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San Diego is a place near and dear to our hearts. That’s where we moved a month after we were married and where Milana was born. We go back every so often, and love all the kid friendliness the city has to offer. Our most recent trip was September 2017. If you’re looking for the best things to do in San Diego with toddlers or young kids, read on!
As far as hotels go, we stayed at several different places all over the city. On our last trip, we used Priceline and got the Renaissance downtown hotel for a great price. This time, I used Marriott points and we stayed at the Courtyard San Diego Central. We got upgraded to a suite which had a separate sitting room with a couch (that can turn into a sleeper sofa if you want) and a bedroom with a king bed and another sleeper couch. It was a great room!
One of our favorites is Soda & Swine in University Heights. If you find yourself in San Diego from another state, rent a car and explore the city. There are so many wonderful neighborhoods in SD (Hillcrest, University Heights, North Park and Kensington are some of our favorites) and most tourists tend to stick to downtown/Gaslamp/La Jolla. So many good restaurants in those neighborhoods, you certainly won’t be disappointed! On to Soda & Swine. The concept is really cool, you select the type of meatballs you want (swine, hen, bovine, etc) and the way you want it (skillet, bun, etc). We had the swine skillet, bovine sliders and a hen slider. Everything was so good! We will definitely come back the next time we are in San Diego. And of course, they have lots of unique sodas to choose from, hence the name!
For great coffee, head to Caffe Calabria located in North Park. The coffee here is really good (we had the mochas) and Milana loves their little salami/cheese sandwiches.
Our Sunday tradition used to be walking to the Hillcrest Farmers Market when we lived within walking distance. It’s still the best farmers market we have ever been to, with a ton of prepared food vendors, serving everything from African and Mediterranean to vegan and Polish food. So much to choose from, definitely come hungry! And of course, since this is a farmers market, there are lots of fruits and vegetable vendors as well. Daddy bought Milana some pink flowers at the farmers market and she proudly carried them around all day.
Some of our favorite items at the market are Thai coconut pancakes (so good and 4/$1), cookies from the Cravory (they used to only sell at farmers markets but now have a store front in Point Loma), probiotic kefir soda, agua frescas in so many flavors (Milana chose watermelon) and cheese! We all love cheese and Milana loved doing a taste test as she calls it, giving a thumbs up to every cheese she tried.
After all those cookies and cheese, we had to hit up the produce portion of the market and left with lots of fresh, organic berries. They have a ton of fruit samples at the market, Milana will eat days worth of fruit in just samples!
Milana and I had some Thai food (pad see ew is Milana’s favorite!) and Dave had some African food. We also had Vietnamese iced coffee which was amazing! There are so many food options, you are bound to find something for each member of your family.
As we were leaving the market, we spotted a woman with a pottery making booth and Milana just had to try it. She loved it and I’m hoping to find classes locally for her to take.
Inside Balboa Park is the Prado restaurant. The best thing here is the wagyu beef sushi rolls, something we would come eat on a regular basis in their bar area! This time we decided to make a reservation and sit inside. Kids get a plate with veggies while they wait for the food and while Milana isn’t a fan of ranch dressing at all, she devoured all her veggies. Dave had the paella and I ate the wagyu sushi for my meal. You have to try them, they are so good!
San Diego has lots of great Thai restaurants, but our new favorite is Veganic Thai Cafe in Hillcrest. Everything we ordered was amazing, and being vegan is a huge plus!
In Banker’s Hill is a vegetarian drive thru restaurant called Evolution. This is a hidden gem, not many people know about it but it is so worth a visit! So much healthier than your typical fast food, and it tastes better too. We used to frequent this a lot when we lived in the area, I wish we had something like it in OC!
Liberty Public Market is similar to the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco. There are lots of food vendors inside, so everyone in your family can have a different meal. There are tables indoors and outdoors where you can sit and enjoy your meal. Milana chose the fresh tri-color pasta with pink sauce. There’s also a candy store inside, something she has been searching for since we arrived!
Another really great place to eat is Burger Lounge. When we first moved to San Diego, they only had a couple of locations. This is an organic, grass-fed burger places, with some of the best burgers you will ever have. They have since expanded to Orange County (right by our house!) and LA so you will be able to find them throughout SoCal. Milana usually gets a burger, but this time she chose the kids chicken and it was some of the best chicken we have tried!
