Family Adventures in San Diego

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Did you know San Diego is called “America’s Finest City”? From what I’ve seen in my 30 something years I can safely say, that just might be the truth. It is ONE FINE CITY! San Diego was the second stop on our full time RVing adventure and we spent a total of two weeks there in late December 2018. The first week was spent staying at Thousand Trails’ Pio Pico RV Resort and the second week, which was Christmas week, was spent at Campland on the Bay. Because we were only in San Diego for two weeks, vs. our usual three week stay, most days were jam packed with adventures, sightseeing, and soaking up that Southern California sun!

We left Palm Springs on a Saturday morning in mid-December and arrived at Pio Pico RV Resort & Campground just a few hours ( and potty breaks) later. Pio Pico RV Resort & Campground is actually located in Jamul, CA which is about 30 minutes southeast of downtown San Diego. Jamul is a quaint little town set in beautiful rolling hills. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the things I like about staying at Thousand Trails parks is they force you to see areas of a destination you may otherwise never visit. I’ll elaborate on our stay at Pio Pico in another post but in short, we were super happy with this park. The area is pretty, the facilities and amenities are great for families, I had full AT&T service the entire time (no Verizon), and the location was easy enough to get to all the things we wanted to see.

We spent our second week at Campland on the Bay in Mission Beach. This park is out of our Thousand Trails network but we decided to splurge for a place on the water for Christmas. Again, I will get into the details in another post but we LOVED this park. It is right on Mission Bay, has great amenities including a game room, giant playground, water toys for rent, restaurant with bar, and offers easy access to Pacific Beach. We truly felt like we were on vacation while at Campland and that is exactly the feel we were going for.

We spent a lot of time enjoying the weather and relaxing on the beach while in San Diego but we also had the chance to visit some incredible places. Here are a few of the highlights from our travels in San Diego:

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

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Since we were in San Diego around the holidays, there were several holiday festivities taking place around the city. Our first excursion was to Seaport Village in downtown San Diego to watch the 47th annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. What could possibly say “Christmas in California” more than a parade of decorated boats?!?

We took the San Diego Trolley from El Cajon to San Diego. We had yet to take our 3500 Dodge Ram to the downtown area of a major city and we were not ready to start that day. The Trolley was really convenient and cheap (young kids are free). If you are going to drive to the station, make sure to choose a station with dedicated parking. This was our first taste of public transportation since embarking on our full fulltime travel adventure, and the kids thought it was great! There is a Trolley stop right at Seaport Village making it easy for us not to get lost once we got downtown.

Seaport Village is a touristy area filled with overpriced dining and shopping options but you can’t beat the view of the San Diego Bay. You are able to see from the Coronado Bridge to Point Loma. We found a grassy place to sit in the Embarcadero Marina Park. It was a great place where the kids were able to run around while we waited for the parade to begin. We arrived about 30 minutes before the parade was scheduled to start and had no problem getting a good spot. So, 6:00 pm comes and we are ready to watch the parade. 6:15 comes and no decorated boats in sight. 6:30, 6:45, nothing. It’s fully dark now, so it’s hard to tell if passing ships are decorated for our enjoyment or just coming in from the days fishing excursion. The kids were getting antsy and hangry and we were losing hope on what we thought would be a spectacular event when all of a sudden, from around the bend, at 7 pm, came a lit up, festive, singing, Santa toting sailboat. The parade has finally made it to Seaport Village! Little did we know, where we were watching the parade from is basically the last stop on the route. Once the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights began, it was a pretty cool experience. The boats were decorated to the gills and blasting holiday music. The people aboard the boats were waving, shouting, and just having a ball while spreading holiday cheer! We watched the parade for about 45 minutes before heading off to dinner. All in all, it was a really cool event that finally got us into the holiday spirit.


Balboa Park

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Before coming to San Diego, a visit to Balboa Park was already on the list of things to do. Finn and Hazel LOVE a good park, and this is one park everyone would enjoy seeing. Even though Balboa Park is home to the world famous San Diego Zoo and a number of world class museums, we had plenty of fun sticking to the free activities.

We arrived at Balboa Park around 9:30 am. We were there early enough that free parking was not an issue. We got a spot right by the playground we were heading to and I was easily able to parallel park the truck. As we parked the car, our attention was immediately drawn to the man outside our windows blowing ginormous bubbles with what looked like handmade wands. He was surrounded by a group of kids that seemed to be part of a school group so I figured he was some sort of paid entertainment and us crashing the party would not be an option. As I was gently dragging Finn and Hazel away while they yelled “bubbles” the bubble blower smiled and invited us over to play. Turns out he was just a dude that enjoyed bubbles and was thrilled to have us join in the fun. He called himself San Diego’s Mad Scientist of Bubbles and making bubble solution perfect for blowing oversized bubbles was a hobby of his. We spent a good 20 minutes running, laughing, and chasing bubbles through the park.

When it was time to move on we headed to the Sixth Avenue Playground. It is one of many playgrounds in the park and offers equipment for kids of all ages and is a quick walk to the El Prado were we were headed to next. The playground was clean and well maintained. Don’t mind the homeless guys sitting under surrounding trees or neighboring benches, they seem harmless. After a play and a snack, we were ready to walk through.

