Hit the Streets Wonderful weather and loads of family attractions helped San Diego snag the top spot. "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 The NAT 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, 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. On your downtown to-do list, add The New Children's Museum ($10 for adults and kids ages 1 and up, free for babies) and a spin on the antique carousel at Seaport Village. Families with school-age kids will have a blast at SeaWorld San Diego (where Madagascar Live! Operation: Vacation is now on stage) and ADuatica San Diego, a SeaWorld water park that opened in June. ($97 for 10 and up, $89 for kids 3 to 9, combo price for both parks). 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.
Hit the Streets 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. (Rooms with two queen beds start at $229 per night. Get 10 percent off and free parking with promo code PARENTS; omnihotels.com.) Also downtown, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront recently added a toddler pool and another with a slide. (Rooms with two Dueen beds start at $159 per night. Enter promo code PMAG for free kids' meals with the purchase of an adult meal at Vela Restaurant; hiltonsandiegobayfront.com.) In Mission Bay near SeaWorld, the beach front 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. Use promo code Pl5 for a 15 percent discount; catamaranresort.com.)
Moneysaver Plan your trip for October 2013, when all the major attractions in town will be free for a child with the purchase of an adult ticket. Get the full list (as well as details on resort and restaurant deals that month) at sandiego.org/kidsfree.