The kids and I jumped on the opportunity to follow the hubs to San Diego while he was going to be at a conference. I had to plan my 4 day stay knowing I would be by myself during our day excursions. I reached out to friends in the area and my Woodland Hills mama tribe for suggestions. We had an amazing trip and I have more I wished we did but with two toddlers we couldn’t do it all.
Where did we stay? Manchester Grand Hyatt in Downtown – We had a conference group rate but it happened to be very kid-friendly which made me so happy! They have a “backyard” filled with jumbo yard games, and a pool that’s 3.5 ft on the sides and as deep as 4.5 ft. There’s a ramp behind the hotel that takes you down to the Seaport Village which is filled with restaurants, a carousel, entertainment! There’s a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop located directly behind the hotel. Market 1 is the 24 hours marketplace that has sandwiches and a Starbucks inside the hotel!!! I definitely saw plenty of moms in line at 6am!! Day 2 I realized there is a Starbucks across the street with regular prices and not hotel prices. I would take my 1 year old with me and we would watch all the delivery trucks, Metro, and dump trucks pass by. So this is a great location for your vehicle loving toddlers! Plus, we got to see the fireworks from our room! They also take AAA discount and if you haven’t registered with Hyatt do so you can get points for free stays!! Bonus: there is a mini fridge and you can rent out microwaves for $5 a night.
How can I travel to SD on a budget? I started with my AAA discount card and found a 10% for the San Diego Zoo. You can opt to visit a local AAA to purchase discounted tickets for amusement parks or museums. But since I have toddlers I never made it in. Our local library had a Legoland coupon for buy 1 adult park hopper and get a child in free. That alone saved us $120! AAA discounts are also available for hotels, but since we went for a conference we got the group rate. If you own a Bank of America card the first weekend of the month for participating museums is free for members. So I looked to see which San Diego museums are BofA participating members and I found the Scripps Aquarium. Beaches are always free unless you are paying for parking! I also brought enough snacks for the week so I didn’t have to buy very many during our stay.
Day 1: Powerhouse Park and Del Mar Beach located 25 minutes away from Downtown SD! We stopped here en route and it was perfect for kids! Of course it was 4th of July so super packed. But the playground is right above the beach (shown near green tent in picture). Then you can walk down a ramp to the beach. The water is so close so you can sit midway and be close to the playground and water!! The restrooms are clean and near the ramp closest to the parking lot. The only down side was that the parking fee was $25. I am not sure if this is just a holiday fee or an everyday fee. The sand is soft here so you probably can’t take a stroller into the beach. Where did we eat? I wished I planned a bit better for our first day of dining. But everything closed at around 4pm so the only place that was opened was Chik-fil-a. Not going to lie, we love Chik-Fil-A but not for our vacation. I am all about trying new places that I can’t find near our home. I had made reservations for Cafe Coyote in Old Town but our timing was off. It also helped that the hotel was serving awesome and cheap tacos, hamburgers and hot dogs while we waited for the firework show. My takeaway for this day is call ahead to make sure the place you want to eat is open, especially on a holiday!
Day 2: We started at this delicious breakfast eatery called, Snooze! Super kid-friendly, affordable and located 5 minutes away from the zoo. Money saving tip: I would suggest sharing platters because the meals are huge! We also arrived by 8am to avoid any lines!
Next, we headed to San Diego Zoo! Yikes, I almost fainted when I had to pay around $80 for entry (with AAA discount), but it was totally worth it! We saw animals up close and personal such as the cute pandas and koala bears! The zoo was so huge that we didn’t get to see everything! I also loved that they had play structures for kids to shake their sillies out at each section. We went out to eat at The Prado in Balboa Park (next door to the zoo) and the food was fabulous! It was pricey (gulp) but they did have a kid-friendly menu (not available on display so always ask a restaurant). In the evening, the zoo offers fun entertainment during the summer months such as a live band, and kids dance off. The only hiccup for the day was that we went on the Skyfari Arial Tram. I thought it went around in a full loop but it doesn’t. You either get dropped off on the south or north side of the zoo depending on where you catch it. So I left my stroller on one side so of course I had to get back in line. What I didn’t realize was that the line was 40 minutes long! Money saving tip: Definitely pack snacks and I would suggest lunch. Zoo food is always pricey! Bring a ton of water bottles because I didn’t bring enough and I could have saved more money by bringing my own!
