If you have to move your family to a new city, you can certainly do worse than San Diego. Aside from year-round perfect play weather, San Diego offers beautiful beaches, miles of trails, and enough kids’ activities to keep them busy until college.
Military families new to the city will find a welcoming, family-friendly community. Major tourist attractions, such as the San Diego Zoo and Sea World, are givens during your first free afternoons. For a glimpse into lesser-known San Diego, here are a few affordable activities that will help you and your family fall in love with your new area.
1. Old Town
Spend an afternoon learning about San Diego history in Old Town. Stop by the Seeley Stables to visit the donkeys and admire the many stagecoaches. Take a tour from a host dressed in period attire, and pretend you’re back in the 1800s. There’s even a map you can use to take the kids on a history hunt. If you get hungry, the Old Town Mexican Cafe serves authentic fare with tortillas made on site. Free admission.
2. Art Produce
Do your kids like to draw, paint, or play with clay? Take them to Art Produce, a drop-in program in the North Park neighborhood. Art instructors help kids with different techniques using paint, pencils, clay, found objects, and more. There’s also an urban garden and art gallery. Admission: pay what you can.
3. Take a Hike
San Diego natives may tell you about childhoods spent hiking in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Park Preserve. The area spans 4,000 acres with evidence of Native American history that dates back 7,000 years. Walk all or part of the 3-mile stretch from the Black Mountain Road entrance to the waterfall that cascades through volcanic rock. Along the way, you’re bound to see many different types of birds, reptiles, and other animals.
Families with older children who can handle steep pathways should visit Torrey Pines Reserve in La Jolla for a hillside hike with gorgeous ocean views. The three-quarter-mile Beach Trail descends 300 feet and deposits your crew directly on the sand where kids can splash in the surf. On weekends especially, you can watch the colorful hang gliders soar from the nearby gliderport.
4. Denny Sanford Children’s Library
On the first floor of the San Diego Central Library, you’ll find a children’s library with activities every day of the week. If you can take their eyes off the huge Dr. Seuss murals, get your kids involved in a chess club, the LEGO creators club, Friday morning storytime, drawing classes, and some 70,000 books.
5. Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
If you’ve never experienced the excitement of horse racing, then here’s your chance. The historic Del Mar Thoroughbred Club offers a full calendar of events for both grown-ups and kids.
During Family Weekend — which is every weekend — send the kids to the infield for pony rides, stilt walkers, face painters, and games. Admission to the track for youth age 17 and under is always free. Military personnel and dependents also get in free.
“We support our military families any way we can,” says Del Mar Thoroughbred Club spokesperson Carrie Jones. “Our tie to the military goes back to 1942, when Del Mar went ‘dark’ and shut down so the grounds could be used for training by the Marines, and then for manufacturing parts for B-17 bombers.”
6. Balboa Park — via Scavenger Hunt
Balboa Park is a wonderland of museums, performing arts venues, gardens, trails, and other attractions. With so much to do in its 1,200 acres, it’s hard to know where to start.
Why not make a game of it? Urban Adventure Quest takes you through Balboa Park’s art, architecture, and scenic pathways, all while you solve clues. The game works with most Internet-capable smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices.
“You’re solving puzzles and riddles about the monument you’re in front of,” says Urban Adventure Quest owner Christie Walker. “When you’re finished, you’ll know more about the city than most locals.” Military members receive a 25 percent discount. (There are also games for downtown San Diego and other U.S. cities).
Although military families have experience moving around, any relocation is a big adjustment. CORT Furniture Rental can make sure you arrive to a beautifully furnished apartment, so all you have to do is have fun your new city.