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Many free things to do in Balboa Park are ones you’d likely seek out anyway. The activities on this list include hiking trails, playgrounds, special programming, gardens and even one of the museums.


All parking lots at Balboa Park are free, and there are several throughout the park. Download a Balboa Park parking lot map.

A free tram transports guests at roughly 10-minute intervals to the park’s center near the Japanese Friendship gardens.

If arriving early, try the parking lot at Inspiration Point (Park Blvd, between Presidents Way and the Activity Center) first.

Street parking around the outskirts of the park, particularly around 6th Street and Laurel Street is also free.

Parking during summer months, weekends, and special events can be tough so plan to come early.

For those who don’t even want to think about finding a spot, there are paid valet services from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Hiking Trails

Balboa Park offers a whopping 65 miles of hiking trails. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a single-miler or a longer trek. Five marked trailheads where you can start lead to a total of 19 trails of varying length and difficulty. Dogs are welcome on a leash.

Golden Hill Trails Gateway

Golden Hills Trails Gateway starts in Golden Hills Park, a quiet and grassy area popular with joggers. Gates close at sunset, so hikes are best kept to the daytime. The gateway leads to three trails, which range from a 0.5-mile loop to a 7-miler that goes through the Florida Canyon Reserve. There are both paved and dirt roads, depending on which trail you follow. Location: 2591 Golden Hill Drive.

Marston Point Trails Gateway

It doesn’t start at Marston Point Park, but a little ways south. You can start at the park, too, you won’t have access to all four of the trails that start at the gateway. The trails range from 1-3 miles in length and are mostly paved. Location: Near Sixth Avenue and Elm Street.

Morley Field Trails Gateway

This trail features more natural, grassy areas as well as roadside trails. You’ll get a great view of the Florida Canyon as you wander around here. Beware, though that all three of its routes have a pretty sizable elevation change, which can be a leg workout. Some of the trails also require walking on the shoulder of the road, so keep an eye out if you have any little adventurers with you. Location: Morley Field Sports Complex

Park Boulevard Trails Gateway

The Park Boulevard Trails Gateway runs through the more historic areas of the park that were built for the 1915 and 1935 expositions in Balboa Park. Most of the trails are on the sidewalk for at least part of the walk. Trail #31 is a favorite 3-mile jaunt that goes through several of the park’s most famous sites and offers great scenic views of downtown. Location: South of Park Boulevard, near President’s Way.

Sixth and Upas Trails Gateway

This is the starting point for five trails, from 1.5 to 6.6 miles, each in the medium to the difficult range since they’re either pretty hilly or long. Trail #2, about 4 miles, is a great opportunity to see a bunch of the park’s best museums and gardens along one trail if you’re up for the trek. Location: Sixth Avenue and Upas Street.

Dog Parks

Balboa Park dog parks allow dogs to run off-leash. Wide and open, they’re perfect for games of fetch, furry playdates, or getting some fresh air with your four-legged friend. Parking is easy around here, too, except for the occasional busy weekend.

Morley Field

Morley Field has easy access to the Florida Canyon Nature trails, where you can walk your dog on a leash after a romp in the park. Location: Alabama Street and Morley Field Drive.

Nate’s Point

Nate’s Point is a fenced-in area with water fountains and picnic tables. Location: South of El Prado and Laurel Street.

Grape Street

Grape Street is the largest Balboa Park dog park. It’s a little more out of the way in a residential area and has public restrooms and dog water fountains. Location: 28th Street and Grape Street

Note: The parks are mostly dirt-filled, so be mindful that you and your dog might get dirty. They also do not have specified big and small dog areas as many other city dog parks do.

Children’s Playgrounds

Balboa Park offers tons of family-friendly activities in the main square, but if you have some little companions that need to get some physical energy out, hit one of the playgrounds.

There are five throughout the park, and while all of them are popular, some are more appropriate for specific age groups.

Bird Park at Cedar and Bird Park at Upas

These parks are perfect for toddlers and very young children aged 2-5 years. With a plastic play structure and cushioned ground, it’s a safe spot for little adventurers who are learning to walk or climb. This park is located in a friendly residential area, and you’ll often see locals hanging out. You can enjoy the views of Balboa Park, the California Tower, and the ocean while your little ones enjoy themselves. Street parking is usually available, but note that there are no public restrooms here. The closest ones are located at Morley Field, about a ten-minute walk away. Location: Both are situated along 28th Street.

Morley Field Playground

Morley Field Playground will be more interesting for children five years old and up. In addition to the usual slides, monkey bars, and swings, there’s a rock-climbing wall. It’s close to other amenities like the swimming pool (what swimming pool) and has public restrooms. This area is separated from the main drag by Florida Canyon, and like Bird Park, it’s a local favorite. Location: Northeast Morley Field Sports Complex.

Pepper Grove Playground and Sixth Avenue Playground

These two Balboa Park playgrounds have something for all ages. Both are separated into age-appropriate areas, with more relaxed activities like a sandbox for younger children and obstacle courses for older kids. These playgrounds were recently renovated a few years ago, so the structures are all pretty new and in great shape. The areas are enjoyable places to hang out and have great views of the Japanese Friendship Gardens and Spreckels Organ Pavilion across the valley. An ice cream truck occasionally makes a stop at Pepper Grove. Locations: Park Boulevard, near The Fleet Science Center (Pepper Grove Playground) and Sixth Avenue and Spruce Street (Sixth Avenue and Spruce Street).

Interactive Sculptures

These are a favorite with kids. Designed by Niki de Saint Phalle, some of the pieces in this eye-catching collection double as mini-jungle gyms as visitors are encouraged to touch, climb, and play. One of the most popular is the green dragon right outside of the Mingei International Museum.

The park recently revealed an additional outdoor art installation, called Art of the Open Air, in the Plaza de Panama (behind the Panama 66 restaurant). It’s not touchable but includes work from some fantastic artists like Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, and Tony Rosenthal. Kids like running around this grassy area as well.

WorldBeat Cultural Center

The WorldBeat Cultural Center aims to share the cultures of African, African-American, and indigenous heritages in San Diego. It does this by promoting art, dance, stories, community, and more.

More specifically, they offer inclusive activities like drum circles, concerts, and bi-monthly alternative health events. There’s also a vegetarian restaurant, WorldBeat Cafe, inside if you want to stop for a bite.

House of Pacific Relations Cottages

Located along Palm Canyon near President’s Way, the House of Pacific Relations Cottages were created in 1935 for the second California Pacific International Exposition. Now each one is dedicated to a particular country to educate visitors and promote multicultural goodwill.

From Iran to Denmark, you can experience 33 different cultures. Each house offers some type of sweet treat as a way for visitors to sample that country’s culinary heritage, too (some treats are free while others require a cash donation).

If you’re visiting between March and October, make sure you don’t miss the free events on the lawn; every Sunday at 2:00 p.m. there’s a big celebration with dancing, music, and lots of food.
There’s also an international food festival in the spring, usually in May, and the cottages participate in the park’s December Nights celebration in the winter.

The houses are open every Sunday from 12:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.

Spanish Village Art Center

This hidden gem of over 200 independent artists is tucked away in the northeasterly section of the park, near the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Built for the 1935 Exposition, Spanish Village Art Center is now home to 37 different studios. Each one exhibits the work of a different local artist from painters and sculptors to metalsmiths and glass-blowers. Stop by to pick up a one-of-a-kind treasure or walk through the fairs, gallery events, and more that take place during the year. You can also catch a daily demonstration from the artists themselves.

Spreckels Organ Pavilion

The Spreckels Organ was donated to the park for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and is the largest fully-outdoor pipe organ in the world (there are 5,000 pipes, some are up to 32 feet long).

Listen to free concerts by a civic organist every Sunday at 2:00 p.m. with an additional concert on Mondays at 7:30 p.m. from mid-June until August. The evening concerts are lovely with lights built into the arches that shine on the Victorian architecture.

After the concert, stick around to get a behind-the-scenes look at the structure and instrument.

The pavilion is spacious and full of seating, so even if you aren’t there during a show, it’s a nice place to chill out midday for a little bit. Beware that there isn’t much shade. Public restrooms are also conveniently adjacent to the pavilion.

