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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
You know the old saying, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” Well, San Diego has its own historic maritime tale: “In 1542, Cabrillo sailed the ocean blue and discovered…San Diego.” Yep, hard to believe that over 470 years ago(!)Portuguese explorer named Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who sailed for Spain, came across our little slice of paradise.
Cabrillo didn’t stay long, though; just enough time to anchor his ship, the San Salvador, off Point Loma, note and name our beautiful bay, and continue up the coast.
Launch of the San Salvador
The completed San Salvador and its amazing construction crew. Photo credit: Jerry Soto
San Diego makes history again Labor Day Weekend, September 3-5, 2016, during the Maritime Museum of San Diego‘s maiden voyage celebration of the first full-scale, historically-accurate working replica of the San Salvador, the “Mayflower of the West.” The impressive $6.2 million vessel stands 60 feet tall, weighs 230 tons and took the Maritime Museum five years to construct.
Coinciding with the museum’s annual Festival of Sail, the largest tall ship festival on the West Coast, visitors can for the first time board the San Salvador and enjoy a variety of onshore exhibits spotlighting this seaworthy recreation of Cabrillo’s 16th century galleon.
The adventure continues through October as the San Salvador embarks on a Pacific Heritage Tour of California’s coast, serving as a seafaring symbol of California’s origin story and the history of America from a West Coast perspective, and it will anchor in the following cities:
September 15-18: Oxnard, Channel Islands Maritime Museum
September 23-25: Monterey, Monterey State Historic Park
September 30 – October 9: Morro Bay, Central Coastal Maritime Museum Association
At each port, visitors will be able to board the ship and discover immersive dockside exhibits and events.
More Cabrillo Sites in San Diego
For history buffs, following are a few other cool Cabrillo sights (including a couple hidden in plain sight) to check out while you’re here:
Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego’s only national park, commemorates Point Loma peninsula (Ballast Point, to be exact) as the “Plymouth Rock of the West” where Cabrillo came ashore. Cabrillo, the first European to set foot in California, claimed the bay for Spain. He noted it was “a very good port.” Couldn’t agree more, señor Cabrillo 😉
It would be more than 200 years later before the first Spanish mission was founded here.
There’s a 14-foot statue of Cabrillo with panoramic views of San Diego Bay and downtown; a phenomenal photo opp! Did you know: the Cabrillo sculpture was initially envisioned as a colossal statue that would exceed the Statue of Liberty in height!
California Tower in Balboa Park
California Tower in Balboa Park
Cabrillo find #2 is located high atop the California Tower in Balboa Park, part of the San Diego Museum of Man. You’ll need binoculars to spot this one. The large weathervane on top of the cathedral-like tower is, in fact, the San Salvador. Pretty cool! For the first time in 80 years, the California Tower is now open for visitors to climb. Reservations required. Don”t forget to bring your camera!
On the museum’s façade, there’s also a clay and plaster figure of Cabrillo. If you’re facing the building, he’s just below and to the right of Junipero Serra , father of the California missions (right of the balcony).
San Diego Museum of Man façade. Can you spot Cabrillo?
So now you know about our discoverer, Cabrillo, and his mark on San Diego’s – and California’s – history 🙂
With more than a dozen pet friendly hotels throughout the city, and even more restaurants that open their doors to doggy dining companions, it’s no surprise that San Diego is a popular destination for pet lovers. And for those looking for a pet-centric experience that goes above and beyond, you’ll find that here too!
If quality dog or cat bonding time is on your travel itinerary, check out these unusual experiences for pet lovers in San Diego:
Order From the Doggy Menu
Yes, La Jolla Brewing Company has a menu just for dogs! (photos via @lajollabrewing)
Many San Diego restaurants set out water bowls and treats for dogs dining with their owners, but the La Jolla Brewing Company steps up the canine dining game with an entire Dog Menu. While you enjoy one of their signature craft brews, your pooch can feast on frozen “chicken pops” or an oatmeal bowl topped off with peanut butter.
Active pet lovers can take to the bay with their dogs thanks to SUP Pups, a stand up paddle board tour for dogs and their owners hosted by The SUP Connection. The tour includes some doggy playtime followed by a paddle through the calm channels of the San Diego Bay.
Is your dog already a pro when it comes to water sports? Enter him or her in the annual Unleashed by Petco Surf Dog Competition! At the most adorable surf event of the year, fearless dogs jump on their boards, paddle out and hang 20. Even if your dog isn’t up for the challenge, it’s plenty of fun to watch.
