This is one of my most popular posts here, so I’m giving it its own page. Here’s my list of activities to do with a toddler in North County San Diego, including a lot of kid-friendly activities that are free or nearly-free.
Airplane viewing out at Palomar Airport Road (FREE)
Baby Loves Disco, if it ever returns to San Diego
Beaches (FREE). There are good playground structures at Moonlight Beach and Fletcher’s Cove that are our particular favorites.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps. One of the most beautiful aquariums anywhere.
Bob-the-builder play, making things on Saturday mornings at Home Depot (FREE)
Brunch, at so many places around here
Cake-decorating-watching at VG’s bakery (FREE, but you’ll probably spend 45 cents on a donut). Sophie can stand on the chair, here, for an hour, just watching the skills of the cake-decorators. It’s my favorite rainy-day activity for the two of us.
Camping at San Elijo State Beach. You need to reserve far ahead of time, but it’s a lot of fun to spend the night roasting marshmallows and listening to the waves. This is where we’re celebrating Sophie’s birthdays, for as long as we can.
Carlsbad Flower Fields
Carmel Valley Recreation Center. The rumor is that they have a kids’ pool / water park / wading area kind of place. Next hot day, we’re heading here.
Farmer’s Markets (FREE, but you’ll probably buy some fruit). These are especially perfect because all the free samples let you find out exactly which kind of pears your toddler will eat, without spending too much money. Plus, it’s fun. There’s a playground and a kid-friendly band at the Encinitas market.
Family Swim at the Magdalene Ecke YMCA. Saturday and Sunday afternoons are the only times when the family-swim schedule matches Sophie’s nap-schedule, unfortunately, but that means it gets to be a Daddy-daughter trip.
Family yoga classes for toddlers
Fish tacos at Roberto’s or — even better — at Bull Taco, at the top of the beach stairway at the Cardiff Campground. We haven’t yet tried the oyster bucket here, but we love the organic ingredients, sushi-grade ahi, and, oh, the duck taco too.
Hullabaloo Kids’ Concerts at the Encinitas Community Center, on the second Monday of every month — and at other local libraries and parks, the rest of the month, so check their website for the schedule. Most concerts are only $5 per family, and very, very worth it.
Lagoon walks (FREE) at San Elijo Lagoon or Batiquitos Lagoon. The closest stroller-friendly hiking around.
Legoland. Amazingly, we haven’t yet visited. I heard a rumor that you get free admission if you show up an hour before closing.
Library Story Times (FREE). Schedules are here or here. Since I work Tuesday through Thursday, I miss out on the Encinitas branch’s famous Thursday 10-am story-time, but that was getting crowded anyway. I get to choose from the Friday 10 am storytime at Cardiff, Saturday 10:30 am at Cardiff, Mondays 9:30 am at Solana Beach, or Mondays 11 am at Encinitas. Not a bad choice, especially on days when it’s too sunny to go outside all day. Somehow, our county has ended up with fabulous libraries.
The New Children’s Museum in San Diego. We’re members, we go at least once a month, and it still hasn’t gotten old. Sophie likes painting, bouncing, climbing, dancing, and exploring here.
Open Gym at the Magdalene Ecke YMCA gymnastics location (6100 Avenida Encinas in Carlsbad). 11 am on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays & Saturdays (noon on Wednesdays and Thursdays, just in case you don’t share my work-schedule or Sophe’s nap-schedule). This is a child’s paradise of gym-mats, a parachute or two, balance beams on the floor, some rings, hula hoops, balls, and more, all sized for safe preschool play, especially good for days when you don’t want to go to the park.
Penasquitos Canyon (FREE) for hiking or bike-riding. Wide, flat, trails make this the perfect place for a first mountain-bike-ride, even for 2-year-old Sophie. And there’s a waterfall.
Pizza at Best-a-wan or Pizza Port. Ask for some raw pizza dough to play with, and you’re all set.
Playgroups around here are organized through Parent Connection. If you only do one thing on this list, then, please, join a playgroup. If you don’t like your first playgroup, try again. Really. In my current playgroup, each person signs up to bring dinner to anyone who has a new baby, so new parents get almost a month of free cooking. You can’t beat that. My playgroup is also full of good advice, sanity, perspective, and laughter.
Puppet shows at Carlsbad library on Fridays (FREE). Get there early to get a seat.
Quail Botanical Gardens kids’ garden: musical instruments, stackable wood, alphabet-plants, and more. Summer evening concerts, Christmas lights display that is not-to-be-missed…
San Diego Zoo, of course. It’s expensive, but if you can get a visiting relative to buy you a membership, you can go as often as you like after that.
Seals at La Jolla Children’s Pool Cove (FREE). Some days, there are sea lions in La Jolla Cove, too, and always there are great birds.
Seaworld. We haven’t been yet, since paying a lot of money to see wild animals cooped in little spaces doesn’t appeal to me. But no list would be complete without it.
Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens (FREE) are gorgeous, calm, and surprisingly kid-friendly as long as you use a sling (strollers and stairs aren’t a good match) or have a kid who likes to climb stairs. Sophie loves the koi fish here.
Train rides north to San Clemente, for lunch and the petting zoo (or maybe even the mission, if you’re feeling ambitious). South to Old Town San Diego — or all the way to downtown San Diego for the New Children’s Museum. Either direction is good. Sunset train rides are especially good.
Wild Animal Park as long as the day isn’t too hot, because this place is inland. My friend took her 5-year-old niece here for their sleep-with-the-lions safari. My friend is the coolest aunt ever.
There’s a lot of classes that I haven’t put here: the Encinitas Community Center, YMCA, and local swim-schools all have toddler-oriented classes. This list could go on and on, so please leave comments adding in anything else I have overlooked — or letting me know if any of the links have broken since I wrote this. Collectively, we can make a fabulous list.