Family friendly cities: Sun & sea in San Diego - United Hub

Family friendly cities: Sun and sea in San Diego

By Bob Cooper

Beaches, zoos, parks and festivals — San Diego is brimming with all of these classic summer activities and more. With a mild climate to boot, San Diego is the perfect destination for a family vacation.

Mission Beach in San Diego

Beach play

“Life is a beach" is more than a T-shirt slogan in San Diego — it's a state of mind. Visitors can join locals to indulge in delights of the sand and sea at any of San Diego's dozens of beaches, or the dozens more in beach towns north of the city. San Diego's Mission Beach has the liveliest scene, mostly at Belmont Park, an old-fashioned amusement park with 12 classic rides, including the 1925 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. There's also an arcade, zip line and bustling boardwalk. Most of San Diego County's beaches are quieter, but still offer the elements that beach worshipers adore: castle-worthy sand, bodyboarding, surfing and beach volleyball.

Animal attractions

San Diego Zoo is one of the best zoos in the world and ranks first on many lists. Whether it's the collection of 660 species (from pygmy hippos to giant pandas), the Skyfari Aerial Tram or the 4D theaters, this is a zoo for all ages. San Diego Zoo Safari Park — a lesser-known but much larger venue — is 35 miles away and has many of its 300 species roaming in herds throughout large enclosures. They can be viewed on foot or from a tram, zip line or tethered helium balloon. Both of the zoos are worth a half-day visit, but there's too much to see to do them both in the same day. Entertainment-focused SeaWorld San Diego and education-oriented Birch Aquarium are their world-class marine life counterparts.

Balboa Park, City of San Diego, California

Balboa Park

San Diego Zoo is the main attraction in Balboa Park, but the park is also home to many of San Diego's family-friendly museums. America's largest model railroad museum features a 142-foot-long miniaturized railroad display; the San Diego Natural History Museum and Fleet Science Center are both geared toward kids drawn to hands-on science; and the San Diego Air & Space Museum boasts 67 aircraft, from a 1901 Wright Glider reproduction to the Apollo 9 Command Module. You can also find an antique children's mini-train, a 1910 carousel, five playgrounds and countless picnic spots in Balboa Park.

Fab family festivals

San Diego's two big family-friendly festivals this summer are both near the beach and both are free. The 39th Annual OB Street Fair at Ocean Beach (June 23) includes a Wonderland Fun Zone with rides for kids and music for all ages on five stages. The Sun & Sea Festival at Imperial Beach (July 15) offers a full schedule of Kids' Zone entertainment and activities, plus a pirate parade, kids' rides and separate sandcastle contests for kids (ages 5 to 12) and adults.

LEGOLAND in California

LEGOLAND California

Legos are small plastic pieces that kids love to snap together, but there's nothing small about the LEGOLAND California theme park or its popularity, with attendance topping two million per year. Dozens of Lego-themed, kid-friendly rides and shows — many of them interactive — are the main attraction, but you can also add to the fun by upgrading your ticket to access the Lego-themed aquarium and water park next door where kids can assemble their own Lego rafts. Admission prices are steep, but Lego-loving kids of a certain age will want to stay all day, and the memories will be priceless.

If you go

United Airlines offers numerous daily flights to San Diego International Airport from many cities. MileagePlus Rewards can help cover your hotel room and rental car once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your San Diego family getaway.

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