It’s home to several amusement parks, a couple of world-class zoos, historic attractions, and great museums. But the coastal destination is also the setting for California’s most beautiful beaches, which also provide a myriad of kid-friendly activities as well as an endless supply of fresh seafood for a culinary experience to add to your list of things to do. Some of these activities are popular with the locals and with weekenders, but they mostly go unnoticed by travelers from other parts of the country.
When vacationing in San Diego with the kids, you don’t have to skip on San Diego’s most popular attractions. But don’t miss out on these less obvious activities either.
(MORE: Fun Things to Do For Moms, Dads and the Whole Family in San Diego)
Surfing Lessons at Mission Bay Aquatic Center
When visiting California, do as the locals do and take up surfing. San Diego has some of the most amazing surfs on the West Coast and the best weather conditions. It’s almost a sin not to take advantage of your visit to experience them. There are many surf schools in San Diego, but at the UC San Diego-operated Mission Bay Aquatic Center, you’ll be supporting one of the most eco-friendly facilities in the city. You’ll be learning under the supervision of highly trained and super friendly staff as well. Learn surfing on a stretch of beach with shallow waters yet long lasting white water waves – the perfect condition for young and beginner surfers as well as bodyboarders. The kids will love the experience, and you’ll be able to go home and brag to your friends and family about having experienced this thrilling sport.
Mission Bay Aquatic Center offers individual and group classes on many water sports, including surfing, windsurfing and sailing. For more information, visit mbaquaticcenter.com.
Paddle Boarding in Mission Bay
With San Diego’s number of lagoons and bays like Mission Bay, all boasting calm waters ideal for the more relaxing water activities, paddle boarding is an inevitable favorite pastime. All the locals do it, and so should your family. It’s a super easy water sport to get into – a few minutes sitting or kneeling on that board to get your bearings and you’ll be standing in no time. It’s also very relaxing and addictive in a good way – paddling out into the deep then taking a nice break on your board is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle. While on your paddleboards, keep an eye out for seals, sea lions and harmless moon jellyfish in the water.
Action Sport Rentals has three locations in Mission Bay including one at Paradise Point Resort & Spa, and all rent paddle boards, as well as kayaks, sailboats, fun cats and waverunners, to locals and vacationers. Visit actionsportrentals.com for rates and prices.
Shopping at the Headquarters and Seaport Village
Sister properties Seaport Village and the Headquarters are two of San Diego’s shopping destinations. Locals come to Seaport Village to dine, do a bit of novelty shopping, meet friends, and maybe have a casual business meeting, thanks to the many local shops, restaurants, outdoor dining tables and public benches there. The neighboring embarcadero also affords a nice sea breeze and lovely views of the water.
At the repurposed Old Police Headquarters next door, now renamed The Headquarters, specialty shops abound, as do free family-friendly activities, so local families have an idyllic space for a bit of retail therapy as well as movie nights, yoga, music events or simply to unwind. Visit Seaside Paper | Home to shop for pretty paper products and small home accessories, Dallmann for delicious locally-made chocolate, and Venissimo Cheese for delicious meats and cheeses to take back to your hotel room. And don’t forget to check out the small exhibit of one of the old jail cells not far from the entrance.
Sampling Baja California Dishes at Rubio’s
With San Diego sitting right next to the US-Mexico border, it comes as no surprise that Baja California’s legendary cuisine has made its way up to the destination. Yet those delicious dishes, as simple as they are, are not quite that easy to replicate. Local favorite Rubio’s, founded in the city in the 80s, offers foodies and Mexican food lovers that heavenly Baja cuisine without having them drive a couple of hours down to Ensenada. Battered fish tacos or shrimp tacos topped with cabbage and mayonnaise-based sauce are served with generous helpings of refried beans and tortilla chips. The local chain’s original location is in Mission Bay, but other locations are everywhere in and around the city.
Bonfire at the Beach
Most public beaches in Southern California do not allow bonfires, which means that a beach bonfire is close to being a luxury. But with SoCal’s mild nights, having a bonfire at the beach with just light sweaters on is a great way to end a day of exploring. At Paradise Point Resort & Spa in Mission Bay, beach fire pits – steps from the water and furnished with Adirondack chairs and tables – are complimentary for guests to use during their stay. This means that you can have bonfires every night of your stay, if you like. The resort’s Island Market sells bonfire and s’mores kits for convenience.
Paradise Point Resort & Spa has spacious guestrooms, bungalows and suites, many right on the beach, to accommodate families of all sizes so it’s a great base for a family vacation. And there’s a plethora of other onsite activities like biking, water sports (with Action Sport Rentals), surfing, tennis and basketball, available so you never have to leave the beautiful resort ground if you don’t want to.
Michelle Rae Uy contributed this to MiniTime. She is a travel writer based in Los Angeles and MiniTime’s Head of Content, who spends her free time on adventures and film photography.