San Diego’s Best Natural Playgrounds

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Childhood is about log-rolling and picking dandelions. Climbing trees and splashing around ponds. Sturdy swing sets have their place, but we want to get back to the heart of a happy childhood with the great outdoors. Here are our favorite places in San Diego where youth can meet the yard. Wide open spaces, here we come.

Hilltop Park and Recreation Center

Hilltop Park and Recreation Center
This Rancho Penasquitos hangout has something for everyone. Perched atop a hill overlooking Carmel Valley, the park features tons of grassy spaces for running and jumping, along with party gazebos, a kitchen, playground and basketball courts. This is the spot to play tag or start a game of touch football with the whole family.

Don’t miss: Fitness stations with bars and plank space for mom and dad to get their workout on.

9711 Oviedo Way
San Diego, Ca 92129
Online: sandiego.gov

Kate O Sessions Park

Kate O Sessions Park
This dog-friendly park atop Pacific Beach features open spaces with soft grass, lots of shady trees and stunning downtown views. Come here for panoramic scenery while the kids run around with the family pet. If you’re feeling extra-adventurous, park at the bottom of the steep hill and jog to the top to squeeze in some exercise with your afternoon picnic.

5115 Soledad Rd
San Diego, Ca 92109

Pioneer Park

Pioneer Park
This small Mission Hills spot features well-maintained play equipment, restrooms and barbecues. Alcohol is permitted until 8pm, and dogs on-leash are welcome. There’s a ton of open space for running, stout trees for climbing, and the defunct cemetery beneath the park makes for an interesting (albeit slightly creepy) history lesson.

1521 Washington Pl
San Diego, Ca 92101

Mission Bay Park

Mission Bay Park
Beach meets the grass in this idyllic shoreside spot. Perfect for wee ones wanting to get used to gentle water or run free on supple ground, Mission Bay features barbecue pits for open air parties and tons of walking and biking trails. This is our go-to spot for teaching the kids to rollerblade or just kicking back with an ocean breeze.

2688 E Mission Bay Drive
San Diego, Ca 92109
Online: sandiego.gov

La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores
Grab a seaside swing or throw up a pup tent for the little ones on this playground by the beach. This is a perfect spot for birthday parties, with lots of nearby eateries to pick up some food for the kids before letting them loose on the sand. Parking can be tricky in the summer and if you do go for a dip, keep an eye out for sting rays.

Don’t miss: Fire pits where you can get your s’more on!

8200 Camino del Oro
San Diego, Ca 92037
Online: sandiego.gov

What are your favorite playgrounds with natural features? Leave suggestions in the comments!

— Chelsea Day

Photo credit: Ant C, Rebecca L, Mace K, Gary J, Ilene M on Yelp

Just Opened: LEGOLAND Hotel

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Legoland hotel castle

Give your kids some blocks and they quickly go to work building cars and robots. It’s not long before parents hear the inevitable exclamation, “I could build a whole castle with my LEGO set!” Kids, prepare to have your mind blown. LEGOLAND has created a castle of their own with their newest resort located right next to the LEGOLANDLEGOLAND Water Park and Sea Life parks in Carlsbad.

Legoland miniatures

Attention to detail
A fire-breathing dragon welcomes visitors at the gates. Fully-functioning models respond to children and the elevators play disco inferno. LEGOLAND has included thoughtful details to bring the world of LEGO alive for children of all ages.

Bricks restaurant

Family-friendly dining
Kid-height buffets offer local produce and fresh selections. Even the nuggets here are baked, not fried. Best of all, every staff member is trained to interact directly with the children to make them feel welcome and part of the action.

Legoland hotel adult area

Adult space
A modern lounge oversees a castle playspace in the lobby, allowing parents to relax while kids let loose. Rooms feature separate sleeping areas – a child space with toys and bunk beds, and an adult area with their own television. You can select your room theme (Pirate, Adventure or Kingdom) when making reservations to match your family with their favorite experience.