Location: Right off of East Pan American Road. Park in the Organ Pavillion lot for quick access.

Timken Museum of Art

Timken Museum of Art is a short but lovely stop. Sometimes called the “San Diego’s Jewel Box of Fine Art,” this is the only always free Balboa Park museum. It’s pretty extraordinary even though it’s a quick visit compared to the nearby San Diego Museum of Art. The Timken houses very rare and sought-after works.

It’s the only exhibit in San Diego to have an original Rembrandt on public display (St. Bartholomew), as well as work by other iconic European and American artists. The core collection remains the same, but rotating exhibits feature different pieces.

Location: In the center of the park at 1500 El Prado, the Timken Museum of Art is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays.

Other Balboa Park Free Museums

If you want to visit any of the other museums, they do offer free admission on a rotating basis for San Diego residents during Residents Free Tuesdays. A Photo ID with a San Diego address is required.

Balboa Park Tours

Head to the Visitor’s Center to join a guided tour. While you can always spend the day wandering Balboa Park on your own, organized tours are a great way to delve into the rich history and trivia of the park that you might not have known about otherwise.

The Visitors Center offers a few different types of tours:

  • Ranger-led tours are good for anyone interested in the historical or botanical side of Balboa Park. Rangers will explain and answer any questions about the general history of the park, the gardens, and museums. Time and date: Every Sunday at 11:00 a.m., about an hour long.
  • Offshoot tours are led by trained volunteers. The themes rotate depending on the week of the month, but vary from topics like “Balboa Park History” to “Desert Vegetation.” Time and date: Every Saturday at 10:00 am, about an hour long at a leisurely pace. No tours from Thanksgiving through January 2nd.
  • Architectural heritage tours focus on the areas of the park built for the 1915 Panama California Exposition. Time and date: First Friday of every month at 10:00 a.m.

All tours meet at the Visitors Center at 1549 El Prado.

Balboa Park Gardens

Balboa Park is well known for its seventeen gardens. Admission to all of them is free, except for the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Botanical Garden inside the San Diego Zoo (a San Diego Zoo ticket is required). Balboa Park gardens are a can’t-miss for gardening and botany enthusiasts, or anyone just looking to snap a beautiful pic.

(Note that people have come across homeless populations in the Desert Garden, Old Cactus Garden, and Golden Hills, especially in the latter. There have also been mentions of these gardens not being very well maintained.)

Botanical Building and Lily Pond

This is one of the most photographed spots in all of San Diego. You’ll understand why as soon as you arrive. With the giant lily pond full of koi fish in front, it’s a stunning scene.

Built as a temporary structure for 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the Botanical Building is now one of the largest structures in the world made from lath, the flat wooden strips that give it the appearance of wicker. It’s shaped like a greenhouse, although it’s not fully enclosed.

The garden inside has more than 2,100 different exotic plants. More are added seasonally. There’s even a cute little scent garden inside where you can pick off leaves and smell them.

Location: El Prado next to the Timken Museum of Art. The Botanical Building is open every day except Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Free tours of the garden are offered at 11:00 a.m. on the third Friday of every month.

Alcazar Garden

Named after the Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain, this quaint garden was built in 1935 to mimic the work of local architect Richard Requa.

The elaborate fountain and vibrant tilework are inspired by the colorful styles of southern Spain, which make it feel like a mini oasis (especially if you’ve been walking around in the San Diego sun all day).

In addition to gorgeous architecture, there are about 7,000 annuals planted in hedge boxes. The gazebo and flower-covered trellises make a nice shaded sitting area. Since it’s not as well known, it tends to be pretty quiet.

Location: Next to the Mingei International Museum. Open daily.

Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden

Three acres wide and packed with more than 1,600 roses from more than 130 varieties, this award-winning garden is a must-see.

The enormous collection is continually updated to include the latest trends on the market, so it’s a great stop for garden enthusiasts.

The garden is diligently maintained by volunteer members of the Balboa Park Rose Garden Corps (you might see them if you visit on a Thursday morning).

Whether or not you’re a floral enthusiast, the expanse of colorful blossoms will take your breath away so I highly recommend strolling through it. There’s a gazebo in the center if you want to sit down and take in the beauty. The flowers are in bloom from March to December, but the best time to go is in April and May.

Location: Park Blvd, across the pedestrian bridge from the San Diego Natural History Museum. Open daily.

Zoro Garden

Known as the best spot in Balboa Park for spotting butterflies, Zoro Garden has a pretty impressive history.
Built in 1915, it was a nudist colony during the 1935 California-Pacific Exposition, and members even put on theatrical shows for visitors. Nowadays, it’s just as clothing-mandatory as the rest of the park, but the cobblestone pathways and sunken trees still make it feel like a magical secret garden.

The garden is designed to attract and provide for butterflies: both the architecture and plants have created the perfect environment for them, so you’ll see them at every stage of their life cycle. While it’s not a huge garden, there is one main path that winds through; it’s worth the visit. The only thing to note is that the butterflies do usually hibernate during the winter.

Location: In between the Fleet Science Center and the San Diego History Center. Open daily.

Marston House Garden

Marston House Garden is a small English-style courtyard on the grounds of the George White and Anna Gunn Marston House. It’s quaint and Victorian, complete with a tea house, wooden gazebo, and manicured garden beds. It was built for the couple’s 50th anniversary in 1927. Many of the trees that were planted as a present are still there.

Location: 3525 Seventh Avenue. Open daily.

EthnoBotany Children’s Peace Garden

The mission of the Peace Garden is to teach the young about the role of plants in local history as well as in today’s world (although more mature crowds are welcome, too).

The whole garden is edible, with lots of unique fruits, veggies, and herbs. Community gardening classes are offered every Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

Location: 2100 Park Blvd. Open daily.

Casa del Rey Moro

Meaning “House of the Moorish King,” Casa del Rey Moro is based on the garden of a palace of the same name in Ronda, Spain. It’s pretty much a perfect copy of the courtyard, down to the reflecting pool and wishing well. The fountain is a replica of that found in the Guadalajara Museum of Gardens. Mexico.

Location: Behind the Prado Restaurant, east of the Old Globe Theater and Valet Parking on East Pan American Road. It’s open daily but occasionally closed for private events.

Desert Garden

At two and a half acres, this is one of the larger Balboa Park gardens. It’s a stop for those who love anything succulent-related. Since 1976, the Desert Garden has grown to include about 1,300 different varieties of drought-resistant plants.

While the plants grow year round, they’re at full bloom between January and March.

Location: Park Blvd, next to the Rose Garden and across the pedestrian bridge from the San Diego Natural History Museum. Open daily.

Florida Canyon Native Plant Reserve

At 150 acres, this is the largest natural area of Balboa Park. It remains undeveloped to preserve the integrity of plants native to California.

Rangers recently started a program to remove foreign and invasive plants to maintain the original terrain of the park. However, it’s still open to the public, and many of the hiking trails pass through it. If you want to learn more about the plants, educational signs identify and describe them as you walk the trails.

Location: The reserve is a bit removed from the rest of the park, but there are entrances along Florida Drive. Open daily.

Palm Canyon

Like Florida Canyon, this is more of a reserve than an actual, manicured garden. It’s more of a mini-jungle than anything else.

Tropical and hidden, its winding paths are shaded by more than 250 palm trees. What started as a small plot of Mexican Fan Palms in 1912, Palm Canyon now spans 2 acres and has 58 different species of palm trees, along with some lovely magnolia trees at the entrance.

It offers easy access to other gardens by following the trail to the Old Cactus Garden or the wooden foot-bridge to the Alcazar Garden.

Location: The Pan American Plaza across from Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Open daily.

Trees for Health Garden

This garden promotes education on the uses of medicinal plants and herbs. It’s great for anyone interested in botany, herbalism, and how to incorporate nature in daily life. This Balboa Park garden is home to over 140 different species, including a cinnamon tree and a coffeeberry tree (not the same as a coffee plant; the tonic made from these plants is used treat poison oak).

Location: Balboa Drive and Quince Street. Open daily.