Cats and Coffee
Cats and coffee are the purrrfect combo (photos via @thecatcafesandiego)
Of course, it’s not just dogs that have all the fun in San Diego. If cat cuddles are what you seek, head to San Diego’s Cat Café. The spot in the heart of downtown offers visitors a chance to enjoy delicious cup of coffee while hanging out with several resident kitties. Best of all, the resident cats are available for adoption, so if your fall in love over your cup of coffee, you can take your new best friend home with you!
A few miles removed from the beach, City Heights has yet to make its way to most visitors itineraries, but that is about to change. With vibrant art, colorful neighborhood culture and lots of under-the-radar restaurants, the diversity of City Heights means visitors from all walks of life will find something to love in this urban area of San Diego.
Discover the Art and Culture of City Heights
A Blossoming Arts District
The Azalea Park community in City Heights is quickly growing into a destination for arts lovers.
At the Azalea Community Park, local artists have created a unique oasis with the Water Conservation Garden, collection of succulent plants and creative sculpture.
Keep on the lookout for many colorful murals around the neighborhood.
Head to Poplar Street to check out the studio of Vicki Leon, a local glass artist, sculptor and jewelry maker.
A bull made out of car parts? It’s just one of the unique artworks you’ll find at the Water Conservation Garden
Ethnic Eats at their Best
The vast diversity of City Height’s residents means that local restaurants offer authentic cuisines from a variety of cultures.
Little Saigon is home to many Vietnamese restaurants, so finding a top spot for pho is a snap. Try Pho King, a local favorite for Vietnamese soups.
Super Cocina is a beloved San Diego institution for authentic, homestyle Mexican cuisine.
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
View more than 80 decorated boats at the 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.
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.
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!
Lights, flowers and s’mores – what more could you ask for? (photo by by John Bryant)
At night, the San Diego Botanic Garden is transformed into a winter wonderland with over 100,000 lights, live music, horse drawn wagon rides, warm beverages and snow (on certain days, make sure to check in advance). Just make sure to bring a sled (no metal runners please).
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 and this year will include a new animated snowman and an improved spiral mega tree!
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.
The holidays are just around the corner and there’s no better place to be than San Diego’s sparkling Mission Bay where distinctly California festivities await!
Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights
Mission Bay lights up December 13 during the Parade of Lights
Everybody loves a holiday parade. But in San Diego, they don’t just happen in the streets. A unique maritime way to make some merry this holiday season is the popular Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights on December 13, featuring dozens of boats festooned with holiday lights and décor sailing around Mission Bay.
All are welcome to this free aquatic pageant which attracts tens of thousands of spectators to the shoreline.
The boat parade begins at 7:00 PM from the Quivira Basin. The best viewing spots are from Crown Point, Santa Clara Point Park (by Sail Bay), the east side of Vacation Island and west side of Fiesta Island. Check out this map of Mission Bay to scope out the area beforehand.
Also on Mission Bay, SeaWorld San Diego makes a big splash with its annual Christmas Celebration, beginning this Saturday. Festivities include Christmas-themed animal shows, holiday décor throughout the park, Santa’s Cottage for the kids, the 320-ft. Skytower Christmas Tree of Lights and SnowWorld, a winter wonderland with hills of snow for kids to sled down and practice making snowballs. Yep, it snows in San Diego! (we just have to make it 😉
Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma – the Plymouth Rock of the West
In 1542, Cabrillo sailed the ocean blue and not only discovered San Diego Bay for Spain, but California and the U.S. West Coast as well. Yep, that’s right…San Diego is the Plymouth Rock of the West!
Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into the harbor on September 28 – almost exactly 472 years ago! – aboard the San Salvador, a magnificent Spanish galleon ship. He landed on Point Loma, home of Cabrillo National Monument (San Diego’s only national park, BTW).
Historic reenactment of Cabrillo’s landing on Point Loma, San Diego Bay
This Sunday, September 28, 2014, the big 51st annual Cabrillo Festival at Ballast Point on Naval Base Point Loma (located on the south end of Rosecrans Street) celebrates Europe’s first steps onto our shores. Admission is Free! There will be music, dancing, children’s activities and authentic foods of Native Americans, Mexico, Portugal and Spain (yum!). There will also be Native American Kumeyaay basket making, knot tying and a 16th century Spanish soldiers living history encampment.
