Our correspondent MJ packed her family, their bags and their passports and headed to San Diego for the ultimate family getaway. This is Part Two of a series feature on some of the many family-friendly adventures available in the coastal city (check out Part One all about Sea World, here). In this post, MJ recommends her top three must-try sightseeing tours.
Usually, when we go on family vacations, we usually stray from joining organized tours. Given the attention span of our kidlets (and let’s face it, our own too), we prefer to choose our own adventure, on our own time. While planning out our San Diego vacay, we had the opportunity to test out a handful of tours available down there and were intrigued by a few of them. Out of the bunch, here are our top three recommendations:
Old Town Trolley Tours
Old Town Trolley Tours offers San Diego’s most popular hop-on hop-off trolley tour. A lively tour conductor takes you to 10 stops all around San Diego; your ticket is good to use all day (usually 9 am to 6 pm, but check the website for seasonal hours) and you can visit as many stops as you want to. From Old Town San Diego to Seaport Village, Coronado to Little Italy and all points in between, guests can take in more than 100 different points of interests. But even though we could ultimately customize our own itinerary, it still felt like a long time commitment for us. While the Old Town Trolley Tour would be a great experience for families interested in spending a full day exploring the ins and outs of San Diego, we decided to pass.
Instead, we decided to try one of Old Town Trolley Tours’ other offerings, the San Diego SEAL Tour. This 90-minute SEAL experience takes you on a scenic, fully narrated tour of San Diego’s streets and in the harbour. The second we boarded the “Hydra-Terra” amphibious vehicle, our awesome tour guide First Mate Bob was very entertaining (keeping both adults and kids entertained at the same time is no easy task). As expected, while the street tour was fun, the real magic happened when our vehicle went from road to water and splashed into the San Diego Harbour (epic music included).
First Mate Bob was super informative about San Diego’s rich military history and its strong presence to this day. The military helicopters whizzing by every so often and the giant marine vessels we passed along the harbour (including a submarine!) was also explanation enough. The kids loved that we got to cruise up close to where the sea lions hang out and loved seeing them sunbathing and splashing around in the water. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, on our way back to land, we were able to spot a number of Bottlenose Dolphins playing nearby and even saw a dolphin being trained at the Marine Mammal Training Centre. We highly recommend checking this tour out next time you’re in San Diego.
Tips & Tricks
- Reservations are required and if you plan on canceling or changing your tour, please do so 24 hours in advance
- Please check-in 30 minutes before the tour starts
- You can save up to $4 if you buy your tickets in advance
- You can board the SEAL Tour in either Seaport Village or Embarcadero
- We boarded in Seaport Village and then hung out there to eat lunch after the tour. There are a number of shops and points of interests there, so make sure that you have enough parking time to take it all in!
- Bring a jacket – it gets chilly on the water when you’re not in the sun
- Bring a snack – kids get hungry, even if it’s just a 90-minute tour
- There are no restrooms on the SEAL vehicle; make sure to visit the potty before you board!
Tickets are $39.95 for adults, $24.95 for kids 4-12 (free under 3)
Save up to $4 when you buy your tickets online.
Tickets are $42.00 for adults, $25.00 for kids 4-12 (free under 3)
Save up to $4.20 when you buy your tickets online.
Old Town Trolley Tours – San Diego
Wheel Fun Rentals
To clarify, Wheel Fun Rentals isn’t a tour company; they are a “recreational rentals” company that offers unique bikes and more to get you around whatever city you’re in. This was one of our favourite experiences because we got to “tour” where we wanted, however long we could.
We had wanted to visit the historic Hotel del Coronado, so we rented a Surrey from their Coronado Beach location (which happens to be right at the hotel) to explore beachside. What is a Surrey, you ask? Basically, it’s a “popular American doorless, four-wheeled carriage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries” (Thanks, Wikipedia). And while we’ve often been to Surrey, we’ve never been in a Surrey.
Needless to say, we were all really excited to try it out together for the first time. While we romanticized the whole “riding in an old-fashioned Surrey” experience, we were quickly brought back into reality when we realized how much pedal power it needed to move (which, to be honest, was one of the fun parts for us)! Both our kids rode up in the front baskets (it took Charlie, our 18-month old, some time to get accustomed to sitting in the front) and took in all the beach action, from waving to the seagulls, checking out the waves and waving to passersby.
Since we only had the Surrey for an hour, we started heading back before our time ran out. By the time we parked and thanked the staff, we were sweaty and hungry (it was lunchtime), but had a great time. Seeing our kids’ faces beaming while they rode in the front (it’s better than shotgun seating!) was all we needed to see, really.
If touring the beach isn’t for you, they also have other locations in San Diego, including a location at Balboa Park, where you might have the opportunity to rent a Surrey and visit the museums scattered around the park, including the San Diego Zoo.
Tips & Tricks
- Check the website for operating dates and times, as each location varies based on seasons
- Surrey rentals start at $30 per hour
- If you decide to visit Wheel Fun Rentals in Coronado Beach:
- There’s paid parking at Hotel del Coronado, but also a lot of free street parking nearby
- Allow some time to explore around the hotel before or after your Wheel Fun Rentals experience. In addition to the beach and the restaurants, the hotel also has boutiques, a candy store, and ice cream shop
- Read the map carefully, as some of the bikes (including the Surrey) can only be in designated areas.
- If you have any questions, ask the rental agent. They were super friendly and helpful in letting us know where we could and couldn’t bike.
- If you do decide on the Surrey, expect to put a lot of legwork in, even going up small hills was a workout (it was fun, but it wasn’t easy).
- Don’t stray too far – remember, you also have to bike back. Keep an eye on your rental time; one hour passes by really fast especially when you’re exploring with kids.
Wheel Fun Rentals San Diego
Hornblower Cruises – Whale & Dolphin Watching Adventure
We heard a lot of really great things about Hornblower Cruises’ Whale & Dolphin Watching Adventure, and while we did have tickets to go, we, unfortunately, didn’t have the time to do it. Those that have been on it, have told us that it’s a must-do for people that love seeing marine habitat, especially whales, in the comfort and luxury of a yacht!
Photo: Hornblower Cruises & Events
Winter whale watching in San Diego starts in about mid-December and runs until the end of April. During this season, gray whales are typically seen, whereas blue whales are seen in mid-June to September. We would have been excited to see ANY whale and were bummed that we didn’t get a chance to check it out. Apparently, there’s a sighting every day and you can even track what was recently seen on their San Diego Whale Watching page. We definitely would like to experience this next time we are in San Diego.
Tips & Tricks
- They have two cruises per day: 9:30 am – 1 pm and 1:30 pm – 5:00 pm
- Each vessel has food and refreshments available for purchase
- The yacht has both indoor/outdoor access so you’re welcome to grab some fresh air while spotting sea lions or stay indoors to keep warm and toasty
- While they do have whale sightings every day, if some type of whale is not sighted on your whale watching cruise, Hornblower will give you a pass to return for a Whale Watching Cruise or 1 or 2 Hour Harbor Cruise
Hornblower Cruises & Events
yoyomama was provided with complimentary admission to these tours in return for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are our contributor’s own and not influenced by Old Town Trolley, Hornblower Cruises & Events or Wheel Fun Rentals.