FREE, educational, healthy… ahhh the nature walk. So good for the mind, body, and spirit. Put your baby in the sling or carrier, let the children run free (leave the stroller at home), and bring Fido on the leash. You are free to move at your own pace, stopping along the way to smell every flower and touch every tree. This is a great opportunity to give your baby an educational multisensory experience. Feel the wind, hold a leaf, hear an animal, see a butterfly, talking about it all with your little ones as their ambassador to nature. Foster the connection within your child to that which is greater than yourself and your baby will grow into a more mature, empathetic, and well-rounded person, connected to the world around them and the people in it.
San Diego Wild Animal Park (Safari Park)
The Safari Park is my personal favorite place for family fun. It is a local secret (most tourist hit the San Diego Zoo, oblivious to all the Safari Park has to offer) and ideal for the whole family. When I was pregnant, I loved to walk. It keeps you healthy, makes you strong, raises your endurance, and brings on labor in that final trimester. The Safari Park’s Kilamanjaro Trail was my top pick for walking. What a beautiful and interesting walk! My husband and I walked this trail together almost every weekend, enjoying the views and wildlife. Once we had our baby we found it was the perfect place to take him for walks. We would put him in the pouch and walk the trail, pointing out all the animals and plant life along the way. Plus it was great post baby exercise for me. Now that my son is 3, he is old enough to enjoy all of the interactive activities at the Safari Park and asks to go all the time. And with the yearly membership being such a great deal (check Costco for the best price on the yearly family membership), it is a true San Diego treasure for families. Enjoy the adventure and happy walking!
I love holidays. In addition to livening up the spirit and providing great photo opps, they provide great opportunities for family togetherness. Memories are created and adventures are had all in the name of a good holiday. Contrary to popular belief, Halloween can be a great holiday for new families. Skip the traditional trick-or-treating and haunted houses (which can be scary for little ones) and opt for a kid-friendly community event. Places like Sea World and the Wild Animal Park always have events that include all kinds of special activities. Each individual community has their own special events and you should absolutely take advantage of them! If baby is new, put him in the sling and head out to connect with the community, other new parents, and bond with your baby through their first Halloween! If you have a toddler, preschooler, or older then they are really old enough to embrace the positive traditions associated with the holiday. Take into account your culture, choose your activity, and embrace the fun!
Notes on Trick-or-Treating:
- Always walk up to each door or booth with your child
- Sort through all of your child’s candy
- Do not eat unsealed items (unless from a trusted source)
- Remove non age appropriate items (choking hazards, intense flavors like hot or sour candy, gory themes)
- If glorifying candy is not in line with your parenting style, consider setting up a “shop” where your child can exchange their candy for other items like stickers.
- Dress warmly. Many Halloween events are in the evening. Although that fairy dress might be adorable, don’t forget to accommodate the cold weather. Consider tan thermals underneath the costume.
Going to a local pumpkin patch to partake in the Fall festivities and pick up a pumpkin is a perfect way to spend a beautiful Autumn day in San Diego. There are numerous Pumpkin Stations around town but I prefer the experience of going to a more authentic “patch” like Oma’s Dairy Farm or Bates Nut Farm. Make a whole day out of it and enjoy the opportunity to follow your child’s agenda in nature. Allow them to climb on the giant pumpkins, sit in the dirt, and talk all about how the pumpkins grow. Don’t forget some snacks, water, tennis shoes and your camera!
La Jolla Cove
Another one of those FREE gems that make me grateful to live here in San Diego; truly one of the best places to raise a family. A morning or afternoon at the La Jolla Cove is always a treat. I put the baby in the pouch and we are free to climb all the rocks, check out all the wildlife that live in the ecological reserve, splash in the waves, play in the sand, and visit with the sea lions. We always feel so healthy, happy, and rejuvinated after a day at the Cove- got some sun, exercise, education, bonding, and most of all fun. What more could you want in an afternoon? There are always great photo opps at the Cove too. The only downside is parking, it is touristy, but worth it. You can even go in the Cave Store and pay like a dollar to climb down the historic staircase to the sea-access Sunny Jim Cave. So join me and be a rock-climbing, cove exploring, wildlife meeting, babywearing, breastfeeding mama!
San Diego Botanic Garden
San Diego Botanic Garden (formerly Quail Gardens) is quite the little local gem. I love family togetherness and getting outdoors with nature and this is a perfect place for both. It’s as simple as going outside for a walk but you get to walk in beautiful scenery and allow your children to explore nature. Let your kids choose the paths, talk about a flower for 20 minutes or hide in the bamboo. Give your baby the gift of fresh air and the smell of all the plants, flowers, and fruit trees from the security of a sling/carrier. My personal favorite is the waterfall- beautiful. I look forward to exploring the Garden during the holiday season when they boast thousands of lights and all kinds of fun family activities. A special thank you to Keri for introducing me to the Garden and agreeing to join us for some holiday fun in nature.
The Carlsbad Flower Fields
The Carlsbad Flower Fields are truly a San Diego gem. They are only open for a brief window of time in the spring. It is our family tradition to spend our Easter day here taking beautiful photos and having family fun. There is a ton to do like hayrides, a flower maze, snacks, etc. But the real gift is just the beauty and the space. Let your kids run while you look out over the breathtaking flower fields to the ocean view from the top of the hill. Have a beautiful and relaxing family day.
