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SAN DIEGO, Calif. — San Diego is one of the best destinations for families in the United States. It has a great selection of theme parks, beaches, museums and two of the best zoos anywhere. Year-round sunshine and mild temperatures mean there is never a bad time to visit San Diego.
It would be easy to spend a week or more in the San Diego area and feel like you have just scratched the surface. Here are some of the great family attractions in and around San Diego.
San Diego Zoo
The world-famous San Diego Zoo is actually two zoos. The San Diego Zoo that most people know is located near downtown San Diego in Balboa Park. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located in Escondido, about 40 minutes northeast of San Diego.
The San Diego Zoo is a beautiful zoo, filled with exotic animals that are not commonly found in most other zoos. Must-see stops for most visitors include the koala and panda exhibits. Visit early in the day to beat the crowds and see these animals during their most active period. The elephant habitat is so large that there are no crowding problems for the inhabitants or visitors. Whether you prefer lions, tigers, bears or "flying" monkeys, they can all be found at the San Diego Zoo.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a different kind of zoo than many people have visited before. It is much larger than the San Diego Zoo but has fewer animals, so they have room to roam as they would in the wild. Unusual zoo experiences such as the tram ride through the African savannah and seeing a cheetah run at full speed are included in the basic entrance fee. Visitors can also pay for special experiences such as a cheetah meet-and-greet, zip line over the park or camping in the park overnight.
It is not practical to see both zoos on the same day, and families may not want to visit both zoos on the same vacation. Visit the main San Diego Zoo first if you have never visited either zoo. If you love the San Diego Zoo and are ready for something a little different, try the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
SeaWorld San Diego is one of the most popular attractions in San Diego, and for good reason. Its whale and dolphin shows are entertaining for visitors of any age, and it's difficult to find them anywhere else. SeaWorld is as educational as it is fun as families enjoy aquarium exhibits featuring sharks, penguins, walrus and the new interactive Turtle Reef exhibit. Don't forget the rides. SeaWorld has a few kid-friendly rides for young visitors and a couple of big coasters for older thrill-seekers.
LEGOLAND California Resort is fun for families with younger children, especially those that love the iconic LEGO bricks. LEGOLAND has lots of roller coasters and other rides that are perfect for children between the ages of 5 and 12. LEGOLAND also has several playgrounds, LEGO building spaces, fun walk-through experiences and Miniland, which is perhaps the best part of the park. In Miniland, the cities of Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, San Francisco, the worlds of Star Wars and more have been re-created in LEGOS. Families can also visit the LEGOLAND Water Park or the Sea Life Aquarium for an additional charge. LEGOLAND is located in Carlsbad, about 30 minutes north of San Diego.
MuseumsBalboa Park, near downtown San Diego, is the largest urban cultural park in the United States. It is home to 15 museums — several of them free — performing arts venues, gardens, playgrounds and the San Diego Zoo. Families could spend an entire vacation at Balboa Park exploring the zoo, museums and play areas.
If your family enjoys parks and museums, consider spending one full day at Balboa Park, in addition to spending one full day at the San Diego Zoo. Choose a couple of museums that fit your family's interests and spend any remaining time on the playground, at the carousel or miniature railroad, enjoying a picnic on the lawn or a refreshing drink in one of the plazas. A few of the family-friendly museums at Balboa Park include the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, The San Diego Museum of Art or the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
There are many other museums in the San Diego area that families may also enjoy. The USS Midway Museum is an opportunity to tour a retired U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. This museum includes more than 60 exhibits and 29 restored aircraft. Children are encouraged to climb in planes, push buttons and pull levers.
Resist the temptation to fill every day of your San Diego vacation with zoos, theme parks and museums. Save some of them for another trip and spend at least one or two full days relaxing on one of the area's beautiful beaches.
Sand and surf come together on family-friendly beaches at Coronado, Mission Beach, Carlsbad or Oceanside. Pack beach chairs, sand toys and a good paperback novel, and you'll soon remember what a vacation should feel like. Consider investing in a boogie board or a sturdy kite, which will float on the ocean breezes effortlessly. There are lots of restaurants nearby when you're ready for a casual lunch or a snack.
For families seeking more variety, San Diego's coastline has even more to offer. Visit tide pools or spot sea lions near La Jolla. Take surfing lessons. Rent kayaks and explore La Jolla's seven sea caves on your own or on a guided tour. Take a whale-watching excursion. Rent a paddleboard, kayak or wave runner to explore Mission Bay Park, the largest man-made aquatic park in the United States.
Winter is in full swing in Utah, and if you need some sunshine and warmer temperatures, think San Diego and enjoy the offseason deals. San Diego is also a great option for spring break or a summer vacation, and it's never too early to start dreaming and planning.
Allison Laypath is an expert on family travel and author of the family travel blog tipsforfamilytrips.com. With her family, Allison especially enjoys road trips, national parks and local field trips. Email her at email@example.com.