San Diego: Top Attractions

san diego
Giraffes, San Diego  (Robert Holmes)

San Diego's got it all: glorious weather, a beautiful bay, lively arts, theme parks, a world-class zoo, and wild animal park, plus an enviable 70 miles of beaches. Newly opened Petco Park serves as the home to the city's Major League Baseball franchise, the San Diego Padres, and there are plenty beautiful vistas for the family to enjoy. Go running on the beach, surf the waves in La Jolla, or grab fish tacos at one of the many local burrito shops. In short, it's nigh-impossible to get bored in San Diego.

SeaWorld Adventure Park
Polar bears, sharks, penguins, manatees and, of course, Shamu—everybody's favorite killer whale—star at this marine park that combines animal attractions with thrill rides. Little kids splash and play in Shamu's Happy Harbor while older ones get wet on Journey to Atlantis, a water coaster. Book a behind-the-scenes tour and you might catch a dolphin training session or go backstage to pet a penguin.
SeaWorld Adventure Park: 800.380.3203,

LEGOLAND California
In LEGOLAND, scaled models of Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and other landmark cities rise up out of 20 million LEGO bricks. Unlike most parks, this one caters almost exclusively to young kids. Fairy Tale Brook floats children through an enchanted forest of storybook characters, while the driving school gets six-year-olds behind the wheel of their own car. The TECHNIC Coaster dumps riders from the ticklish-but-not-terrifying height of 42 feet—this and a few other rides appeal to older kids. New in 2005: Knights' Tournament, a choose-your-own-intensity ride.
LEGOLAND: 760.918.5346,

San Diego Wild Animal Park
The San Diego Wild Animal Park houses more than 3,500 rare or endangered creatures throughout its 1,800 acres. Heart of Africa's winding trails lead you through 30 acres of re-created forests, savannas, and wetlands inhabited by wattled cranes, okapi, bontebok, and other animals. Ride the Wgasa Bush Line Railway to view giraffe, white rhino, antelope, ostrich, zebras, and wildebeest.
San Diego Wild Animal Park: 760.747.8702,

Balboa Park
Along with housing the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park—a 1,200-acre urban oasis—is home to museums such as the San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Aerospace Museum, the kid-friendly Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. The latter is touted as the largest model railroad facility in North America. A wonderful place rich in San Diego history, Balboa Park is a fantastic place for family picnics, strolls, and other outdoor activities.
Balboa Park: 619.239.0512,

Beaches, Beaches, Everywhere
La Jolla, a posh suburb about 12 miles north of San Diego is the place to hit the beach. Sea kayakers can paddle to La Jolla Shores to explore caves; little kids can look for minnows and crabs in La Jolla Cove's tidepools; and snorkelers can find schools of golden-orange Garibaldi fish in the protected waters of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park. At Ellen Browning Scripps Park, located at Coast Boulevard below Prospect Street, a seawall blocks the strong currents and waves, creating a protected swimming area perfect for kid-friendly splashing.
Additional Info: 619.236.1212,

San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo is the top rated zoo in the country and home to 4,000 rare and endangered animals. Do not miss it. It's large and bounteous, great fun for the kids, and a wonderful way to kill some time in an educational fashion. And it's gotten even better. Monkey Trails and Forest Tales, the zoo's largest and most elaborate habitat in its 89-year history, debuted in June. On the landscaped paths get up close with a clouded leopard, pygmy hippopotamus, weaver birds, and other rarely seen animals from Asian and African forests. An elevated trail gives you a treetop view of rare monkeys. But don't get so enchanted that you miss everything else. The family can easily spend a morning, an afternoon, or an entire day traipsing through this animal kingdom.
San Diego Zoo: 619.231.1515,

Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and Coronado
Los Angeles might have Santa Monica and Orange County might have Newport and Huntington, but San Diego has some of the best Cali seasides in Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and Coronado. No need to look for that low-key SoCal vibe—it's visible everywhere, from the surfers to the taco stands. These are the places to join the locals in bicycling, inline skating, jogging, and—of course—relaxing on the sand along the three-mile boardwalk that connects Mission Beach and "PB." Coronado sports San Diego's widest sands plus a bike path that hugs the scenic shoreline and winds through Silver Strand State Park. If you take the family to San Diego and miss these spots, you might as well have not even have gone.
Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Coronado: 619.236.1212,

USS Midway and San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum
The USS Midway is a floating American icon just waiting to captivate the military buff in your family. An active naval aircraft carrier that dedicated 47 years of service to the U.S. military debuted as a museum in December 2004. Check out the cramped berths, peruse the galley—once responsible for 13,000 meals per day—and peer at the F-4 Phantoms. The family can even try they hand at the throttle on two flight simulators; one delivers the thrust of a catapult launch and the other gives you the option to fly against the enemy or in sync with the Blue Angels.
USS Midway, San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum: 619.544.9600,

San Diego Surfing Academy
For teens, the piece de résistance of a California beach scene vacation is catching a wave—or at least trying. At the San Diego Surfing Academy, championship longboarders Pat and Lynne Weber offer lessons on the shores of South Carlsbad State Park. For more intense instruction, sign up for their six-day/five-night surf camp, operating June through September. Single-day sessions are also available.
San Diego Surfing Academy: 800.447.SURF,

Mission Trails Regional Park
Mission Trails Regional Park, just eight miles from downtown San Diego, sprawls on 5,800 acres of hills and valleys and invites the naturalists of your kin. Forty miles of trails wind through oak groves, sage, and chaparral. It's easy to push a stroller on the Father Junipero Serra Trail and the Lake Murray Path as both are paved. Tired of walking? Then enjoy the park on horseback.
Mission Trails Regional Park: 619.668.3281,

Published: 8 Apr 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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