GoGo: San Diego (Sponsored)

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.
Fable at Leo Carrillo Ranch over Spring Break

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. 

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.
IMG_2131 IMG_2133 (We were the only family in the entire park when we visited.)
For more about Leo Carrillo Ranch go here.
Cost: Free
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...
(ED: Please remember never remove a creature from a tidepool! Not even temporarily! Touch is rad. Take is bad. Sorry, that was cheese.)

Best tides are in winter months when they are at LOOOOOW "minus" tide. (Don't forget to check the tides first!) Enjoy!
Archer's Footprints
Cost: Free, unless you get lunch and/or check out the...
USS Midway: ticket prices, which vary, are here
Watching the Band
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)
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. 
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!


Dranrab | 1:02 PM

So cool! Your mom seems like the very best! Upon first reading this post, I thought it was going to be a look inside her casa...and I though finally! This post was beyond neat. When will I get to leave Missouri and travel to the beautiful CA?

Bearca | 1:27 PM

Aww! Encinitas (well, Cardiff) is my hometown too and I also enjoyed these places growing up. Love visiting there now and taking my kids.

Suzanne | 1:39 PM

Tidepool exploring was my absolute FAVORITE thing to do as a child. We only lived in California for a few years but we went multiple times a week. I've tried it here on the East Coast and it's just not the same, although I'm still drawn to every beach puddle and rock crevice to look for creatures.

Cave Momma | 1:42 PM

We are taking a short trip in August to San Diego so I hope to visit at least one of these places. Thank you for sharing!

Kerrie @ Family Food and Travel | 1:43 PM

Love this post and your tips for San Diego. It is on our future trip list as an area to visit and explore with our boys. Thank you for this.


Carryn M | 1:44 PM

Swamis is my second favorite place. Tourmaline is my first. So nice too see. Makes me a little less homesick today.

Anonymous | 1:56 PM

We are considering a family trip to San Diego and love the off the beaten path suggestions. Do you think they would appeal to older kids (10 and 14) as well?

Stephanie Wilson she/her @babysteph | 1:56 PM

Thank you for posting this!! We are visiting San Diego in June and I don't know what we should do! Now, I'm not bringing the kids, so if you want to offer some suggestions, would love it. Just my husband and I (and some work friends!)



@anon @babysteph I would recommend the same places for adults, actually. If you go to Swamis check out SRF for INCREDIBLE meditation gardens. Quail Gardens is heaven for any age and Swamis is one of my favorite beaches in San Diego. (One of our best.)

Also great for adults (and bigger kids) is La Jolla which is fun to walk around and you can hang out with the seals who live on the beach of La Jolla Cove. They also have awesome snorkeling! And The Marine Room is a family favorite. The waves break against the windows and the food is AMAZING. Great for your big splurge dinner with the adults-only crowd.


Downtown has fun night life but it's been years since I've really experienced it.


Bree | 2:34 PM

I always loved Old Town. I know that it can get really busy, but one of my favorite memories is helping the person put the flags up. We got to hold them while he hooked them up and hoisted them up. That and all the old fashioned candy!

kgavzy | 2:41 PM

I just bookmarked each of these cool spots under my "cool places to visit with my baby girl". We recently moved to San Clemente - and spend a lot of time at San Clemente State Park Beach and trails... but will be making a trip to the Botanical Gardens VERY SOON.
Thank you!

sierra | 3:02 PM

Heading to San Diego with my 20 month old in Mid-May - perfect timing for this post, thank you!

Nakia | 3:10 PM

Is it sad that I've lived in San Diego for almost 14(!) years and the only place on your list that I've visited is Seaport Village? Yeah, more than a little.

You've inspired me to strap my baby to my chest, grab my husband and big kid and get the heck out of the house. We've been meaning to check out the botanical gardens since I read your post about it not too long ago.

Terra | 3:24 PM

Swamis was the first beach we took our oldest daughter to and my husband and I got married at the nearby SRF temple. I loved going to ponto growing up because it always felt secluded, not like the beaches here in LA.

Jason | 4:11 PM

Dude! We live right across the street from Carrillo Ranch. Such a cool little park; did you see the albino peacock?


@Jason YES! The poor white peacock outsider that all the other peacocks chase away! Sigh...

Abby | 4:39 PM

Ahhhh! My husband and I leave Sunday for San Diego! Awesome timing for this post. We'll be there for a week, sans kiddos this time. But we have already planned a day outing to La Jolla, a kayak cove expedition, and hopefully hiking at Torrey Pines (if the husband isn't too tired from playing golf there that morning). Thanks so much for the recommendations!