Veterans Memorial Garden

Dedicated in 2005 to members who served in the US armed forces, the Veterans Memorial Garden is separated into three different sections: ground, air, and sea defense. The Air Force section has a large bronze statue of a WWII B-24 fighter plane (many of which were built in San Diego).

Location: 2115 Park Blvd, in front of the Veterans Memorial Museum and Memorial Center. Open daily.

Old Cactus Garden

Built in 1935 with the help of botanist and philanthropist Kate Sessions, the Old Cactus Garden is home to the largest cacti in Balboa Park. It also has some striking desert flowers known as Sugarbush or Protea.

Location: 2144 West Pan American Road, behind the Balboa Park Club. Open daily.

Australian Garden

Most of the plants in this garden were given to Balboa Park by Australian officials as a bicentennial gift in 1976. Now it’s expanded, but all the plants are still native to Australia. It’s pretty undeveloped, so it feels like a mini trip to The Outback.

Location: Gold Gulch Canyon, at the end of the Gold Gulch Trail. Open daily.

California Native Plant Garden

Take a swift look at 36 plants, mostly succulents, native to California. If you’re in the market for some eco-friendly landscaping, there are some good options to see here that may work in your own home.

Location: 2201 Morley Field Dr. Open daily.

Free Balboa Park Seasonal Activities Annual Ethnic Food Fair (Spring)

It’s put on by the House of Pacific Relations in May (the actual food costs extra).

Chinese New Year (Spring)

Every spring, the House of China at the Pacific House of Relations puts on a celebration full of food, parades, and educational activities to celebrate the lunar new year.

Summer Movies in the Park (Summer)

Free movie screenings for families at Morley Field starting at dusk, usually about 15 minutes after sunset.

Twilight in the Park (Summer)

From June to August, the Spreckels Pavilion puts on evening concerts in addition to the weekly Sunday afternoon shows. The genres range from salsa to country to swing. These concerts start at 6:15 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Kids Free October (Fall)

As a part of Kids Free October, the San Diego Zoo offers free entrance to children under 11 with one paid adult. Kids get in free at the Fleet Science Center, San Diego Air & Space Museum and San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Details change every year so be sure to check which promotions apply during your visit.

December Nights (Winter)

At the beginning of December, the..

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Six Flags Magic Mountain discount tickets can be purchased in several ways. This amusement park located in Valencia, California is about 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. It originally opened in 1971 and features 18 roller coasters.

Important Six Flags Magic Mountain Tips

Check Six Flags Magic Mountain Hours

When booking vacation that involves a visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain, it is imperative that you check opening dates and hours. Six Flags Magic Mountain has not, historically, been open every day of the year (it is open 365 days in 2018, however) and hours of operation vary.

Read The Terms And Conditions

Read all terms and conditions before purchasing a Six Flags Magic Mountain ticket. Be sure that they do not expire before your visit and check refund or transfer policies.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Parking

Note that the parking fee at Six Flags Magic Mountain is currently $25 per car when purchased online. There are also a couple of other parking options available for purchase at that same link.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Tickets

Six Flags Magic Mountain currently offers three types of tickets: Daily Tickets, Season Passes (through the end of the calendar year), and Memberships (an initial 12-month commitment, cancelable thereafter at any time).

General Admission

At-the-gate ticket pricing for a daily ticket is currently $84.99 for General Admission, $59.99 for children under 48” tall, and is free for children 2 and under. You may also opt for a Choose Your Day ticket.

By buying online at their website at least one day in advance you may save up to $25 per ticket, depending on the day selected. (On other days, the discount will be less.)

Season Pass

Six Flags Magic Mountain offers a number of Season Passes as well. Season passes (unlimited admission through the end of the calendar year of purchase) may be the best option for those who intend only to visit the park more than once during the current calendar year, but perhaps not again in the following calendar year, and who are not interested in other discounts and benefits on other a la carte options and purchases at the park.


Six Flags Magic Mountain also offers Memberships. Memberships (unlimited admission during an initial 12-month commitment – as well as other discounts and benefits including free parking, cancelable thereafter at any time) may be best for visitors who intend to go to Magic Mountain at least once this year and at least once during the subsequent year, and who are likely to make use of discounts and benefits on other a la carte options and purchases at the park available only to Members.

One of those benefits is that memberships entitle the holders to free parking at Magic Mountain (currently $25).

1. aRes Travel (Most Popular For Single Attraction Tickets)

aRes Travel is a San Diego based, authorized ticket seller to major California attractions. They offer discount General Admission tickets to Six Flags Magic Mountain and tickets to other famous attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND California, and Disneyland. aRes Travel charges a $2 convenience fee per ticket, but you will still likely come out ahead.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Any Day General Admission Ticket – Through September 16, 2018

This offer for $65 Any Day General Admission Tickets applies to both adults and kids and saves $20! Note that admission tickets for kids under 48” tall at Magic Mountain are currently $59.99 at the gate, and are free for children 2 years and under. This is a particularly useful savings for adults who would normally pay $85 at the gate. Buy it here.

2. Go Los Angeles Card

July 4th PROMO: Get 10% off all-inclusive Go Los Angeles Cards.

The Go Los Angeles Card saves up to 50% off of admission to 35 top Los Angeles attractions and other Southern California attractions, including Six Flags Magic Mountain, Universal Studios Hollywood, and LEGOLAND California, in three simple steps:

1. Choose the pass option that best suits you (you can buy an all-inclusive pass or build your own) and buy your pass in advance.
2. Get your pass on a mobile device or print it at home.
3. Show the pass at any eligible attraction, and you’re in for free.

The passes are available in 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7-day options, each at different prices. Make sure the attractions you’d like to visit are listed on the option you buy.

This pass also includes some famous theme parks in Orange County and San Diego.

Tip: Be careful where and how you buy the Go Los Angeles Card. If you buy through them directly, you will not have to redeem a voucher at a specific attraction to activate the card.

See also: 10 Go Los Angeles Card Benefits

3. Costco

From time-to-time, Costco sells discounted tickets for Six Flags Magic Mountain. The best thing to do is head to their website and type “Six Flags Magic Mountain” into the search bar to see what is currently on offer.

4. AAA Discount

According to the AAA website, AAA members save up to 30% on tickets purchased online, plus a 33% savings on the processing fee. AAA/CAA members save $5 off general admission at the gate, $2 off general admission at Six Flags Water Parks and receive a 10% discount on all Gifts, Candy and Photo Products at all Six Flags operated locations.

5. Coca-Cola Discount

Through September 12, 2018, present a can of Coca-Cola at the ticket booth and you will save $20.

6. Group Discounts

A group discount is available for purchases of 15 or more tickets. Details are available on the park’s website.

7. Seasonal Passes and 12 Month+ Memberships

As mentioned above, Six Flags Magic Mountain offers both Season Passes and Memberships, as well as 1-day, General Admission tickets.

Details about each of the four Membership options (including a detailed comparison of benefits in tabular form), which include unlimited admission to the park and in many instances free parking, are enumerated on their website. Prices range from $7.85 per month to $18.85 per month. You may cancel any time after the initial 12 month period.

A 2018 Season Pass to Six Flags Magic Mountain, entitling the holder to unlimited park admission through the end of the calendar year in which it is purchased, is currently $94.99. At the same link, the park also offers certain 2-park pass options as well, These may be an attractive option for San Diego residents who intend to visit the park multiple times per year.

How do you buy Six Flags Magic Mountain discount tickets?

See also how to buy:

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San Diego is spread out. From Coronado in the south to LEGOLAND in the north, the drive takes across town takes about 45 minutes without traffic (and there will be traffic during special events and the weekday commute).

This post should give you an idea of where popular San Diego vacation neighborhoods are and which types of travelers choose them. This list is from south to north.


Located south of downtown, Coronado is famous for its stunning beaches, regarded as some of the best in the nation. Coronado works for travelers who would like a beach vacation, to mostly explore downtown attractions and Balboa Park/San Diego Zoo, with a day trip to La Jolla or North County (LEGOLAND and San Diego Zoo Safari Park) mixed in.

