When it came time to choose an easy and fun family vacation this summer, San Diego was a no-brainer. Having lived there as a child while his Dad was in the Navy, my husband and his family are always happy to return, so last month we joined up with extended family and made the trip.
The hotel we chose was Loews Coronado Bay Resort - a great pick for families and, as you can see, families with dogs! With gourmet room service for pets, pet-sitting service, and special amenities including bowls, leashes, and toys, Loews really rolls out the red carpet for the furry members of your family. Above is a picture of my daughter meeting the very glamorous hotel patrons Lexi-Lou and Jilly-Bean dining al fresco at the Loews' Market. They had just come from the doggie-spa (note their painted toe nails) and were delighted to visit with our kids during dinner. And YES, their mommy does push them around in their own pink stroller!! [Although I rarely afford myself the luxury of a pedicure, I don't begrudge these cuties their pampered life...they earn their keep with professional modeling gigs.]
Aside from giving the royal treatment to pets, Loews pampers families too. In addition to a recent $12 million renovation (see the glamorous lobby above) Loews has grown into a world-class destination for kids and in 2010 it was named by Parents magazine as on of the "10 Best Beach Vacations in the US."
With a Kids' Club outfitted by Pottery Barn Kids and a PBteen Lounge for teens, Loews makes the stay for little and big kids special. Should the adults (or kids) want to have a morning or afternoon to themselves, the Kids' Club offers daily supervised programs for kids ages 4-12 including magic tricks, sandcastle building, GPS-led scavenger hunts and more. For teens, the PBteen Lounge has open access with a key and gives teens their own place to play PS3, watch a DVD, listen to music or just lounge around.
Another nice thing about staying at the Loews is that it's private 15-acre peninsula is surrounded by fantastic views of the the Pacific Ocean and Coronado Bay. This made it a fabulous base for visiting the adjacent Silver Strand State Beach, where families can explore interesting sea life, swim, build a sea castle, have a picnic, boat, or take surfing lessons. Together with California State Parks, the Loews has also aided conservation efforts and added educational programs including kayak tours, beachwalking tours, and a Junior Ranger program for kids. Although you can walk or bike there, the Loews also has an easy shuttle to the beach.
If the weather doesn't cooperate for a beach day, you can play tennis, golf, or ride bikes. It's a flat, easy bike ride from the resort into Coronado (although my six year hitched a ride on the rear seat of a tandem bike). During the coastal ride, you can stop and explore the dunes. But mostly the "boys" (a category in which I include my 2 sons, their father, uncle and grandfather) were interested in riding by the Navy base where the SEALs train. And even I can admit it was kind of cool to catch a glimpse of the trainees on the beach and climbing the obstacle course. When we reached Coronado, there were oodles of cute shops and restaurants to try. Naturally, the boys were big fans of Bullshirt, a T-shirt shop specializing in all things related to the Marines and the Navy SEALs. For good family food, we ate at the retro Burger Lounge.
Back at the hotel, we were all eager to cool off and relax at one of the pools. Throughout the week the Loews held fun events for kids including a hula hoop contest (which was not my family's strong suit), a swim-in movie, and pool games. Although the family and kid pools were hopping with excitement, adults could still find their zen in a third dedicated adult pool or at the relaxing Sea Spa.
At sunset, the outdoor terrace was the perfect spot for families to sit outside and have drinks and food overlooking the water. Although all of the restaurants at the resort offered kids menus, the Cays Lounge and Bay Terrace appeared to be a top pick for families at dinner time. Having a leisurely drink was much easer when the kids are able to move around the terrace and still stay in view of mom and dad! On certain nights families were also invited to roast smores over the firepits.
During our stay, Coronado hosted its hugely popular annual 4th of July parade, but given that thousands of visitors were expected to crowd into the small village for the event (with people staking out their spots as early as 5:00 a.m.), when the 4th of July rolled around we decided to hang out by the pool instead. As embattled veterans of DC's epic fireworks crowds, we kind of owed it to ourselves to take it easy on our vacation! And so, after a day at the pool, as the sun set we happily (and lazily) snagged a comfy couch by one of the firepits on the Bay Terrace, ordered drinks, and enjoyed great views of the harbor and a fabulous display of fireworks. [Organizers ensured the fireworks were especially good this year to make up for the 2012 bust when ALL of the fireworks accidentally went off at the same time.]
