30 Hours in San Diego

USS Midway Museum

Vacations don’t always require long flights and big budgets. Since moving to Southern California, I set a goal for my family to take short trips exploring our new state. Follow along as we find the best places for both family and romantic getaways close to our new home.

San Diego, California’s second largest city, is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Laguna Mountains to the east, and Mexico to the south. Its diverse neighborhoods are spread out over 4,200 square miles and nestled along 70 miles of sunny Southern California coastline, with a gentle Mediterranean climate and a welcoming vibe. Consistently rated one of the top family destinations in North America, San Diego is the ideal destination for children of all ages offering a variety of family friendly activities and world-class attractions throughout the year. And luckily for us, it’s only a little over an hour south of our home in Laguna Beach.

Elephants at the San Diego ZooOur first priority for the weekend was the San Diego Zoo, first opened in 1916 and now encompassing 100 acres in Balboa Park. Pioneering the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that re-create natural animal habitats, the zoo is home to 4,000 animals of 800 rare and exotic species. We knew we would have to commit our entire first day there, and even then we couldn’t see it all! We started the day with the 35-minute narrated tour on a double-decked bus to learn the layout and pick our favorite spots to return to and explore in detail. Some of our favorite parts were the Chinese Giant Panda cub Xiao Liwu,  the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge with a mock polar bear snow den and Arctic research helicopter, and The Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey, where a herd of eight elephants roam a 2.5-acre exhibit that includes a 120,000-gallon pool and gentle rolling hills surrounded by a replica tar pit, fossil dig and children’s play area. Our 6-year old daughter Inara is still talking about the adorable koalas in the Conrad Prebys Australian Outback, and we were all amazed that we got to see the 3-month old baby gorilla riding around on its mother’s back and later breastfeeding right in front of the viewing window. As a parent who who is very concerned about the future of our planet, I was also appreciative of the exhibits addressing the threats animals are facing due to climate change, and providing guests with suggestions for reducing our carbon footprint.

San Diego Zoo

As it was a last minute trip, we waited until after our day at the zoo to decide where we would stay that night. After a quick search on Expedia, we settled on the Hotel Solamar, a stylish boutique Kimpton Hotel in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Deigo. The neighborhood is a historic 16.5-block district founded in 1867 when it was the Wild West complete with Wyatt Earp running three gambling halls, and now housing a thriving dining, shopping, and nightlife scene. It was a bit too chilly to enjoy the hotel’s rooftop pool but that didn’t stop us from trying, and we hope to get back again to fully experience that option. For dinner we rode Uber to The Fish Market, a seafood restaurant on the harbor founded in 1976 by fishermen, and had fun posing by “Unconditional Surrender,” a statue of the famous WWII sailor kissing a nurse.

Day 2 started with a big breakfast at Broken Yolk Cafe (but not as big as the one Adam Unconditional Surrender San DiegoRichman finished to win the Iron Man Challenge there in 2010, on Man vs. Food) and then set out once again for the harbor. We entered a floating city at sea and walked in the footsteps of 225,000 sailors who served our country aboard the USS Midway Museum. Part of the Navy fleet for 47 years and active during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, the USS Midway was one of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers and the museum highlights the city’s rich military history. We listened to passionate docents everywhere on the ship, and Inara loved climbing on the aircraft all around us.

USS Midway Museum

A narrated Hornblower Cruises harbor tour gave us a different view of the city, passing by Shelter Island, ship-building and dry-docking facilities, Coronado Island, and under the 2-mile-long San Diego- Coronado Bridge. With a large sightseeing deck and full snack bar, it was a perfect way to pass an hour or two on a beautiful afternoon before getting ice cream in Seaport Village to enjoy while walking along the water towards the last stop of our visit.

With so many museums to choose from Hornblower Harbor Cruise SD and limited time, we decided to let Inara have some fun at the New Children’s Museum downtown across from the San Diego Convention Center before heading home. A highly-engaging, multi-sensory experience, it was a wonderful opportunity for her to work off some energy, and for us to build and play with her. The museum offers opportunities for children to experience the arts in ways that are meaningful to them, like climbing, sculpting, painting, and banging “drums” with kitchen utensils-turned-instruments. The current exhibit, FEAST, features 13 artist installations and 8 other projects centered around food in unexpected ways.

San Diego WWII

We were sad to leave the city that afternoon, knowing there was still so much left to experience! We left with albums of photos, homemade clay bowls, and the comfort in knowing that San Diego is close enough to visit again soon. Suffice it to say that 30 hours is not a long enough time to see this beautiful city! There seem to be special events every weekend, which means plenty of excuses to return. A few that caught my eye happening in the coming months include:

  • Celebrating all things Irish at the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival, held March 14 at the corner of 6th Avenue and Juniper Street near Balboa Park. The day includes a 10:30 a.m. parade and an all-day Irish festival featuring food, beer gardens, musical entertainment and more.
  • On April 19, EarthFair in Balboa Park celebrates a range of eco-friendly practices and environmental causes. Offerings include earth-friendly and organic foods, wildlife preservation education, displays of alternative energy vehicles, pet adoption services and more.
  • From May 7-10, knee-slapping good times abound during the San Diego Annual Gator by the Bay Zydeco, Blues & Crawfish Festival, held at Spanish Landing on Harbor Island. The event features 25 bands on five stages along with dance lessons, food and Cajun cooking demonstrations.

For more information on San Diego’s offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website at www.sandiego.org or call 619-236-1212.

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