San Diego City Overview

Tourist/Locals Overview

Have you recently moved to San Diego or are you coming for a visit?

Let us give you the lay of the land and some ideas on how to use the site so you get the most out of it. This listing describes most of the cities within San Diego county in geographical order from north to south.

Start with the resources/business directory for a complete list of topics.

San Diego Convention & Visitor Bureau for vacation brochures, and coupons.  The address is 2214 India St., San Diego, CA 92101.  The phone number is 619-236-1212 or 619-232-3101. Or send an email to sdinfo@sandiego.org. Website: www.sandiego.org.

Hotel Finder:  ARES (Advanced Reservation Systems):  800-941-6712 (They are local and will work with you with price range and location.  Also ask about their attraction discount coupons.)

San Diego Restaurants By Area, cuisines, categories, etc: www.where2eat.comwww.san.diego.diningchannel.com.

Hotelplanner.com: 8880 Rio San Diego Drive, Suite 800, San Diego, CA 92108. 888-300-3647, www.hotelplanner.com

 Resources by city:

Oceanside

City of Oceanside site

Oceanside is considered the “Gateway City” between San Diego County and the Los Angeles and Orange County areas; the near-perfect climate invites visitors to relax on the 3.5 miles of sandy beaches or to step back in time by visiting the historic Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, the “King of the Missions”.

The sport and lifestyle of surfing is celebrated at the unique California Surf Museum located on Historic North Coast Highway.  Learn about surf legends and what to watch for while observing local surfers ride the beach-break peaks & barrels up and down the San Diego coastline. Plus, with free admission, your teens, little ones and pocketbook will all enjoy this cool spot!

Beautiful “Harbor Beach” is Oceanside’s largest beach, offering everything from surfing to volleyball.

Another beach option is the area south of the Oceanside Pier, Oceanside’s most popular beach.  If you don’t mind crowds, you will be comfortable here. Surfing, body-boarding, and body surfing contests are held at Oceanside Pier throughout the Spring and Summer.  The Oceanside Longboard Surfing Club holds its annual contest and beach festival each August.  There are also various events held in the Oceanside Pier Amphitheater. The pier itself is a beautiful walk for families, and at 1.942 feet long, many families throw their fishing lines off the pier and wait for the fish to bite.

The largest of all United States Marine Corps amphibious training bases is also located in Oceanside. Camp Pendleton is home of the First Marine Division.  The base’s motto talks of “Preserving California’s Precious Resources,” as it is home to endangered species and many historical landmarks.  Many military families call Oceanside home, and it is easy to find family-friendly restaurants along the coast after a day at the beach.

Vista / San Marcos / Fallbrook

City of San Marcos site
City of Fallbrook site
City of Vista site

The Wave Waterpark is a family aquatic park owned and operated by the City of Vista. Little ones can enjoy splashing in the children’s activity area or taking swim lessons at the center from May until September. Older children will love the thrill of the water slides or just relaxing on a tube along the Rio Loco River.

Vista also has a free public skate park located in Civic Center Park next to City Hall and the Public Library.

San Marcos is known, in part, for its Old California Restaurant Row, which offers an array of quality family-friendly restaurants such as Zip and Zacks with a fun game room for kids of all ages and The Market Street Café & Bakery, which has a great outdoor eating area for breakfast or lunch.  With a huge movie theater complex located right next door – Old California Restaurant Row is perfect before or after a show.

Fallbrook’s primary business is agriculture. Known as the Avocado Capital of the World, the town has been growing the avocado since the fruit was first planted locally in 1912.

The “can’t miss” event in this town is The Annual Avocado Festival, which is held in April each year. The festival takes place along Main Street, which has its own turn-of-the-century charm, with many buildings dating back to the late 1800s.  Your family will learn everything they ever wanted to know about the amazing avocado. Tasting world-class guacamole and checking out the wares in hundreds of booths is a lot of fun too. Activities planned around the Avocado include the Avocado 500, a “model” car building event and race using avocados as vehicles!

