The following post was sponsored by GoGo squeeZ and their "Pass the Play" campaign. GoGo squeeZ believes in the simple mantra of "always play" and is putting this belief to work this summer with its "Pass the Play" campaign, bringing the joy of play to kids across the country. For more info on Pass the Play, go here.
In the thirteen years since I moved out of my parent's house in San Diego (Encinitas) California, I've been fortunate enough to return home 29850923jfksnf times, sharing with my children some of my favorite childhood haunts as well as new places I have only recently become aware of.
Growing up, we did a lot of exploring. We explored the hills behind our house and the sand dunes that used to be safe enough to climb. We sought out the best trees for climbing, animals for spying, views from which to break for lunch.
San Diego was a fantastic place to grow up and since traveling has always proved difficult with Hal's production schedule, we regularly take weekend trips to San Diego as our "vacation." And because so many of you have asked over the years, I'm going to list, all in one place, my top five favorite (lesser-known?) hometown activities that don't involve theme parks and/or massive crowds, all of them ideal for outdoor exploration. All but one of these locations are free to the public. Pack a picnic and you have yourself a free day of family fun.
1. Leo Carrillo Ranch, Carlsbad
For years my mom was in charge of the Carrillo Ranch Art in the Classroom project. (She was an elementary school art teacher for many years and Carrillo Ranch was one of her projects. The kids would explore the peacock filled grounds on field trips and then back in their classrooms, learn how to draw landscapes with oil pastels.) Up until last month I had never been there before which is insane. Not only is Carrillo Ranch scenic, historic and filled with peacocks (they've been there for decades and have in a way, taken over the place) it's also free and completely empty. I can't think of a better place to bring children on an adventure.
For more about Leo Carrillo Ranch go here.
When I tell people I grew up in San Diego they immediately think, Zoo! Wild Animal Park! Seaworld! But as a child I was far more interested in seeing creatures in their natural habitat. That came from my mom (who as well as teaching art, music and theatre ALSO taught science to elementary students in our school district. My mother used to be a geneticist when she gave birth to me and decided to stay home/teach every subject imaginable to public schools that couldn't otherwise afford it.) Anyway. I learned at an early age to respect nature and not to be fearful of its creatures. And no matter how many times we were stung by Jellyfish and Sting Rays in the summer, we always returned to the ocean the next day to submerge our bodies in the surf. More than anything, I loved the tidepools. They were this magical place where few scavenged. It was usually just us, our jeans rolled to the thigh, wading through them, eyes peeled for crabs and sea cucumbers, sea stars and urchins, anemones open and waiting for eager fingers to touch...
Best tides are in winter months when they are at LOOOOOW "minus" tide. (Don't forget to check the tides first!) Enjoy!
Cost: Free, unless you get lunch and/or check out the...
Seaport Village isn't exactly lesser-known but there's so much to do and see there including wide open spaces to run around, docks to watch the harbor boats (and ships!) and the USS Midway just around the corner. Definitely one of our favorite afternoon adventures.
Torrey Pines State Reserve:
Cost: Free (except for parking)
Cost: Free (except for parking)
Arguably the best beach hike in San Diego, Torrey Pines offers many wonderful (family friendly) trails overlooking the ocean. It's scenic, peaceful and full of aligator lizards aka, wonderland.
Quail (San Diego) Botanical Gardens: Encinitas
Cost: $12 for adults, $6 for kids. (Family membership = $75 for the year)
Quail Botanical Gardens (or San Diego Botanical Gardens as it's now called) is our favorite family spot. We spend most of our afternoons exploring all of the gardens, most obviously the child's garden at the north end of the park. My late uncle even has a memorial bench we get to sit at when we visit. It's near and dear to all of us and of all the places I've ever taken my children, my very favorite place. Not only does it boast the most INCREDIBLE tree house for climbing and hiding, but it has areas for art and crafts, a train to watch and a garden for children to tend to, not to mention miles of botanical gardens (frog ponds, waterfalls, playhouses hidden in the trees) to explore.
Hope this was helpful to those of you planning a trip to San Diego! Enjoy and happy adventuring to you and yours!
Thanks to my sister, Rachel for providing the pictures of the Swamis tidepools. Love you, Rach!
For more summer ideas, check out GoGo squeeZ's mobile playground tours coming to a city near you! (ED: The "Pass the Play" mobile playground tour kicks off Thursday May 26th in Atlanta, GA during the Decatur Arts Festival and will be touring the country all summer long. Dates and locations are here. xx!