Legoland hotel kid space

Amenities like home
Thoughtful touches include complimentary in-room snacks, a child seat included on the hotel room toilet and LEGO to make their own creations. Room rates run from about $160 in the off-season to around $400 on peak summer weekends plus a $20 resort fee, so it’s nice that you don’t have to worry about in-room extras on top of that. The resort does offer some family packages including resort tickets and breakfast at a significant discount. Every room comes with a trundle below the child bunk bed so you can actually sleep five without worrying about a roll away. Most upgrades simply include additional in-room decor such as enhanced wallpaper and bed canopy, so it’s wise to save money and stick with the basic room unless you plan to spend a ton of time in there.

Exclusive access from the Legoland hotel

Park access
LEGOLAND guests get early entrance to the park located directly behind the hotel. The hotel’s ease of access is a big draw for parents of little ones who want to come and go from the room for naps or nursing sessions.

pool entry at Legoland hotel

Pool
LEGOLAND Hotel has a nice, sloped pool with lots of Lego-themed toys perfect for young swimmers. If you’re looking for water slides and lazy rivers, though, you’re best off heading to LEGOLAND Water Park.

LEGOLAND Hotel
5885 The Crossings Drive
Carlsbad, Ca 92008
877-534-5626
Online: california.legoland.com/en/legoland-hotel

Leave us a comment below sharing what you and your family are most looking forward to at the new LEGOLAND Hotel!

Copy and photos by: Chelsea Day

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When we think of museums, we usually picture pricey artwork and irreplaceable artifacts—not exactly a child-friendly environment! Fortunately, a new breed of discovery spaces have started popping up around town. Check out these hands-on destinations where kids are encouraged to step past the velvet rope. With experiences specifically geared towards younger learners, kids can gear up to be the next Buzz Aldrin, Indiana Jones or Van Gogh.

Child sitting with headphones in the New Children's Museum

New Children’s Museum
Encounter an enormous wooden trojan horse, make your mark on the chalk board and go rock climbing! Little tots will enjoy the disco barn and and building blocks, while older siblings can use their imagination to create something unique in the always-happening art classes. The New Children’s Museum is ideal for kids between 2 and 4 years old. Food options and parking are both limited, so stop for food on your way and be prepared to pay for a spot in their nearby lot.

Don’t miss: Target Free Second Sundays, offering free admission to the whole community the second Sunday of every month.

200 West Island Avenue
San Diego, Ca
Online: thinkplaycreate.org

San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum
Hop on a sail boat to learn the science behind weather or travel through marketplaces to explore different cultures. Kids are encouraged to imagine and discover with a huge array of indoor and outdoor displays focused on scientific concepts, living creatures and engineering. Younger kids even have their own dedicated area at the Toddler Tidepool. Parking is plentiful, entry is inexpensive at $6 per person ($3 with military ID), and families are welcome to bring their own food.

320 North Broadway
Escondido, Ca 92025
Online: sdcdm.org

Hands-on learning at the Reuben H Fleet Science Center

Reuben H Fleet
This is the place to be for science and space buffs. Kids ages 2 through 5 will have a ton of fun with the apparatuses in Kid City on the second floor, while older kids will enjoy the various exhibitions and Exploration Bar. Experiment with all the interactive stations and don’t skip out on your chance to see a screening at the “planetarium.” Parents will be wowed by the state-of-the-art 4K cinema projectors in the domed theater. Parking is free, but can be tricky on weekends and Free San Diego resident Tuesdays.

Don’t miss: the Fleet’s 40th Anniversary Fan Favorite Film Festival. Friday through Thursday all summer long, you can catch favorite IMAX films from the past including Dolphins, Everest and Grand Canyon Adventure.

1875 El Prado
San Diego, Ca 92101
Online: rhfleet.org

Model Railroad Museum
If your kids are Thomas the Tank Engine fans, just wait until they get a load of this! Mini trains show how routes work with fully-functional little towns. They have stools for kids to step up and get a peek at the more intricate setups, so they can get up-close and personal with mini farm animals, carnival rides and a tiny drive-in theater. History buffs will also appreciate displays showcasing the railroads throughout different eras.

1649 El Prado
San Diego, Ca 92101
Online: sdmrm.org

Children looking for crabs at the Living Coast Discover Center

Living Coast Discovery Center
Get your fill of wildlife in this peaceful museum center on the shore. Kids can learn all about sea life and then witness the feeding of a bald eagle or the swimming of baby sea turtles. Parking is off-site with a shuttle that buses passengers in to the center, so be prepared to juggle your stroller and diaper bag. Light snacks are available, but visitors are encouraged to bring their own lunch for a picnic on the beach.

