"Balboa Park is one of the best places to kick off your trip," says Katie Dillon, founder of LaJollaMom.com. The zoo is legendary, but families should also explore some of the park's gardens and 14 museums." You can buy a passport ticket that includes one-day admission to The San Diego Zoo (pandas and koalas are the headliners) and one-time entrance to the other museums all week long. ($85 for 12 and up, $49 for kids ages 3 to 11, free for younger kids). Must-sees include animatronic dinosaurs at TheNAT San Diego Natural History Museum, the quirky, hands-on science exhibits at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the kids' aviation hangar (where they can dress up in a space suit) at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the lily pond, and the tall palm trees dotting Palm Canyon Trail. "When we go there, my kids, who are 5 and 9, pretend to be explorers," says local mom Jennifer Sabo Spencer.
Add The New Children's Museum to your downtown to-do list, especially if your kids are age 2 to 8. Highlights include an art studio and climbing wall. ($10 for adults and kids ages 1 and up, free for babies)
If you're staying at one of the many downtown hotels, walk to Seaport Village, an outdoor shopping center where kids can hop on a carousel that was hand-carved in 1895. ($2 per ride) Drop by on Sunday afternoons for a free concert in the East Plaza Gazebo.
The much-beloved Sesame Street characters have their own area -- aptly named Bay of Play -- in SeaWorld San Diego. Rides include Elmo's Flying Fish and Abby's Sea Star Spin. ($97 for 10 and up, $89 for kids 3-9, under 3 is free for a one-day ticket to SeaWorld and a one-day ticket to Aquatica, SeaWorld's new waterpark)
It's worth making the 45-minute drive from San Diego to Carlsbad, California. Lego fans will love riding on the Royal Joust, getting wet at Pirate Shores, and earning their driver's license at the Volvo Driving School. If you want to spend the night, the Legoland California Resort just opened this spring. ($80 for 13 and up, $70 for kids 3 to 12, free for younger kids).
End your trip by unwinding on San Diego's pristine beaches. "Don't miss the tide pools below Cabrillo National Monument," says resident Jen Byard, mom of three.
Dine at Station Tavern in the hip neighborhood of South Park. You'll find picnic table seating, a small trolley for kids to explore, and a large selection of craft beer. "Take your kids there for a burger or even a tofu dog then walk across the street to Eclipse Chocolat for dessert," says local mom Jennifer Sabo Spencer.
Stay downtown at the Omni San Diego Hotel, which has a heated rooftop pool, DVD players in all rooms, and a walkway to Petco Park, one of the most family-friendly baseball stadiums in the U.S. Some rooms also have great views of the stadium. (Rooms with two queen beds start at $229 per night.)
Also downtown, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront recently added a toddler pool and another with a slide. (Rooms with two queen beds start at $159 per night; hiltonsandiegobayfront.com.)
The beachfront Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa offers kids' activities, a free arcade, and a boat cruise. (Rooms with two double beds start at $169 per night.)
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.