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San Diego with Kids

Beach fun

A pail and shovel can keep kids entertained for hours at the beach—Coronado Beach is especially family-friendly. Be liberal with the sunscreen, even if it's cloudy.

If you're visiting in summer, check out the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition at Imperial Beach, which usually takes place in late July or early August. There is even a kids' competition.

Drop off the tweens and teens for a morning surf lesson and enjoy some guilt-free grown-up time. Or rent bikes for a casual family ride along the Mission Bay boardwalk. If that's not enough of an adventure, take your daring offspring on the Giant Dipper, an old wooden roller coaster at Mission Bay's Belmont Park, also home to a huge arcade.

Top attractions

LEGOLAND California is a full day of thrills for kids 12 and under, while the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, and San Diego Safari Park satisfy all age groups and every kind of kid, from the curious (plenty of educational angles) to the boisterous (room to run around and lots of animals to imitate). They even have family sleepover nights in summer.

Winter sightings

If you're visiting in winter, try a whale-watching tour. Even if you don't see any migrating gray whales, the boat ride is fun. La Jolla's Birch Aquarium has enough glowing and tentacled creatures to send imaginations plummeting leagues under the sea.

Museums geared to kids

An afternoon at the museum might elicit yawns until they spy all the neat stuff. Balboa Park's San Diego Air and Space Museum celebrates aviation and flight history with exhibitions that include actual planes, while Reuben H. Fleet Science Center inspires budding scientists with interactive exhibits and its IMAX dome theater. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum features miles and miles of model trains and track, including an incredibly detailed reproduction of the Tehachapi railroad circa 1952.

Downtown's New Children's Museum appeals to all age groups; too-cool teens can even retreat to the edgy Teen Studio. With installations geared just to them and dry and wet art-making areas (less mess for you), kids can channel all that excess vacation energy into something productive. While they color and craft, you can admire the museum's ultracontemporary, sustainable architecture.

Take me out to the ball game

Baseball buffs will have a blast at PETCO Park, where the San Diego Padres play all spring and summer. PETCO's Park at the Park, a grassy elevated area outside the stadium, offers stellar center-field views—plus all the action on a big-screen—with a sandy play space if your kids get bored after a few innings.

Treating your tots

Ocean Beach's yummy Cupcakes Squared (3772 Voltaire St. cupcakessquared.com) took first place in Martha Stewart's Southern California Cupcake Showdown. Also delish is Hillcrest's Babycakes (3766 5th Ave. www.babycakessandiego.com), a stylish spot nestled in an 1889 Craftsman near Balboa Park. Bonus: Babycakes serves beer and wine for weary moms and dads. If toys trump sweet treats, check out the classics at Geppetto's (www.geppettostoys.com), a family-run business with eight locations throughout San Diego, including Old Town, La Jolla and the Fashion Valley Mall.

Updated: 03-2013

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