Best for:
  • Travelers who prefer Hotel Del Coronado, our best beachfront resort.
  • Proximity to downtown and Balboa Park (10-minute drive) without staying in downtown.
  • Beach vacations where you can mostly stay put.
  • Carless vacations (assuming use of Uber and the ferry)

Not a fit for:
  • Nightlife.
  • Travelers who need to spend the majority of a trip in North County.
  • Travelers who want to avoid families.

Getting there: Coronado is most-commonly accessible by the Coronado bridge or ferry from the downtown San Diego Embarcardero. The drive from the airport takes 20 minutes.

Coronado Hotels

There are a myriad of small Coronado hotels and motels, but most people ask me about these two larger resorts.

Hotel Del Coronado

This San Diego icon is our best full-service beachfront resort. It’s historic, haunted, popular, fun and the hotel I book visitors into most. It’s an excellent choice for people who would like easy beach access (and perhaps even a Del margarita served to your chair in the sand). Know that it’s a 4-star Curio Collection by Hilton property and can be busy during peak season. You can also request a Virtuoso rate through me that comes with amenities like complimentary breakfast for two at Sheerwater and more.

Loews Coronado

Loews Coronado is about 4 miles south of Coronado along Silver Strand beach. This five-star hotel prices well because it is somewhat isolated. People tend to stay here when the Hotel Del Coronado is out of their budget. Guests have access to two beach types: ocean beach and bay beach. The latter is waveless and excellent for small kids. The resort offers a shuttle to Coronado village and is pet-friendly.

See also:

Downtown San Diego

As the heart of the city, Downtown San Diego offers up incredible convenience and urban fun with the city’s best restaurants and nightlife within walking distance of popular hotels.

One important thing to note is that one can enjoy water views galore over the San Diego Bay, there are no beaches in downtown San Diego. Beachgoers drive or ferry over to Coronado or hop in the car to Ocean Beach, La Jolla or Pacific Beach.

Parking rates at even budget hotels can be high. If you’re traveling with young kids and need a bathtub, many rooms in downtown are shower-only.

Best For:
  • Foodies and nightlife seekers as some of the city’s best bars, clubs, and restaurants are in the Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy.
  • Travelers who want to go carless.
  • Weekend warriors (the airport is minutes away).
  • Those focused on exploring mostly downtown attractions and Balboa Park.
  • Travelers who are fine to drive to the beach (or ferry over to Coronado Municipal Beach)

Not a Fit For:
  • Travelers who are looking for a quiet vacation.
  • Travelers who want to primarily spend time on the beach.
  • Resort vacations.

Getting there: From the airport, it should take 5-10 minutes to reach a downtown hotel depending on how many traffic lights you hit.

Top Downtown San Diego Hotels Pendry San Diego

Pendry San Diego is San Diego’s high-end boutique hotel that has a beautiful pool deck with cabanas, a social club (guests skip the queue), fantastic urban coastal California decor and great restaurants. This lifestyle and entertainment hub that attracts a broad demographic from families to retirees. Request a Virtuoso rate.

US Grant, a Luxury Collection Hotel

The US Grant is an iconic Starwood Luxury Collection hotel that was built by the son of President Ulysses S. Grant over 100 years ago. Rooms have been refurbished with chic art and comfortable, contemporary decor that blends a bit of new with a grand tradition. Note that there isn’t a pool and spa treatments are in-room. Request a Virtuoso rate.

InterContinental San Diego

The new InterContinental San Diego is taking bookings beginning in September 2018. The 400-room property will incorporate the vivacity of downtown San Diego’s most vibrant neighborhoods with the soothing waters of the San Diego Bay into decor and offerings. Five distinct dining venues will overlook the water, including Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, a signature lobby-level restaurant with an open kitchen, a rooftop bar, pool bar, and café.

See also:

Mission Bay and Mission Beach

Mission Bay is a humanmade bay that is popular for water sports and waveless beaches. It’s also where SeaWorld San Diego is located.

When choosing a hotel on Mission Bay, it’s important to note how far of a walk or drive it is to Mission Beach. Some Mission Bay hotels require driving around the bay to the beach, which can take 10-15 minutes and then you’re stuck with having to park a car at the beach (definitely take an Uber during the summer).

Mission Beach is the ocean beach on the west side of the bay. Our seaside amusement park, Belmont Park, is here as is the start of a fun beach boardwalk to bike, rollerskate and walk down to Pacific Beach. You’ll pass many homes, bars, restaurants, and vendors along the way.

Best for:

  • Casual travelers who aren’t looking for fine dining.
  • Those who prefer calm bay beaches.
  • Travelers who want both bay and ocean beaches.
  • Beach volleyball players (South Mission Beach has lots of courts on a first come basis).
  • Those looking for a vacation rental (there are quite a few here on/near the beach).
  • Families who are only going to SeaWorld San Diego or visiting the park for multiple days.
  • Water sports enthusiasts.

Not a Fit For:

  • Luxury travelers should avoid this area completely as all hotels have very mixed reviews and are three- or four-star at best. The vacation homes, however, can be quite nice.

Getting there: The ride from San Diego Airport takes just over 15 minutes.

Mission Beach/Bay Hotels

The two hotels here definitely have a chain hotel/corporate vibe, but they are family friendly, 3-4 stars and I have no problem staycationing at either one.

Hyatt Regency Mission Bay

This hotel juts out into Mission Bay, so rooms have views of the Pacific Ocean, Mission Beach, or the downtown San Diego skyline. The lagoon-style pool is popular with families as it has a waterslide and plenty of seating. It’s also possible to walk to Mission Beach from here in about 10 minutes or so. The full-service marina offers opportunities for sport fishing in addition to kayaks, jet skis, sailboats and more. If you know the room type you’d like here, send me your dates, and I can add Hyatt Prive benefits to stays of two nights or longer.

Hilton San Diego Resort

This San Diego resort has convenient freeway access and is located on Mission Bay. Some of the rooms have fire pits, and the onsite store sells s’mores kits (highly recommend). The pool area is nice as are the tennis courts (locals pay for memberships here). An activities center provides SUP, aqua cycle and kayak rentals for bay fun. It’s a nice family resort but can be busy.

See also:

Pacific Beach

This neighborhood just south of La Jolla and north of Mission Beach is where many young professionals and college students live. This means that while there are myriad of good casual restaurants and bars, it can have a spring break atmosphere at times.

Despite this, families do stay here because the beach is nice and the hotels price lower than La Jolla, Coronado, and other beach cities. The north side of Pacific Beach at Law Street caters more to families (it’s also where many La Jollans like us go to the beach and surf camp).

Families might find Pacific Beach a touch quirky. I like walking on the boardwalk, the restaurants and going to the beach here but do have a tough time recommending the area as a base for a family vacation.  Luxury travelers should avoid Pacific Beach.

Best for:

  • Travelers who would like a casual beach bar scene.
  • Young professionals and college students.
  • Casual bachelor/bachelorette weekends and getaways with friends.
  • Those who want to learn how to surf (we like San Diego Surfing School).

Not a Fit For:

  • Luxury travelers.
  • Travelers who might be bothered by a young crowd.
  • Those in search of upscale nightlife.
  • People who want to get dressed up for dinner.
  • People who like to keep their kids in a rated G world.

Getting there: By car, it takes about 20 minutes from the San Diego Airport.

Pacific Beach Hotels The Catamaran

The bayfront Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa offers the broadest range of activities of any Mission Bay hotel. It’s located on the Pacific Beach side of the bay and is just a few blocks from the ocean beach, too. It’s a very family-friendly three-star property with ducks, exotic birds, and turtles that kids love, summer luaus and movies on the beach and a great seafood restaurant (Oceana). I also like the spa, too. On the resort, you can be shielded from the less family-friendly aspects of Pacific Beach. Check prices across top sites.

Pacific Terrace Inn

If you’re looking for the nicest possible option in Pacific Beach, this is probably it. It’s an AAA Four-Diamond beachfront property located on the more northern Pacific Beach side (a bit closer to Law Street where we like to go the beach). It’s a boutique property with a modest pool and no restaurant (though they do offer breakfast), but with excellent service and nice rooms with a classy sort of Tommy Bahama-style decor. Check prices across top sites.


