I’ve mentioned before that San Diego is one of our family’s favourite destinations. We fell in love with the city back in 2013 when we visited with a two and a three year old and had our first really relaxing and enjoyable family travel experience. We’ve returned three times since then and would go again in a heartbeat. This last trip was the last full week before Christmas. Our winter break was quite early this year and while we had promised the extended family we’d go to Edmonton for Christmas Day itself, I couldn’t resist the chance to sneak in a week of vacation somewhere a bit warmer and San Diego was the obvious choice. So what makes San Diego such a perfect family vacation destination?
We actually hit San Diego during a stretch of “bad” weather. It was never warmer that about 23 degrees Celsius during the day and dipped as low as the single digits at night. The last day of our trip it even rained off and on, quite heavily for a few hours at a time. The local news had a “winter storm watch” banner at the bottom of the morning news report. We thought that was cute.
Sure, San Diego’s weather isn’t always perfect, but it’s close enough that a terrible week of weather in December is about equivalent to an “okay” week in June at home. Since I don’t even like extra hot weather the mild climate of San Diego suits me just fine.
Or lack of crowds. Yes, San Diego has crowded times. And yes, there are some attractions that can get packed. But we were there just a few days before Christmas and compared to a place like Disneyland or New York it was a ghost town. Maybe it’s because there are just so many things to choose from, or maybe the less than perfect weather kept the crowds away but we enjoyed having short lines for attractions, plenty of tables available and lots of room at the beach
California is expensive and the lower Canadian dollar makes travel more costly for us than it was a few years ago. But compared to many other locations, San Diego feels like good value. We paid much less for a nice hotel than we would have paid in Seattle or Vancouver and I was pleased to notice that there were several brand new hotels that had just opened downtown and there were plans for three new ones to be opened right near our current favourite hotel, Homewood Suites Liberty Station. While this probably means that more and more people are coming to San Diego it should also mean that increased numbers of rooms should continue to keep prices within reason.
San Diego has some great restaurants. There seems to be lots of competition and I love all the fresh, healthy choices out there. San Diego also has a reputation of having some of the best Mexican food in the country and while we’re not huge Mexican fans we did appreciate the opportunity to sample the drinks and snacks in some great, south of the border settings. We also had a chance to try out some of the great microbrewery restaurants including our favourite, the Coronado Brewing Company.
One of the things that makes San Diego so relaxing for us is just how easy everything is. The airport is smack dab in the middle of the city. So is the cruise terminal. When we ended a cruise in San Diego last year we just got off the boat, crossed the street and caught a city bus for the ten minute ride to the airport. If it were more pedestrian friendly we could have walked from the airport to our hotel. The zoo is about a 15 minute drive away, Old Town is only ten and you can get to a beach in about that amount of time from almost anywhere in the city.
While San Diego does have plenty of boring sprawl, the neighbourhoods surrounding the downtown area are quite unique and have all maintained a lot of traditional character. The Old Town is a lovely mix of historic buildings, shops and restaurants while Seaport village is touristy but cute. Coronado has a sort of retro, beach town vibe and Liberty Station blends the former naval base buildings with new, pedestrian friendly development.
San Diego has no shortage of things to do for families like the zoo, the museums in Balboa Park and the many beaches, but one of my kids’ favourite things about the city is the great playgrounds. There’s a great one just a few minutes walk from our hotel and an even bigger complex along the waterfront downtown near the cruise ship terminal. We’ve never had trouble finding playgrounds in San Diego and they all seem to be well designed and well maintained.
Is San Diego perfect? Of course not. There’s a really ugly section of run down hotels and strip clubs we have to drive through to get from the freeway to our hotel and parking can be challenging at times. The downtown area is bland and boring and hotel prices can shoot up during conventions and events. But for us it’s still one of our favourite destinations, providing a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. I’m already planning for our next visit!