There are endless trails that wind through the park. We took our time, going down dirt trails through gardens and watching the old folks at the San Diego Lawn Bowling Club. After crossing the beautiful bridge over the 163 we found ourselves amongst the stunning architecture that Balboa Park is known for. We explored the exteriors of the Museum of Man, Museum of Art, Casa del Prado Theatre, and the Botanical Building. I enjoyed the buildings while the kids enjoyed chasing each other through the arched walkways, swimming their fingers through the fountains, looking for frogs on lily pads, and just running around outside on a beautiful day. We settled down for a picnic lunch just outside Timken Museum of Art before heading back to the truck for a much needed nap on the ride home. It was a wonderful (and free) day in the park!

USS Midway Museum

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The Midway Museum was a last minute addition to our stay in San Diego. The USS Midway is an actual aircraft carrier that has been turned into a maritime museum. The ship houses an extensive collection of aircraft, many of which were built in Southern California. It was the day after Christmas, we were staying at our new park on the Bay but it wasn’t really warm enough for a beach day, and we wanted to get out after relaxing most of Christmas Day. I (Jessica) had been to the Midway before and knew it would be something Ross would enjoy but I was slightly nervous the kids would be too young to enjoy it. Luckily, I was wrong to worry!

We parked on the Navy Pier that is right next to the Midway. I’m pretty sure we were the first people in the lot for the day and it was full when we returned to the truck after lunch. So, if you want a chance at this primo parking, get their early! It was $16 for the whole day but well worth it for the easy access to the surrounding attractions.

Being the day after Christmas and us being one of the first people in line (like we always are), the crowds were not bad. We also purchased our tickets online which allowed us to bypass the majority of people in line. We were soon aboard (stroller and all) and found ourselves in the belly of the ship. As soon as we got to the heart of the museum, I knew the kids would be just fine. There were a number of exhibits set up many of which are interactive. The kids were able to sit inside the cockpit of a fighter jet, bounce around on jump seats, watch flight simulator movies, and explore the planes. Also, upon entering the museum, we were given headsets to follow along with the audio tour. Through the ship, there were stations where you were able to tune in and learn about history and the exhibit. The coolest part was they had a tour for adults and a version for kids. Finn and Hazel loved it! Every time we entered a new room, they ran over to the tour sign, pressed the button on their headset, and got their education on. It was great!

We next visited the flight deck. This was another great area for parents and kids alike. It was interesting to learn about the history of the ship and the various aircraft onboard. We were able to go inside a few of the planes and a medical helicopter. The views from the flight deck are awesome. You can see the entire San Diego Bay and the active aircraft carriers stationed right across the bay at Naval Base Coronado.

The coolest part of the museum is the tours that allow you to wander through the halls of the ship. You twist and turn through the tiny walkways to get a glimpse of the control room, admiral's area, living quarters, mess hall, hospital, barber shop, mechanics, even the post office. You name it, they had it aboard the Midway. It was fascinating the say the least! After roaming the ship for a good 2 hours we headed to lunch. There are a few good lunch options near the USS Midway Museum and we chose Carnitas' Snack Shack. It was a great option for a quick, yet delicious lunch. We sat outside and ate pork with fries, drank a beer and called it day!

Pacific Beach

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I spent some time in PB in my early 20s. It was a good time, to say the least. I wasn’t really sure how it would feel going back with a couple of toddlers. I’m happy to report, Pacific Beach is a great place to visit no matter what stage of life you’re in! Since we were only a short bike ride to PB from Campland on the Bay, we rented a trailer for the kids and biked there. Our first day in PB we rode our bikes right up to the boardwalk at Pacific Beach Dr., plopped down in the sand and took a deep breath. This is what I had imagined when we decided to live in an RV full time. This first day in PB will always be special to me as it was Hazel’s first time at the ocean. It was her first time feeling the sand, first time walking in the wake, and first time being taken down by a rogue wave. Okay, it wasn’t rogue, she turned her back to the waves so I could take a picture of her so it’s probably my fault, but still, she was taken down. But she quickly recovered and was just fine despite having to spend the rest of the day with no shorts because I forgot to bring an extra pair.

After enjoying a full day being beach bums, we decided to take the long way home and rode the Mission Bay Bike Path back to Campland. While the boardwalk in PB is a bit congested with bikers, roller blades, scooterers, etc., the Mission Bay Bike Path is quiet and relaxing. It seemed to take us where to where the locals enjoy the area vs. where the college kids play spikeball and drink beer (speaking of beer, you can’t drink alcohol at the beach. This is new from the good ole days I spent in San Diego, so note to self, if you are going to enjoy a cold drink, you might need to be sneaky about it). We stopped at a few playgrounds along the way, watched the sun go down, and got home just in time for dinner. A few days later we did Pacific Beach all over again with brunch at World Famous and more beach time.

Ross and I even got a date night in while staying in Pacific Beach (thanks Grandma)! We watched the sunset at PB Shore House, had some of the best sushi ever at Mister Sushi, and had a cocktail made for two at The Grass Skirt Tiki Lounge. So, while we had an awesome time with kids in Pacific Beach, there is still plenty of adult fun to be had.

We had such a good time in San Diego while on our full-time travel adventure. Finn and Hazel now share my love of the beach thanks to San Diego. I’m sure we will find ourselves there again before we know it. Maybe for a whole month or two next time?!? It really is hard to beat the weather, the beaches, the activities, the food, and it just might be, “America’s Finest City”.

Have you been to San Diego with your family? Comment below with some of your favorite things to do in the area!