mission Bay Parade of Lights

Mission Bay Lights Up during the holiday season.

Dozens of vessels will take to the waters of Mission Bay with decorations and lights aboard. Arrive early to secure a good viewing spot on Crown Point, the east side of Vacation Island or the west side of Fiesta Island.

Date: December 12, 2015
Time: 6:00 to 9:00 PM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights

Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights

Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights

Boats of all sizes get decked out with holiday lights and circle Oceanside Harbor

Fishing boats, sailboats, yachts, kayaks and dingys dressed up in holiday swag and circle the Oceanside Harbor to enchant onlookers at the harbor, restaurants and beach. Many of the boats feature people dressed up like Santa waving to the crowd. One of the best viewing spots is along the side of the Oceanside Harbor near the fishing dock and police station. From this vantage point, you can see the parade twice!

Where: Oceanside Harbor, Oceanside, CA 92054
When: December 12, 2015
Time: 7:00 to 9:00 PM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about the Oceanside Parade of Lights

Garden of Lights

San Diego Botanic Gardens' Garden of Lights

Lights, Santa, hot chocolate, snow and more at the San Diego Botanic Gardens’ Garden of Lights

After the sun goes down in December, the Garden is transformed into a dazzling winter wonderland with over 100,000 sparkling lights illuminating the Garden for a magical holiday experience! Join in the fun that includes horse-drawn wagon rides, holiday crafts, marshmallow roasting, visits with Santa, live music, refreshments and hot mulled wine and snow (on select nights).

Location: 230 Quail Gardens Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024
Dates: December 5-30, 2015 (Closed December 24-25)
Time: 5:00 to 9:00 PM
Cost: Included with admission
> Find out more about Garden of Lights

Holiday Wonderland at Petco Park

Christmas Lights at Holiday Wonderland at Petco Park

Photo by Andy Hayt

Holiday Wonderland is back at Petco Park! Get in the holiday spirit than to walk through magical lighting displays themed around some of the holiday’s most iconic scenes, ride the polar express, take a picture with Santa or gather around a 40′ tree.

Where: 100 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA 92101
When: Friday-Sunday – December 4-23, 2015
Time: 4:30 to 9:30 PM
Cost: $10-$15
> Find out more about Holiday Wonderland at Petco Park

DELights in the Patio

DELights in the Garden Patio

The Hotel del Coronado’s patio will be transformed into a winter wonderland of holiday sights, smells and sounds with a shimmering array of icy colors, dazzling snowflakes, whimsical polar bears and a stunning video mapping light show projected onto a 40’ multi-faceted tree.

Where: 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118
When: November 26, 2015 – January 3, 2016
Time: 4:00 to 9:00 PM
Cost: $25. Free for resort guests
> Find out more about DELights in the Patio

Christmas Lights at San Diego Attractions

Local Christmas Lights Highlights

Belardo Lights in Tierrasanta

A labor of love by two parents for their two sons with autism, the Schimka family has been lighting up Belardo Drive for the past seven years while raising money for the National Foundation for Autism Research. The display, which is synchronized to the music on 106.1 FM, has grown tremendously over the years!

Location: 5306 Belardo Drive, San Diego, CA 92124
Dates: November 28 – December 27, 2015
Time: 6:00 to 10:00 PM
Cost: Free, please consider making a donation
> Find out more about Belardo Lights in Tierrasanta

DB Lights

Presented in a loving memory of a father who loved Christmas, DB Lights is an amazing display of more than 25,000 lights synchronized to music.

Where: 9773 Roe Dr, Santee, CA 92071
When: December 1, 2015 – January 1, 2015
> Find out more about DB Lights

Christmas on Knob Hill

Christmas on Knob Hill began in 1988 and is now one of the largest Christmas light displays in San Diego county! Over 30 years, the display has grown to over 85,000 lights with a special visit from Santa every year.

