Sun and sand of SAN DIEGO
HEADING DOWN THE COAST FOR A FAMILY GETAWAY,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.