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Taking the Kids: Three Days in San Diego

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san diego family on beachKids want nothing more than to play on the beach? No problem -- San Diego offers 70 miles of sandy fun. Mom and Dad are museum junkies? Balboa Park offers a collection of the world's finest in one place. And when you're ready for something you'll all enjoy together, you can head straight to the San Diego Zoo or LEGOLAND -- because no matter how young or old you are, these places always please.

San Diego is small enough to feel manageable and large enough to offer plenty of choices in the way of hotels and dining to fit into every budget. You can easily take in all the city's attractions in three days and have plenty of time left over for building sandcastles.

Home Away From Home
We like the Holiday Inn San Diego Hotel on the Bay not only for its central location on San Diego's Embarcadero, but also for its pool, value rates and on-site restaurant (great for those nights when you're simply too tired to go out).

For families who want the full-service experience, including a kids' activity center, surfing lessons, a teen lounge and a beach rated as one of the best for families in America, try the legendary Hotel del Coronado. This pricey and historic property is across the bridge from San Diego's urban center. Other pluses? A plethora of restaurants, both on-property and nearby, that cater to appetites of all kinds.

Day One
Start your visit to San Diego by visiting its most famous attraction: the San Diego Zoo. The zoo is one of the best in the world and houses the largest number of giant pandas outside of mainland China. When you arrive at the zoo, get your bearings by taking a bus tour or the Skyfari tram. Many of the animals get sleepy mid-day and might be harder to see while they nap -- making this an opportune time to get some lunch and let your kids rest too.

Young children will love the Children's Zoo where they can pet animals, watch baby creatures being bottle-fed and take in a science show. Admission to the Children's Zoo is included in the price of your general admission.

The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park; pick one of the thousands of acres of grass to settle in with a picnic lunch. The park encompasses a collection of some of the world's best museums, and a free tram runs regularly throughout the park. Chances are your kids won't get thrills from ancient art or sculptures, but they will enjoy a stop at the Natural History Museum. You can take a break from the sun and enjoyone of the nature-themed films featured in the museum's giant screened theater or learn about endangered species through the many exhibits.

After the museum, take the kids to see a puppet show at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, located in the Pan American area of the park.

You can easily get to and from the zoo and the rest of Balboa Park on the #7 bus from downtown San Diego.

Head back to the city and spend the remainder of the afternoon strolling the Embarcadero, a mile-long path along the bay. You can visit the Maritime Museum and see the collection of historic ships, or just look at the beautiful vessels from the path. The most impressive is the Star of India, the world's oldest active ship.

Also along the Embarcadero path is Seaport Village, a collection of souvenir shops and gift stores. There are many casual, family-friendly restaurants serving burgers, pizza, pasta and Mexican food. Two that stand out as particularly family-friendly are San Diego Burger Company (burgers and chicken nuggets for kids, and buffalo, beef, turkey or garden burgers for parents) and Asaggio (outdoor seating and great views along with deep-dish and thin-crust pizzas). After dinner, take the kids for ice cream and end your evening with a ride on the carousel.

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