Where: 1639 Knob Hill Rd., San Marcos, CA 92069
When: November 26 – December 30, 2015
> Find out more about Christmas on Knob Hill

Popular San Diego Neighborhoods with Christmas Lights

There are plenty of San Diego neighborhoods who collectively get into the holiday spirit with entire blocks lit up with Christmas lights. San Diego Family Magazine has collected all the locations on one printout you can download via the link below.

> Check out San Diego Family Magazine’s Map of Christmas Lights 2015

> Discover Even More Holiday Excitement in San Diego

Know of any other great Christmas lights in San Diego or have any updates to the ones listed above? Let us and others know in the comments below.

Robert Arends

Top 5 San Diego Spots to Explore the Birthplace of California

The new San Salvador, the Mayflower of the West! Photo credit: Jerry Soto

The new San Salvador, the Mayflower of the West! Photo credit: Jerry Soto

Did you know, San Diego was discovered by Europeans 473 years ago? Yep, only 50 years after Columbus and more than 200 years before the Spanish missions were started.

Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed his galleon ship, the San Salvador into San Diego Bay on Sept. 28, 1542 – going down in history as San Diego’s “first tourist.” He didn’t stay long, though, as there was no San Diego Zoo or LEGOLAND for the crew to explore. 😉

Today, tourists by the millions are drawn to our attractive sun-kissed shores in search of sun and fun, as well as the fascinating living history of San Diego.

Following are Top 5 places to step back in time and trace Cabrillo’s momentous discovery, and the founding of San Diego:

1. Maritime Museum of San Diego

San Salvador docked at the Maritime Museum. Photo credit: Jerry Soto

San Salvador docked at the Maritime Museum. Photo credit: Jerry Soto

Last month the Maritime Museum of San Diego launched a full-size, functioning replica of the San Salvador – the Mayflower of the West – much to the delight of landlubbers like me! The $6.2 million vessel took 5 years to construct (check out this cool time-lapse video of the ship’s construction) and can be seen docked at the museum’s pier on Harbor Drive. Plan is to have it open to the public (as in actually go onboard) later this year, hopefully by the holidays {fingers crossed}.

2. Cabrillo National Monument

Impressive statue of Cabrillo at Cabrillo National Monument

Impressive statue of Cabrillo at Cabrillo National Monument

Wonder what Cabrillo looked like or what he saw as he sailed into San Diego’s impressive natural harbor? Head to Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego’s only national park. There’s a 14-foot high statue of Cabrillo (originally envisioned as a 150-foot tall sculpture!) and incredible 360-degree, birds-eye views of the city. Also fun to explore are the Old Point Loma Lighthouse (one of eight original lighthouses on the West Coast), tide pools and bunkers from WWII.

3. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Folklorico dancers at Old Town State Historic Park

Folklorico dancers at Old Town State Historic Park

The Junipero Serra Museum on a hill overlooking Old Town, marks the spot where Spanish friars and soldiers established a presidio and the first Mission San Diego in 1769 (the original structures are no longer visible; the ruins are buried). Downhill, Old Town State Historic Park with its adobe buildings, old timey plaza and other sites, shows what life was like at San Diego’s first “downtown” in the 1800s. This is where the Wild West meets mariachis and our Hispanic heritage.

4. Mission San Diego de Alcala

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala

California’s first mission, Mission San Diego de Alcala in Mission Valley

In the aptly named Mission Valley near Old Town, is the second Mission San Diego de Alcala – which was moved here in 1774 to be closer to the San Diego River (makes sense). You can stroll through the mission and its beautiful gardens, chapel, church, a museum with original artifacts and an excavation site out back, believed to be the monastery.

5. Mission Trails Regional Park

Old Mission Dam in Mission Trails Regional Park. Photo credit: Ce Helton

Old Mission Dam in Mission Trails Regional Park. Photo credit: Ce Helton

Mission Trails Regional Park, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S., is just up the road from Mission San Diego. Highlights include the original Old Mission Dam, a state-of-the-art Visitor and Interpretive Center featuring exhibits dedicated to the Kumeyaay Indians who lived here 1,000 years ago and 60 miles of hiking trails including an awesome trek to the top of Cowles Mountain, the city of San Diego’s highest peak (1,593 feet).

