1. San Diego Go Card – This allows you to pay a discounted fee for entry to virtually every attraction in the San Diego area, including major venues like SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, and Legoland.  You purchase a Go Card for unlimited access to activities for the number of days you’ll be visiting.  If you have a Costco membership, you can buy a 4-day San Diego Go Card for less than the retail price of a 3-day card.  Once you purchase the Go Card, you can choose to either print passes (each family member will need one) or download an app and add them to your smart phone.  In addition to saving money, the card also allows you to skip the ticket lines at most venues (SeaWorld is one of them, but Legoland is not).  The only downside is that the card has to be used on consecutive days, so if you’ll have to sacrifice a day if you want downtime in between activities.
  2. USS Midway – The USS Midway is the longest serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century.  It’s a virtual “city at sea” and you can explore nearly all of the ship, including the bridge, flight deck (complete with restored fighter jets), sleeping quarters, aircraft control, galleys, etc.  Expect to spend at least 3 hours aboard and be sure to wear practical shoes as you’ll be climbing steep ladders throughout the ship.  The San Diego Go Card allows you to skip the ticket line and will expedite your entry to the ship.  Once you board the ship, pick up free audio sets for the guided tour and then head directly to the “island” located on the flight deck.  This is the one area where small groups are led by a docent and the wait increases as the day goes on.  Stop at the information booth and pick up the kid’s scavenger hunt and turn it in afterwards for a flight pin.  
  3. Coronado Beach — Home of the famous Hotel del Coronado, Coronado Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in San Diego.  You can choose to drive to Coronado island or take the ferry there.  Driving lets you take in the view as you cross over the bridge to the island and also allows you to park right at the beach (the ferry landing is about a mile away).  The free public parking along Ocean Avenue fills up quickly, but parking can also be found in the surrounding residential neighborhood.  Be sure to go on a clear, warm day because the breeze off the water is cold, as is the ocean, even during the summer.  If you tire of the sun and surf, walk around the grounds of the Hotel del Coronado or head to Orange Avenue for shopping, lunch or ice cream.
  4. Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill — Fresh seafood is everywhere in San Diego, but nothing compared to Blue Water Seafood (3667 India Street).  It’s casual dining is perfect for families, with orders placed at the counter and food delivered to your table.  Pick from their daily selection of fresh fish and then choose how you’d like it marinated and served (sandwich, salad, or plate).  For kids, try the panko fried shrimp basket and cheesy bread.
  5. SeaWorld — Arrive at SeaWorld a few minutes before it opens and you should have no problem finding parking near the entrance (don’t pay extra for the up front parking).  Head for the rides first to avoid waiting in long lines.  SeaWorld doesn’t advertise it, but they allow you to kid swap if you have a child that’s too young to ride.  This allows you to wait at the front of the line while your partner rides with your older kids and then give you a turn once they get off the ride (your older kids can then ride a second time with you).  All of the shows at the park are excellent, but be aware that the park gets busier as the day goes on, so you’ll need to get to the afternoon shows 15 – 20 minutes early to get seats.
  6. Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn — Located on Shelter Island, Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn was a wonderful place to be since the area is much lower key than downtown San Diego, but still centrally located.  A one-bedroom suite was cost effective and gave us a full kitchen that we could stock with snacks or use to prepare meals when we didn’t feel like eating out.  We loved the back patio and view of the harbor, as well as the good-sized swimming pool.  The hotel has a tropical vibe with gorgeous grounds, ponds, and two friendly parrots.  
  7. Northside Shack — For breakfast, stop at Northside Shack (1255 N. Rosecrans Street) in Point Loma  for one of their famous acai bowls.  It’s basically frozen acai sorbet topped with every imaginable kind of fresh fruit, plus honey, granola and a variety of other toppings.  Kind of like having a healthy version of an ice cream sundae for breakfast.
  8. Cabrillo National Monument — Located at the very point of Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument state park offers the most incredible views and tide pools.  Timing is everything because you want to get there in the afternoon at low tide when you’ll have full access to the tide pools, but before the park closes at 4:30 PM.  There is a $10 per vehicle access fee, which includes access to the visitor center and lighthouse.  The terrain can be treacherous in places and isn’t ideal for toddlers, but older kids will have a great time exploring and searching for sea creatures.
  9. Legoland — Note that most of the rides at Legoland are geared towards young children (our 5 year old rode one of the “scariest” rides in the park and thought it was great).  If you have older children, skip the rides and enjoy the many other aspects of the park, such as a Lego Mindstorm demonstration, the Xbox video game area, and the incredible Lego reproductions of various Star Wars scenes.  The Garden Restaurant, which overlooks Miniland, was a great place to stop for lunch and offers excellent kid’s meals.  Kids can also bring Lego minifigures along (pick one that’s not a favorite) and ask park employees to swap one of their minifigures with them.
  10. La Jolla — For free entertainment, stop at Children’s Pool in La Jolla to see the seals.  The beach at Children’s Pool is off limits during pupping season in the Spring, but there are plenty of vantage points to see the mothers and babies.  On the other side of the lifeguard station is a small beach where you do have beach access and can walk right up to the seals who are so used to humans, it doesn’t phase them.  The lifeguards do keep a close eye on the action so don’t try to touch them, no matter how irresistible they may be.