One of our must stops while in SD is Bronx Pizza in Hillcrest. The West Coast lacks severely in the pizza department, so much in fact that Milana who devours anything refuses to eat pizza here. She had no problem eating it when visiting family in Jersey and in NYC, but West Coast pizza is just not her thing. Until she tried Bronx Pizza that is! This is the first time she actually finished a slice of pizza and enjoyed it. If you’re looking for NY style pizza, this is the place to be. They’re always packed, but they have lots of pies ready (they sell by the slice, so many options to choose from) so you won’t wait very long.
A must visit while in San Diego is Carnita’s Snack Shack, located in North Park. When we lived there, this was a Vietnamese tiny little shack. Now it’s been remodeled, is much bigger and has amazing food. The line is usually all the way down the street, but moves quickly and is so worth the wait!
Cucina Urbana in Banker’s Hill has been our favorite restaurant for years. Their jars are amazing! Our favorites is the chicken liver pate and burrata. The food is kid friendly too, Milana loves everything we have.
A great and super popular breakfast spot is Snooze, which is in Hillcrest. The wait on weekends can be long, so go early or be prepared to wait! The food is really, really good so definitely worth the wait.
San Diego has lots of awesome dessert places. One day, we went to the Gaslamp because Milana asked for “chocolate like they give at Disney,” meaning Ghirardelli. She got her free samples of chocolate and we all shared the Ocean Beach sundae.
One morning, we became parents of the year and took Milana to our favorite cupcake place anywhere for breakfast. We had coffee and she had a cupcake (ok, I did too!). If you’re looking for an excellent dessert places, BabyCakes not to be missed! It used to be on 5th Ave in Hillcrest, but has since moved to another area of the city. Still worth a visit!
San Diego also has lots of places with boba and awesome Asian style desserts. We went to Boba Bar and Desserts and everything was so good! I had the green Thai tea (which Milana loved), Dave had the mango tea and Milana had a bubble waffle filled with all kind of yummy things. We used to frequent this neighborhood because of the great food and desserts, though it’s not a popular tourist destination which is a shame!
THINGS TO DO
There are so many things to do in San Diego! Here are 101 things to do in San Diego, as recommended by a local. Balboa Park is a must visit while in San Diego. But be sure to visit the playgrounds outside of the main tourist area too! Our first stop was the 6th Ave playground, one of Milana’s favorites.
After she played, we went into the park and enjoyed the awesome February weather. It was in the 80s that day!
We visit Balboa Park on every trip, it really is one of the nicest places to walk around and explore! You can get your own World Traveler shirt by clicking on the link.
On our most recent trip, we visited Sea World. We aren’t fans of the place and didn’t see any of the animal shows, but we had free tickets so we went to ride some of the kiddie rides/play some games which Milana loved!
Make sure to hit up Old Town on one of your San Diego visits! Yes, it’s a huge tourist trap that we never went to when we lived there but it’s still super cute to explore for a couple of hours. There are lots of souvenir shops and of course a ton of Mexican restaurants. While the Mexican food isn’t great at any of them (try Lucha Libre not far from here but be prepared for a wait!), it will do in a pinch. We ate at Cafe Coyote on this visit.
Before heading home, we stopped at the new Waterfront Park. It was over 80 degrees in February, so the splash pad area was filled with bathing suit clad kids. Milana had a blast running around and getting soaked. This is a must do if you’re visiting San Diego with kids! You can watch the planes land at the nearby SAN airport while you soak up the rays and the kids splash and play in the water. There are two sections with water play. One is just water play, and not very crowded. The second area is right next to the playground, and that area was very crowded. We stayed by the splash only area until she was ready for the playground, then we walked over to the actual play area. The biggest complaint we had (and we heard from others) is the lack of shade anywhere. It was a really hot day and the playground equipment was getting really hot, with no shade anywhere.
San Diego also has a children’s museum, the New Children’s Museum . Milana was barely 2 when we went, but we will revisit now that she’s older and do more things.
If your hotel is near Petco Park, there is a little kids playground inside it. You can enter Petco Park during the day and walk around the area, something to keep in mind if you want to see the stadium without going to a game.
San Diego, and Southern CA in general, is super family friendly. We drive down once or twice a year and no two trips are the same! This post will be updated each time we visit.