See you in San Diego, and make your own history! 🙂

Brent Bernasconi

Join the Kidvasion – Kids Play Free at Local Attractions All October

It’s October and that means the Kidvasion of San Diego has begun! 100+ attractions, restaurants, hotels and more are offering amazing deals just for kids. Below are the spectacular offers from San Diego attractions your kids don’t want to miss!

Kids Go Free to San Diego Zoo & Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Play Days - Top Things in San Diego

Lions and tigers and kids free admission, oh my! Kids 11 and under can go wild and get up close to amazing animals all October at both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

> Kids Go Free to the San Diego Zoo
> Kids Go Free to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Kids Go, Eat & Play Free at SeaWorld San Diego

Dolphin Encounter - SeaWorld San Diego in Mission Bay

It’s all about the kids at SeaWorld San Diego this October with offers including kids free admission to SeaWorld San Diego, Dolphin & Beluga Interaction Programs, and Breakfast & Dine With Shamu.

> Kids Go, Eat and Play Free at SeaWorld San Diego

Kids Go Free to LEGOLAND California

LEGOLAND's Brick Or Treat Cruise

Come play at LEGOLAND California Resort. It’s a hands-on experience with more than 60 rides, shows and attractions. Take your imagination on an amazing journey and enter the all-new LEGO® Legends of CHIMA™ Water Park. It features an awe-inspiring Lion Temple Wave Pool, crocodile swamp and the interactive Build-a-Boat.

> Kids Go Free to LEGOLAND California

Kids Go Free to 40+ Museums

San Diego Museum Council's Kids Free in October

Explore the hidden treasurers of the ocean or the far reaches of outer space. Delve into local history, visual arts, botanic gardens, scientific wonders – and more – all here in San Diego! Children ages 12 and under receive free admission with a paid adult (limit 2) at more than 40 museums.

> San Diego Museum Council’s Kids Free in October

Kids Play & Ride Free at Belmont Park


Bring the kids to Belmont Park for a day full of fun with the following offers: unlimited ride wristband, unlimited laser tag wristband, cotton candy, child rental at Mission Bay Rentals, and more.

> Kids Play & Ride Free at Belmont Park

> Browse the 100+ Kids Free in San Diego Offers

Brent Bernasconi

Find Your Park – San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monument

Old Point Loma Lighthouse - Cabrillo National Monument

I must agree with Ken Burns that our National Parks are America’s Best Idea. 100 years since the founding of the National Park Service (2016 is the centennial), more than 400 locations throughout the United States and its territories have become National Parks. Each one of these wonders offers citizens of the world the chance to explore nature, absorb the local history and marvel at amazing vistas.

For more than 100 years, Cabrillo National Monument has offered locals and visitors the chance to explore the natural, historical and cultural history of the San Diego area.

In honor of the Find Your Park initiative and National Park Week, I invite you and your family to spend a day wandering through San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monument.

Visitor Center, Cabrillo Statue and the Million Dollar View

Cabrillo National Monument - the Plymouth Rock of the West

Cabrillo National Monument – the Plymouth Rock of the West

Almost every National Park visit starts off with a stop into the Visitor Center for everything from park maps to tour registrations to souvenirs to the pre-hike restroom break.

Take some time to explore the world of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo by walking through the “Age of Exploration” exhibit. Inside the exhibit, you will find relics, replicas and information of everything from the tools used and uniforms worn by the men aboard the historic San Salvador ship to the local population of Kumeyaay Indians.

There are also a few short documentary films shown throughout the day covering Cabrillo, the park, and gray whales.

After your history lesson, head toward the statue of Cabrillo located behind the visitor center and take in the million dollar views of the bay, Coronado and Downtown San Diego. On a clear day, you can see all the way south to the mountains near Tijuana, Mexico. Make sure your camera is ready!

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Old Point Loma Lighthouse - Cabrillo National Monument

Step inside and back in time at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Brent Bernasconi

Next up is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse just west of the Visitor Center. The structure itself has been painstakingly restored to its 1880 appearance. Step inside and back in time to see how the family maintaining the lighthouse lived.

