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San Diego Whale Watching

December through April is one of San Diego’s two whale watching seasons. Gray whales migrating from Alaska to Baja California can be seen from land or boat. Blue whales pass through San Diego from mid-June to September. 

Birch Aquarium in La Jolla is one location where you may be able to spot gray whales from land. They also offer whale watching tours through Flagship Cruises to see and learn about whales up close. Cruises depart from downtown San Diego.

Children and ocean lovers in general should plan a visit to Birch Aquarium while visiting La Jolla. Outside you’ll be greeted by the whale fountain (pictured above) and inside you’ll get to see and learn about all kinds of creatures that live in the ocean waters near La Jolla. One of our favorite sea creatures to see at the aquarium are seadragons. We must not be the only ones captivated by these creatures since the aquarium is currently building a new 18-foot-wide, 9-foot-tall exhibit to display and breed Leafy Seadragons as part of the aquarium’s conservation efforts.

Other locations to whale watch from land are Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma and from the hiking trails at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Bring binoculars!

We’ve been lucky enough to see whales from land and water —the experience never gets old!

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Tide Pooling in La Jolla

It’s no secret that one of our favorite McLandia activities is to go tide pooling. Lucky for us the La Jolla coastline is free and fun to explore. La Jolla Cove and Dike Rock (north of Scripps Pier) are two popular spots.

Negative low tides are ideal so check the tide pool charts before heading out the door to determine if and when the time is right to go. Our go-to tide prediction calendar is here.

Take our Beyond the Zoo Guide to La Jolla with you for more fun things to do while you’re there!
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Sunny Jim Sea Cave


The Cave Store in La Jolla had been on our to-do list since moving to San Diego. Inside is a man made tunnel leading to the opening of Sunny Jim Sea Cave – the only one of seven ‘sister’ sea caves accessible by foot.

The small entrance fee ($5 adults, $3 children) is worth the price for a memorable, unique, and somewhat quirky experience that dates back to 1902. Here are some fun facts:

  • Sunny Jim is the only one of 7 ‘sister’ sea caves accessible by foot
  • The tunnel was started in 1902. It took two years to dig using picks and shovels
  • There are 145 wooden stairs between the store and cave entrance
  • The cave was named “Sunny Jim” by author Frank Baum (The Wizard of Oz). See also: How was ‘Sunny Jim Sea Cave’ named?

Looking for more things to do near La Jolla? Grab our free Beyond the Zoo Guide to La Jolla and the Beyond the Zoo Guide to Torrey Pines & Solana Beach. 

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Fletcher Cove Park, Solana Beach

Beyond the Zoo Guides typically start with a coffee or breakfast suggestion and end with dinner and a sunset. The Beyond the Zoo Guide to Torrey Pines & Solana Beach is no exception. Dinner at Pizza Port Solana Beach followed by sunset at Fletcher Cove Park is our idea of a perfect ending to a day of outdoor adventuring.

Play areas, public art, picnic tables, and restrooms on site make Fletcher Cove Park an ideal destination for families. Enjoy gorgeous ocean views from the park or walk down to dip your toes in the ocean while waiting for the sun to set.

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Ride the Historic Fair Park Carousel at Seaport Village

For just $3 you can ride a piece of American history at Seaport Village.

Whether you are young or young at heart, indulge your imagination on a carousel ride. We’ve included the Fair Park Carousel in our free Beyond the Zoo Guide to San Diego By the Bay as a memorable family experience that won’t break the budget. Plus, it’s steeped in American history and craftsmanship.

The Fair Park Carousel was built in 1895 by Charles I.D. Looff, a Dutch-American master carver famous for his hand-carved carousels (including the first carousel at Coney Island). He is also known for building roller coasters, Ferris wheels, and the Santa Monica Pier. Throughout its lifetime the carousel has lived in Texas (debuting in 1904), California, Washington, Oregon, and Ohio. It has been entertaining riders at Seaport Village since 2004.

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Play Activity: Letters & Shapes

Look for shapes and alphabet letters as you explore San Diego. This fun memory-making activity can be done anywhere and is easily adaptable for different age groups.  

What letters and shapes do you see at the San Diego Maritime Museum?

Younger players will enjoy looking for simple shapes. Older players will be challenged to find objects that form the same shapes as alphabet letters. Try to find all the letters from A-Z. Take pictures to spell out family names or words as customized souvenirs to print out and display at home.

This activity can be done anywhere. We’re partial to downtown San Diego for inspiration. Balboa Park, with it’s architectural features, is also an excellent location. Warning: Once you begin looking, it may be hard to stop seeing letters and shapes everywhere!

For more inspiration, check out the Caldecott Honor picture book Alphabet City by Stephen T. Johnson.

Our Beyond the Zoo Guides aren’t just about where to go in San Diego. Each guide also includes activities and talking points to help you create meaningful family memories. Sign up to receive a new guide each month!

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Play With Your Food: Donut Bar + Arnie, the Doughnut

A simple way to create memories with children is to read with them. Spending time together reading develops closeness and creativity. Make your Donut Bar experience more memorable by pairing it with a delightful picture book called Arnie, the Doughnut by Laurie Keller.

Arnie was fascinated as he watched the customers stream into the bakery. One by one, doughnuts were chosen, placed in paper bags, and whisked away with their new owners. Some went by the dozen in giant boxes.
“Good-bye!” Arnie yelled to each doughnut. “Have a good trip!”
“This is so exciting!” Arnie beamed. “I wonder who will choose ME?”

I’ll let you discover Arnie’s fate for yourself. One thing is certain though, you’ll never think about donuts the same way. Years later my teenagers still have fond memories of reading Arnie, the Doughnut.

Draw Arnie or one of his donut friends. Make up a story about their adventures or create a different ending for Arnie’s story. These are just a few ideas to add your own!

Our Beyond the Zoo Guides aren’t just about where to go in San Diego. Each guide also includes activities and talking points to help you create meaningful family memories. Sign up to receive a new guide each month!

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Ocean Beach Sand Dunes

The sand dunes at Ocean Beach Dog Beach provide habitat for native plant species. These plants help to protect against erosion and sea level rise and they give food and shelter to native wildlife. Follow the nature trail through the dunes to discover tiny treasures, like the rare Red Sand Verbena.

Red Sand Verbena (Abronia Maritima)

The sand dunes at Ocean Beach Dog Beach also provide the perfect opportunity for a nature scavenger hunt! Resources like iNaturalist (available as an Android or iOS App), Calfora, and Calscape can help you identify plant and animal species.

Looking for things to do in Ocean Beach? Grab our free Beyond the Zoo Guide to Ocean Beach & Point Loma.