Skip the Touristy Attractions and be the Ultimate Guide With This Hidden-Gem Itinerary
There you are, soaking up the sun and enjoying the greatest weather of the year—when your phone dings. The inevitable “We’re coming to visit next week!” text is staring you straight in the face. Panic sets in as you realize you’ve been spending your days at donation-based beach yoga and your nights at questionable clubs—things your parents would shudder at the idea of attending. They’ve given you no time to plan, but fret not: We’re about to make you look like a wholesome-activity expert. Awkward family outings be gone in our guide to 12 non-cringe activities to do with your out-of-town family in San Diego!
At the heart of a good time lies a good meal. Strap in and head straight to Stratford Court Cafe in Del Mar for a brunch like you’ve never had before. Go for a savory breakfast with the Harbor Burrito, which is filled with egg, potato, cheddar, bacon and avocado, or take it all the way sweet with a coconut cream waffle topped with whipped cream cheese and mascarpone, apple marmalade and meringue. Pair your meal with a salted caramel latte or a boozy mimosa and let the bonding begin on their shady outdoor patio.
Location: Del Mar
When family is involved, everyone’s got a different say, which is what makes a place like Liberty Public Market the perfect activity. Easily park in Point Loma’s Liberty Station and enter the food hall filled with international vendors, from local Mexican favorites and Argentinian empanadas to French crepes and New York-style pizza. Sneak off and peruse the jewelry vendors and specialty shops, or grab your favorite cousin and prepare for pints at Bottlecraft’s tasting room; there’s no wrong answers at this choose-your-own adventure marketplace!
Location: Liberty Station
After a day’s worth of activities have gotten to everyone, it’s time for some good old-fashioned grub. Whether you’re all ready to chill and order in or just want an easy place with a ton of options, Chula Vista’s Ichiban Sando has you covered. These aren’t your average sandwiches: They’re served on traditional Japanese milk toast, giving them a distinct and sweeter taste. Go for the satisfying chicken katsu sandwich or their fluffy egg sandwich and order a mango fruit sando made with cream for a little late-night dessert.
Location: Chula Vista
Head up to the charming, quaint area of Solana Beach—this seaside town is a parent’s dream. Start the day with the family at Grange Garden, a unique space offering artisan coffees, plants and home decor all in one place. It’s the perfect place to relax and catch up over a cup of joe as much as it’s a great place to find that finishing touch your outdoor space needs. Order their fan-favorite coffee, The Gardener, which features fresh flavors from their garden, like honey, lavender, and a dash of vanilla—and grab a cinnamon roll while you’re at it! They also host seasonal events, so keep an eye out.
Location: Solana Beach
It’s time to spread those wings and do something different. We’re aiming to be more like the birds, and a visit to Free Flight Bird Sanctuary will do just that. Get the chance to see several of their resident exotic birds, rescued from owners that were unable to keep them. They now spend the day interacting with humans as a way to re-socialize them, and they love it just as much as their visitors do! Entry is only $8 per person, but they operate on a reservation-only basis—not to ruffle any feathers, but you’ll have to pre-book this one.
Location: Del Mar
Every winter season, Mother Nature meets the wonder of light at the San Diego Botanic Garden to create a vibrant show of splendor. Happening from Nov. 17-Jan. 1, this event allows guests to experience a 1-mile loop of larger-than-life art installations and beautiful botanics. There’s even concessions located along the trail stocked with food, snacks and alcoholic beverages to satisfy any cravings during your visit. Many nights sell out, and pricing depends on peak dates, so book early to guarantee your evening of grandeur!
Not everyone in the family will be a hiker, but Annie’s Canyon Trail hits all the marks. It’s unique, serene and not too strenuous—this is one that can be done by almost all levels! This 2.3-mile loop trail features a short, mostly flat dirt path lined with flowers and ends in a rocky cave-like walk between one-of-a-kind sandstone formations. It is a tight squeeze at moments, ending with a ladder to get you out safely—but it’s a moderate amount of adventure that adds some excitement to the day’s exercise.
Location: Solana Beach
We’re taking after our parents and bringing them to a day at the ice rink. If they’re visiting during the holiday season, there’s no more iconic skating spot than Skating by the Sea at Hotel del Coronado! If they aren’t up for joining in, they’ll be happy to watch you gracefully glide across the string-light lit rink for as long as your heart desires. Just like old days, right? Located right across from Coronado Beach, this is an ultra-festive San Diego activity. The rink is open between Nov. 17 and Jan. 7!
There’s no such thing as an average cup of joe at The Invigatorium. Just as the name would suggest, this East Village gem breathes new life into your average breakfast. The interior is decked out with the most eclectic selection of decor you can imagine: think dinosaurs hanging from the ceiling and an actual OG Ronald McDonald permanently accompanying one of the booths. The decorations are just as much a talking point as the drinks; they serve everything from delicious coffees to alcoholic slushies and beer!
Location: East Village
They’re bringing their best makes—and you’d be making the biggest mistake by not dropping by. The Maker’s Arcade Holiday Fair happens twice a year at the Downtown Harbor’s expansive Broadway Pier, where vendors from far and wide set up shop to bring you their best jewelry, candles, blankets, knickknacks and more. The winter fair will be taking place Dec. 2-3, making it the perfect spot to snag holiday goodies for everyone on your list! Not only will there be over 120 makers, there will be craft cocktails, beer, gourmet food trucks, live music, photo trailers, make-and-take stations and more!
Location: Broadway Pier
This one’s BYOB—but whether that’s your own basket, beverage or binoculars is up to you. Gear up for a family picnic and get a glimpse of the paragliders at the Torrey Pines Gliderport! Located atop the stunning sea bluffs of La Jolla, set up your blankets and chairs on the grassy area for an afternoon of sunshine and a show. Live vicariously through the brave paragliders that sign up to jump the bluffs and glide through on their breezy parachutes, while you get to hang back with your peanut butter and jelly.
Location: Torrey Pines
It’s not every day your family gets to experience California, but Everyday California can give them a taste of what it’s like. Treat the family to an afternoon kayaking excursion through the La Jolla Ecological Reserve, home to one of the highest concentrations of sea life in the state. Experienced guides will take you through the journey of your choice, whether that’s seasonal whale watching, kayaking, snorkeling or their unforgettable seven sea caves tour. Potential sea guests include dolphins, harbor seals and the bright orange garibaldi—the California state fish!
Location: La Jolla
Jaclyn is a sunshine chasing San Diego native with an extensive writing background. When she isn’t word-smithing, you can find her playing beach volleyball, skating the boardwalk, or on a rooftop enjoying a drink in the sunshine with her pals.