When not enjoying hanging out at the resort, there were plenty of adventures to be had in the area. One of the highlights was the safari at the San Diego Safari Park. On the 4x4 tour, you get so close to the animals that you can actually touch the rhinos and the giraffes! It's not cheap, but if you're able to splurge, its well worth the experience. My husband I did it when we were newlyweds, but returning with a family of eight made the more budget-friendly tram our choice this time. The tram encircles the park and gets close enough to see, if not touch, the safari animals. Although not as exotic of an experience, the kids were still happy to be able to feed the ducks and the goats at other exhibits in the park.
After the heat of the open plains of the Safari Park, I was all in favor of heading to historic Old Town for a pick-me-up. While the kids enjoyed exploring the old mining town, covered wagon, and sheriff's museum, I was more than happy when we finally settled in at the lovely outdoor courtyard of Casa de Reyes, where the kids ate free and I enjoyed this fabulous margarita on the rocks!
Although Old Town and the Safari Park are more inland and experience desert temperatures, believe it or not its actually quite cool in San Diego by the water. Most days it was in the 60s on the coast and with the wind it was down-right chilly.
After a hot day at the Safari Park and in Old Town, the next day we cooled off with a breezy Hornblower Harbor Tour. The harbor tour is the best way to get a good view of the sea lions and dozens of navy ships. A passing Navy SEAL boat even waved to our kids, which was a HUGE thrill (in our house Navy SEALs are even better than rock stars). From the harbor we could also watch an air-to-water retrieval exercise...possibly SEAL trainees being air lifted from the harbor. All in all, for a Navy family like ours, San Diego is a great place for ogling all things military!
Another cool destination for kids is the retired aircraft carrier USS Midway. There is a self-guided tour with audio headphones and fun scavenger hunt for kids (they get a prize at the end if they complete it). Below deck there are plenty of cockpits to climb in and cabins to explore. The kids were especially interested in the mess hall, the sleeping quarters and the pilot briefing rooms. But the highlight is definitely the deck of the aircraft carrier, which is loaded with fighter jets. For kids who are into boats and planes, this is a great trip! You could easily spend several hours here.
After visiting the aircraft carrier, we headed to one of the harborside restaurants for some fish and chips. We had a good, casual meal at Anthony's Fish Grotto just a few blocks away. If you want to spend more time (and cash) another good choice is the Fish Market, which is located in the Sea Port Village, a very popular tourist destination of its own with shops, restaurants, outdoor entertainment, a carousel, and a trolley stop.
Further outside of San Diego, kids that like planes and military stuff will also enjoy the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar. The small, but interesting museum at Miramar is filled with Marine and Navy aviation history and an airfield with vehicles for kids to climb on, picnic tables, historic aircraft, fighter jets, missile launchers, and helicopters that you can walk around. An hour is probably enough time to cover the highlights. Tip: for exceptionally good fast food there is a Jack in the Box just down the road. [True story: the first meal of my honeymoon was at a Jack in the Box! But don't pity me, days later I was treated to fine french cuisine in Bora Bora.]
Winding up the week, no visit to San Diego would be complete without a trip to the beautiful windswept Point Loma. The kids could have spent hours here exploring the tidepools and the hills. We seem to breed a thrill of danger into our kids, so we did some climbing to get closer to the surf (see the blue speck in the picture below), but obviously this can be dangerous. If standing too close to the edge, you could be knocked into the sea by an unexpected wave. If you have little ones, you'll feel safer sticking to the marked tide pools.
Of course there are many terrific family-friendly destinations in the area that we didn't get to visit this time, including whale watching, San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Legoland, Sea World, San Diego Children's Discovery Museum, The New Children's Museum, and Disney (which Micaela recently visited and you can read about here.) But our kids had a great first introduction to the area and we are looking forward to returning again.
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