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Top 4 San Diego (Inexpensive) Places to Stay Cool with the Kids

Summer is upon us in San Diego and the question for most of us with young kids is “How do we keep them busy and stay cool at the same time? Sure, you could spend the big bucks taking the kids to some fancy water park, but what if they aren’t big enough to enjoy it, or more importantly, what if you want to keep a few bucks in your wallet?  Here are my top four inexpensive ways to stay cool with the kids here in San Diego.


1 Museums and Aquariums

San Diego has a number of kid-friendly museums.  From Balboa Park’s Ruben H. Fleet Science Center to The San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum, there is something fun for everyone in the county.    My favorite museums are the Fleet, The New Children’s Museum, and the

Birch Aquarium at Scripps.  Tourist may enjoy these places for a day or two, but locals have the opportunity to purchase low cost memberships and enjoy these places all year long.  You’ll thank me when a heatwave hits and you use your membership to enjoy a few hours in the air-conditioned comfort of a great museum.

DAD NOTES:  The Fleet just installed great new exhibits and we have already been twice since the grand opening last Thursday!  Birch has indoor/outdoor areas to explore and a spectacular view of the La Jolla coastline.  Have breakfast downtown (Cafe 222 or Richard Walker’s Pancake House) and be first in line when the Children’s Museum opens!

2) Beaches

With the right amount of planning and the right location, a trip to one of San Diego’s beaches can be a great way to stay cool and keep the kids busy.   My choices for the  best kid-friendly beaches have a couple of key ingredients:  Grassy Areas, Playgrounds, Easy parking and Clean Restrooms.    My top choices for the kids are:

La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores is my favorite family-friendly beach in San Diego.  Surfing, Bodyboarding, Sand Castle Building, a great picnic area, fire pits, and a quality lifeguarding crew make this place perfect for your family fun.  Parking is at a bit of a premium, but arrive early or late in the day and you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.  The beach is just the right width allowing for easy access to the waterline.  The last thing you want is to have to carry your gear 200 yards to get close to the water! (More importantly, when leaving you won’t have to carry your kid that far!)  There are showers/bathrooms at both ends of the main beach and they are adding additional facilities and parking.

DAD NOTES: – Check out the playground area which features a cool educational mosaic lifeguard themed play-structures and clean changing rooms!  If you can find it, the best beach investment I’ve made since becoming a dad is the SKLZ Sportbrella.  I got mine at Costco! It’s like half a tent and is perfect for keeping you cool while you watch the kids build the world’s greatest sand castle!

Moonlight State Beach – Encinitas

Moonlight State Beach comes packed with amenities, including volleyball courts, a children’s playground, a grassy park with picnic tables, a snack bar, several fire pits, and a permanent, year-round, life guard station.  There is a large parking area at the top of the hill leading to the beach, but it can be tricky on busy days.

DAD NOTES: If the kids have had enough of the beach, you can always hit Downtown Encinitas just few blocks away and browse the art galleries or enjoy a great meal with a view.

Coronado Beach

Currently ranked by the Dr. Beach as the 2nd best beach in America, Coronado Beach is the quintessential San Diego Beach experience.  Stretching from the Hotel Del Coronado to Dog Beach near the Naval Air Station, Coronado Beach is a wonderful beach for the kids.  A picnic area with barbecue at north end in Sunset Park makes  this a great place to enjoy an early evening picnic with the family.

DAD NOTES: If you are looking to have Fido join in the family fun, there is a dog run at north end of Coronado Beach.

3. Pools and Water Parks

If you are lucky enough to have a pool in the backyard, you are all set.  If not, there are tons of community pools and water parks to keep the kids cool.  Despite budget cuts, the City of San Diego still maintains some of the best public pools in the county.  The City of San Diego’s Carmel Valley Pool and Tierrasanta Pool both feature special play areas for the kids and shady zones for the parents.

DAD NOTES: Did you know that you can have a birthday party at these pools! – Contact the pool staff for additional information.

If you are in the East County, don’t miss out on the Santee Sprayground at Santee Lakes.    Located near the park entrance on the North side of Lake One, the Sprayground is placed next to beautiful lake-side picnic areas and a well maintained restroom facility.

Santee’s Cameron Family YMCA operates the City of Santee Aquatics Center and provides aquatic and recreation programs to both YMCA members and the general public. You do not have to be a member to participate.  The facility offers a 25 meter by 25 yard training pool, an activity pool with a play structure, water slide, water exercise area, and locker rooms.

4. Indoor Playplaces and Gyms

When I was a kid, there was only one place in this category – Chuck E. Cheese.  Since I’ve made a personal decision to avoid EVER going there, I’ve found a ton of other great options! –  KidVentures, PlayWerx,  Kidsville Playtown,  My Kids Clubhouse, Pump It Up and many more.

If you are looking for a place to let your kids imagination run wild along with their bodies, my favorite choice in this category is KidVentures.   At two locations, Pacific Beach and Eastlake, kids are provided with endless opportunities to expand their imagination and creativity through various kids programs while dads (and moms)  enjoy a cool beverage and tasty treats.

DAD NOTES: Bring your Laptop if you need to get some work done – Free Wifi

If the kids need a little more physical activity, you can’t go wrong with Pump It Up.  While they primarily cater to birthday parties, they also have “Pop-In Playtime” which allows your 2-6 year old the opportunity to enjoy all of the inflatable fun! Be sure to check their website for times and locations.

Where do you go when it get’s hot?  Leave me a comment below and tell me what your favorite places are when the heat index reaches 100!



  1. Jonathan, thanks for sharing. I appreciate you have museums and aquariums at the top of your list. I feel that being in San Diego the museums are normally forgotten but we actually have several pretty incredible museums.

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