San Diego Sun, Sights and Delights

Courtesy of Millicent Skiles

Every summer, my family and I are drawn to San Diego’s golden shores, its warm weather offering a blissful excuse to do little more than park it on a beach for days.

Inevitably, however, it’s my daughter Chloe who tires of all this lazing about and drags us from the sand in search of other forms of entertainment.

I have grown to appreciate her drive to explore because San Diego constantly surprises me. After all, it hasn’t earned the nickname of “America’s Finest” city just because of its sunsets.

And while the beaches are definitely the cool places to be, venturing further afield is where this town really turns up the heat and gets interesting.

First, Let’s Hit the Beach

With more than 70 miles of beaches, you and your family are certain to find your very own slice of paradise.

La Jolla – This popular beach community is an excellent place to make your home base. La Jolla Shores is a beautiful beach to spend an entire day, with picnic facilities, gentle waves for kids, kayak rentals and spectacular sunsets. Further south is La Jolla Cove, a popular place for snorkelers and swimmers – as well as a growing number of sea lions, which are slowing taking over, just like they did at La Jolla Children’s Pool.

Downtown La Jolla is a chic place to stroll and explore. If you parents are lucky enough to escape for date night, consider taking in the gorgeous sunset views at George’s at the Cove, which hosts a bar and two restaurants. (858-454-4244.

For those who could care less about being a tourist, the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club is an excellent option when all you want to do is watch the sun set and have someone bring you a Mai Tai. Opened in 1927, little has changed at this iconic resort, and longtime fans like it that way. It offers a pristine private beach, 12 championship tennis courts, par-3 golf course and swimming pool. This along with its gloriously attentive beachside service will give you little incentive to leave. (888-828-0948. 

Pacific Beach – Located south of La Jolla, this beach community offers more of a party atmosphere, thanks to the many college students and young adults who come here to play. There is some good shopping, as well as a plethora of water sports rentals such as boogie boards.

When the sun gets too hot, stand in line at The Baked Bear and order a custom-made ice cream sandwich. (858-886-7433. For lunch or dinner, consider The Fishery, located just three blocks off of the beach and offering a fantastic menu of local fish as well as a seafood market so you can bring it home and create your own magic. (858-272-9985.

Mission Beach A short stroll south from Pacific Beach is the beach where my family and I spend most of our time.

The adjacent Belmont Park provides options for those who can only take so much sun and sand (looking at you, Chloe). This amusement park offers carnival rides, including a rare wooden roller coaster, arcade games, two wave machines, shops and plenty of restaurant options. (

On the flip side, there’s Mission Bay, just a couple of blocks away. Its calm, glassy waters are perfect for kids averse to loud, crashing waves, as well as enthusiasts of standup paddle boarding, boating and jet skiing.

To truly take advantage of everything the bay offers while still gaining easy access to the beach, check out Bahia Resort Hotel (858-488-0551. or Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa (858-488-1081.

Ocean Beach – Go further south across the bay inlet to visit this quieter beach community. The Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is particularly breathtaking, with its 68 acres of shoreline cliffs and impressive surfing. At the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula are the Cabrillo National Monument and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. If you have a dog that loves long off-leash runs along the shore, be sure to check out the Original Dog Beach. (

Coronado – Mistakenly thought of as an island, this resort community is actually tied to the mainland via a stretch of land known as the Silver Strand. But most visitors come by way of the two-mile long Coronado Bridge. Once there, you will likely head straight for the luxurious and historic Hotel Del Coronado, but sparkling beaches lure, including one off-leash variety for furry friends. (

Getting Away From the Beach

Balboa Park – This 1,200-acre park is the nation’s largest urban cultural park, so be sure to devote enough time exploring. It’s home to the San Diego Zoo, 15 museums and performing arts venues such as the Old Globe Theater, lush gardens, a miniature railroad and so much more. (619-239-0512.

While there, enjoy lunch at the Prado Restaurant, located right in the heart of the park. Just be sure to avoid the wait and make reservations in advance. (619-557-9441.

Old Town – Considered the “birthplace” of California, Old Town is where Junipero Serra in 1769 established the first in a chain of 21 missions as well as a Mexican community. Today, the park includes several original buildings, a plaza, museums and living history demonstrations. (

Gaslamp Quarter – The heart of San Diego’s entertainment district is a fun place to explore, day and night. With museums, theaters, shopping and fine dining, this is also the place to attend Comic-Con, see a baseball game and more. (

The New Children’s Museum – While you’re in the Gaslamp, don’t miss this fabulous museum. Everything in this three-level, 50,000-square-foot building is geared toward hands-on kid entertainment, whether it’s painting, jumping around, dressing up or digging in the garden. (619-233-8792.

Sea World – Home to its famous orca whales, this popular destination also includes exhibits on turtles, sharks, dolphins and penguins, as well an assortment of rides. (800-257-4268.

Liberty Station – Formerly a naval training center that closed in 1997, Liberty Station has been given new life with offerings that includes delicious food, unique shops and an art district. (

For lunch, check out Liberty Public Market for an assortment of artisanal cuisine. ( To get your craft beer fix as well as a tasty meal, there’s no better place than Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. (

Plus, on rainy days – or when you just want to see a movie – there’s no better place to go than The Lot, which offers motorized recliners and seat-side food service. The Lot also operates a theater in La Jolla. (

 Millicent Skiles, a parent to three children in Mill Valley, travels regularly to San Diego.

 Survive the Drive Down

I compare the drive down to San Diego to Frodo’s great journey to the land of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. You think, Surely, it must be close! But it’s an elusive mirage that can drive you – and the kids – crazy.

Last year, our drive took about 12 hours, much of it spent battling traffic. It’s easy to feel like Frodo, wasting away on a sea of lava that is Interstate 5. But with a little planning and flexibility, you can take at least some of the sting out of the commute.

 Consider splitting up your drive south into two days. You can leave at the crack of dawn and slip away from the Bay Area, but it’s the traffic from Los Angeles on that will slow you down every time. This year, our plan is to leave as early as possible for Interstate 5, stop at Santa Clarita – just when the traffic’s flaring up – and spend the rest of the day playing at Six Flags Magic Mountain. After a (hopefully) restful night in a nearby hotel, we will again slip away in the cover of darkness in an attempt to miss much of the traffic south.

Alternatively, you can drive down the much more visually appealing Highway 101 and make an overnight stop in Santa Barbara. Just be sure to leave as early as possible in the morning, as you’ll be more likely to hit traffic.

Leave by 6:30 a.m. on the drive back north. You can usually complete this trip in about nine hours, provided you do not linger over coffee and long goodbyes. Also, a return trip on a weekend is likely to be faster than on a weekday.

Pack plenty of snacks and entertainment. I once tried to entertain my three kids on a San Diego sojourn with little more than a few books, some finger puppets and crackers. Boy, did I learn my lesson. While it’s ideal to think our kids will entertain themselves counting cows as they zip across the state, everyone has their breaking point. Make sure you respect theirs. If ever there was a time to pop in a movie or fire up a tablet, this is it. They’ll live. More importantly, so will you.

Gas up for less. Nothing annoys my husband more than passing up a cheap gas station when we’re a quarter of a tank full only to get stuck paying more because you’re desperate and running on fumes. Download a gas comparison app on your phone and plan accordingly. Gas Buddy and Gas Guru are good ones to check out.


Millicent Skiles


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