Kelli | 5:16 PM

I'm from SD-awesome and perfect suggestions!

Sharon @ Discovering blog | 6:28 PM

Ok, I want to grab the family and hop on a plane right now!
This post was fabulous, thank you for taking the time to share it with us.

Haley | 7:05 PM

This makes me want to visit my husband's family out in So Cal. I will have to share this with them! Thank you for compiling such a wonderful list.

Laural Out Loud | 8:10 PM

I live in San Diego and still haven't taken my kids to do a few of these things. Thanks for the push! This summer might be our last in the USA, so I'm going to make it as awesome as possible, and probably hit all of your suggestions.

Miss M | 9:05 PM

Delurking here... this is genius. I live in SD and this list reminds me to get out of my zoo, park, beach mommy rut and try the other places with my little ones. Some of these are fave already. I could hike torrey pines every day for the view! I love living here :) also, hope you are feeling better! You are an inspiration to be sure. Hang in there!

Anonymous | 4:51 AM

I really want to travel here with my gang. So, so, so beautiful!! I am writing these gorgeous places down, thanks for sharing!

dgm | 5:29 AM

Great list; makes me want to head to the botanical gardens this weekend. One of our favorite family hangs is San Onofre trails (the tidepools in winter are amazing. We once saw a little octopus hiding under a rock--magical.) SoCal is filled with beautiful, unpopulated places and contrary to what many believe, kids LOVE to be out in nature exploring. Now that my daughter is older (13) she doesn't frolic and roll in the sand as much but she still looks for cool rocks and shells and always brings her camera and wanders off.

Lindsay at Bliss and Whimsy | 8:08 AM

Awesome!! Love the insider's guide. I'm new to the area, and can't wait to check these places out. Thanks for sharing :)

Anonymous | 8:37 AM

I was born in San Diego but moved to Michigan after my parents split. I also went to Cal to visit my dad every year and Seaport Village is one of the only good memories I have of those visits. So happy to see that someone else loves it as much as I do!

Flambo | 8:45 AM

Thanks for these! I work in Balboa Park so my kids tend to do A LOT of Balboa-Park centric activities. The only bummer about BP is the parking, but if you get here early enough, and if you know where to go first (i.e., not the obvious parking places) then it's not too bad.

I also love Birch Aquarium in La Jolla....not cheap but super fun and not overwhelmingly large, which is great when you have to keep an eye on the whereabouts of multiple children.

And the beaches in Coronado are my family's favorite. Man, living in SD really is the greatest. Wish we could run into you guys one of these days!

Nancy | 9:27 AM

Thanks for the tips. We're actually heading to SD next weekend and I was looking for tidepool info for by marine bio-obsessed 8YO.

Grandpa Norm | 9:32 AM

It was warming to see the bench tag memorial to Pete Filanc. He was quite a guy!

glenda | 9:37 AM

I lived in SD from 97 - 07. Still have our house there. Go once a month for a long weekend. Love SD!

Marcia G. | 11:32 AM

Loved this posting, Rebecca. There are a couple of venues that I still need to check out, even after 46 years. My youngest daughter is getting married at Leo Carillo Ranch next April. It's truly a 'hidden' Carlsbad gem.

Kaylie | 4:26 PM

I moved to San Diego in January and had my baby in February and I'm just starting to feel like a day trip would be easier. I've been meaning to ask for recommendations on things to do here, so thanks!

carly d | 8:27 AM

Leo Carillo is my husband and my favorite weekend date. My favorite hidden gem there is the albino peacock!

Kellie | 9:21 AM

Born and raised in San Diego, living in Murrieta for almost 20 years now. Thankfully my mom held on to the SD house (she lives in Palm Springs now), so we get to spend time without worrying about the rush hour drive home (and daycamp in the summer w/o the commute!).

Have you ever been to Queen Califia's Magic Garden in Escondido? It's inside of Kit Carson Park, and features amazing mosaic work from Nikki St Phalle (if you've seen the big mosaic across from Casa del Prado in Balboa Park, that is a small example of her work). Free. Kids love it and makes for great pictures.

How have I never been to Leo Carrillo?? /adds to summer list

norah | 12:44 PM

Just got back from a trip to Coronado with my little family and can't wait to go back. We did Seaport village but other then that, we did the zoo, walked around Balboa and spent lots of time at the beach. Will add these to next years visit!

Anonymous | 9:36 AM

Awesome list! I love exploring Encinitas...so many fun things to do.

I'd love to feature this list on our San Diego-based site. If you're interested, email me and we can talk. :)


shondra (at) dwellable (dot) com