San Diego is a vibrant city with a unique culture, stunning beaches and tantalising food. It's also a perfect year-round destination for families, with loads of exciting things to see and do
San Diego might be 10 hours (and almost as many time zones) away, but it is beautiful and charming, and the sun always seems to shine there. Add in some of the best beaches in California, the biggest zoo in the world, a world-famous theme park, and countless shops and restaurants, and there is something for all the family.
Seeing the sights
The best way to see the city is to hop on one of the quirky trolley tours such as Old Town Trolley Tours (www.trolleytours.com). Tickets are about $32 for a day, and can be bought on board. Do hang on when travelling over the curved bay bridge - it's quite an experience!
Start your sightseeing in the Old Town, where you feel as if you have wandered back in time, and take a stroll through Old Town park. Then hop on the trolley and hop off again at San Diego Harbour, where you can walk along the pier or explore the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum. Seaport Village is a pretty area where you can browse through the shops; although it is bit touristy, the kids will love it. If time allows, you can have some fun on one of the Seal Tours (www.sealtours.com), seeing the sights on a bus-boat hybrid. At Horton Plaza, an open-air Mediterranean-style mall, you can indulge in (just a little) shopping.
Coronado Beach is home to the stylish Hotel del Coronado, famous as the location for the film Some Like It Hot. It also has the longest, whitest sandy beach in San Diego (possibly in California), where kids (and big kids) can get surf lessons from about $10 (www.coronadosurfing.com).
Little Italy is a foodie's delight: the streets are lined with delis, food shops and traditional Italian restaurants. There's also an interesting market for bargain-hunters and plenty of pizzerias for the kids.
Balboa Park is home to the famous San Diego Zoo (www.sandiegozoo.org), which is said to be the biggest in the world and is not to be missed. This is a fantastic experience that offers the chance to get up close and personal with the animals on safari tours and special guided tours. You can even view the wildlife park from 160 feet above ground, soaring above the animals in a harness attached to a cable! It's a thoroughly thrilling experience and should appeal to teenagers. Tickets are about $35 for adults and $26 for children.
Out of town
A trip to La Jolla town is a great way to spend a day. This lovely, laidback coastal resort has a real Mediterranean feel. Fine art galleries and chic boutiques stand alongside surf shops and cafes frequented by students and surfer types. The beach at La Jolla shores is the biggest draw, popular with locals, especially families and students. For high street shopping, a visit to La Jolla Village Square and Westfield UTC is a must. This is a quiet town and you won’t find much nightlife here, which makes it great for families.
Mission Bay is a beautiful lake resort, also great for families. You can try just about any water activity here, from sailing to jet skiing. The bay is also home to SeaWorld San Diego (www.seaworld.com), a fantastic marine theme park with dolphins, seals and the famous whale, Shamu. For those seeking more of an adrenaline rush, it has rides such as Journey to Atlantis, which features a 60-foot plunge and a bit of a surprise thrill at the end, and Shipwreck Rapids, a surefire way to get absolutely soaked. Tickets cost about $60 per person, and it's a great day out.
If you really want a slice of Californian beach life, head to Pacific and Mission beaches, where you'll find the longest, widest stretches of sand, with the best surf in the San Diego area. Popular with Roxy- and Quiksilver-clad surfers, these colourful beaches have just about everything, from seafood shacks to tattoo parlours, roller coasters to roller skates, sailboats to sushi bars. And, of course, surfing, surfing and more surfing! Try the Big Dipper Roller Coaster or have a go on the wild surf in the artificial wave pool at Belmont Park. If you're feeling more energetic, you can hire bikes, roller blades and boogie boards.
Where to eat
For a fine dining experience overlooking the Pacific, book a table at George's at the Cove (1250 Prospect Street, La Jolla; www.georgesatthecove.com). It offers three different dining experiences: you can go for contemporary cuisine at California Modern or casual barfood at George's Bar, or book a table at the popular Ocean Terrace for one of the best al fresco meals you will ever eat. Meals average from $30 to $50. The aged steak is a good choice, but portions are huge! They also have a varied kids menu.
There is a good selection of family restaurants just outside town, including El Torito (www.eltorito.com), a beautifully decorated Mexican restaurant that offers authentic, colourful and flavourful fare, with free meals for children on certain nights. They also make the best fresh guacamole right at your table. There is also a good TGI Friday's and a Hard Rock Cafe in nearby La Jolla.
Where to stay
The Grande Colonial Hotel (Prospect Street, La Jolla) is historical and charming, but offers modern high quality service. It has great views of the Pacific, and is within walking distance of the beaches, restaurants and shops. Rooms are pricey - from $200 to $675 for a luxurious king suite - but worth every penny for those views alone.
You can’t go wrong with the Sheraton La Jolla (3299 Holiday Court, La Jolla). In a quiet residential area, yet convenient for the city, it has a good-sized pool that tends to be quiet and an outdoor Jacuzzi. It also offers a free shuttle to and from the airport, which is a real plus. Rooms are of a good size and cost from $170 to $200 per night.
The Hilton San Diego Resort (1775 East Mission Bay Drive, Mission Bay) is designed in a low-rise Mediterranean village style, and has a huge array of sports facilities including a massive lagoon-style pool. It offers spacious rooms, which cost from $200 to $300 for a king room with a lagoon view.
Bahia Resort Hotel (998 West Mission Bay Drive, Mission Bay) is great for entertaining kids. A family resort built around a lagoon, it has a choice of pools, a huge Jacuzzi, a children’s club and activities, and many restaurants and bars. Rooms vary in size and cost from $185 to $250.