- Choose wisely when deciding where to eat. For us, we have a much better time eating at a casual adult restaurant than a hyped up “kid” or “family” restaurant. It’s not often that we go out in the first place, but I feel that the places that are frequented by more of the hipster family vibe work best. Places that offer small portions, or tapas type faire are great for families. Individual items come out fast and keep things interesting with their element of surprise. Plus, you can get the kids occupied quickly with their own order. Sushi, works well in this way too and kids love edamame and miso soup! A lot of small craft beer restaurants are good for small families and will be more flexible with what they can whip up for kids. I also feel that the quality of the product is higher than with large chains. Societe Brewing has a tasting room and features a lunch truck calendar and you are welcome to bring your kids. The Joint in Ocean Beach and Station Tavern in South Park are also great options.
- Pick their food first, and make sure the server puts their order in first. I have even scoped out the restaurants menu online first so I can order for Josie right when we sat down. It doesn’t hurt to have your own food picked out ahead of time so you can focus on enjoying yourself.
- Ask your server about a kids taste plate. The restaurant I work at is a small privately owned neighborhood joint. My manager always has the kitchen whip up a little taste plate for Josie with some house made taro chips, strawberries, sliced apples, some walnuts, Irish cheddar, olives, and sometimes a hard-boiled egg. If it’s not ridiculously busy, I offer this to parents dining with toddlers as well. Always a hit with parents and kids!
- Shift your expectations into low gear. Dining with kids, like anything else with kids is a “choose your battles” situation. Don’t expect them to be perfect and not touch anything and to sit still and be quiet and to eat. Expect them to be wiggly and be picky and be kids. When we go out and Josie starts mixing the salt and the pepper onto a plate and opening sugar packets, I can see my husband’s frustration starting to rise. He sometimes apologizes in advance to our server, who never seems to mind. As a server myself, I would much rather have the parents relaxed and ordering more food and drinks than stressing over a small pile of spices and sauces. And *spoiler alert* every table is messy after people have eaten at it. So lay off your kid and just enjoy your food and drinks.
- After you order, buy some time with a quick stroll around the building. Or step outside for a quick minute with your little one to survey the window offerings in the local shops. Pop back inside and go wash your hands. There’s four more minutes of peace and content you just bought yourself.
- Don’t forget the Crayons! We rarely eat at “family restaurants”, the kind that are stocked with kids menus you can color and mini packs of crayons at the register. So I usually have to pack my own. A great way to mix it up is to have some paper plates stored in your purse too, so you can task the kids with drawing pictures of their food on the plate before it arrives.
- Tea? Yes Please! Most of the little girls as well as the little boys we know have their own little kitchens and little cups and plates to go with them. When I have packed Josie’s tea pot and a couple of tea cups and plates, It has kept her and her dining buddy busy for about 10-12 minutes, which is like an hour in mom-talking-to-mom time.
- Cell phone toddler games. For more reason than one, I am very cautious about kids and screen time. However, on the whole topic of picking your battles and keeping balance in your life, we keep a couple games on our phones. The games prefer are the slow paced, learning games. Puzzles and memory cards make me feel like at least she is working on her brain while she is staring at the screen. Two of my favorite free games for the DROID are “Toddler Memory Lite” and “Fishes for Puzzles”.
- Bring a few snacks. Some kids are happiest with their favorite snacks. Some kids, like Josie, are interested in new things. I smuggle a few snacks she has never seen before, which seems to keep her interested, plus when we break out the tea set, she sets up the new food on her little blue plates.
- Timing is everything. The pre-dinner hour is one of the best times in a lot of restaurants for a lot of reasons. It never hurts to call a restaurant and ask how busy they are or tend to be at a certain time. Usually around 5pm is early enough that you have a few choices as far as seating is concerned and can plant yourself in the best corner to contain your little one. Also, the servers are less exhausted and more willing to go out of their way. Plus, the kitchen isn’t backed up with orders and can be more creative and quick with the food. Oh yeah, and the less people in the restaurant, less people you have to worry about your crazy toddler bothering too much.
Although every day I am amazed at how fast Josie is growing up and all the new amazing things I realize she knows everyday, sometimes when we go somewhere, I think ” I wish you were a little older for this”. Our trip to the Birch Aquarium was one of these times.
At $17 for one adult admission, I was really glad our good friend had an extra ticket . If you subscribe to any of the social discount sites, you’ll notice that Birch Aquarium often offers discounted tickets.
Once inside, you notice this is more of a quality than quantity experience and should be approached with that kind of pace.
The indoor fish exhibits truly showcase some of the most amazing, most exotic fish you have ever seen, extremely close up. It also doesn’t attract the hoards of people you are competing with at Sea World or the San Diego Zoo, so you do get to really take your time and stare at all of the creatures and talk about them with your little gal or guy.
