California Road Trip: San Diego and La Jolla

things to do with kids in san diegoWhat are the best things to do with kids in San Diego, California? 

Our California road trip (see our itinerary here) continued South with a two-hour drive from Santa Monica to San Diego. Specifically, we were headed for La Jolla (pronounced la hoy-a), a district of San Diego that’s renowned for its beaches and surfing.

There are loads of family-friendly things to do in San Diego – Balboa Park, the Zoo, countless museums… Yeah. We didn’t do any of that.

What we did for five days was hang out on some of Southern California’s most fun beaches.

We surfed – Flea took a series of lessons with Surf Diva, a fabulous local school that runs girls-only surf lessons, co-ed lessons, surf schools, overnight surf camps – and private one-to-one lessons. By the end of her second day, Flea was catching virtually every wave, and riding them in to the shore like a pro!

things to do with kids in san diego

La Jolla has stacks of beaches. If you’re learning to surf, you’ll want to be at La Jolla Shores, where the waves are small and regular, and the beach is divided into three – to the left, the beach is for kayaks, the right for surfers, and the middle for swimmers and boogie boards. There are bathrooms and showers, and lifeguards, along with ample parking.

The waves here are big enough to get some really decent boogie board action, but it’s shallow WAY out into the water, making it a great beach for youngsters, who can splash away safely in the shallows while the bigger kids like Flea race atop the big waves on boogie boards.

At the end of the beach, Avenida de la Playa is home to Surf Diva along with a bunch of shops where you can book scuba, bike and kayak trips, shark and seal tours and rent surfboards and SUPs.

This little street is also home to some of the best food around La Jolla Shores – The Cheese Shop will make you amazing sandwiches and sells fresh home-made cookies that are perfect for the end of a day in the water. The store also sells a bunch of retro candy and we love the frisbee wall – buy a frisbee, take it home, and send the store a photo of you with your frisbee in some far-flung land, of the owner will put it on the wall.

We also loved Jeff’s Burgers for a quick hot lunch – skip the taco stand here, though, it’s forgettable at best. The streets around here are easy to park in if you arrive in the morning, saving you paying $15 for the parking lot behind the beach.


Our rental in San Diego was actually a few minutes up the coast just a few steps from Windansea Beach at La Jolla Village. This small beach is one of the the best things to do in San Diego with kids. It’s reached by wooden steps, is a great place to watch the experienced surfers do their thing, and it’s also great fun for bathing – but only if you have older kids – the breaks here are HUGE, and will sweep you off your feet very easily. There are no lifeguards, bathrooms, food stands or anything – it’s just you and the waves, so come prepared!

Windansea is perfectly positioned for La Jolla Village, which is a weird mixture of laid-back surf and skate shops and incredibly upscale retailers – our rental apartment was within two minutes of Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, Ferrari AND Maserati showrooms.


If you come to La Jolla, you simply HAVE to eat the tacos at The Taco Stand, on Pearl Street. The tacos, tortillas and guacamole are all freshly made to order, so it’s not “fast” food as such, but it’s worth the short wait, particularly if you get the spicy shrimp or baja tacos – so tasty, and you can easily feed two people her for under $20.

The third beach worth checking out in La Jolla is La Jolla Cove, which sits between Windansea and La Jolla Shores. It’s a tiny beach next to steep cliffs, and it’s a perfect place to snorkel or scuba.

Even if you don’t dive, your kids will love exploring the tide pools, and watching the sea lions, who crash out on the rocks watching the action. There are little cliff caves to explore, and plenty of crabs and rays to spot – although you’re not allowed to touch or remove any marine life.

best beaches for kids in san diego

The smaller waves here are great for younger kids and there are no boards or boats allowed, making La Jolla Cove feel really safe – there are also lifeguards here, and bathrooms just behind the beach.

This afternoon, Flea and I lay on the beach, and agreed that we’re pretty gutted that our journey is almost over – tomorrow we’ll be heading back up to LA, and from there, back to London.

That said, we don’t think we could have had a better time in San Diego than we have done – swimming, snorkelling, boarding, surfing…


After five long days on the beach, we both feel like we might never actually get all the sand from our hair (much less the sand between our toes) but we know we squeezed every possible drop of fun from Southern California these past few days.

Scuse the quality of photos in this post- I dropped my camera at Disneyland and killed the lens (right before I pranged the car in the Happiest Car Park on earth, natch) and so these are all phone pics! 

If you’ve got more ideas of the best things to do with kids in San Diego let me know in the comments!

8 thoughts on “California Road Trip: San Diego and La Jolla”

  1. OMG so much fun, we did a very similar roadtrip to yours in the summer of 2005 (before boys!) and this whole series is making me itch to go back. Have been planning a route and googling info and making notes…Husband is despairing!!

    1. It is the PERFECT place for kids – honestly, with the beaches and the surfing and sailing and woods, there’s endless entertainment and we found everywhere so kid-friendly.

  2. Sounds like a holiday of a lifetime for Flea and you. Have been watching your journey closely, and wish I will be able to take my girls on a trip like this one day too. You two have a great relationship and bet it’s been even stronger after this holiday. We are just about to start packing and will be leaving the Czech Republic after a month here… there will be lots of tears, but London is our home now. Hope the transition back into “normal” life will be smooth for you 😉

    1. Thanks Mirka, it was a really fun holiday, it’s a lot easier as Flea has got older! Now suffering badly with the post-holiday crash 🙂 Hope you’re having a fun time being at home.

  3. Isn’t sand between your toes the best though? Means you’ve had brilliant adventures usually. And what a trip this looks likes it has been. I’m sold. Diving isn’t for me but I’ve always wanted to surf… perhaps California will be the place to learn!

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