I wish I explored Balboa Park a bit more, there is a train we never got on but I heard kids love it! But the day was already hard on the kids since we were out since 8am. We also made a quick stop to the local Target (yes near the zoo) to buy water and fruit for the next day! By the time we got back to the hotel, we bathed the kids and headed over to Lolitas for Mexican food. We love this place because it is quick and tasty!
Day 3: Legoland California and Sea Life Aquarium! Thank goodness for that coupon our local library passed out. I saved $120! But some of it was used for food, drinks, and souvenirs! They open at 9am, but rides aren’t available until 9:30am!! So there’s this 30 minute timeframe that you can use to measure your kids, apply sunblock, grab a coffee and figure out your map! I was alone with two toddlers in which I found out that most rides only allow two at a time. So long story short, if you find yourself in a similar situation go to the visitors desk near the left side of the park and ask for them to circle the rides you will need to ask for an MC (employee who will come and ride with your child) so you can all ride together. Once you get to the front of the line, remind a worker you need an MC. Our first one, Devin, gave little man a free minifigurine so of course he was totally up for riding with an MC!! There are LEGO tables set up while you wait for rides! In addition, there are fabulous and enclosed play structures and Lego tables scattered around each section depending on the the theme. That means parents can relax while the kids play! Also, bring swim wear, towels and extra clothes! The first time we came we had no idea there was a water section in the Pirates area! Have lunch near miniland so you can admire cities made out of legos! Food can be pricey but which theme park isn’t? For $8.99 the kids got two slices of pizza, chips, raisins and a juice! This was totally fine for us because some of the items became a snack. If you are a Star Wars fan, you will love Star Wars miniland!! And let’s not forget Granny’s Apple fries located in Castle Hill!! If you only want to get one snack let it be apple fries!!! They are amazing and you will probably go back for another one! Saving money tip: If you plan to stay into the evening, they are offering a promo that kids eat free after 5pm with a paid adult entry at about 3-4 eateries inside the park. And anticipate your child wanting to buy some legos so if you want to budget for that as well.
Sea Life aquarium is amazing and very interactive for toddlers! There were areas to play, Lego structures, opportunity to feel sea animals, a live discussion, and a ton of different sea animals to learn about! Side note: strollers aren’t allowed in so they have to be parked on the side. Some families opt for the water park inside Legoland but that would have been difficult for me alone with two toddlers. So we opted for the aquarium because it was also a hot day and I wanted a break and some AC!
The kids were so tired and just wanted to play with their new legos. Once again, I had made reservations for Cafe Coyote and we ended up eating burgers at Seaport Village.
Day 4: La Jolla Shores! This beach/park is a must for parents with children! Bonus if you have a stroller because you can actually stroll it on the smooth sand! This was our last stop of the trip! The playground is amazing and the restrooms aren’t so bad considering they are beach bathrooms! Everything is localized so if you are riding solo with kids you will be fine. The water is close so you can pick a spot near the playground and still be near the water. My kids did not want to leave. I bribed them with a popsicle but when I found out they were $4 each I gasped! Tammy the ice cream truck lady was seriously stealing money from parents that day! So bring your own ice cream so you can avoid Tammy. Parking is free, too!! And if you want to make a day of it stop by the Scripps Aquarium which is 5 minutes away!
What else is on my SD to-do list? These places were on my list but because of tired toddlers we couldn’t get to them on time!
- Balboa Park with train and museums
- New Children’s Museum (Downtown)
- Free Flight Birds
- Hello Kitty Cafe
- Aquarium of Scripps
- Brockton Villa breakfast or lunch (great view of sea lions)