California Road Trip 2017 Part 1 – San Diego

We kicked off our California Road Trip with 5 days in San Diego. It was a city neither of us had ever visited, and if I’m being honest a city that I’d never really thought about visiting, but we loved our time there.

Day 1 – Arriving in San Diego

We flew to San Diego via San Francisco with Air Canada. It was about a 10 hour travel day since I was conservative with my lay over time in San Francisco (and good thing since we were an hour behind schedule). Our hotel had free airport pick up so once we grabbed our luggage we caught the bus and were at our hotel in downtown San Diego 15 minutes later.

We arrived around 3 pm so after checking into our hotel we freshened up, fed the baby and headed out to find some dinner. On the walk back from dinner we grabbed some groceries and then checked out the waterfront for a quick walk before an early bed (after a 3:30 am start we were all pretty tired).

Our first family vacation together!
Downtown San Diego as seen from the waterfront

Day 2 – Coronado Island

It isn’t easy to get an early start with a baby but we made it out of the hotel by 9:30 to catch the 10 am ferry to Coronado Island. The ferry sails every hour and costs $9.50 for a return ticket. The ride is only 15 minutes but is sort of like a mini harbour tour.

View from the ferry on our way over

Once on Coronado we set off to walk across the island to the beach. We stopped to feed the little guy (Spreckles Park is about half way and provides a shady spot to stop) and to grab lunch supplies so it took us longer than I thought to cover the 3 km to the beach.

It was a pretty quiet day at the beach so we found a spot to sit down and enjoyed a leisurely lunch. After lunch we walked down to see the famous Hotel del Coronado and a bit further along the beach just because.

Baby S’s first trip to the beach

Then we retraced our steps back to the ferry dock just in time to catch the 3:30 pm ferry.

After a break to shower and relax a little we headed out for dinner in Little Italy. It’s a super cute little neighbourhood and we wandered up for some gelato as a post dinner treat before heading home for the evening.

Day 3 – The Zoo

Today was zoo day! After breakfast we loaded up our stuff and hopped on the bus. I’d bought our tickets online the day before using GoCard San Diego so we didn’t have to wait in line and were able head in to explore. The zoo is expensive ($52 each!) but it is huge and the tickets includes access to some extra features besides just walking around to see the animals.

We started off with a 30 minute bus tour of the zoo (included in the ticket price) which was a great way to figure out exactly what was out there. After our tour we knew we wanted to start with a visit to the giant tortoises and then we just worked our way through the rest of the zoo. It was pretty busy at some animals (like the big cats and panda bears) but we did find lots of quiet spots. We brought lunch stuff so we were able to avoid lines for food (although we did stop to buy Jon a beer because the idea of wandering the zoo with a drink in hand was too novel to pass up). We managed to visit all the animals I wanted to see including the koala bears (so adorable) and the penguins (not as good as the exhibit in Calgary).

So cute – but also so dull
We always knew when we were close to the entrance of the zoo because you could smell these guys
One of our favourites – giant tortoises

Exhausted after all that walking (again, the zoo is huge) we finished our day with a ride on the Skyfari (a gondola type ride over the zoo). You can’t really see the animals but it gave a nice overview of everywhere we’d been.

We were pretty tired but managed to drag ourselves to the bus and back to the hotel. Then we opted for a super easy dinner of pizza by the slice before calling it a night.

Day 4 – Midway Museum and Old Town

When I bought our zoo tickets I bundled them with passes to the Midway Museum for enough of a discount that our tickets to the museum were basically free. The Midway Museum is an aircraft carrier that has been converted to a museum that showcases what life was like on the carrier plus naval history. We only spent a few hours – a quick overview – but there are enough different exhibits and areas that you could spend a full day. If you’re traveling with kids, ditch the stroller because lots of the museum requires navigating narrow stairs.


After our morning at the museum we had some lunch and then caught the trolley to Old Town. Old Town was a bit of a disappointment – we struggled to connect with the history when every building seemed to be a souvenir shop. We did a quick wander around before deciding it wasn’t really our thing. Instead we took the trolley back to the waterfront for some happy hour margaritas and a walk back to our hotel along the water.


We grabbed takeout for dinner and spent the evening relaxing as much as is possible with an eight week old.

Day 5 – Balboa Park

For our final day in San Diego we didn’t have any must do items so we decided to head back to Balboa Park (where the zoo is) to see the rest of the park. Saturdays are farmers market day in Little Italy so we stopped there first for some treats before walking to Balboa (about a 45 minute walk from our hotel to the south-west side of the park).

Crossing the bridge into the park

There was a big festival going on so the park was busy but that also meant there was lots to see. We wandered a bit and then grabbed lunch from the food trucks. Needing a little break from the crowds we took our lunch to the rose garden and then explored the cactus garden (which is worth it because those cacti are crazy!) before heading back home through the park.

Admiring the roses
The Botanical Building
Just us and a bunch of cacti

While not a super long walk it was definitely tiring in the heat (and after two big days of exploring) so we decide again on some easy pizza for dinner topped off with more gelato. Saturday night in Little Italy was much more lively than previous evenings but we were too tired to stay out too long.

Final Thoughts On San Diego

  • A city we’d definitely recommend visiting! Five days were the perfect amount of time to see stuff in the city and we didn’t have to rush (especially important with the little guy). You could see more in the same time or take a few extra days to visit some of the sights outside of the city (which we did during the next part of our road trip).
  • Our location in Little Italy was ideal for exploring without a car and allowed us to access the major attractions without a lot of travel time. Plus the dining options were great!
  • Make sure to pack a sweater because it might be hot enough during the day but cools down in the evening with a breeze off the ocean.
  • We took the little guy everywhere without any problems but did find the public transit (even the bus out to the zoo) not stroller friendly. While all the streets have accessible curbs, be prepared to carry your stroller up stairs to get on some of the trolleys and know that there isn’t anywhere to keep your stroller out of people’s way while riding.

Up next – California Road Trip 2017 Part 2: Driving to Los Angeles.


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