All of my happiest memories are from my grandparents home on Mission Bay, right in the heart of the beach district. These days, we’re far from the sun and sand of San Diego (Thanks, Uncle Sam), but I still go home as often as I can. If you are lucky enough to be stationed in San Diego, here are some things you shouldn’t miss:
Eat Amazing Mexican Food
Yes, I am starting this list with food. I am partial to California burritos myself, a San Diego “speciality” with carne asada, french fries, pico de gallo, and guacamole. They are good any time of day, but taste best on the beach.
Relax on the Beach
All the beaches in San Diego are lovely, but I am partial to Mission Beach. It is clean and safe, has an awesome boardwalk, and plenty of sand to spread out on. Bring a boogie board and ride the waves for the afternoon!
Go to Sea World
Sea World participates in the Waves of Honor program and invites all military families to visit once a year for free. They’ll give you four tickets- all you need to do is show them your military ID.
Explore the Tide Pools
Head up to La Jolla to visit the tide pools during low tide. You can see all sorts of creatures, crabs, sea urchins and and sea stars. Make sure you wear good shoes– your flip flops will slip right off the rocks!
The San Diego Zoo
You can’t miss the “world famous” San Diego zoo! This zoo on a hill is amazing. I love the Tiger Trail (tons of trees to keep you cool) and I could hang out with the orangutans all day. Locals may want to consider season passes– my favorite summer was the one we spent drawing the animals at the zoo each afternoon.
Visit Balboa Park
Just outside the zoo is Balboa Park, home to museums and the Artist’s Village. In the summer, your kids can take classes from the artists on the painted patio.
Go Fishing Off the Pier
You don’t need a license to fish off the piers in San Diego. Head out for the morning and come home with a dinner of crabs, lobster and fish!
Head up to Julian
Julian is beautiful in the fall, and you can stop by Mom’s Pie Shop to grab the best apple pie on the west coast. This town is super cute, with fun shops, an old fashioned feel, and an ice cream parlor that will take you back in time.
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See the Seals
When I was a kid, you could swim in the Children’s Pool in La Jolla, but these days it’s home to dozens of seals. Stop by to watch their antics and see them up close and personal in the wild.
Take the Kids to the Playground
There are playgrounds all around Mission Bay, most with free parking. The biggest and coolest ones are on the side of the bay bordered by I-5 from De Anza Cove to Fiesta island. Be the coolest mom ever and spend the day park-hopping!
Have an Adult-Only Evening
Get a sitter and drive up to Viejas Casino & Resort. The casino’s buffet is to die for, and when you’re done, you can play some slots as you find a way out of your food coma. The outlet mall has some good deals if gambling isn’t your thing. In the winter, they even have a skating ring!
Sip the Wine
Temecula is 60-90 min away and is home to plenty of wineries. Hop on a bus tour, and spend the day sipping.
Visit the Embarcadero
The Embarcadero is a beautiful place for a walk along the water, and is especially interesting for military kids. You can visit the USS Midway Museum or the Maritime Museum which has a collection of historic ships, including the Star of India.
Spanish Village is fun especially on weekends. They have working artists and booths on the patios, as well as shopping and restaurants right on the water.
Spend a Day Under the Sea
Birch Aquarium is an awesome place to spend a rainy afternoon. They have a fantastic view of the ocean and your children can talk to the scientists about sea life.
Head to Italy
Head downtown to Little Italy and eat at Fillipi’s Pizza Grotto (my favorite San Diego restaurant). This pizza joint is full of charm, and has the BEST pizza and wine.
Go to the Fair
The Del Mar Fair is an awesome summer attraction, with farm animals, huge rides and boardwalk games. If you’re into fried bananas and fried candy and fried veggies and fried everything, this is the place for you.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of fun things to do in the San Diego area, so if you are stationed there (or are a homesick local like me) please add in your best tips in the comments!