Folkloric dancers bring history alive
The photo-worthy festival highlight is the re-enactment of Cabrillo’s landing on the shores of San Diego Bay. The captain, his soldiers and a priest will sail into the bay on The Californian (a stand-in for the San Salvador) and once again claim the land for Spain (don’t worry, Spain will quickly give San Diego back to us 😉
The re-enactment begins at 1:00 PM, but arrive a little early to get the best views.
Cabrillo National Monument
Impressive statue of Cabrillo at Cabrillo National Monument
Just up the street, stop by Cabrillo National Monument to check out a commanding statue of Cabrillo on the cliffs of Point Loma overlooking San Diego, a cool video dramatization about his discovery and birds eye views of the bustling harbor, downtown skyline and the U.S. Navy in action on Coronado Island.
San Salvador Village
Replica of the San Salvador. Photo courtesy of Jerry Soto
I also recommend visiting the build site of a full-size, historically accurate replica of Cabrillo’s flagship San Salvador at San Salvador Village at Spanish Landing (near Harbor Island). The ship is incredibly cool, like how I imagined the Mayflower looked! It’ll be completed in the next few months – with her maiden voyage scheduled for January 2015 – and will become part of the permanent fleet of the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
San Salvador Village is open daily, featuring costumed docents, shipbuilding demonstrations, sail making and Native American Kumeyaay demos such as tulle boats, baskets and pottery making. This is as historically real as it gets! 😉
It’s that time of year – the days grow shorter, the weather grows colder and our dearly (and not-so-dearly) departed rise again for their unwelcome annual visit. If you’re brave or foolish enough to say hello to them, head out to one of these haunted houses and trails throughout San Diego county.
Just remember the words of Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) as you enter – Once, the door is locked, there is no way out…
The Scream Zone
Just keep telling yourself it’s just a hay ride, it’s just a hayride…or is it?
Get ready for three horrifying experiences at San Diego County’s largest haunted attraction. The Scream Zone features the House of Horror with rooms filled with terrifying scenes and scares lurking at every turn, take the Haunted Hayride through the haunted barns on the Del Mar racetrack and walk through The Chamber with the largest spinning tunnel in San Diego. New this year is the Zombie Paintball Safari…test your aim under pressure! Other features this year include: The Dusk Till Dawn Bar, The Walking Dead Prison, The Exorcist, and look for Pennywise the clown.
Note: The Scream Zone is designed for a teen and older audience.
The staff at The Haunted Hotel is dying to check you in! Photo by Mike Rollerson
Named one of the top 13 haunted houses in America by Haunt World magazine, The Haunted Hotel is one of San Diego’s longest running haunted houses. Do you you dare ride the Hellevator to who knows where, explore Freddy Krueger’s workshop, and visit rooms inspired by Legion and Shutter Island? Ride the moving Subway and meet the night riders, and try to escape the virus outbreak in the Zombie office. The heart-pounding effects are so real, you’ll be screaming for your life as you try to find the way out.
Note: No pregnant women, infants, or children being carried will be allowed entry. Not recommended for children under 10.
What ever you do, don’t walk into any of the houses along The Haunted Trail of Balboa Park! Photo by Mike Rollerson
If walking through haunted houses isn’t your thing, take a stroll through Balboa Park that you’ll never forget. The mile-long Haunted Trail has plenty of spine-tingling sights and sounds that will leave you trembling amongst the twisted grove of pines and gnarled oaks. In addition to the trail, you can make your way through “The eXperiment,” a maze that shows what can happen when Mother Nature takes her eye off the ball for even just a second.
Note: No pregnant women, infants, or children being carried will be allowed entry. Not recommended for children under 10.
Things aren’t always what they seem in the Ghastley Manor
Are you prepared to run for your life against hordes of the Undead? Can your heart handle coming face to face with the dark and twisted members of the Ghastley family? This year, you will be taken into the very depths of the Ghastley Family Manor, making your way through dark corridors, sinister rooms, and an army of the Living Dead.
Note: Monster Manor is targeted towards for ages 13+.
The Whaley House is one of the most haunted houses in America
Step into one of America’s Most Haunted Houses and immediately feel a chill! See something out of the corner of your eye that you can’t explain? Hear the sound of a ball bouncing off the wall but don’t see it? Throughout October, the Whaley House will be offering special tours, extended hours and the chance for you to have an actual paranormal encounter.