Carlsbad / Encinitas

City of Carlsbad site
City of Encinitas site

LEGOLAND® California is built for real family FUN with more than 50 rides, shows and attractions for the whole family to enjoy. This huge park is specifically geared toward children ages 2-12, and many parents have just as much fun as their children do when they visit! Be sure to check out the Burger Stop for tasty family dining and a favorite family show, Fun Town Fire Academy, held daily. www.LEGOLAND.com

The Flower Fields entertain and educate more than 150,000 visitors each year with flourishing gardens and community activities. Come experience the vibrant waves of color that covers the hillsides at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. This wonderful annual display of horticultural beauty opens each March promising to welcome you into a sea of floral color and aromatic delights.

Not far from the flower fields is the Carlsbad Premium Outlets Mall – a delightful outdoor shopping experience with 90 major stores and beautiful fountains. Hint: bring pennies!

South Carlsbad State Beach is a family favorite! Various Campfire programs, Junior Ranger programs, and nature walks may be offered; check signs posted on the restrooms and at the entrance station regarding park information during your visit.  The wide open space offered at this beach is perfect for spending a day swimming, surfing and picnicking. The large bluff-top campground is very popular, especially in summer. Stairs lead to the beach.

Located along six miles of Pacific coastline in North County, Encinitas is characterized by coastal beaches, steep mesa bluffs and rolling hills.  There is a significant flower growing industry in the city and it is known for growing the winter favorite Poinsettia. The Paul Ecke family greenhouses put Encinitas in the limelight nationally with their vast production and award winning poinsettia flowers.   As Encinitas has developed, it has grown up around the pre-existing flower growers.  San Diego Botanic Garden is set on 35 acres in north coastal San Diego County, San Diego Botanic Garden’s, formerly Quail Botanical Gardens, mission is to inspire people of all ages to connect with plants and nature.  The Gardens includes nearly 3,500 kinds of plants representing three general plant habitat types: desert collections, Mediterranean collections and subtropical/tropical collections.  Demonstration gardens such as the children’s garden, “Seeds of Wonder,” as well as the Hamilton Children’s Gardens which opened in the Summer of 2009, encourage conservation education, focusing on horticultural themes and t raditional use of plants.  San Diego Botanic Garden is opening daily from 9am to 5pm.  Admission prices are as follows: Adults, $12; seniors, active military, students $8; children ages 3-12, $6; and children age 2 and under are free.  For more information, visit www.SDBGarden.org.

The Downtown Hwy 101 Area is a coastal shopping district featuring historic architecture, quaint shops, sidewalk cafes, and restaurants framed by beautiful flower baskets.  Don’t miss the taco shops that line the highway, they are all worth stopping for…then you can bring your food to the beach.

The beaches in Encinitas are outstanding.  There are many stretches of beach that lie between Cardiff-by-the-Sea and La Costa.  Moonlight Beach offers a great playground and restrooms. The surfing is unbeatable and many surf contests are held throughout the year in Encinitas.  The surf culture is felt the strongest while driving through this town… board shops abound!  The San Elijo Lagoon Reserve is the largest coastal wetland in San Diego County and is home to nearly 300 different bird species throughout the year…hiking around the trail area is better with older kids.

Solana Beach / Del Mar / Carmel Valley

City of Solana Beach site
City of Del Mar site

Beautiful Solana Beach is located along the northern coast of San Diego County. It is known for itsshopping, with a mix of interesting art galleries and boutiques, furniture shops, surfing outfitters and other unique stores mostly located on one long street named “Cedros.”

Fletcher Cove, located at Solana Beach Plaza, has a wonderful little cobblestone beach with a park that overlooks the ocean. The picturesque cove has lifeguard service, but not much sand and can be inaccessible at high tide. Off the beach there is volleyball, shuffleboard, basketball, showers, picnic tables and free public parking. This beach is very close to the Amtrak rail station that stops in Solana Beach and also the well knownCedros Design District.

The Village of Del Mar, is very much like visiting Carmel, California.  Most San Diegans associate Del Mar with its world famous Race Track and Fairgrounds that are located just off of the I-5 freeway.

The Fairgrounds are home to many annual family-friendly events including The San Diego County Fair, the Scream Zone each fall and the Holiday of Lights each winter, the largest animated drive-through light show on the west coast with more than 400 sparkling, twinkling, lively displays located around the racetrack.

The term “Where the Turf meets the Surf” is well known, especially with the horse racing set.  Each summer the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club hosts the Del Mar races including a variety of horse races, special concerts and family events.

Traffic related to both the fair and horse races can be tricky on I-5.

