Now that I'm in my (shudder) mid-thirties, many of my friends have children. My partner is due to have our second child any moment. As a result, more and more of my experiences are kid-friendly. The ideas of hitting the club for shots and late-night dancing, or even just going to the movies on a whim, simply don't enter my head, anymore. Thankfully, San Diego's a fantastically friendly place to tote around toddlers. When my friends with kids come into town there's no shortage of places to entertain them.
An almost obligatory first stop on the local tour is any one of myriad baby-tolerant taprooms, which have helped define the region as a craft beer Mecca. Accessible beaches also make the top of the list. Unlike other parts of Southern California, a trip to the ocean is usually a quick, 15-minute drive. There's also Balboa Park, which among many other things, has a fantastic garden where parents can entertain their little ones while sipping cocktails. One of the city's greatest amenities is how many activities parents can do without having to shell out for a babysitter.
Featuring abstract metallic masterpieces, the San Diego Museum of Art's Sculpture Garden in Balboa Park (1450 El Prado) is tucked behind the recently opened restaurant Panama 66. With a full bar, a dozen beers on tap and gourmet-style bar food, parents can get service in the garden while their kids run around on the grass. On the weekend, the enclosed court usually teems with young'uns and hip parents. This spot is perfect for afternoon picnics—but don't get started too late. It can get chilly once the sun goes down. As long as you're in the park, also check out the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (1875 El Prado), which features dozens of hands-on exhibits and the world's first IMAX Dome Theater.
Sometimes friends roll into town during the week looking to explore while I'm at work. If they want to avoid the big-ticket items, such as Legoland, I often steer them toward the New Children's Museum (200 West Island Ave.) located downtown. This contemporary, interactive art museum for kids provides play areas for toddlers to 12- year-olds. The installations are so creative, just watching the rug rats crawl on, climb up and play with the exhibits is an art experience in itself.
However, parking can be annoying. If the lot attached to the museum isn't full, just pay the $10 and be done with it. It's $12 for adults and children over one year old.
When the kiddos start bouncing off the walls and breaking stuff in the house, a quick trip to the Copley-Price YMCA City Heights (4300 El Cajon Blvd.) can help them burn off some energy. It's a real gem for locals, but out-of-towners can take advantage of the facility, too, which includes multiple basketball courts, two pools and a small water park. If the parents want to hit the weight room or take a yoga class, the facility also has a childcare area for kids 6 weeks to 12 years old. A two-floor parking structure makes the trip a breeze, and at if you're a member, you can bring a guest for free. If the kids still aren't tired, City Heights boasts a network of canyons that make for great urban exploring, including Manzanita Canyon, which runs into the funky Azalea Community Park and recreation center (2596 Violet St.).
It's not really a trip to San Diego without visiting a craft-beer tasting room. A 50-minute drive north to Mother Earth Brewing in Vista (203 Main St.) is well worth the day trip. The small town abounds with young hip families, and everyone's welcome at the brewery. URBN Coal Fired Pizza (203 Main St.) across the street can make a perfect treat for the kids while the adults sip suds. I recommend the classic Kismet IPA.
Nothing says San Diego to me more than Ocean Beach. Filled with weirdoes of all stripes, this is one of the city's most interesting neighborhoods, and the oceanfront is no exception. One of my favorite things to do is take the kids to the dog beach. This might seem obvious, but nothing is more entertaining for kids than canines of every color and size prancing around the sand. The waves are usually pretty calm and there's never a shortage of interesting types frolicking about. After working up an appetite in the water, within walking distance you've got Hodad's (5010 Newport Ave.), a classic local joint that makes delicious hamburgers the density of dark matter. The line can be painfully long, so time a visit with your pups to off-peak hours.