My wife has business trips to awesome cities every year and sometimes Aiden and I get to join for a vacation! One thing I was a little worried about once Aiden was born was not being able to visit as many cities with Melissa. That has not been the case. Melissa and I have taken Aiden on a few business trips and this was our second time visiting San Diego. You can read about the first time here. This is my San Diego travel guide including all my favorite things to do in San Diego with a toddler.
We were in San Diego for 10 days and I was worried there wouldn’t be enough to do. I was wrong. There was a ton even with a mobile toddler. It took some pre-planning because there was a lot to do and things aren’t centrally located. You can see how we planned our destinations here.
Here is a video highlight of our time in San Diego:
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Where Did We Stay?
We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel in the Gaslamp District. I know what you are thinking…what? Is that really family friendly? This was an amazing location. It is close to restaurants, right across from Petco Park, and walk-able to a lot of touristy destinations. On the downside it was a bit loud on the weekends and there were quite a few homeless people, but it does seem better monitored in that area than in the financial district where we stayed last time and I found that the walls were really well insulated so the noise wasn’t something that kept me up at night.
We had a Hard Rock Suite room and it was the perfect size for our family. There is a living area where we put Aiden’s pack and play. There was a bedroom that could be closed off by a curtain so that worked really well when we put Aiden to bed but we were still up. The staff at the Hard Rock was amazing too and by the time we left they all knew Aiden. It was very cute.
As I mentioned above everything in San Diego isn’t a 20-30 minute walk and you need a car to get to a lot of the popular tourist locations. This meant renting a car which isn’t cheap. Uber wasn’t an idea option either because we had Aiden’s convertible car seat which we didn’t want to carry around everywhere.
We looked at Melissa’s schedule and figured out what her long days were and what days she could come and do things with us. We planned our schedule according to the things we wanted to do as a family and the things that we needed a car for. We grouped the things that were further away (expensive Uber Ride) or things that didn’t have car seat storage (La Jolla) and rented a car for those days. For us, that was 3 out of 10 days which was a big savings of at least $200. Once we had a general schedule for the week we kept the rest of our schedule flexible. With a toddler we weren’t sure how he would handle going from East Coast to West Coast plus there is always nap time to consider.
Things to do in San Diego with a toddler
San Diego Zoo
We visited the San Diego Zoo on one of Melissa’s long days. We took Aiden here the last time we visited so Melissa had already been. It was a close drive from our hotel and I called the zoo and found out they had car seat storage. This made it easy for me to Uber to the Zoo with Aiden and his car seat. The Zoo opens at 9am, so I planned on getting to the Zoo right as it opened. This gave Aiden a chance to see most of the animals before we went back to the hotel for his afternoon nap time.
We visited Sea World on another one of Melissa’s long days. It could have been an Uber drive but we had the car on the day I visited so I just took the rental. I took the stroller because it’s a lot of walking for a young toddler but I really liked that they had parking area by each exhibit. All the exhibits had an interactive element that toddlers would enjoy. The highlight for Aiden was the orcas (he still talks about them). There was a young Orca that would rub up against the side of the window. We went to the dolphin show and I sat in the last row of the splash zone because I didn’t want to get soaked but we didn’t get wet at all. I would sit a couple rows closer so we could get a little wet.
Legoland was something we did on Melissa’s day off because it was about 45 minutes away and it’s not something we can find on the East Coast. It was a lot of fun. Honestly, we didn’t do much research before we went and it was different than we expected. There were several rides some of them Aiden was even tall enough to ride. There are three rides that don’t have a height requirement although I don’t recommend the Ninjago ride for a young toddler because it is loud and there are too many flashing lights in a dark room. I would recommend looking at the map beforehand — it lays out the whole park and has the different rides and height requirements. We went on a weekday in September and there really weren’t many lines at all so it was a great time to go. One really fun area was “The Hideaways” in the Castle Hill area. It was basically a giant playground/treehouse with slides, ramps, nets, and tunnels — perfect for a toddler. We ate lunch at Legoland and I was happy to find that the food prices were reasonable and they had relatively healthy options.
Tip: We got discounted tickets to Legoland and Sea World by booking through the hotel. Talk to the concierge!
La Jolla was something Melissa really wanted to see so when she had a half-day we visited La Jolla as a family. This is one you need a car for because I don’t know where you would store a car seat if you Ubered. We ate lunch then visited the Children’s Pool area. There were some small beaches and we saw several sea lions hanging out on the rocks in the ocean. We did dip our feet in the ocean but I would not recommend swimming in the beach area due to bacteria from the seals. We didn’t do the caves or the cliff walk we didn’t think Aiden would be interested in that. The half-day was a perfect outing to get the feel of beautiful La Jolla.
Playgrounds and Parks
When Melissa works these business trips she is usually up and out really early in the morning. Aiden and I have our own business trip routine. We usually wake up and go out to get breakfast and take a walk. We usually walk to a playground. The closest one that we would visit was in the park area of the center field of Petco Park. This area is open when the Padres do not have home games. It was close enough to let Aiden actually walk to — no stroller needed. The playground is small but there is a grass field and hill next to it that Aiden loved to run around in/on.