Tower23 is a beachfront, chic, modern, upscale boutique hotel for the young at heart. I’ve had plenty of readers be thrilled here for girls getaways, couples weekends and more. The rooms have a bright coastal palette with epic views. The hotel’s JRDN restaurant is popular, especially at sunset. Check prices across top sites.

See also:

La Jolla

Known as “The Jewel” of San Diego, the upscale community of La Jolla is one of the most popular places in San Diego to stay. Visitors to San Diego choose one of three La Jolla neighborhoods: the Village, La Jolla Shores, and the Torrey Pines/UC San Diego area.

La Jolla Shores: Choose this neighborhood for hotels nestled on one of the best beaches in town. Our underwater park enables water sports like surf lessons, SUP, kayak tours, diving and snorkeling tours.

La Jolla Village: Find many of San Diego’s best shops and restaurants within walking distance of each other in this San Diego neighborhood. The beaches in the Village run on the small side for sunbathers, but our famous seals and sea lions do not disappoint nor do the sunsets and winter tide pooling.

Torrey Pines: Golfers, couples, families, and parents of UC San Diego children choose this area, which also has easy freeway access. The famous Torrey Pines golf course and Torrey Pines State Park are located here. It’s quiet, but without shops and many restaurants to walk to. La Jolla Shores is the closest beach. You’d need to drive there but if staying at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, the complimentary concierge cars transport guests within 5 miles of the hotel.

Best for:

  • Ocean water sports.
  • Families, especially if they are active.
  • Golf.
  • Luxury travelers (though there are ways for travelers with any budget to enjoy it).
  • Upscale dining.
  • Travelers in search of good shops and restaurants in a quieter neighborhood than downtown San Diego.

Not a fit for:

  • Nightlife.
  • Bargain shoppers.
  • Commuting daily to either North County or Downtown.

Getting there: Driving from the San Diego Aiport to La Jolla Village takes about 25 minutes. La Jolla Shores and Torrey Pines hotels have easier access to the freeway which shaves a bit off of that drive.

La Jolla Hotels La Valencia (La Jolla Village)

La Jolla’s best option in the Village is the Mediterranean-style La Valencia, located on Prospect Street, the Rodeo Drive of San Diego. The hotel has rooms and villas. The latter are a bit more nicely-appointed and quiet (I think the best rooms in the hotel are the King Ocean Villa and King Ocean Villa Suite). How best to book in varies, but I do have access to Preferred Platinum rates which are best for short stays and when there are no other promotions.

La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club (La Jolla Shores)

One of the most unique places to stay in all of San Diego is the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. It’s a members-only club with 99 accommodations. Guests can use club amenities like the heated pool, tennis courts, and 9-hole pitch-and-putt golf course. They also have one of the only remaining private beaches in the state, with food and drink service to the sand. It’s a very casual atmosphere and a place that families return to annually. Rooms are steps from the sand, and it’s excellent for large families and multigenerational travel. Check prices across top sites.

The Lodge at Torrey Pines (Torrey Pines/UC San Diego)

This, in my opinion, is the very best La Jolla hotel. The Lodge is a California craftsman style boutique hotel sits adjacent to Torrey Pines Golf Course (yes, they can get you a tee time) and on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Service is excellent as is the onsite restaurant, AR Valentien. They also have complimentary concierge cars that chauffeur guests within a 5-mile radius. The Virtuoso rate comes with a slight discount, breakfast for two and other amenities. Request a Virtuoso rate.

See also:

Del Mar

Del Mar’s fairgrounds and racetrack make it a top choice for summer vacations. The beach here is fantastic (parking for it is definitely not) as are the restaurants and shops.

It is one of our more affluent communities, but it’s not large which means that hotel options are slim. You can stay west of the freeway near the beach or on the east side at the number one luxury hotel in the nation.

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InterContinental San Diego is a hotel that downtown desperately needs. I can’t wait to check in.

This San Diego luxury hotel will offer views over the San Diego Bay, five dining outlets, 400 rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, a Club InterContinental level, and service that is synonymous with the brand.

Reservations are available starting in September 2018.

Rooms with Views

Every guestroom is poised to have a water view. How nice is that? The 400 rooms include 24 spacious suites.

Club InterContinental

Downtown San Diego needs more club level rooms. I’m a huge fan of Club InterContinental and am hoping that this one will live up to the others I’ve personally experienced.

These lounges offer Club level guests a quiet, luxe retreat to work and relax in. Typical amenities include complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, evening hors-d’oeuvres and cocktails in addition to grab-and-go snacks and non-alcoholic beverages throughout during the day.

The food, in my experience at other Club InterContinentals, is excellent. And, this one will have a private outdoor terrace.

See also: Luxury Hotel Review: InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown

InterContinental San Diego Dining

InterContinental San Diego brought on two beloved local chefs, Chef Paul McCabe and Chef Amy DiBiase. The hotel’s five dining outlets will include Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, a signature lobby-level restaurant with an open kitchen, 19th-floor rooftop bar, pool bar, and café

In addition to helping shape the signature restaurant, Chef Paul McCabe will oversee the hotel’s comprehensive food and beverage program, including banquets serving 95,000 square feet of event space.

A seasoned industry veteran with over 30 years of experience and training in Californian, Mediterranean, Southwestern and Pacific Rim cuisines, McCabe was previously with Town and Country Resort and Convention Center in San Diego, Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Arizona, and is most known for his instrumental role in putting L’Auberge Del Mar’s KITCHEN 1540 on the map.

McCabe has garnered esteemed industry awards and recognition over the years, including being named as a “rising star of American cuisine” by the James Beard Foundation.

San Diego celebrity chef, Amy DiBiase, will manage all aspects of the hotel’s signature restaurant, 4th-floor pool bar, and in-room dining. DiBiase brings over a decade of SanDiego-specific experience to her new role, following her most recent stint with Grand Restaurant Group and the opening of Tidal at Paradise Resort & Spa, which won numerous awards as San Diego’s best new restaurant in 2014.

In the kitchen, DiBiase is known for putting a California twist on Italian and French cuisine and plans to bring a fresh take on some of her signature dishes.

Other Amenities

An expansive health and wellness center overlooking the bay is equipped with a personalized video wall and stunning outdoor yoga terrace. A business center is also available. I’m sure there will be more to add to this section after the hotel opens.

Bookings Start September 2018

Right now, the best way to book InterContinental San Diego is through IHG.com. Sign up for IHG rewards and receive a slight discount off of the best available rate. I suspect that the hotel will eventually become part of luxury hotel consortiums if it winds up being as luxe as I hear it will be.

Book on IHG.com
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Work hard, play hard. The three cities on this list celebrate this mantra in spades year-round. We’re talking about nightlife that ends at daybreak, cultural interest explored in clever ways, incredible cuisine and cool boutique hotels.

All you need to do is slot some vacation time into the calendar to hit these Air France destinations.


Ireland’s capital brings more to the table than Guinness. A city with a high pub to person ratio bordering the sea and gorgeous countryside, other draws include Dublin’s intimate size and wit. It’s centuries old but young at heart, thanks to a large population of university students and a young workforce. Travelers will find it upbeat, diverse, and a fresh juxtaposition of old and new with a little bit of something for everyone.


Dublin’s famous nightlife ends a bit earlier than the other two cities featured here, but people come to the city just to experience it. Pubs feature the music of traditional fiddles and pipes while DJs spin the latest dance tunes inside the many clubs. Many of both are within walking distance of each other in the city center giving some spots a block party like feel. The Long Bar has a reputation for being the best-stocked bar in Dublin, nearly as old as the city itself and the best Guinness pour, to give you one example.

Things to do in Dublin

Go shopping at the Temple Bar neighborhood’s vintage stores and boutiques. If visiting on a Saturday, be sure to also eat your way through its food market. Explore the seven floors of Guinness, covering everything you’d want to know about the world’s favorite dark beer, at the Guinness Storehouse, a national monument. And, let’s not forget about the Jameson Distillery, a tribute to the famous Irish whiskey.


