Sun and sand of SAN DIEGO

HEAD­ING DOWN THE COAST FOR A FAM­ILY GET­AWAY,

The Province - - Travel - She­liza Mitha

My fam­ily of four re­cently headed south to spend some time in the sunny and warm climes of San Diego’s Pa­cific Beach.

One of the rea­sons: Days at the beach among the surf and sand is com­pletely free and kid-friendly.

Since fly­ing non-stop from Van­cou­ver to San Diego can be tough, opt in­stead for the non-stop and cheaper op­tion of fly­ing into Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port (LAX). Even with the cost of rent­ing a car at the air­port and driv­ing south, it’s still more cost-ef­fec­tive than fly­ing di­rectly into San Diego. Bet­ter yet, in­ves­ti­gate rent­ing a car from a lo­ca­tion near the air­port (ver­sus at the air­port). In this case, a $25 cab fare to the car rental agency could save you around $200 off the rental cost. Man­hat­tan Beach

As it’s about a two-hour drive to San Diego and con­sid­er­ing we’re in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia (and the kids are al­ready tired from the three­hour flight), we kicked off our hol­i­day with a one-night stay in Man­hat­tan Beach — a bustling beach town about a 20-minute drive south of the air­port.

For ac­com­mo­da­tions, try the fourstar Sea View Inn at the Beach (from $175 per night), which has an out­door heated pool and is a five-minute walk to the ocean. The Sea View in­cludes free park­ing, bi­cy­cles to ex­plore the area and a host of com­pli­men­tary beach ac­ces­sories (think chairs, tow­els, boo­gie boards and toys).

For a de­cent and less pricey al­ter­na­tive, the sim­ple, no-frills, fourstar Hi View Inn & Suites (from $129 per night) in Man­hat­tan Beach is a good op­tion, and is about a 15-minute walk to the beach.

Birch Aquar­ium

The next morn­ing, we drove two hours south of Los An­ge­les to the Birch Aquar­ium in La Jolla, a posh suburb just 20 min­utes north of San Diego.

With a fo­cus on con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity, the Birch Aquar­ium in La Jolla of­fers in­sight into unique marine species through ex­hi­bi­tions, pre­sen­ta­tions and dive shows.

On our af­ter­noon here, we watched live feed­ings of fish habi­tats and were treated to close-up views of colour­ful sea horses and other aquatic life. The cost of ad­mis­sion ($17/adults, $14/ages 13-17 and chil­dren aged 3-12 are $12.50; park­ing is free) is a frac­tion of that of SeaWorld, mi­nus the con­tro­versy and on­go­ing ques­tions sur­round­ing the treat­ment of marine an­i­mals.

Af­ter­wards, we checked into our one-bed­room apart­ment (about $100/night via Airbnb) in San Diego’s Pa­cific Beach neigh­bour­hood, an area some 10 miles north of down­town that’s chock-full of cafes, re­tail shops and lively restau­rants. Our apart­ment placed us within a fiveminute walk to the beach, and a few min­utes from shops and eater­ies.

Af­ter drop­ping off our bags and pick­ing up gro­ceries, we hit the beach with our home­made pic­nic din­ner to en­joy the evening sun­set.

The next day brought us more sun­shine, sim­ple beach­side pic­nick­ing and qual­ity time mak­ing elab­o­rate sand­cas­tles, while my 12-year-old took her first surfing les­son among the white­capped waves. In one-anda-half hours she went from barely hop­ping onto the board to ac­tu­ally rid­ing a wave.

old Town

Ap­pro­pri­ately sandy and sun­tanned, we tore our­selves away from the beach­side oa­sis to drive five miles south to Old Town San Diego for some sight­see­ing, shop­ping and din­ner. Old Town has an in­trigu­ing his­tory that dates back to 1769, and is con­sid­ered the birth­place of Cal­i­for­nia.

In 1968, the State of Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation of­fi­cially de­clared Old Town a State His­toric Park to pre­serve its rich her­itage.

Take a stroll through this his­toric park now, and you’ll find a vi­brant plaza with his­toric ex­hibits, mu­se­ums, liv­ing his­tory demon­stra­tions, restau­rants and all man­ner of shops of­fer­ing up ev­ery­thing from spe­cialty teas and beau­ti­ful Mex­i­can-made leather hand­bags and wal­lets to eerie spi­der-filled lol­lipops, Mex­i­can blan­kets, jump­ing beans, colour­ful Day of the Dead para­pher­na­lia and much more.