Once outside, you have the chance to touch sea anenomes, starfish, kelp, and other local sea life in the tide pool area. Or you could be like Josie and not want to touch anything. Still impressive when the wave comes out of nowhere splashing all the water in your direction.
When visiting the Birch Aquarium with a rambunctious toddler, be prepared to not be able to read a lot of the science exhibits. These were the points in our trip where I wished she was around 4 years old. I have no idea what most of the science and energy exhibits are about. I think a kid of reading age would get twice as much out of it. At the same time, its immeasurable how much goodness seeps into kids just by being exposed to the wonders of the world at a young age.
If you are able to make the Birch Aquarium a destination, incorporate the visit into a lunch date with your buddy. My very savvy friend Britta taught us that one.
* Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the scenery after your visit. They do have a snack stand, but the offerings are limited.
*Why not make lunch funny and pack a fish themed lunch — Tuna fish sandwich or Goldfish crackers. Or just use a fish-shaped cookie cutter to really include your sandwich or quesadilla in the theme!
* Don’t forget quarters for the viewing machine!
For more information go to http://aquarium.ucsd.edu/
Despite the forecast being for 82 degrees in the inland area anyways! Mainly because we were gifted passes that were soon to expire and also, because I was reminded about the water feature, that could be a destination in itself.
To begin, The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is so expansive, it is much more enjoyable without the pressure of seeing everything. This is one park that I believe its best to get annual pass to.
Josie insisted that she needed to see giraffes, so we headed to explore the lower half of the park.
Our entire visit was about 2 1/2 hours, which is just right in my opinion. It is a beautiful park, but the beauty of its expansiveness is the reason for its exhaustiveness. We love the fact that it sits on 1800 acres where 300 species enter mingle, but because of that, I highly recommend splitting a visit to this amazing park into multiple visits.
Some tips for smart packing for your visit to the park;
* Bring a handful of quarters for the duck food vending machines.
* The carousel is $3 per seated rider. If your little one is under 42″, they’ll need you standing along side them. Good news is that mom, dad, and little buddy can all ride for $3. Save some cash for this.
* Sunscreen and hats for everyone! It seriously feels like Africa in some parts of the park.
*Purchasing a drink from the soda machine will set you back $4. The money goes back into the park, but you can control your budget by packing your own lunch and tasty beverages.
*Don’t miss the Africa Tram. Make sure to include this in your trip. It is a great way to just relax from all of the walking and just enjoy a beautiful tour through the Africa enclosure.
* Pack a swimsuit and a towel. The Savanna Cool Zone, is a miniature spray park with misting trees and spraying colorful plastic animals,which no kid can resist. You’ll feel better being prepared for when the spot this area.
*Bring toy binoculars! Why not emphasize the Safari aspect by throwing a pair of kid binos around their neck? We recently found this little pair for under $3 with free shipping on eBay
For more information or directions, go to
It happens to most parents of little girls. The day when suddenly everything must be pink. When fairies and unicorns and glitter wings are a must. So to prepare for this, make sure to save the date for The Fairy Festival at Summers Past Farms.
Take the 8 East exiting Harbison Canyon, you enter the quaint town of Flinn Springs, a hidden jewel of San Diego County. Along the road towards Summers Past Farms you pass many little shops and cafes that would add to your day of whimsy and a nice change of pace from city life.
After parking along side the road, you see a trickle of fairies heading towards the wildflower lined entrance. Once inside, this free festival offers fairy music, fairy stories, a fairy parade that all the little girls are invited to join as well as a fairy house judging contest.
Summers Past Farms has all the elements of a magical land you would imagine and more. You can see giant bunnies, those funny chickens the the puffy feather feet. You can pick tiny apples off of a tree and go eat them in a tiny house. Wander through a sunflower maze. Take a break on a footbridge over a babbling stream. They also have shops where you can bring home a trinket or some handmade soap to remind you of your day everytime you wash your hands.
When taking your little fairies to this gathering don’t forget to…
* Bring a buddy! Fairy festivals are fun, but with a buddy you have two times the fun!
* It’s pretty hot that far east of the city, in June. Moms will wish they brought a hat so wear a nice breathable hat.
* Bring cash. Some of the vendors only take cash and you may want to indulge on some fairy punch or fairy cookies.
* Bring water. You won’t regret it.
* There are many places to buy tule tutus and wings these days, but Lalaloopsy costumes also give a whimpsical look.
* For boys, they can dress as a Pan, or even a Centaur! See the pic of the boy below!
Go to http://www.summerspastfarms.com for more information and current dates for upcoming events.
Josie and I are very fortunate to have friends with passes to a lot of major San Diego attractions, like San Diego’s New Children’s Museum. This hands on, three story museum is a great diversion for parents who spend waaay too much time at parks, like us. Josie has been here several times, so she and her buddy took off before we even got to the door. I wasn’t concerned since this place is pretty safe and they are enclosed and there is only one entrance/exit.