I recently read that Dublin is considered to be Europe’s next great food city and the reason is an interesting one. Most Irish dishes were designed for inexpensive sustenance so that farmers could stay warm and plow the fields (hence meat and potatoes). New talent arriving in the city, thanks to relaxed immigration laws, is partially credited for a fresh take on old dishes and new ways to utilize local ingredients. Whether you fancy a lamb and Guinness pie or sushi, Dublin has you covered. Try Winding Stair, a restaurant perched on top of one of the city’s oldest bookstores for Irish comfort food ranging from Irish charcuterie to seafood chowder.

Fly Air France to Dublin Berlin Photo courtesy of Visit Berlin/Dagmar Schewelle

Since the Berlin Wall’s demise in 1989, entrepreneurs and creatives have flocked to the city, transforming it into one of Europe’s hottest cities for nightlife. Music helped unite the two once-divided sides and dance clubs opened in the East’s empty, historic buildings. The city is also known as one that doesn’t have to break the bank. Travelers love its up-and-coming food scene and find it a place to let go and enjoy the moment.


If you hear that Berlin is 365/24, it’s no joke. Nightlife has no official closing time or dress codes. Buses and trains run continuously making going out or getting home at any hour easy. There are clubs for everyone and if you’d like to come on Sunday morning and leave a club on Monday morning, it can happen here. There are so many choices, but Air France has a good list of where to go for a last drink in Berlin.

Things to do in Berlin

Hang out at the abandoned Berlin-Tempelhof airport, Tempelhofer Feld, now a 386-hectare park that is larger than Central Park also with six kilometers of pathways for biking, running and walking. Stop at the trendy Neukölln neighborhood on the park’s border. Its restaurants, cafes, and bars are local favorites. Take a guided, 75-minute tour in a vintage East German Trabant car to get the lay of the land at the beginning of your trip. Of course, make a point of seeing out remains of the Berlin wall around the city by cycling its route or at the East Side Gallery, an open-air exhibition with a 1.3 km section of the wall.


Germany overall does comfort food well. The list of must-eat dishes in Berlin includes currywurst, a sausage covered in ketchup and curry powder wrapped up in a roll. The doner kebab is another with its seasoned meat shaved off of a cone of meat on a vertical rotating slow rotisserie stuffed into a flatbread with various vegetables and sauces. Bite Club, a summer street food market, is the place to find it all in one spot.

Fly Air France to Berlin Barcelona

It’s well known that the Spanish stay up late, so nightlife in a city like Barcelona is a given. What Barcelona also offers is a temperate climate, gorgeous beaches and fabulous food set against a mixture of colorful Gaudi and Gothic architecture.


With dinner an event that typically occurs between 9:00 p.m. and midnight, nightlife in Barcelona occurs naturally and can last throughout the night. Go dancing at Switch Pocket Club, an intimate space with DJs that locals love. Looking for something a bit more mellow (yet famous), try Speakeasy-Dry Martini. There’s also no cocktail menu as the bartenders whip up what they think might suit your mood. And it may not surprise you, given the name, that the dry martini here is considered one of the best in Europe.

Things to do in Barcelona

Sunbathe on Barceloneta beach, near the W Hotel (a chic option), where surfing the Mediterranean Sea is even a possibility. Slot in some Gaudi for your Instagram at the city’s most popular attractions like Park Guell and Sagrada Familia. Segway tours are also fun due to flat streets and ease of navigation, passing many historic sights along the way.


If near La Rambla, head toward the beach on Passeig de Gracia to El Nacional. The converted parking garage is now a gorgeous spot with multiple dining areas where one can try specialties from around the Iberian peninsula. I’d also highly recommend a food tour to sample tapas, cured meats and learn more about the city’s delights. Also, don’t forget to stop in at least one market like La Boqueria.

Fly Air France to Barcelona

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After years of deliberation, we finally switched to DISH. It’s unfortunate that it took us so long. I’d like to walk you through why we hesitated, in case you’re in the same position, and tell you about why it’s such a fantastic solution for our family.

Special offer: Sign up with DISH by 6/25/18 and receive a $200 Visa Gift Card. Use offer code: GiftSpecial200 online or by calling 844-452-5864 (Offer restrictions apply).

Before DISH

For many years, we were happy with our television set-up, but it wasn’t perfect. Then, our equipment started to fail repeatedly, requiring multiple calls to customer service. The calls became more frequent as did the hold times and transfers between departments to try to find a solution.

We thought about switching for a long time before we finally pulled the trigger. We had a satellite dish drilled into the side of our house. What would happen to that? Would there be damage to fix?

Our 65″ television is mounted to a brick fireplace. Years ago, we paid a lot of money to have its wires hidden and funneled to equipment inside a closet by the front door.

Our universal remote was more expensive to have professionally programmed than it was to buy.

My husband, the person most tied to television for sports and news, was convinced that switching providers might lead to more issues than we faced already with a somewhat complicated setup.

And, would we have the same issues with a different provider?

I started to learn more about DISH through word of mouth, digital conferences I attended where they were also present, and personal research. I told DISH about my issues, and they gave us an opportunity to try their services.

We almost said no. And, that would have been a terrible decision on our part.

DISH Installation

DISH standard installation is free. A technician called to schedule our installation appointment. At that time we ran through our list of concerns. He put my mind at ease, but my husband was still skeptical and a bit worried. A sports fanatic and news junkie, he watches much more television than my daughter and I do.

Our installer could not have been more helpful. Long story short, the installation took a full day between mounting a new satellite, sorting out wires in our attic and getting the new equipment up and running on four televisions.

He ran into a few hiccups that he was able to sort out and went over and above the call of duty to make sure we were happy.

(Be sure to take advantage of DISH’s Smart Home Services. They’ll install sound systems, hide cables inside of walls, and more. You need don’t need to be a DISH customer to request this service.)

The most important thing is that our overall television experience is so much better than it was before. Let me tell you why.

Aspects That Have Become WAY More Convenient

It took us no time at all to learn how to use our new system and all three of us were immediately hooked.

Better Remote Controls

We were unable to use our prior provider’s remote controls without opening the door to our otherwise hidden equipment. With DISH, now we can. And, better yet, our living room remote has voice control that can search for stations, launch apps, change settings and more based on you speaking commands to it.

If this sounds unnecessary, wait until you try it. Convenience is an understatement for someone like me who doesn’t memorize station numbers.

Amazon Alexa Integration

Or, go completely hands-free by using Amazon Alexa to control the television. This is especially handy when the remote control is out of reach, such as when I’m cleaning up the other side of the room or in the middle of a project.

This setup would be handy in a kitchen setting. When cooking, instead of washing your hands and locating the remote, simply tell Amazon Alexa where to change the channel.

See also: 6 Reasons Why You Need Hands-Free TV

Improved Signal Reliability

So far, we haven’t received any signal interruption. We were able to watch television during rain, which was problematic previously.

We have had a few times where we’ve needed to reboot the receiver by unplugging it (as suggested by tech support, the one time we called in) but nothing other than that.

Based on a nationwide study of customers, DISH has 99% Signal Reliability and we believe it.

Consistency Across All TVs

My favorite DISH feature is the Whole-Home HD DVR System. Recorded shows can be watched on any television in the house thanks to the Hopper 3 primary DVR.

Through the Hopper 3, you can watch and record up to 16 shows at once. Shows can be recorded, played, paused, resumed, deleted and more from any TV in the house. This is because every other TV has a smaller, secondary receiver called a Joey. The Joeys sync with the Hopper 3.

Access to DISH While Traveling

There are two ways to access DISH while traveling.

The first is through the DISH Anywhere app. If we’re chilling in a hotel or airport lounge, it’s easy to pull up the app which communicates with our home’s Hopper 3 DVR and allows us to watch live TV, our recorded shows, and On Demand programming. You’ll need WiFi for this. It’s truly a savior when traveling with kids.

When a good WiFi connection isn’t available, that’s where the HopperGo Pocket DVR comes in. Before departure, we load recorded shows from our Hopper 3 DVR to the HopperGo Pocket DVR which then connects to the DISH Anywhere app and allows you to watch shows on your device.

Tip: I would learn how to use both systems prior to departure rather than fumbling to figure it out at 35,000 feet.

See also: 5 Reasons Why Dish Network Entertains Traveling Families Better Than the Rest

The Price Is Right

DISH offers channel and equipment packages to suit a variety of needs currently starting at $59.99/month.