The Powerhouse Community Center, which is owned and operated by the City of Del Mar, sits next to the Del Mar beach area.  It offers a large grassy area and playground and a community space with restrooms, an outdoor theatre and beach showers where everyone can rinse off the Del Mar sand, wiggle their toes in glee, and soak in Del Mar’s historic glow.

Poway / Scripps Ranch / Escondido

City of Poway site
City of Escondido site

Old Poway Park is such a great family spot! It offers steam train railroad rides, and children under 12 years are able to ride for only fifty cents…adults are charged a little more.

Also at the park on Saturdays is a Farmers Market with produce sold directly to you by the farmer. Rain or shine!

A 2 acre park and picnic area is also very near the park’s Hamburger Factory Restaurant.

The The San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum in Escondido feels that perhaps the most important life skill you are able to pass along is a “hands-on, multi-sensory experience” and their programs do just that, by creating a unique setting that is wholesome, fun and very accessible.

Scripps Ranch is a family oriented residential community nestled among thousands of acres of rolling hills, groves of eucalyptus & pine and scenic views adjacent to Miramar Lake.  Much of the open space of Scripps Ranch has been set aside for neighborhood parks, ball fields, nature trails, wildlife and a variety of outdoor activities. A favorite park is Spring Canyon Park which has a soccer field, basketball court, sand volleyball court and playgrounds!

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an expansive wildlife sanctuary that is home to more than 3,500 animals representing more than 400 species. The monkey exhibit alone is enough for kids to go crazy over!  It is located 35 miles north of downtown San Diego in the San Pasqual Valley near Escondido.

La Jolla / Pacific Beach

These areas are part of the City of San Diego.

Birch Aquarium is located on a beautiful bluff overlooking the ocean. Try to visit the aquarium during theirFamily Days!  Enjoy arts and crafts, science and engaging activities for all ages in this monthly program that promotes family learning and togetherness.  Programs are included with admission.

The Children’s Pool (850 Coast Boulevard) is a small beach partially protected by a seawall.  The walking path along the cliffs here has a panoramic view.  During much of the year, seals and sea lions are present on or near the beach and on a reserve for these marine mammals, called Seal Rock, just offshore.  The name “Children’s Pool” is a little misleading, please do not plan to swim anywhere near the seals or sea lions – they now call this beach their home.  This beach area is within a short walk of the commercial area of the community of La Jolla. Grassy park areas can be found a short distance to the north and south. Picnics are popular here…there is no playground, but there are free summer concerts each Sunday in Scripps Park at La Jolla Cove.  Just a few blocks away, Prospect Street is San Diego’s answer to “Rodeo Drive” with luxuriousshopping and plenty of dining!  La Jolla has something to offer every member of your family!

The Torrey Pines State Reserve is a wilderness reserve that sits between two beach communities.  The park preserves not only the trees, but also the last salt marshes and waterfowl refuges in Southern California. The reserve features high broken cliffs and deep ravines on headlands overlooking the ocean. Hikers can follow trails through stands of wind-sculpted pines. Picnicking and camping are prohibited in the reserve. The reserve’s rich plant community features wildflowers in the spring and visitors can see the California quail gathered in coveys in the early mornings of fall and winter.  Hike on down the trails and to the Torrey Pines State Beach … it is a great way to spend some family time … the trails are easy to walk, and as long as your children are old enough to handle instructions, it should be fine for them to navigate them with you.

Other major beaches to mention in La Jolla:

  • La Jolla Shores – Great surfing / Torrey Pines Scenic Drive
  • La Jolla Cove – Dine and swim in paradise at this downtown La Jolla beach!
  • Wind and Sea Beach – Great for experienced surfing families

Crystal Pier is a landmark and a symbol of Pacific Beach history.  The Pier was completed in 1927.  It is open to the public for fishing during daylight hours and is a popular spot for watching San Diego’s spectacular sunsets. Pacific Beach is home to eclectic festivities and annual family-friendly events such as Beachfest and the PB Christmas Parade.

Garnet Avenue is the main shopping district of Pacific Beach, with the first six blocks filled with interesting shops, bars and restaurants.  Don’t miss shopping at the Pangaea Outpost – it is really 60 shops, all under one roof! Garnet Avenue is like the main street of a small town.

Mission Beach / Ocean Beach / Point Loma

These areas are part of the City of San Diego.

