With so much to offer, San Diego, California, is the perfect place for families with young children. From world-famous attractions to lesser-known treasures, it is a playground unlike any other. The range of activities available suit every budget and can be enjoyed from sun-up to sundown along 70 miles of beautiful coastline.
Places abound in San Diego for animal-loving toddlers. The world-famous San Diego Zoo houses 4,000 animals, and youngsters can even get a glimpse of the endangered Giant Panda. Little ones will enjoy getting up close and personal with woolly sheep at the petting zoo. Admission for kids under three is free. Enjoy wild animal encounters in more natural habitats at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Pack a picnic and spend some time at the Fisher-Price Samburu Jungle Gym -- a Safari-themed play space, then cool off in the Savanna Cool Zone with gentle mists and water play. Let toddlers ride the Conservation Carousel before you head home. Once again, under-threes luck out with free admission. Sea World San Diego is home to killer whales, dolphins, penguins -- and Elmo! Check out Sesame Street's Bay of Play at Sea World, where children can meet and greet their favorite television pals. Try Birch Aquarium in La Jolla for interactive sea-life displays, touch tanks and crowd-pleasing starfish.
Take the little ones on a stroll through the Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego, part of Balboa Park. They'll enjoy seeing the koi pond and waterfall -- and you'll appreciate the relaxed atmosphere. Stop off at Pepper Grove Children's Playground while you're in the area. The Seeds of Wonder Children's Garden offers a number of preschool programs at the San Diego Botanic Garden. Toddler stories and sing-alongs, or garden arts-and-craft projects are available with either a membership or general admission.
3. Indoor Play
San Diego is beautiful outside, but there are also many toddler-friendly activities inside. The Toy Train Gallery at the San Diego Railroad Museum features a section of track where kids can play Train Master, pushing buttons to move the model trains. The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is home to Kid City -- an exciting and educational play space designed for the under-5 crowd. Air blowers, balls and pinwheels keep toddlers suitably entertained for hours. Consider the New Children's Museum for similar fun and games. For a guaranteed good time, try the Play Town Indoor Playground. Designed especially for children under 6, the play space is a toddler's dream. The kids will love the ride-on cars, slides and soft play area -- while parents will appreciate the cool air-conditioning.
4. Cheap Day
You could easily break the piggy bank with so many fun things to do in San Diego -- but many activities come without a hefty price tag. Beaches are everywhere, so pack a picnic and head out for the day. You and your little one can even enjoy watching seals on Casa Beach. Mission Trails Regional Park has enough miles of trails to explore to wear out the hardiest toddler. Strap on a child carrier and hike portions of it, or hitch on the bicycle seat and bike it. Lake Murray has a multi-use trail, good for walking or pushing the stroller, so load the snacks and sunscreen and enjoy all that nature has to offer.