Mid-Century Vibes (and a Beach!) Await at One of the Best Family Hotels in San Diego
Another is on the lakefront.
Published Oct 24, 2022 7:32 PM
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From dreamy decor to top-notch amenities, this is your first-class ticket to the most design-driven getaways around the world. Whether you’re looking to steal away for a few days or just steal a few ideas for back home (we encourage both, for the record), check out where we’re checking in. Today: San Diego, with kids in tow.
While Orange County may lay claim to the most popular family destination in California (Disneyland, anyone?), we’d argue that San Diego comes in as a very close second. From picturesque beaches and hiking trails to state, theme, and water parks, the city has everything you need to fill up your vacation itinerary. It all starts with planning where you’re going to stay, and these are our picks for the best family hotels in San Diego.
We’ll admit, finding a chic resort in San Diego is a bit of a challenge, but our idea of the perfect family-friendly hotel goes back to basics. Think: a free breakfast bar that opens early, a pool with a shallow end (bonus if it has waterslides), and walking distance to the beach (helpful for those potty breaks back at the room).
What we love: You can get up close and personal with ocean life.
This iconic retreat, built in 1888 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1977, is best known for its prime beach front location but kids aren’t just relegated to sharing ghost stories and building sand castles. The Del’s Ocean Explorers program offers children ages 5 through 12 a chance to learn all about underwater creatures through immersive actives on the beach and at the indoor aquarium (psst: there’s an interactive tide pool). When you sign up, you’ll also be teaching them about the importance of giving back, as a portion of the proceeds benefits Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Meanwhile, parents can do a deep dive (literally) into ocean life by signing up for a surf lesson or simply watching the waves roll in from the newly opened Shore House.
What we love: Mid-century modern vibes right on the water.
Graphic floor tile and wood beds with built-in nightstands give this hotel its refreshing mid-century modern style, but we love it more for the fact that it’s great for kiddos, aka literal steps away from the beach. The complimentary continental breakfast means one less thing to worry about in the morning (especially if, like most children, yours are early risers), and when you’re ready to hit the sand and surf, there are beach toys and boogie boards available to borrow. However, because this spot is right on the boardwalk, you might want to look elsewhere if you’re in need of a quiet stay.
What we love: Solid versions of what all kids really want—a beach and a pool.
Sometimes all you need is a reliable, comfortable hotel with no-frills amenities. With direct access to the beach, you can go from suite to sand in a few minutes. There’s no need to pack chairs, an umbrella, or towels either—you get the luxury of having someone set up your gear for you and hauling it away. On-site a heated outdoor pool and a wading pool for younger littles are all you need.
For some nearby fun, the Kellogg Playground is right next door. For everything else, the hotel is less than 30 minutes from some low-key yet surprisingly kid-appropriate spots, like the Japanese Friendship Garden, which is stroller-friendly and free for children under 6, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which hosts a free play day every Sunday.
What we love: The most waterslides you’ll find at a San Diego resort.
Three is the magic number at the palm tree–lined Hyatt Mission Bay, which features a trio of both lagoon pools and waterslides. While two of the larger ones have a 42-inch height requirement, the smaller slide is open to all. If you’re feeling a little extra on this particular vacation, reserve a private cabana with a firepit so you can order a s’mores kit to enjoy. In the rare event that the waterslides become a bore, pop over to the hotel’s on-site marina—kayaking and paddleboarding are included in your stay.
What we love: The kids’ room takes up half the suite.
Located on the sunny shores of Lake San Marcos, the Lakehouse is a stone’s throw from central San Diego. Here, you’ll swap chaotic theme parks and beaches for tranquil paddleboarding and sunset cruises. However, if you book the Adventure Suite, you might have a hard time convincing your kiddos to leave the room—there’s a sunken living room kitted out with a bunk bed, tent, and mini dining table just for them.
What we love: 400 acres of fun.
You know you’re a parent when a kids’ zone excites you more than a nightclub. Aimed at ages 5 to 12, this hotel’s Explorer’s Club offers daily programs like junior golf, archery, and equestrian, as well as a variety of games, movies, and arts and crafts (younger kids can still enjoy the amenities with a parent present). Rates are available by the hour, half day, full day, or just evening (imagine getting to eat your dinner while it’s still hot!). The grounds are also immaculately kept and can easily fill up an afternoon as you explore the 400-acre property. Is it just us or does the cypress tree–lined courtyard with the adults-only pool and striped loungers give you major Lake Como vibes, too?
What we love: A zen-inducing experience that’s inclusive of little ones.
This boutique inn is nestled in Encinitas, a famous surf town known for its picturesque beaches, laid-back hippie vibes, and ride-or-die breakfast joints (including this train station–converted local favorite). While you lose proximity to the most popular attractions in San Diego (which are only a Coaster ride away), you’ll actually get to rest and relax—which is the point of a vacation! The property is the world’s first hotel to be given the platinum-level WELL certification by the International Well Building Institute, which indicates that a building checks off a number of wellness features like filtered water from every faucet and air purifiers in every room. The feel-good approach even extends to kids’ activities, like a succulent garden workshop; exploring the biodynamic farm full with fruits, vegetables, and flowers; and an organic s’mores kit. Parents: Don’t miss the Well Loved spa package for two or private yoga sessions.
What we love: A splash pad, eight pools, and a kids’ club—enough said.
Pre-kids, we might skip over cheesy-sounding amenities like Kidtopia, but nowadays these kinds of hotel features excite us more than free in-room champagne. The kids’ club provides seasonal activities (like resort trick-or-treating), as well as a variety of soft-play equipment, slides, books, games, and a movie lounge. While your children are there, you’ll be able to relax at the lush, bougainvillea-framed spa, where alfresco bites and OSEA facials await you. A couple caveats: You’ll need to make reservations and pay for hourly camp rates, and the club is only available for kids ages 6 months to 12 years. Beyond the kids’ club, though, there are six pools, two 100-foot waterslides, a splash pad, and a firepit for s’mores overlooking the golf course.
Where to Shop in San Diego
- Shop Good. If you forget sunscreen or any toiletries, this shop has the latest clean beauty and wellness products. Might as well book a facial while you’re there.
- Pigment. A garden’s worth of plants and pretty pots to go with them, plus gifts for design lovers. So well curated and loved, it has three locations.
- One Paseo. This local-favorite shopping complex is full of cute shops and places to eat, and offers lots of room for little wiggly bodies to run around.
Where to Eat in San Diego
- Lucha Libre Taco Shop. California burritos that are so good (fries that aren’t soggy!), you’ll want to come back every day.
- Communal Coffee. Bagels, coffee, a flower bar, and handmade goods to buy, plus an area with books and toys for youngsters to play with.
- Jeune et Jolie. If you have other caregivers available to give you a night off, snag a reservation at this French spot. You’ve made it through another vacation with kids!