If you consider yourself a bit of a shutterfly, make sure to take a picture from the first floor of the winding stairs that lead up to the top floor of the lighthouse.

Learn more about the work required to maintain the lighthouse and get an up-close view of the actual light that guided ships into San Diego Bay in the lighthouse history exhibit located in the adjacent Assistant Keeper’s Quarters.

> Explore San Diego’s History and Heritage

Bayside Trail

Bayside Trail View - Cabrillo National Monument

Watch ships come and go as you hike along the Bayside Trail. Photo courtesy of Brent Bernasconi

Since you’re spending the whole day exploring Cabrillo National Monument, make sure to enjoy the 2.5 mile roundtrip hike on the Bayside Trail. Along the trail you will encounter many of the same coastal sage scrub and flora that Cabrillo would have seen when he arrived in 1542. Also be on the lookout for World War I and II structures and bunkers built to protect San Diego Bay.

Don’t worry if you or your little ones get tired, there are plenty of benches to relax upon while you take a break and bask in the views of the water and San Diego.

> San Diego Hiking Trails

Whale Overlook

Whale Overlook - Cabrillo National Monument

Learn about and possibly even see a few Grey Whales migrating by at the Whale Overlook. Photo courtesy of CNM

After you finished your hike along the Bayside Trail or are done exploring the lighthouse, walk on over to the beautiful Whale Overlook for a amazing vista of the Pacific Ocean. During the months of December and February (and sometimes through April), you can witness the majestic Pacific Grey Whales migrate past the shores of San Diego. There are a few coin-operated binoculars scattered throughout the overlook if you didn’t bring your own.

When we visit with our son, this is our spot to break out the string cheese and enjoy some downtime while looking out over the water.

> A Guide to Whale Watching in San Diego

They Stood Watch Exhibit

Radio Building - Cabrillo National Monument

The old radio building now houses the “The Stood Watch” military exhibit. Photo courtesy of CNM.

Last stop on the list for the main Cabrillo National Monument area is the They Stood Watch military exhibit. Located in the historic radio station building, the exhibit shares the stories behind the remains of the now abandoned bunkers, fire control stations and gun batteries built around the peninsula to defend the bay starting in 1852 and continuing through World War II.

Tide Pools

Tidepools of Cabrillo National Monument

Explore the tidepools of Cabrillo National Monument

If you and/or your kids still have energy, take the short drive down to the western edge of the park for amazing tidepools. During periods of low tide, pools form along this shore in rocky depressions. You may see flowery anemones, elusive octopi, spongy deadman’s fingers, and a myriad of other creatures.

Please be careful and respectful while you visit the tidepools. The intertidal area is a very sensitive ecosystem. Few animals in this ecosystem can harm humans, but many animals are delicate, and can even be killed, when handled or just touched by humans. Ask a ranger or volunteer how you can best explore the tidepools without harming them.

> Hanging Out at San Diego’s Tide Pools

Free Entrance Days at Cabrillo National Monument

While National Parks are already a great deal, a few days and weekends a year the National Park Services opens the gates and invites everyone to explore the beauty and history of America’s Best Idea for free.

2015 Fee Free Days and Weekend

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day – January 18, 2016
  • National Park Week – April 16-24, 2016
  • National Park Service Birthday – August 25-28, 2016
  • National Public Lands Day – September 24, 2016
  • Veterans Day – November 11, 2016

> Annual Free Entrance Day Schedule in the National Parks

Cabrillo National Monument Info

Where: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (All visitors must exit the park at 5:00 PM)
Entrance Fee (as of April 2015):

  • Passenger Vehicle – $10 per vehicle
  • Motorcycles – $7 per vehicle
  • Walk-ins and Cyclists – $5 per person

> Discover more of Cabrillo National Monument

Sarah Weinberg

All Aboard! San Diego on Track with Train Travel

Pacific Surfliner - Amtrak California

Take a step back in time and explore San Diego aboard everything from steam locomotives to exquisite model train exhibits to coastal views to die for.

