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Trip Report Quick San Diego / Santa Barbara w/ 6 year old kid TR

Just a quick TR on a one-week trip to San Diego and Santa Barbara, with our six year old boy and his grandfather too. Odd itinerary, but we already had the San Diego trip half-planned when the DW found out she had to go to a two day meeting in Santa Barbara.

It took us 7.5 hours to drive from SF Bay Area to Carlsbad btw, including two stops. Not bad at all, but it was Sunday, so LA traffic wasn't bad at all. When we arrived, the weather was worse in Carlsbad than in the Bay Area :-(

We stayed at the Grand Pacific Palisades resort in Carlsbad. This is a big condo resort, that also acts like a hotel. We've stayed there before, and have been very happy with it. The key selling point for us is that it's across the parking lot from Legoland. We had a two bedroom / two bath condo; it was a bit generic, but quite nice and roomy, and at $165 a night, quite a steal. The resort has two large pools -- one for adults only, and one that is kid-friendly. Both have hot tubs. The kid-friendly pool area also has a little water-play area, but it was too cold to use it. There is also a game room.

Since we were in a condo with a decent kitchen, we stopped at the Costco across the street and loaded up. Very nice to cook breakfast in the morning. We also brought lunch and snacks into Legoland, San Diego Zoo, and Seaworld; none of those places checked our day-packs, even though their websites all state that you can't bring food in. We had Go San Diego cards already, but were interested to note that Costco had two-day adult Legoland park-hopper tickets for $79.99; that's a great deal.

After a few days we moved to the Catamaran Resort in Pacific Beach. This is a nice, older place, but still in quite good shape. It has that '60s / 70s faux-Polynesian vibe -- lots of tikis and exotic plants everywhere. We had a bay-view room, and the view out over Mission Bay was really nice. The location is excellent. Walked along the bayside path a bunch, and also went over to the ocean beach (1 block away) too. We really enjoyed this place a lot too, although a few minor quibbles: the pool is a bit small if the hotel is crowded, they charge extra for parking :-(, and the bay-view suites' bedrooms are in the back, with windows that open onto the walkway -- it can be loud at night if people are walking there and talking. This was the most expensive place on the trip, but at about $200/night for a decent-sized suite with bay views, it didn't seem overpriced.

Legoland was fairly deserted (due to the cold weather probably) so we didn't have to wait in lines much at all. It was looking a bit better than it did a year and a half ago. Seems like they're taking better care of the place now. Didn't go in the SeaLife Aquarium or the new water park there, but people who went in the aquarium said it was small and unimpressive. We supplemented lunch one day with food from the Fun Town Market in the park, which has quite a good salad bar going. Nice to see that you don't have to suffer through the usual terrible theme park food (although there's still plenty of that if you want). Legoland ride staff are still fairly inefficient, and don't get people on and off rides nearly as fast as Disney does, so that can be a bit frustrating, although not too bad if the park is not full. I imagine that on a nice summer day you should be prepared to wait a lot. In any case, the kid had a great time.

SeaWorld was great -- the kid liked it just as much as LegoLand, and the adults liked it a lot better. Good shows, some good rides, and we had better weather! Our six year old loved the Atlantis water ride (did it 3 times) and the new Manta roller coaster (did it 5 times). He liked the Shipwreck Rapids water ride too (2 times), but you get fairly wet on that one, and the weather wasn't quite that hot. The Manta is quite a good coaster -- it doesn't really have much height, but is still really good. It starts with a powered launch that accelerates you immediately without any height. Lots of fun twists and turns, but not too jerky. Quite fun, but not too scary for the more adventurous little ones.

The San Diego Zoo is always great, and they seem to have added a fair amount of new exhibits since we were there last. We spent the whole day there and still didn't see everything. Everyone had a good time. Be prepared to walk, a lot.

At Santa Barbara, we stayed at the Fess Parker Doubletree, which is where the DW's meetings were. We've stayed here before, and it's a nice place. I'm sure there are better places to stay in SB, but it's across the street from the beach (which makes it a bit inconvenient to the State St main drag), rooms are fairly large, staff is competent, etc. We spent quite a while at the pool and hot tub. We didn't have a lot of time in SB, and really only hit the Mission and walked up and down State St and along the beach. The mission is fairly impressive; one of the bigger ones in CA I think. I've only been to SB once before (for an overnight stay then too), but it strikes me as a very nice, very pretty town that we should investigate more thoroughly. I think it has more to offer than just an overnight stop.

The DW's meetings ended at 3pm, so rather than drive the whole way up, we spent the night at Morro Bay. I've driven through here before quite a few times, but never stopped. It's actually a decent little town. Lots of typical beach-town shops - surf shops, a great shell shop (the kid loved that one), etc. Shame about the power plant however -- who thought putting it right there was a good idea? Went out to the rock, which is quite impressive up close, watched surfers on the northside beach for a while, and then went around to the southside beach which is more protected from the wind and waves. If we'd had more time, I would have liked to go kayaking on the bay.

We stayed the Comfort Inn, which has just been completely renovated, reopening just in Feb '13. It was very nice, well decorated, reasonably priced, etc. Seems nicer than a Comfort Inn actually.

From Morro Bay, we drove up Hwy 1 to Monterey and then 101 to Bay Area. Big Sur was spectacular as usual. We got a late start, and so didn't get to stop everywhere I would have liked, but hit some of my usual Big Sur faves: Piedras Blancas beach for elephant seal viewing, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Food:
- Panca Peruvian Rotisserie in Oceanside -- great little place, good food, reasonable prices, nicely but simply decorated, very friendly staff.
- Bellefleur in Carlsbad -- good food, very friendly staff, a bit fancier but still ok in t-shirt and jeans
- Casa de Reyes / Fiesta de Reyes in Old Town San Diego -- great atmosphere sitting outside, food ok to good (mexican platas better than the tex-mex burritios / enchiladas / etc), service friendly but not entirely competent, very touristy but still fun. Food probably not as good as Casa Guadalajara where we ate last year, but outdoor seating was very nice.
- California Kebabs & Beer Garden in Pacific Beach -- really nice seating on 2nd storey patio facing the beach, good Middle Eastern food, great beer selection. Excellent place to hang out.
- Zaytoon in Santa Barbara -- very good Middle Eastern food in a really nice garden setting, with tables set around gas fires to keep you warm. Good service too. A pretty romantic atmosphere.
- Natural Cafe in Santa Barbara (lunch) -- good, healthy food, reasonable prices, right on State St.
- Dorn's in Morro Bay -- classic, old-school seafood and steak place, good views over the bay and the rock, excellent seafood, very friendly service. It's not hip or cool, but it delivered.
- Cambria Cafe in Cambria -- (lunch) cheap, decent food, good service

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