We have the America’s Top 250 package which includes 290 channels. That’s about the number of channels we had previously and we were paying more for a way more antiquated system. I like having a smart home!

Wish List

If there’s one thing that we wish DISH had, it’s BBC World, a channel we watch a lot overseas.

Other than that, we don’t have any complaints, and I’m so relieved to have made the switch.

Exclusive DISH Offer

Plus, I am excited to partner with DISH to share this exclusive offer!

Sign up with DISH by 6/25/18 and receive a $200 Visa Gift Card. Use offer code: GiftSpecial200 online or by calling 844-452-5864 (Offer restrictions apply).

This post is written in partnership with DISH.

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The best family hotels in San Diego offer something for all ages. They’re scattered across the county, on the beach and off, and are perfect for vacations and staycations.

I communicate with people daily on social media, traditional media and email about San Diego hotels, mostly the ones on this list because of their locations, amenities, reviews and/or service.

If there’s a clear way to book, that will give you the best value, I’ve mentioned it here. If not, there’s a link to check the best price across multiple travel sites.

See also: 40 Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

Fairmont Grand Del Mar

Neighborhood: Carmel Valley (East of Del Mar)

Kids’ club: Yes. The Explorer’s Club offers half-day, full day and evening sessions. It is complimentary for two hours when parents book a spa treatment, whether you’re staying overnight or simply booking a treatment.

Why go: For those who love five-star hotels, this is the best hotel in San Diego. In fact, this kid-friendly San Diego luxury hotel is one you may just not want to leave, making it a perfect staycation choice for local couples, families or singles who need pampering. This is my top pick.

Is central location with easy access to the I-5 freeway makes exploring attractions like LEGOLAND to the north and San Diego Zoo to the south a breeze.

Amenities for kids:

  • State-of-the-art supervised Explorers Club with daily scheduled programming or drop-in use for kids ages 5–12, including the latest video games, fully-stocked arts, and crafts center, traditional games, foosball, ping pong and more
  • Horseback riding lessons at the onsite Equestrian Center
  • Children’s pool with wading area and sand play area
  • A family pool with underwater music
  • Personalized family tennis lessons
  • BMW bikes (including kids’ bikes)
  • Children’s menus at Amaya, Club M, the Resort Pool and through in-room dining
  • Junior golf and complimentary junior golf club rentals (kids 12 receive complimentary tee times when playing with an adult while 13-17 play at half-price)
  • Seasonal activities such as s’mores and dive-in pool movie nights

Amenities for parents:

  • Private Tom Fazio-designed golf course with exclusive access for hotel guests
  • One of San Diego’s best spas complete with gorgeous lounging areas, couples treatments, and a private pool
  • Explorer’s Club kids’ club during the day and evenings
  • Addison, a culinary sensation that’s regarded as one of San Diego’s best restaurants
  • Two pro-style tennis courts complete with instructors and clinics
  • Designer boutiques
  • Guided canyon hikes
  • Top-notch service everywhere

Good to know: Guests receive twice-daily housekeeping, in-room bottled water, and coffee, free WiFi, daily newspaper, complimentary self-parking included in a $40/night plus tax resort fee that is charged at the resort. The resort fee usually does not appear in rate quotes. There is not a lot to do within walking distance so a rental car is advisable.

Awards: #1 on TripAdvisor, AAA Four Diamonds, three Forbes five-stars each for Addison, the hotel and spa.

Reservations: I can book readers in with special Virtuoso amenities that add value to a stay and may include breakfast for two, an activity credit, upgrades, occasionally a 3rd night free, and more. However, right now, Fairmont Grand Del Mar is offering a Grand Experiences package that is more beneficial than Virtuoso for stays of two nights or longer as it has a daily $150 resort credit. Stays of one or two nights are better with Virtuoso as the rate is a smidge lower (Flexible Daily Rate). Look for the Grand Experiences package on their website.

Request a Virtuoso RateBook at Fairmont.com

See also: 10 Reasons Why Families Choose Fairmont Grand Del Mar

Hotel Del Coronado

Neighborhood: Coronado

Kids’ club: Yes. DelVentures offers 1-hour activities and daily evening activities between 6:00–9:00 p.m. so that parents can enjoy dinner onsite in peace.

Why go: The red roof of this historic San Diego hotel has become one of the city’s icons. The roster of Hollywood celebrities, U.S. Presidents and other dignitaries who have stayed at Hotel Del Coronado since its opening in 1888 is nothing short of impressive.

It’s San Diego’s best full-service hotel on the beach—Coronado Municipal Beach is considered one of America’s best beaches by the Travel Channel.

Amenities for kids:

  • DelVentures kids’ club for kids ages 4–12
  • A gorgeous flat sandy beach in front of the hotel with (usually) gentle waves and tide pools at low tide
  • MooTime Creamery ice cream treats on site
  • Stand-up paddleboard and surf lessons
  • Water toys and fun in the main pool
  • Summer s’mores and dive-in movie nights
  • Ages 14 and up are welcome to receive spa services
  • Bike and surrey rentals

Amenities for parents:

  • 17 shops to browse (Babcock & Story is my personal favorite)
  • Several beachfront dining and cocktail areas that are amazing venues during sunset
  • Yoga on the beach
  • Beachside spin class
  • Mermaid fitness classes (yes, really)
  • San Diego’s best Sunday brunch
  • Family portraits arranged through the Concierge
  • Full-service Spa at The Del
  • Boat rentals
  • Del Beach rentals (where adult drinks and snacks are..
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The Cabrillo National Monument out on the end of Point Loma is the city’s only National Park.

What draws most people here today are the 144 acres surrounding a monument to explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo that offer fantastic panoramic views of the city, San Diego Bay, and the ocean.

Other highlights include hiking trails, tide pools, a vintage lighthouse, WWII-era military structures, the Visitor Center, and even seasonal whale watching. A visit here is a fantastic way to spend a half-day in San Diego sunshine.

What Is the Cabrillo National Monument?

The park’s namesake monument is a statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a navigator (maybe Portuguese, maybe Spanish) who landed at what is today Ballast Point in San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542.

This was the first time a European expedition had set foot on what is today the West Coast of the United States. It’s regarded popularly as the discovery of what is today California (despite native people having lived here for centuries).

For any of us living in San Diego today and visiting the Cabrillo National Monument now, this event is arguably the but for causation of why we are all here, almost 500 years later. That’s the historical significance of the namesake Cabrillo.

It’s possible to see Ballast Point from the Cabrillo National Monument, but the statue itself isn’t located on the spot of his landing.

The statue today is a 14-foot limestone replica of an original statue donated to the United States by the Portuguese government in 1939. Weathering due to conditions in the area required its replacement in 1988.

Things to Do at Cabrillo National Monument

There are five main reasons to visit Cabrillo National Monument:

  • Panoramic views,
  • The historical aspect of Cabrillo’s landing at Ballast Point,
  • Mild hiking and bird watching,
  • Tide pooling in winter months (even seasonal whale watching), and
  • Impressively large WWII-era bunkers and other buildings, and even the Old Point Loma Lighthouse (which is open to the public).
Visitor Center

A stop at the Visitor Center is a must and recommended at the beginning of your visit (unless heading straight to the tide pools which we’ll discuss in more detail below). Here, pick up a schedule of the day’s events and to talk to a park ranger.

The Visitor Center is where kids can pick up the Junior Ranger information. They’ll need to keep an eye out for certain things around the park for how to earn their badge.

See also: 40 Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

Many visitors like to walk through the “Age of Exploration” exhibit room near the Visitor Center, contextualizing Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Films play in the auditorium there.

Snap a Photo at the Monument

The view from where the statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stands is one of the best in all of San Diego. It’s located near the Visitor Center, so the second thing people typically do during a visit to Cabrillo National Monument is take photos here.


Many also take a look inside the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which operated from 1855-1891. It is open to the public for self-guided tours (which take just a few minutes).

It was one of the first navigational lights on the West Coast and was the highest in the United States at the time. Later, it was abandoned in favor of one built nearby at a lower elevation.

The site of the original lighthouse is now where the actual Cabrillo Monument stands today.

