For eight wonderful, quiet years, my husband and I celebrated each wedding anniversary with a trip. Some years we saved up our vacation time for a long-haul, overseas adventure; other years we opted for a couple of smaller vacations closer to home. Even after our first child arrived, we remained committed to giving ourselves this break. The year we found ourselves with two young children however, the prospect of jetting off to South America or Asia just seemed…exhausting! Anyone who has travelled with toddlers knows that an immense amount of planning is required – packing (car seats, strollers, playpens, diapers…), coordinating airplane activities, finding toddler-friendly food, keeping them entertained every day; it is no easy feat!
Enter San Diego. Although we had travelled to California before, we had never been to this southern-most city, located on the US/Mexican border. A WestJet pop-up ad caught my eye and some quick Internet research (a near-perfect climate, beautiful beaches, centrally located attractions and that world-famous zoo) made our decision an easy one.
Here are five reasons why San Diego should be your next holiday destination with your toddlers.
1. So easy to get there
We were delighted to discover direct flights were available from our hometown to San Diego multiple times per week and, clocking in at just over three hours, it’s the perfect length of flight for little kids. Our son comfortably got through his airplane routine (movie, snack, toys, books, bathroom, another snack) and it was time to land! Our baby girl had a nice lap nap and was refreshed and ready to go when we arrived. Because San Diego is a common arrival point for families travelling to Disneyland, the plane was full of families and young children, ensuring a high level of tolerance for any crying or fussy behaviour.
2. Toddler (and parent!) friendly climate – not too hot, not too cold
When heading south with young kids, there is such a thing as too hot. Nothing makes for more of a vacation disaster than sunburned toddlers and being stuck inside hotel rooms. With average temperatures in the high teens, low twenties in the winter months of January thru March, the climate of San Diego is perfect for children. Our kids were happy to leave their winter coats behind and were comfortable wearing shorts and t-shirts. Light jackets were required in the evenings, but it was still warm enough to comfortably eat dinner outside.
3. So much for kids to do!
In five days, we barely scratched the surface of the variety of family friendly activities that San Diego has to offer. Perhaps the best known attraction is the world-famous San Diego Zoo. We spent an entire day there and it did not disappoint! With over 3,700 animals, there is definitely something for everyone. When our kid’s little legs started to get tired of walking, we hopped on the double-decker bus for a driving tour of the grounds. For more ambitious families, the zoo has numerous trails and pathways through some beautiful gardens and plant exhibits.
SeaWorld was another attraction that amazed and delighted our children. The floor-to-ceiling aquarium displays completely mesmerized our baby and our three year-old especially loved the dolphin show. With a few toddler-sized amusement park rides scattered throughout, along with a giant jungle gym, our kids were good and tired by the time we left the park!
Another great day was spent exploring the various museums and playgrounds of Balboa Park. Of particular interest to our son was the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, complete with a hands-on Thomas the Tank Engine exhibit. My husband has never met a car museum that he doesn’t like; the San Diego Automotive Museum was no exception. And everyone was happy to explore the many grassy areas where we enjoyed a lunch time picnic, followed by ice cream at the playground.
4. A touch of culture
San Diego’s close proximity to Mexico is reflected in the food and culture of the city. For the more adventurous, Tijuana is a short car ride away, or can even be entered by foot if you are prepared to brave the line-up. We opted out of an actual visit to Mexico, instead deciding to explore the Old Town neighbourhood of San Diego. History buffs will enjoy learning more about this birthplace of California; our family was more interested in the specialty shops (sombreros for everyone!) and food stands (fish tacos are the signature dish of San Diego). Kitschy souvenirs aside, San Diego definitely has a stronger Mexican influence than other areas of California we have visited. Even if it just meant trying authentic guacamole or listening to a “real” mariachi street band, our kids were forced to occasionally leave their comfort zones – an important goal of all of our travels.
5. Surf, sun and sand
Of course no visit to Southern California is complete without a trip to the beach. Ocean swims in January are for the very warm-blooded, however our family still enjoyed a day of playing in the sand and people watching. Our son took great interest in the surfers of all ages tackling the ocean waves while our daughter ate her first mouthful of real ocean sand. We chose ritzy Del Mar (a short drive north of San Diego) for our beach day, however there are a number of other beaches and ocean side boardwalk areas to explore within the city of San Diego. For those with strong sea legs (my husband opted out of this activity), whale watching can be very worthwhile. A few hours on a swaying sea vessel did reward us with numerous sightings of grey and humpback whales, along with a pod of dolphins. While I struggled to capture these majestic creature’s brief appearances on camera, my son was distracted by the tall ships and fishing vessels also taking advantage of San Diego’s beautiful harbour.
Even after five action-packed days in San Diego, there were still lots of fun things left on our “to do” list. With a great mix of cultural experience, museums so fun you don’t even realize you’re learning, and quite possibly the world’s most perfect weather, San Diego is at the top of our list of winter-escape family destinations.