When the temps in Phoenix were predicted to reach 118 for 5 days, we decided to skip town and have a San Diego beach weekend with the kids! There is so much to do in San Diego. We have this list, as well as a few other posts here; but this trip, we just wanted the sand and the sea, and good food. And we got it!
It’s about a 6-hour drive from Phoenix to San Diego. Most directions will take you out of Phoenix on I10, cutting south to Gila Bend on Highway 85, and then continuing west on I8 to San Diego! There’s not much interest along the way. There are numerous rest stops. And the Imperial Sand Dunes are super sweet, but not when it’s hot outside.
We like to stop halfway in Yuma, AZ for coffee and snacks at North End Coffeehouse! There’s also an epic playground (West Wetlands Park) and a splash pad (Friendship Park), and fast food places like Chick-Fil-A. Fill up with gas before you cross into California, as the prices are much higher.
Where We Stayed
We stayed 3 nights at the Holiday Inn (Bayside) in San Diego. This was one of the few hotels available last minute in our price range. We usually prefer to be within walking distance to the beach, but this hotel worked out very well. Parking was $18/day with in and out privileges, but you may be able to find free parking nearby. There was also a heated pool, hot tub, and mini-golf included. Numerous restaurants are within walking distance!
We had a one-bedroom/bathroom suite with a king-size bed, and a pull-out couch for the kids to sleep on. There was also a mini-fridge, small microwave, and Kuerig, perfect for storing snacks and leftovers. Our corner room overlooked the marina and the main street which entertained the kids. Chris worked a half-day from the table and found it comfortable. We would totally stay here again!
A San Diego Beach Weekend With Kids
What We Did
As previously mentioned, this San Diego trip was for the beach. We’ve done places like SeaWorld in the past, and other attractions, and enjoyed our visit. This time, we wanted to chill and not be pressured with other things to do. We visited three beaches on this trip: Ocean Beach, Tourmaline Beach, and a small unnamed beach on Shelter Island, near the boat ramp.
Ocean Beach was our go to, being the closest to our hotel. It also offered free parking (can get crazy on weekends), and restrooms (not the cleanest, but decent). There is also a dog beach nearby, so don’t head too far north from the parking lot (or Tower 5). Lots of great beach areas otherwise and we came here four times.
Tourmaline Beach was rocky, but we actually really loved this spot because there were tons of surfers to watch AND the rocks were fun to search for shells. Also, the waves descending over the rocks made an amazing sound! There is limited parking here, and restrooms.
The beach on Shelter Island was a favorite of our toddler. She didn’t like swimming in the ocean with the waves. But this bayside beach was perfect for her! We also loved watching the dozens of boats pass by. The little beach is across the street from the Bay Club Hotel and Marina with free parking. We didn’t find any restrooms.
Of note, it’s worth looking up the tide schedules for the duration of your visit. Low tide and high tide will give much different experiences! For example, our two oldest kids loved body surfing at high tide! Low tide worked too, but it wasn’t as exciting to them. Low tide is best for littles in the water and shell hunting. Check out this website for current tide information in San Diego. It changes daily!
Speaking of tides, we also visited Sunset Cliffs at low tide, and it was a highlight of our visit. There were dozens of crabs, of all sizes and colors, plus sea anemones, and more! We spent 2 hours exploring the tide pools. The kids were able to catch a couple of crabs! The rocks can be extremely slippery. Wear tennis shoes and not flip-flops!
Parking at Sunset Cliffs can be tricky. The steps down to the tide pools are located near Sunset Cliffs Road and Ladera Street, with free street parking. If that area is full, continue on Ladera Street and you’ll come to a huge free parking lot on the right. We actually parked here and enjoyed walking along the cliffs to the steps. (There are port-a-potties along the southwest corner of the parking lot.) At the bottom of the steps, loop around on the rocks and head north to the tide pools. We arrived around 45 minutes before the lowest point of the low tide and it was perfect!
A San Diego Beach Weekend With Kids
Where We Ate
We highly recommend Slater 50/50 at Liberty Station! The burgers were amazing. It’s also very popular; we arrived around 1:30pm for lunch on a Sunday, and we’re seated immediately on the patio. But a line started quickly afterward.
Also at Liberty Station is Banyan Kitchen and Cafe. We had breakfast here on Saturday; the food was a little pricey, but the coffee was amazing. Be sure to walk along the water too for some great views, history, and a playground. This whole area is beautiful. Liberty Station is a former naval training center that was converted into a shopping and restaurant district.
Other places we ate: Denny’s (hey, it was 8:30 pm and we needed quick food), Winchells for donuts and breakfast burritos, Pizza Nova, and Point Loma Cafe. For two dinners, because we like to watch sunsets at the beach, we picked up picnic-style food from Ralph’s, a grocery store near our hotel. Easy and cheap!
What To Bring
Beach vacations are messy. There is sand everywhere. Always sand! Just go with it, and plan to give your car a good vacuum session once you get home. Most beaches have showers near the restrooms, so take advantage of these and rinse off before heading back to your car. Or brush off what you can, and then shower back at the hotel.
San Diego is also very humid. Things just don’t dry very fast! So we like to bring two sets of swimsuits and beach towels – one can dry while the other is being used, and then switch. This will save your sanity. Also, bring sweatshirts (Chris prefers windbreakers) or jackets to the beach because the water is chilly year-round. Kids might need a warm-up break. A pair of pants might not be a bad idea either.
Of course bring sunscreen, hats, sand toys, boogie boards for older kids, and a blanket to sit on. And snacks/food, plus water. In the past, we’ve also brought beach or camping chairs for adults. A pop-up sunshade might be good too. Really, it depends on how much you want to lug from the parking lot! California beaches can be pretty long.
Always watch kids when playing in the water. Bring swim floaties or life jackets for non-swimmers. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of watching children in the ocean. There can be strong waves and riptides! We witnessed a scary rescue of a young boy who somehow got swept out by rocks and was caught in a riptide. A surfer was able to reach the boy first, even before the quick lifeguard, and thankfully save him! Always be aware of where your children are, and obey posted signs, or lifeguard instructions.