You’ve got to go to Belmont Park to experience the Giant Dipper – it’s a very old-school rollercoaster experience! The cars have been updated so they reflect today’s safety standards, yet the track is original to this classic wooden coaster! The carnival area is just plain fun and the beach scene is interesting, though the beach itself is a bit crowded sometimes.

Ocean Beach is such a unique place to visit!  One of Ocean Beach’s best features for canine lovers is Dog Beach, a sandy area at the north end where dogs are permitted without a leash at all hours of the day. Owners are responsible for control and clean-up of their dogs. This is a great place to visit and is one of the only beaches in San Diego where dogs can run free.

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is the centerpiece of Cabrillo National Monument, with a spectacular view of San Diego Harbor. The Cabrillo Monument Park, part of the National Park Service, offers exhibits, living history lessons and tours of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. The Tide Pools along the base of the cliffs below the park offer visitors a chance to see various species of marine life up close and personal…your children will love learning about the sea life!

Downtown San Diego / Balboa Park

These areas are part of the City of San Diego.

Also check out the Balboa Park website.

Seaport Village is very near the Convention Center and many other downtown hotels, in case you are staying nearby…you may want to take your children over to ride the carousel or play at the arcade, while you get in a little souvenir shopping!

When snack time hits you can treat everyone to an ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s and wander over to theEmbarcadero Park for a shady bayside break.  Children love to visit the North and South Embarcadero Parks.  With a great steady breeze they are perfect for kite flying!  Watching the ships sail by is a real treat too.

If you cross the street and walk towards the Gaslamp Quarter (full of shopping and restaurants) and follow the Martin Luther King Promenade along the trolley line, this wide green belt path will bring you to theChildren’s Park & Children’s Museum Park.  The little ones love seeing the trolley cars pass, and it makes for a nice walk away from the convention center.

If you are visiting during baseball season be sure to stop at Petco Park, the only west coast ballpark to offer a large grassy section for families to sit (just outside of the outfield) so that you can view the game.  There is also a children’s play area (behind the outfield). All in all, the Padre’s experience is great family fun!

If you have access to a car while you are visiting, be sure to drive up Park Boulevard all the way to a true SD landmark… Balboa Park! Balboa Park covers 1,200 acres and features more than 85 cultural and recreational organizations, including fifteen museums and various performing arts groups.

Balboa Park: It is located just outside of the San Diego Zoo.  13 Museums, plus many other activities, (619) 232-2053

1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA, 92101, www.balboapark.orginfo@balboapark.org

Japanese Friendship Garden
Mingei International Museum
Museum of Photographic Arts
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center*
San Diego Air & Space Museum
SDAI- Museum of the Living Artist
San Diego Automotive Museum

 

The Pepper Grove Playground and Picnic area is where we like to stop and play either before or after visiting the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, which has San Diego’s only IMAX® Dome Theater. There are more than 100 interactive science exhibits that will appeal to visitors of any age; they keep everything fresh and new so visitors and locals alike want to return.

Bring your walking shoes because you may want to see the Spreckles Organ Pavilion.  This unique organ contains 4,530 pipes and there is a civic organist, who performs free weekly Sunday concerts …kids like to stop at least for a little while and marvel at the incredible sounds & music it makes!

If you have time…your children will adore attending shows at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre. The adult tickets are five dollars and child tickets are three dollars and the shows are worth every penny!  Click for Puppet Schedule.

More shows can be seen at the world-famous Old Globe Theatre, which presents at least 550 performances a year. And speaking of “world famous,” the park is also home to the San Diego Zoo, where you can stroll around the 100-acre grounds, viewing colorful and exotic species of animals displayed in their natural habitats. Another zoo favorite is the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad.  This miniature locomotive holds 48 passengers and takes a 3-minute, ½-mile trip through four acres of Balboa Park. The train is located opposite the entrance to the Zoo and adjacent to the carousel … which you can still play the “brass ring game” on, if you ride the carousel for five minutes!  Enjoy your time at Balboa Park!

