We’d all like to see our kids grow up as well-traveled citizens of the world, but they have to start somewhere. Here are our picks for easy first time trips to take with the kids.
El Capitan Canyon Resort Cabin.
If you want to add a dose of laidback nature to your kiddo’s hectic lives, there are few places more lovely than Ocean Mesa Campground and adjacent El Capitan Canyon Resort along the Santa Barbara coast. Pack up a rental RV with all the necessities and park your home-away-from home overlooking the ocean at a campground with a luxury resort vibe. If lugging your world along defeats your purpose, opt for the Hemingway-style safari tents or charming cabins. You can still enjoy a mighty fine campfire and marshmallow roast under a sea of stars.
The bonus of this being a first camping experience is you don’t have to fear the instant withdrawal and wails of “boredom” with amenities that include a heated pool and spa, Adventure Yurt, Wi-Fi, cable TV, convenience store, 15 miles of hiking trails, snack bar, horseback riding bike rentals, yoga, stargazing, and occasionally even live music. (The downside is this is a pretty tough act to follow!)
Galapagos tortoise at the San Diego Zoo. | Courtesy San Diego Zoo
San Diego for the Active Family Vacay
Why San Diego? During the entire month of October 2016, more than 110 San Diego hotels, restaurants, attractions, museums and transportation companies will offer families with children special deals. Bonus, this destination is close enough to home so when you leave the kiddo’s lovey under the coffee table, a zip back home…while not ideal…won’t kill the entire weekend.
For Animal Lovers
Critter fans will have a roarin’ good time at the world-famous San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and SeaWorld San Diego. Kids 11 and younger can celebrate the 100th anniversary of the San Diego Zoo (Readers’ Choice Award Winner for Best Place to View Animals!) with free admission. Families can also catch a break at sister-park, the San Diego Safari Park.
If kids want to splash out and explore the underwater world, SeaWorld San Diego offers hands-on experiences like feeding rays and visiting world class aquariums, with educational lessons about the sea life on view. Not only will kids 3-9 enjoy free entrance, kids 10-12 (over 48”) can participate in a free Dolphin Encounter or Dolphin and Beluga Interaction Program with one paid adult. For a more natural experience, take a free-for-kids kayak tour of the La Jolla Sea Caves and wave to the friendly sea lions.
For the Adventurous
The fun extends beyond museums and zoos. Give the family a memorable trip by embarking on a pirate-themed scavenger hunt adventure around Seaport Village with Murder n’ Mayhem tours (one child, 12 and under free with paid adult). If those seas sound too rough for your little ones, the innovative New Children’s Museum in Downtown offers an artsy adventure in a part tree house, part village, part undiscovered world beckoning little explorers to wander accompanied by an original, experimental soundscape. Kids wanting to step beyond the land of selfies can even enjoy a free San Diego Photography Tour, with accompanying grown up.
Kids are VIPs
- San Diego has a wealth of quality hotel and resort options, some of which offer fun bonuses during Kids Free San Diego month.
- Downtown’s Omni San Diego Hotel surprises kids 12 and under a special welcome backpack and milk-and-cookies turndown service on the night of their arrival.
- The Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa presents guests 12 and under with a special “bucket of fun” amenity, to make the most of the resort’s coastal location overlooking Mission Bay.
- At Paradise Point Resort on Mission Bay, kids score a special $50 “island allowance” that can be applied towards the resort’s mini-golf, bike or paddleboard rentals.
For a complete listing of “Kids Free San Diego” participants and their special offers, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website at SanDiego.org/KidsFree.
Hotel Irvine pool Oasis
If you are a first-timer traveling family, it can’t hurt to make a trial run. You quickly discover what crucial things got left behind (BINKY! EEKGADS WHO LEFT THE BINKY!) and what can be jettisoned in the name of not needing multiple luggage carts to survive an overnight stay.
At this friendly hotel, you’ll feel right at home (without the need to crawl under the coffee table to get the errant cheerios). Hotel Irvine features personalized service and all the little things that make you feel relaxed, and surprisingly refreshed despite having only rested your head 15 miles or so from home.
The luxury of lounging by a pool without a pile of clean laundry begging to get folded…of reclining the chaise with the baby snoring on your chest as a frosty Cucumber Lime Fizz is slipped into your hand…of letting the kids stay up for a dive-in movie night at the pool without the dread of setting a past-the-bedtime precedent they’ll Never Let You Forget. You can even go luxe and rent your own private poolside cabana.
If you are new parents, leery of letting that sweet newborn too far out of sight, you’re close enough to have your own trusted sitter come so you can enjoy a date night at Eats Kitchen + Bar, with its gourmet-meets-caz delights (www.eatskitchen.com). Or drinks, butes and an actual grown up conversation at Red Bar and Lounge (www.redbarandlounge.com), just a designated-driver-free stroll down the hall.