Van Ommering Dairy Farm
My son has been asking about where the milk in our fridge comes from for years and I love to provide him with rich, educational, life experiences that follow his curiosity. After tirelessly seeking a dairy farm that did not just have 500 diseased cows jammed into a pen, I found the Van Ommering Dairy. It was awesome! Perfect educational family fun on a 3rd generation family dairy farm! The Van Ommering Dairy is in the country (well, Lakeside, but that’s as far country as I want to have to commute). It is peaceful and everything you would picture when you think ‘dairy farm’. The tour begins with a hay ride to see the cows (maternity ward and nursery) and is followed by a trip past manure mountain and through the showers and milking barn where you get to see a cow being milked up close and personal. You follow the pipes to the rapid cooler and giant milk tank and end with an ice cream. You are also free to play in the petting zoo, hay maze, and my son’s personal favorite, a giant mountain of cotton seed to sled down (super fun and so cool!). My favorite part about the Van Ommering dairy is that it is a beautiful complete system. You see the fields where they are harvesting the cows’ food, the pregnant (on water beds!) and baby cows, the manure which they use (the methane gas byproduct) to power all of the buildings and houses on the farm and then to fertilize the fields where they grow the cows’ food. Beautiful! The one thing I don’t like, which has stuck with me, is that they separate the kid cows (once they age out of the nursery) from the mom cows. Overall, it is a fun and honest look at where your milk comes from. Put baby in the sling and come to the Dairy to enjoy a great day on the farm.
When a lot of people think of the beach they think of loading up bags and armfuls of gear and trecking across a crowded sea of tourists to spend all day at the beach. But it really doesn’t have to be that way. As a local, some of my favorite childhood memories are of short trips to beach with no gear where I got to just play. Having a stressful day during the week? Stop at the beach. The beach is one of those rare “yes” places and has the added benefit of being out in nature. Come in your clothes, with little or no gear (I always keep sunscreen, a sun hat, baby powder, and a change of clothes in my trunk) and just let your little one BE. He can run, she can splash, you can relax and play. Don’t take one of our greatest assets for granted.
Note: One of my great little secrets for beach play is baby powder. It is like magic. When you get back to the car, take your baby powder out of your trunk and rub it on your baby’s feet and hands. Like magic, all of the sand will fall right off. But ssshhhh it’s my special magic local secret.
The Carlsbad Strawberry Company
I have been trying to take my boys to pick strawberries for so long but could never find the right place. I tried Victoria’s Garden in Lakeside- total bust. I do not recommend it. Then I found the Carlsbad Strawberry Fields. It is simple and exactly what I was looking for: a big field full of strawberries to pick. You buy a bucket and you roam free through the rows picking strawberries. It is just an hour or so of activity so don’t plan on it filling a whole day. But my sons got exactly what they have been looking for- a lesson in where strawberries come from. We talked all about how they grow and could see the whole life cycle in the rows. The boys had a blast searching for them in all the greenery and pulling them off. We then came home and they washed them, mashed them, added sugar, and we had strawberry shortcake for dessert. One of those great life education days. The only downsides are that it is under some major power lines and right off the 5 freeway. So while I wouldn’t live there out of a fear of sprouting a third arm, it is a great hour long activity.
We got to spend a great Saturday in Julian last weekend thanks to Smith Ranch. The family run gold mine and historical experience was the perfect centerpiece to a day in the quaint mountain town. The hour and a half tour was hands on, educational and fun. There was a train ride, rope climb and slide, mine tour, well water pump race, gold panning (which you then traded in for a red vine), etc. They really tried to create the setting of life back in the gold mining days and all of the activities were coupled with educational information all about the subject. My children aged 6, 3, and 2 weeks old (in the sling) and my husband and I all loved it but there were also teenagers on the tour having fun so it really appeals to everyone.
I have to add that this was our first big outing since the birth of our baby and we were running late for the last tour of the day. The warm and kind family at Smith Ranch held the last train tour, waiting just for my family so we could participate. We ended up being a half hour late. That is the kind of kindness and consideration that you just don’t see very often these days.
Be sure to dress for the weather and enjoy the whole town while you are there. In the photo above baby West is in the sling, buttoned up in my sweater, and wrapped in a blanket- warm and toasty. Save a slice of apple pie for me!
The New Children’s Museum
We had the pleasure of an exciting afternoon spent at the New Children’s Museum recently. In the heart of downtown sits a new little oasis for busy hands and imaginative minds. The modern building was featuring a museum-wide exhibit called Trash. It provided my kids with all kinds of tactile, stimulating and creative experiences. They got to play in a rain house, see large-scale art made from all kinds of discarded materials, climb a rock wall, mold clay, experiment with bubbles, even create their own works of art using plastic trash. It was a nice, unique experience because the museum did not contain the usual or expected and was stimulating in a way that did not induce hyperactivity and encouraged children to push imaginative and creative boundaries while channeling that through the materials and activities the museum provided. The museum had a nice balance of gross and fine motor activities all geared for experiential exploration. I also have to mention the staff, who were all young, hip and full of enthusiasm, ready to explain and encourage each child. I recommend a trip over there and look forward to their next exhibit.
Apple picking is a wonderful autumn activity. We made a day of it by driving up to Julian and enjoying a picnic lunch, walking through the town shops, picking up some apple butter, eating some apple pie, and then making our way to the orchard. For $10 a bag, we got to wander through the rows of plentiful and adorable apples of varying types, bagging and snacking as we pleased. The kids had a great experience connecting with nature, seeing and experiencing how our food is grown. While us grown ups got a nice relaxing stroll.
The Maritime Museum
The Maritime Museum is a fun educational opportunity that will please every pirate-at-heart. Touring the restored vessels like the Star of India is a fascinating and fun experience for kids and adults. You can learn all about the way the sailers lived aboard the ships while going through some of the motions yourselves. Make a day of it by walking around Seaport Village or taking a Harbor Cruise. A must for a day of family fun!