Coronado

City of Coronado site

Coronado is a small “island” town in San Diego Bay, approximately 7.4 square miles in size, connected to the City of San Diego by the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and to the City of Imperial Beach to the south by State Highway 75.  Popular with tourists and San Diegans alike is the world famous Hotel Del Coronado. It is so fun to walk around the hotel and then hit the family-friendly beach that sits just below the resort!  If time permits, try to stop by the Mootime Creamery for homemade ice-cream that’s smashed & folded into your very own customized flavor and Gepetto’s toy store, both located in the shops at the Del. Check the hotels’ website for its annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Coronado also has a city skate park that encompasses about 16,000 square feet of concrete ramps, bowls, grinds and jumps. The park caters to all levels of skill, and they can rent you safety equipment if you are here on vacation.

The entire family will enjoy taking a Ferry ride… the Ferry leaves downtown every hour on the hour beginning at 9 a.m., departing from Broadway Pier (1050 N. Harbor Dr.) and arriving at Coronado’s Ferry Landing Marketplace shopping center…which is another favorite spot with great family restaurants and gifts & souvenirs shops!  The Farmer’s Market is on Tuesdays and Art in the Park is on the first and third Sundays of each month.

Dining – At Burger Lounge, the grilled Lounge Burger features grass-fed beef and is as good as it gets; for those who don’t eat meat, the quinoa burger hits the spot.  922 Orange Ave. (619-435-6835), burgerlounge.com.  A local favorite for special occasions, Chez Loma serves upscale French food in a converted Victorian house, with an emphasis on meat and seafood, 1132 Loma Ave. (619-435-0661); chezloma.com.

Coronado’s section of San Diego’s Bayshore Bikeway runs next to what “Dr. Beach” (Drbeach.org) has called one of America’s top 10 beaches.  Rent a bike at Holland’s Bicycles and take it all in.  Prices are about $7 per house, with discounts for longer time spans, 977 Orange Avenue (619-435-3153); hollandsbicycles.com.  Whether or not you stay at The Del (1500 Orange Ave. 800-468-3533, hoteldel.com), you can experience it by browsing the shops, enjoying the ocean view from an outdoor table at the Babcock & Story Bar, or taking a tour with the Coronado Historical Association (reservations required; 619-437-8788, coronadohistory.org).

Shop – You won’t have any trouble finding gifts for your friends (or yourself).  At Seaside Papery, you can find cards, wrapping paper, and whatever kind of ribbon might suit your fancy.  1162 Orange Ave. (619-435-5565); seasidepapery.com.  If you’re seeking reading material for the beach, visit Bay Books, which stocks new fiction and nonfiction, plus a great selection of magazines.  The kids’ section is perfect for young readers, with small wooden chairs where little one can get comfortable.  1029 Orange Ave. (619-435-0070), baybookscoronado.com.

To visit Coronado, take Interstate 5 to State Route 75 (exit 14A) and cross the toll-free bridge.

Santee / El Cajon

City of Santee site
City of El Cajon site

The City of Santee neighbors some of the most spectacular open space in San Diego County.  Guided ‘Nature Walks’ at  San Diego’s Mission Trails Regional Park are free and information can be found athttp://www.mtrp.org/   The City of Santee also offers a Summer Concert Series at Santee Trolley Square.  It’s a great way to spend a summer night!

Downtown El Cajon has an eventful schedule. By visiting DowntownElCajon.Com you will be able to see the summer concerts they offer “on the Green”,  which is the Prescott Promenade every Friday throughout the warm months.  Bring a blanket or a chair and they promise to entertain all ages in your family.

Also, the first Friday of each month, special events and activities are planned by the Downtown Association with some fun themes.

Imperial Beach

City of Imperial Beach site

The Annual Imperial Beach Sandcastle Competition is the largest sandcastle building competition in the United States. This festival encompasses a full weekend including a street festival, live music and entertainment. All events are free to the public, except for the Sandcastle Ball.

Imperial Beach is also home to some of the best surf fishing, pier fishing and surfing in Southern California. The Imperial Beach Pier is a great place to take your older children fishing for the day.  The pier extends out over the Pacific Ocean for 1,500 Square feet, and no fishing license is needed!

The National Estuarine Research Reserve it is a wonderful place to see and learn about the birds, fauna and flora of our region!  Their Visitor Center is open to the general public, Wednesday through Sunday. The Visitor Center offers a variety of hands-on, interactive activities for all ages. There is also a free Jr. Ranger program for students 7-12 years of age.  Jr. Rangers learn about the importance of wetlands by participating in related hands-on activities, earning patches, buttons and more!

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