Don’t miss: Sunday composting workshops weekly from 1:00pm-2:00pm will teach you how to minimize your ecological footprint.

1000 Gunpowder Point Drive
Chula Vista, Ca 91910
Online: thelivingcoast.org

San Diego certainly isn’t short on spots for kids to find some hands-on education! What’s your favorite museum for kids?

Written by: Chelsea Day

photos courtesy of Kianga Ford for New Children’s Museum, Reuben H Fleet Science Center and Living Coast Discovery Center

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The silver screen offers some welcome downtime for parents out-of-school kids, but we shouldn’t have to spend beautiful days in a dark theater. Since it’s summertime, break out those flip-flops, sun hats, and blankets and check out our favorite outdoor movie spots, where you can take in a moving picture while your little ones do some moving of their own.

Fun Flicks

Summer Movies in the Park
By far the best way to see an outdoor film in San Diego, this free event series features a giant inflatable screen that rotates weekly throughout the best parks in San Diego. The county provides hula hoops for kids to play with while parents veg out in front of the latest animated hits and the occasional throwback favorite. All movies start at dusk, between 7:30 and 8:00 pm. Bring blankets, seating and snacks, since food and chairs aren’t provided and it can get chilly after the sun goes down.

Don’t miss: Despicable Me at Las Palmas Pool on Jul 12, Brave at Ocean Beach Elementary on Jul 19 and Monsters Inc. at Rancho Bernardo Community Park on Jul 25.

Various parks throughout the summer – check the schedule to see when it’ll be near you!
Online: funflicks.com

Full Moon Drive-In
If you’re going for rowdy 50’s-style drive-in ambiance, this is the place to be. Full Moon Drive-In is notoriously kid-friendly, and your family won’t get angry glares for talking during the movie. The only downside of a night out here is that it can get expensive. Outside food or drink is not allowed, and the on-site concession stand features typically-priced movie fare. Pack your car full of friends to take advantage of the $20 per-car entrance fee.

Don’t Miss: They’re currently showing Monsters University at 8:30 pm and 10:30 pm on Fri, Sat and Sun.

1550 Felspar Street
San Diego, Ca 92109
Online: fullmoondrivein.com

Stone Brewing
Stone is world-renowned for – what else? – their beer. In addition to that, though, Stone Brewing features an amazing outdoor space perfect for relaxing with the family. Carpool with friends because parking is limited, and don’t forget to bring your lawn chairs and blankets!

Don’t Miss: Summer Family Night showings featuring beloved flicks like The Goonies on Jun 26 at 8:00 pm and Princess Bride on Aug 28 at 8:00 pm.

1999 Citracado Parkway
Escondido, Ca 92029
Online: stoneworldbistro.com

Civic Center Screen

Civic Center Screen
The best place to catch a movie in San Marcos is none other than the backside of LA Fitness. The Civic Center Plaza has affixed a giant screen onto an outside wall of the popular gym, showing eclectic classics, Westerns and cartoons every night from sunset until 10:00pm. The space features a big fire pit and a large grass area for playing. The best part? You can bring your own food, or just grab some grub from one of the many nearby eateries.

Don’t Miss: David and Goliath at 8:30 pm on Jun 28 and classic cartoons every Fri at 5:00 pm.

141 North Twin Oaks Valley Road
San Marcos, Ca 92078
Online: civiccenterscreen.com

Santee Drive-In
East County residents can get in on the action with a double-feature known for being the most organized drive-in spot around. Visitors are welcome to bring their own food, and the audio plays right through your own car’s booming system. Just make sure you have cash on hand – they don’t accept cards.

Don’t Miss: Despicable Me 2 starting Jul 3 or Planes starting Aug 9, every night at 8:30 pm.

10990 Woodside Avenue North
Santee, Ca 92071
Online: santeedriveintheater.com

San Diego has so many spaces that bring back the good ol’ drive-in days. Where’s your favorite spot for movie-viewing outdoors?

Written by: Chelsea Day

photos courtesy of Fun Flicks and Civic Center Screen