The other park we would walk to is Waterfront Park, I would put Aiden in the stroller to walk to this one. I could follow the sidewalk along the water all the way to the park — which was a beautiful and relaxing experience. This park is awesome, it has a huge playground and water park. Make sure to bring your little one’s swimwear. It has three fountain pools that Aiden loved running around in.
We did this the day after we arrived in San Diego. We weren’t sure how Aiden would react to the time change so we didn’t want to do anything that took a lot of effort and we wanted to stay close to our hotel. The name is misleading. The Museum is really a huge play place with tons of fun and interactive activities. Some highlights were the sketch aquarium where you colored a fish and then scanned it so it appeared to swim on a screen, the Wonder Sound which was an incredible room full of rooms, nooks, places to climb, and hide, and a painting area where you could paint giant structures. Aiden had a lot of fun and it was a low key way to spend the day (and within walking distance to our hotel). It is a bit pricey and you do have to pay for young toddlers but it was worth them money and I would recommend checking it out!
Petco Park is one of the best ballparks we have visited. We actually went twice during our time in San Diego. I will have another post coming soon all about our experience at the ballpark. The best part was that you can get a standing room only ticket for the park and have access to a huge play area outside the park with great views of the field. You can also walk around the inside of the park so it’s a lot of fun.
What I packed for Our Outings:
It’s one thing to figure out what to do, but another to figure out what to pack. Here are the things I brought to each location. I tried to keep things light and only take necessities.
- Stroller: Aiden is mobile, but a lot of the locations listed above are too big for a toddler to walk without tiring out. For the zoo/Legoland/Sea World, I would keep Aiden in our umbrella stroller until we would make it to the next exhibit and then I would take him out so he could walk around. This way he would feel like a big kid and also sometimes he would want me to pick him up so he can get a better look at whatever we were doing. He rarely fought me when I put him back into the stroller. I would ask him before I put him in the stroller if he wants to see more of something and he would reply, “More animals. Okay.” (for example at the zoo). I preferred the places that had designated stroller parking like Legoland and Sea World because it was more convenient than the zoo that did not have stroller parking.
- To see what we did with the car seat click here.
- A Diaper Bag to hold extra diapers, Aiden’s CamelBak with water, Snacks (Dinosaur Crackers, two fruit and veggie pouches), and a bottle of sunscreen. I put sunscreen on before we left the hotel, but I reapplied regularly throughout the day.
- For some of our outings, I brought our DSLR camera… but I did not use it. It was too cumbersome, I ended up using my phone camera instead. It worked out perfectly, which was great because I could share with Melissa.
- I brought Aiden’s hat, but he wasn’t very interested in wearing it. I think if I wore a hat he would have worn his. I tried to sneak it on him a couple times, but each time he would throw his hat even farther than the first 😆
Places to Eat:
I always wonder where to eat when we are on vacation so here are some of my recommendations!
Mary Jane’s: Ok, so normally I wouldn’t recommend the hotel restaurant but we ate here quite a few times because we liked it so much! My favorite breakfast was the Carne Asada Omelet and Aiden usually got the pancakes. The short rib grilled cheese was amazing for lunch.
Lucky’s: If we didn’t eat breakfast at Mary Jane’s we ate at Lucky’s. It was really close to our hotel and had great breakfast sandwiches.
Blind Burro: If you like Mexican food definitely check this place out. We love the tacos and the margaritas are good too. They have great happy hour and daily specials. It was walking distance from our hotel so it was perfect for our first evening in San Diego.
The Crack Shack: We are big Top Chef fans so when we went to San Diego Richard Blais’ restaurant was high on our list. This place is amazing and perfect for bringing a toddler. It has basic food and is outside and super casual. This is not close to the Gaslamp so you might want to Uber or drive. We took a long walk along the water and ended up relatively close so we just walked.
Basic Pizza: We love trying local pizza in all the places we visit. Basic pizza is SO good. We picked it up on the day we visited La Jolla on our way back to the hotel. One word of warning the large pizza is HUGE. We could have easily been full on a small (Oops! At least we had leftovers which we ate to save a little money from having to eat out for every meal).
Searsucker: This one is a bit fancy/pricey but it’s SO good. Plus if you are into celebrity chefs this is owned by one! We have sentimental value here because Aiden had his very first bite of solid food when we visited when he was almost four months old!
Half Door Brewing: If you are into beer and casual food this is a great option. I loved that it was more of a restaurant than a brewery so you could sit and eat and enjoy good beer. It’s walking distance to the hotel which is a huge plus too.
If you are into beer check out these breweries:
Half Door Brewing
Karl Strauss (this was another good restaurant that we stopped at after Legoland)
Bitter Brothers (this is a drive — we stopped on our way back from La Jolla)
We were in San Diego for 10 days, I was worried there wouldn’t be enough to keep Aiden entertained. I was wrong, I did not have enough time. I guess we’ll just have to go back!
Have you been to San Diego? What are your favorite things to do in San Diego with a toddler?
If you liked this post check out Things To Do With Baby: Boston, Staying in Touch During a Business Trip, and Using Pinterest for Workout Ideas While on a Business Trip