San Diego, California, from a tourist’s perspective, is perhaps best known for two of its main family attractions — the San Diego Zoo, and Sea World San Diego. Granted, those are both great places to spend a day when visiting the city. The zoo is one of the premier zoological parks in the world, known not just for its beauty and variety of exhibits, but for its conservation efforts. And Sea World offers shows and activities the whole family can enjoy. But there’s a lot more to San Diego if you’re willing to expand your horizons a little.
Ranunculus Flower Fields
While Ranunculus flowers aren’t as well known as roses or tulips, they’re just as beautiful. They’re actually quite popular for wedding bouquets, and make stunning table centerpieces. Row upon row of these colorful, frilly flowers grow on 50 acres of land that started as a small farm in the 1920s, and is now The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. Every year, the flowers bloom from early March to early May, creating a spectacular vista of color. The fields are open to the public seven days a week, from 9am to 6pm. Guided tours are also available, but must be arranged in advance.
San Diego is one of the United States’ most important ports, both commercial and military. The USS Midway is one of the country’s longest serving aircraft carriers, commissioned in September 1945, and decommissioned in April 1992. It’s now docked at Navy Pier in downtown San Diego, and serves as a floating museum, dedicated to educating the public about military history, carriers, and naval aviation. Many key areas of the ship are now open to visitors, including the flight deck, hangar deck, engine room, and the ship’s bridge. Several restored aircraft are on display on the hangar and flight decks, adding to the experience.
What parent didn’t play with LEGO kits as a child? And what child wouldn’t enjoy an entire theme park based on the popular multicolored building bricks? LEGOLAND California offers more than 50 rides, shows, and other attractions. One of the newest adventures even includes cutting edge robotic technology, while another allows visitors to blast targets with lasers. You’ll also find several restaurants inside the park. LEGOLAND really does offer something for everyone.
Encinitas Seaside Bazaar
Some of the cultural activities the Spanish brought with them when they settled California live on today. This can be seen at the Encinitas Seaside Bazaar, which is reminiscent of traditional, open-air European markets. It’s possible to find everything from hand crafted jewelry to antiques to clothing, sold by more than 50 vendors at the bazaar. Nearby, you’ll find indoor shops, and many restaurants offering contemporary west coast fare. Encinitas is just a short drive north from San Diego. A lot next to the bazaar grounds offers plenty of free parking. Admission is also free, and the bazaar is open from 10am to 4pm every Saturday and Sunday.
Created in 1868, Balboa Park is one of the most stunning locations in the United States. It’s also the largest urban cultural park in the country. The park covers 1,200 acres, and is often referred to as the “Smithsonian of the West.” Balboa Park has been expanded a couple of times. First, in 1915 with the Panama-California Exposition to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal, then again in 1935 with the California Pacific International Exposition, which added landscaping, and new buildings around the Pan American Plaza to represent architecture spanning from the Aztecs to Mexican pueblo style. Today, it’s one of the most photographed destinations in the United States.
Located at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and built on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Birch Aquarium is the public arm of the organization, allowing visitors to experience more than 60 fish and invertebrate habitats. The aquarium also offers an interactive museum which exhibits recent discoveries made by Scripps scientists. More than 400,000 people visit Birch Aquarium every year in La Jolla, just north of San Diego. In addition to permanent and temporary exhibits, the aquarium offers a gift and book store, as well as a variety of unique educational programs for children and adults.
This is just a small sampling of what is available to do and see in and around San Diego. When planning your visit, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to take advantage of the many opportunities for entertainment, education, and cultural enrichment. And don’t forget your camera!
photo credit: ewen and donabel