Coaster Train – Ride with a View

View from the second story seating on North County’s Coaster from Oceanside to San Diego.

View from the second story seating on North County’s Coaster from Oceanside to San Diego.

Visitors to San Diego County can ride the rails on double-decker Coaster and Amtrak California trains along the coast with not-to-be-missed views of the ocean. The trains also travel through seaside surf towns like Encinitas and intersect the Pacific Ocean and Del Mar Race Track and fairgrounds (“where the turf meets the surf”) on each side of the train, making taking San Diego’s “commuter” trains vacation-worthy excursions.

> Find out more about San Diego’s Trains & Trolleys

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Is this a real town or a model?! Step back in time to the old San Diego at the Model Railroad Museum

Once in the city, visit the San Diego Model Railroad Museum (SDMRM) in Balboa Park. The world’s largest operating model railroad museum, this unique venue contains four enormous scale and model layouts that will delight young and old with their accurate and playful re-creation of famous railways throughout the southwest. In addition, the museum features a Toy Train Gallery with an interactive Lionel layout for children, and seasonal visiting exhibits, such as the John D. Spreckels: Building San Diego’s Crown Jewel exhibit currently on display.

Centennial Railway Garden

San Diego Model Railroad Museum Centennial Railway Garden

A portion of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum’s new Centennial Railway Garden Exhibit to debut April 25, 2015

Balboa Park is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year and the SDMRM is creating a 2015 Centennial Railroad Garden to be unveiled in late April. This open-air model railroad features a miniature recreation of Balboa Park as it existed in 1915 and showcases new technology that enables visitors to interact with the layout directly by using a smart phone or tablet.

Vintage San Diego Silver Line

San Diego Silver Line Car

I did a double take the first time I saw this vintage car on the tracks of our trolley line downtown. Photo by By Nehrams2020 (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to actually ride in vintage trains, opportunities abound. Even our city trolley system has a restored green 1946 vintage car on the tracks running limited service on a downtown loop among the modern red trolley cars.

> Find out more about the San Diego Vintage Trolley Project

Poway Midland Railroad

My daughter rides the rails at a train-themed birthday party at Old Poway Park.

My daughter rides the rails at a train-themed birthday party at Old Poway Park.

Family fun can be had at Old Poway Park where the Poway Midland Railroad offers weekend rides on various vintage trains, including an original steam locomotive, a speeder and a trolley depending on the weekend and season. The park plays host to many community events and festivals year round and is a great place to bring a picnic.

Where: 14134 Midland Road, Poway, CA 92064
> Find out more about the Poway-Midland Railroad

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum

Golden State Train - Pacific Southwest Railway Museum

All aboard the PSRM’s Golden State Limited Train!

A trip to Campo in San Diego’s southeastern regions lets visitors experience the Old West at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum. The 40-acre interpretive museum at Campo and a small satellite museum in downtown La Mesa educate visitors about the rich history of rail travel in the U.S. At the Campo venue, PSRM operates real, old-time trains on 14 miles of the mountainous San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway, a historic rail line built by John D. Spreckels in the early decades of the 20th century. Passengers can take weekend, select Tuesday, and seasonal rides aboard the Golden State Limited locomotive during a one hour round trip train ride on the historic railway. The PSRM offers special event excursions for private groups, school field trips and seasonal rides such as “The Bunny Train” and “The Polar Express” during the winter holidays, offering rides to The North Pole to visit Santa.

Where: 750 Depot Street, Campo, CA 91906
> Find out more about the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum

A Few More “Train” Stops in San Diego

And finally, if you are interested in buying vintage model trains, San Diego’s Frank the Train Man retail store opened in 1943 and is still going strong in its current North Park location. Or if you’d like to sip one of San Diego’s famous craft beers while sitting in an old trolley stop, check out Station Tavern for a burger and a family friendly play area that includes a model trolley car for the kids to play on. The site was originally a trolley station for San Diego’s No. 2 line from 1929-1948. Make your last stop The Whistle Stop Bar, a hangout for locals that dubs itself “the little bar that could” and is only a few steps away from Station Tavern.