The orig­i­nal and re­con­structed struc­tures of 1800s Old Town San Diego also in­clude au­then­tic Mex­i­can restau­rants where kids aged 10 and un­der eat free.

Af­ter din­ing on chicken with mole sauce, spicy tamales and other Mex­i­can fare, the rest of the evening was spent brows­ing the shops and en­joy­ing live mu­sic in the plaza’s out­door atrium. (De­pend­ing on what you or­der, ex­pect to pay about $35 for din­ner for a fam­ily of four. Visit www.old­town­sandiegogu­ide.com to ac­cess coupons for free ap­pe­tiz­ers or dessert.)

cabrillo Na­tional mon­u­ment

With Old Town checked off, Cabrillo Na­tional Mon­u­ment was next on our list of out­door at­trac­tions. About a 30-minute drive south of Pa­cific Beach (and down­town San Diego), this park sits at the very tip of Point Loma penin­sula at the mouth of San Diego Bay.

Ad­mis­sion to Cabrillo is $10 per car — mak­ing this a fun, easy and in­ex­pen­sive way to spend the day out­doors amid colour­ful tide pools while learn­ing about the city’s his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy. Cabrillo is also home to the his­toric Point Loma Light­house, which was orig­i­nally built in 1855 and is now a mu­seum.

Our first stop here was to the Vis­i­tor Cen­ter, where we picked up a Ju­nior Ranger ac­tiv­ity book for each of the girls and then did a ques­tion-an­dan­swer type scav­enger hunt that had us ex­plor­ing this ex­pan­sive park and its var­i­ous ex­hibits.

A few hours later, the girls turned in their com­pleted book­lets to a park ranger at the Vis­i­tor Cen­tre who re­warded each of them with a shiny Ju­nior Ranger badge.

Bel­mont Park

We book-ended our fi­nal day with a visit to Bel­mont Park in neigh­bour­ing Mis­sion Beach. If the idea of amuse­ment park rides and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia con­jures up images of mas­sive lines and bud­get-break­ing ticket prices, then this old-timey amuse­ment park is the per­fect com­pro­mise. Built in 1925, this sea­side at­trac­tion is a throw­back to the mod­est, com­mu­nity-cen­tric amuse­ment parks of days gone by.

Here, you’ll find about a dozen rides with min­i­mal lines and ticket prices that won’t break your wal­let, while the kids revel in a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia amuse­ment park ex­pe­ri­ence that’s right on the beach.

Choose to ei­ther pay as you ride or get un­lim­ited all-day ride passes ($28.95 for those 48 inches and taller, and $17.95 for those un­der 48 inches; park­ing is free). Along with rides, Bel­mont of­fers nu­mer­ous ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing car­ni­val games, mini-golf, rock climb­ing and laser tag. (These ac­tiv­i­ties are not in­cluded in the ride pass.)

We opted for un­lim­ited passes for the girls, and started off our morn­ing with a few hours on the rides be­fore head­ing back to Pa­cific Beach for a leisurely lunch and af­ter­noon at the beach.

That same night — our last in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia — we headed back to Bel­mont Park for more rides and to check out the park’s hun­dreds of colour­ful lights blaz­ing through the night sky.

SHE­LIZA MITHA

Cal­i­for­nia’s Cabrillo Na­tional Park is a ter­rific place to take scenic walks or en­joy dra­matic views of the Pa­cific Ocean and down­town San Diego.

PHO­TOS: SHE­LIZA MITHA

Bel­mont Park in Mis­sion Beach serves up nos­tal­gia and rides, with plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties both day and night that won’t break the bank.

No trip to San Diego is com­plete with­out learn­ing how to ride the sun-kissed waves of the Pa­cific Ocean.

PHO­TOS: SHE­LIZA MITHA/POST­MEDIA NEWS

Pa­cific Beach’s end­less sandy shores lend them­selves to re­lax­ing and in­vig­o­rat­ing fun for the kids.

La Jolla’s Birch Aquar­ium gives fam­i­lies a great way to learn about a va­ri­ety of sea crea­tures with­out the large crowds and long lines.

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