Cabrillo National Monument Hiking Trails

If you want to walk or hike, there are two trails at Cabrillo National Monument. One is the 2.5-mile Bayside Trail with great, panoramic views from the ocean to the mountains, and of Ballast Point (where Cabrillo landed).

It begins near the Old Lighthouse and winds around toward the side of the park facing the San Diego Bay. Detailed signs along the way explain the various flora, fauna, and points of interest along the way including a searchlight shelter used during WWI and WWII.

The second of the two trails is the Coastal Trail, a one-mile round trip hike with a few steep slopes and stairs (strollers are not suitable for this trail). The trail starts at parking Lot 1 and Lot 2 off of Gatchell Road.

Cabrillo Tide Pools

The Cabrillo tide pools are regarded as some of the best tide pools in San Diego. Upon entering Cabrillo National Monument, you can either go left toward the visitor center or right down toward the Cabrillo tide pools.

There is a tide pool parking lot here though it can fill up. Walking downhill from the Visitor Center parking lot is not at all recommended due to distance and the fact that you have to then walk back uphill (it’s not doable with kids in tow).

Tide pooling is best done at minus tides, which happen in daylight during winter months. Online tide calendars are pretty accurate with predicting times. Good tide pooling occurs typically a few hours prior and a few hours after a peak minus tide.

Cell phone service usually not available here so please plan your transportation accordingly.

WWII-Era Defense Structures

Fearing attack by Japan, the Cabrillo National Monument was made part of the War Department’s coastal defenses during World War II. There are over 15 such structures still standing there (though some are underground).

In reality, some are more visible than others to visitors today.  Some are periodically open to the public, while others you may drive by or walk by on the hiking trails.

More detail about the military history of this strategically located park and its role in our national defense are available on the park’s website.


Vending machines with coffee, soda, and snacks offer the only available food and drinks for purchase at Cabrillo National Monument. Bringing food for a picnic is a common choice for families visiting with kids.

Tips for Planning a Visit

Cabrillo National Monument’s location on a point jutting into the Pacific Ocean means that it can be windy even on sunny days. It can be cold and wet in foggy weather, too, so layering is advised.

Despite being relatively close distance-wise to downtown San Diego and local freeways, the drive from downtown takes up to 30 minutes due to stoplights on residential streets.

My daughter’s fifth-grade class also studied the not-so-savory aspects of the Spanish conquistadors and their conquests in the New World. If your kids have done the same, they may bring up Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s mixed personal legacy.

A half-day visit is plenty of time.

Visitor Information

Opening Hours: The park is open 365 days a year from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Entrance Fees: Find details for entrance fees on the park’s website. Currently, prices are $15 per car and $7 for individuals on foot/bicyclists. Active duty military personnel and their dependents are admitted free, upon showing proper identification. No prior reservations are required. Annual Passes are also available.

Indoor Activities:  In the event of poor weather, there are a few indoor activities. However, Cabrillo National Monument is best explored when it’s not raining.

Pets: The park’s policy on pets is a little nuanced and detailed on their website. In short, service animals are allowed. Dogs are allowed at the tide pools but not around the upper park/monument area.

Directions: Driving directions from various parts of San Diego are listed on the park’s website.

Kids’ Activities: Families of fourth graders should be sure to sign up for Every Kid in a Park, a pass that provides fourth graders and their families free admission to National Parks for the year.

Annual Cabrillo Festival:  This festival is held on a Sunday in October each year, including a reenactment of Cabrillo’s landing at Ballast Point.

What is your favorite thing to do at Cabrillo National Monument?

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Always game for themed restaurants, my daughter and I enthusiastically dined at the Gudetama Cafe in Singapore.

It’s located inside Suntec City mall which happened to be steps from our hotel, Mandarin Oriental, Singapore.

This super-cute cafe featuring Hello Kitty’s latest friend was designed by Shirley Wong, @littlemissbento. She’s someone you should definitely follow on Instagram if you like looking at cute food.

Anyway, Gudetama is a lazy, somewhat sad egg. He’s cute and incredibly popular.

Our table had a reserved sign on it. And, because I made a reservation on OpenTable, we got to sit in one of the cool egg-shaped booths decorated with (somewhat dirty) Gudetama throw pillows.

What We Ordered at Gudetama Cafe Singapore

The fairly sizable menu offers up salads, appetizers, pizza, meat dishes, desserts and more each decorated with a little bit of Gudetama flair. They do not sell alcohol.

A carafe of water arrived almost immediately, which I appreciated.

My daughter ordered a Hula Hula mango infused rose tea drink in a Gudetama carafe with Gudetama straw. I stuck with tea which came with a Gudetama biscuit.

My daughter’s “Shiok” Pork Ribs served in a yellow cast iron pan were actually pretty tasty.

My “Can You Be More Active” salad came with hard-boiled eggs which had basically an edible (I think, but didn’t try it) film to create Gudetama’s face.

The idea is that he does not like to be woken up, the lazy egg that he is. Having not eaten much salad after 12 days in Asia, it hit the spot but was okay overall. It had roasted chicken, tomatoes, croutons and bacon bits as well.

I could not pass up the Gudetama Ta-Ma-Go which is really a dessert cheesecake covered in crispy rice. The “egg” is a thin sponge cake and the whole thing is accessorized a dab of matcha paste.

Sadly one of the faces was delivered slightly messed up which wasn’t ideal for my Instagram. I would say it tasted just okay.

Service, was inconsistent as it took me forever to get my check and then pay for it (I eventually walked it up to the front cashier).

The menu does price on the higher side as main courses currently range from about S$18–S$38.

If you don’t have time to dine at the Gudetama cafe Singapore, a takeaway section with Gudetama desserts and souvenirs should help scratch that Kawaii itch.

If you go this route, I would seek the advice of staff as what you get might not be what you expect. My daughter’s yogurt egg was more like white chocolate (which she is not a fan of). I do like white chocolate so thought it was great actually.

The bottom line is that if you like themed cafes and are prepared to divert from glorious Singaporean cuisine (I do wish that a few local dishes were on the menu), this is a great stop.

The food isn’t going to blow your mind, but you’re really not going for the food, are you?

3 Temasek Boulevard
Suntec City
Singapore (038983)

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Note: Suntec City is enormous. Gudetama Cafe is located in its West Wing on Level 1 and faces Temasek Street. You can enter the mall from the street here though most taxis will drop you off at a rotunda to the right (if facing the mall). If you get lost, download the Suntec City app on iPhone or Android or check the Quick Guide online. WiFi is free in the mall.

See also: Things to Do in Singapore with Kids

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Millions of people will tune into the Tony Awards this Sunday to watch incredible talent within the theater community be recognized for outstanding performances and distinguished achievement. It takes a lot to put on a theater production and there is usually a supporting cast of people behind the scenes. Without them, the show simply would not go on. I’m also really looking forward to seeing Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles host the show.

Throughout the Tony Awards season, our sponsor Grant Thornton (the Official Professional Services Partner of the Tony Awards) is celebrating the #supportingcast members that play integral roles in the careers and personal lives of Broadway stars and Grant Thornton employees. Grant Thornton was chosen by the Tony Awards to tabulate the nominations, voting and results for 2018 and they’ll be behind the scenes to ensure that each win is undeniably accurate.

Grant Thornton has launched a fan-supported social challenge campaign focused on recognition of an individual’s supporting cast. This means you can share your #SupportingCast (using this hashtag) on social media. These are the people who are important to your business or personal life. For every person who does this, Grant Thornton will make a donation to The American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League Foundation.

The Tony Awards air live Sunday, June 10 from Radio City Music Hall starting at 5:00 p.m. PT/8:00 p.m. ET. You can also get to know some of the Tony Award nominees beforehand.

For the first hour of the Tony Awards, turn to Twitter. We’ll be online for the 1-hour #SupportingCast Twitter party and you will have the chance to win two tickets to a Broadway show!

Join The Grant Thornton #SupportingCast Twitter Party

Who: @jenashtep@lajollamom@GrantThorntonUS
When: Sunday, June 10 at 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. PT/8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. ET
Where: On Twitter using the hashtag #SupportingCast
Prizes: Two Broadway show tickets!

See you on Twitter!

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