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Taking the Kids: Three Days in San Diego

Day Two
Spend today at one of San Diego's several theme parks. If the kids didn't get enough wildlife at the zoo yesterday, head to the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park. It's 35 miles north of San Diego in Escondido and is most easily accessible by car. You can observe the animals roaming much as they do in their native Asia and Africa. Families can take a two-mile safari walk to see elephants, lions, giraffes and rhinos, or ride the Journey into Africa tram past zebras, Cape buffalo and ostriches. If you are visiting both the zoo and the park, consider buying a two-park ticket, which is more economical than purchasing separately.

SeaWorld is another possibility for today, sure to be a hit with marine life-loving kids. Besides the major shows put on by Shamu the killer whale and sea lions Clyde and Seamore, kids will also love the hands-on interaction, like petting a dolphin or feeding bat rays. (Save money by purchasing a combo pass with the San Diego Zoo.)

LEGOLAND is one of Southern California's biggest family draws. Located in Carlsbad, about 30 minutes north of San Diego, there are more than 15,000 LEGO models in the Park created from over 30 million LEGO bricks. Miniland USA is made up of reproductions of the best-known landmarks in major cities -- the White House in Washington, D.C., Times Square in New York and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida are just a few of the highlights. The possibilities for interactive play are limitless -- kids can build a LEGO car and test it on a digitally timed track or go to "driving school," where they can earn a LEGOLAND driver's license.

Tonight, if you have the strength, head out for an adventurous dinner. Kids will love Buca di Beppo, an Italian outpost in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter -- or simply stroll the streets and see which of the more than 200 restaurants gets the family vote. Another nearby option: walk over to Little Italy for San Diego's best pizza; the decor at Filippi's features the proverbial red-and-white checkered tablecloths, and what you'll find is little pretension -- and plenty of great food.

Day Three
Today's the day to see what makes San Diego such a special city: its beaches! There are over 70 miles of sand, but the best family beach in San Diego and possibly the country is Coronado Beach, just across the bay from downtown San Diego. The calm, temperate waters and broad expanse of sparkling white sand (the mineral mica, also known as sugar sand, is what makes it twinkle) are kid-friendly and great for adults who want to relax.

Situated on the beach is the famous Hotel del Coronado, which is definitely worth a look around. The famous resort has been operating for more than a century, and over the years has hosted the rich and famous -- if you're a fan of Marilyn Monroe, check out the tablecloth signed by her and the entire cast of "Some Like it Hot," filmed at the hotel in 1958. The hotel also has a number of excellent restaurants and upscale shops to explore when you need a break from the sun and sand. Among the restaurants are several casual dining spots that welcome kids -- try the Sun Deck Bar & Grill, the Splash Bar & Deli (seasonal) and the Boardwalk Cafe (seasonal). All serve light fare for the kids and drinks for the grown-ups.

Once you tire of the beach, head into the town of Coronado. Orange Avenue is the main drag and is excellent for window shopping and dining. The easiest way to get to Coronado from San Diego is via the ferry. It leaves every hour on the hour from San Diego and every hour on the half-hour from Coronado. The ferry terminal is located at Broadway Pier, right next to the cruise ship terminal on Harbor Drive. (There is another terminal at the Convention Center, but service is not as frequent.)

If your day on the beach doesn't last all day, take the family to San Diego's Old Town. This was the original center of San Diego and today is a state historical park that offers visitors a look at San Diego's real, as opposed to ersatz, history. You can wander in the preserved adobes or take a free guided walking tour of the area.

On one hand, Old Town is very touristy and the abundance of gift shops detracts from the area's significance and authenticity. On the other hand, a visit to Old Town does provide visitors with the chance to interact with the city's large but often overlooked Mexican population. Once you've seen the sights, head to dinner at one of the many Mexican restaurants in Old Town. One of the best is the Old Town Mexican Cafe, where kids will enjoy watching tortillas being made and adults will enjoy fun of another kind -- there are over 80 kinds of tequila to make you the perfect margarita.

Visit our sister site, Family Vacation Critic, for more information on San Diego family vacations.

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    --written by Genevieve Brown

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