The museum chooses a theme which runs throughout the space and stays up for about a year. Currently, Trash, is the theme. Kids can participate in projects that teach you about trash, re-purposing, and our responsibility to the earth. Rumor is, that when they shut down this fall for a couple months to put up the next installation, Animals, will be the new topic.
Although, we have been about half a dozen times during the Trash exhibit, we spent over four hours there, and pretty much had to be kicked out when they were trying to close at 4pm.
Annual memberships start at $80 for a family and for $15 more you get free parking in the garage, which is a good investment since the museum is downtown and there are only a handful of metered spots in their lot. Every second Sunday is Free, courtesy of Target. However, be prepared for hoards and hoards of kids.
Here are some tips before you go;
* Got a library card? Well you can check out a free two week pass for four. It only takes a couple weeks for it to become available since they have recently added more passes to the library system. Making it easy to go with your friends or family for free.
* Bring snacks! Yes, there is a cafe, but the offerings are pretty limited. There is a designated snack area and since the little ones will keep you there all day, you want to be prepared. Do treat yourself to a cup of coffee from the cafe to keep your energy up.
*Bring your camera! There are so many great ideas that you may want to incorporate into your life as well a super cute photo opportunities of your kids!
We made a last minute decision to hit the road and join our family who were camping at the La Jolla Indian Campground, in the Pauma Valley. The trip is about 70 miles from San Diego, taking the 15 to the 76. It’s not really a road trip unless you have to stop on the side of the road for someone to pee, which is kind of a rite of passage for being a kid.
The scenery on the way out to the reservation is amazing. Josie and her cousin were pointing out all of the farm animals on the the way. The road takes you winding up dramatic mountains and past eerie abandoned dairies with boarded up structures that would look amazing in black and white.
If tent camping is your style, spots are given out on a first come basis and start at $25, going up depending if you have more than four people in your car, if you’re pulling a trailer or if its a weekend.
If RV camping is your style, pricing starts at $35 and reservations are required.
A few tips for having a great camping experience with your little buddies;
* Best go during summer months, It is the desert and gets pretty cold at night, plus they close down the stream in the fall and that’s one of the best features of the campground
* Bring a little cash, there is a little store on the property, plus they rent tubes for floating down the river.
* Don’t forget the fixin’s for smores and the sticks for marshmallow roasting. Our friend picked some up at Target for $.99 a poker.
* Bring for the kids water balloons, sand toys like toy tractors and things that dig, glowing toys (think Pillow Pets, flashlights, glow stickers…etc.)
* Break out the bubbles!
* Watermelon and fresh corn is a great picnic snack and travels well. If the kids don’t finish it, put it in resealable bags in an ice cooler.
* Sun protection! The other side of the whole desert coin. Hats and sunblock are a must!
* Make sure the kids have shoes for hiking as well as flip flops. There are some beautiful trails for hiking along the river. There are also a couple of spots with playground equipment too.
Finally, be sure to have EVERYTHING packed and ready to go before you tell them its time to go. Josie absolutely did not want to leave, so we made the exit as quick as possible.
For more information, check out http://www.lajollaindians.com
It was a last minute decision to jump in the car and head over to Heritage Park in Old Town for San Diego County’s Free Summer Movies in the Park. On this night, “Brave” was the featured film.
Movies start at sundown, but the county was wise enough to provide hoola hoops for the kids to play with while waiting for the show to begin.
We arrived about 20 minutes before the show started and had no problem parking or finding a nice spot to put down our blankets. It was such a great experience seeing all of the families enjoying a sunset picnic and kids running around on the grass and snuggling with their parents.
Here are some tips for having the best time possible;
* Dress warm – Think sweats and beanies. It gets a little cold on the ground once the sun goes down, even in San Diego. Some smaller kids had on snuggly pajamas which is fine too, unless you have the kind of kid who is going to be doing a lot of playing and running around before the show.
* Bring beach chairs and or blankets. Make sure to have warm blankets to cover up with too. Some people left early because they were cold.
* Don’t forget the hot snacks! Think a thermos of hot chocolate, warm apple cider or other warm drinks. Some people picked up burritos on the way, some brought pizza and sandwiches. Everyone with hot steaming food was the envy of their neighbors.
* Bring a couple of toys. Kids were playing with balls and bug catchers prior to the show. Josie hoola hooped, but I kind of wished I brought her ponies so she could have had something to offer to her new friends.
We only got about half way through the movie, since Josie started falling asleep around 9pm. Luckily, we were near the side, so it was easy to make a smooth exit without walking in front of anyone. I would definitely advise that if you think you might have to make a quick getaway too! However, since it is all families, I’m pretty sure even if you were in the middle, everyone would understand.
This movie series will be held all though the summer at local parks all over the county with the last date 9/21 at 4S Ranch. Check the website for all of the dates, locations, and featured films!