By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency

Sunshine and exotic animals … theme parks and miles of beaches and museums to please everyone.

San Diego is our pick for Pacific Coast beach areas. Even if lay-in-the-sun weather doesn’t cooperate, you can’t do better than San Diego’s world-class zoo and safari park, SeaWorld and LEGOLAND California in nearby Carlsbad.

February is the 34th annual San Diego Museum Month when more than 60 participating cultural institutions offer half-priced admission. (You can download a digital pass for up to four people.)

There are 18 major museums and entertainment venues at Balboa Park, 1,200 acres that locals say is San Diego’s backyard with gardens, museums, hiking trails, restaurants, a miniature train and even a rare original menagerie carousel. The entrance to the San Diego Zoo is here, as is the Spanish Village Art Center, home to artists’ studios and art-making activities housed in an early 20th-century depiction of a Spanish village.

Japanese Friendship Garden.
Japanese Friendship Garden.

Visit Sefton Plaza where you will find a huge statue depicting horticulturist Kate Sessions, considered the “Mother of Balboa Park”. The surrounding gardens are filled with plants she brought here. Check out the Hong Kong orchid trees! (Stop at the Visitors Center to find the latest park information.)

You obviously could spend days here, as well as the chance to see many different performances from puppets at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater to young dancers at the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet. There’s children’s theater at the San Diego Junior Theater, the San Diego Youth Symphony and the world-famous Spreckels Organ Pavilion, the home to the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world. (There are free Sunday concerts at 2 p.m.)

You’ll find art and science museums, as well as those catering to special interests — cars, photography, model railroads, the Comic-Con Museum, even the Museum of Us that is dedicated to inspire human connections, telling stories that may have been ignored. (How much do you know about the Kumeyaay people, the indigenous peoples of Southern California? The museum actually sits on their ancestral homeland.)

San Diego Museum of Art.
San Diego Museum of Art.

As with any sightseeing trip to a new city, it’s wise to include the kids in the planning, especially when there are so many choices! Take a virtual tour of the museums and theme parks you hope to visit and make sure everyone gets to see their top picks.

If you don’t make it in February, there is a Balboa Parkwide Pass that offers admission to the participating museums over seven consecutive days for $67 for adults; $43 for kids 3 to 12 – a good deal when you figure admission to just one museum can be $20 or more.

If you also plan to hit the theme parks and the San Diego Zoo, consider either GO City or CityPASS that bundle more attractions in one discounted pass.

Downtown museums are also offering half-price admission in February, including the USS Midway Museum, the Navy’s longest serving 20th-century carrier, the Maritime Museum of San Diego with its collection of historic ships, the New Children’s Museum and the California Surf Museum in Oceanside.

The historic Hotel Coronado
The historic Hotel Coronado

In Balboa Park, there is a place to appeal to every interest. Wander through the Japanese Friendship Garden where you can adopt a Koi fish. Stop for lunch or a snack at the Tea Pavilion. (Udon soup, perhaps?)

Go behind the scenes and see what it takes to create a video game, design a slate park or produce music at the Fleet Science Center’s Design Center. The Fleet is also where New Science explores the stories of the contributions of LGBTQ people working in technology, engineering, math and other science professions. Going Places: The Technology of Transportation, has also just opened, exploring how the technology of travel has shaped society with challenging interactive exhibits. Ready to ride a hovercraft or race your kids on a recumbent bike?

Check out the folk art in the Mingei International Museum. See how pinatas tell stories and how beads are made, among the exhibits.

Take your budding shutterbugs to the Museum of Photographic Arts and car lovers to the San Diego Automotive Museum. Picture yourself in 1918 trying to cross the desert and check out all of the motorcycles.

Explore American Women of Flight at the San Diego Air & Space Museum that honors women’s contributions to aviation. The Museum’s SPACE: Our Greatest Adventure is plenty interactive, complete with selfie stations on the Moon, Mars (in a space suit!) and the International Space Station. Want to land the Space Shuttle or dock it with the International Space Station?

See how researchers are working to conserve the Baja Peninsula at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Ever see a stinging scorpion? Visit the Vivarium in the Living Lab that showcases everything from the stinging and scaly to the fuzzy and flesh-eating, including rattlesnakes, an observation bee hive, a Gila monster, several centipedes, arachnids, and frogs. Take advantage of the museum’s partnership with City Cruises anchored by Hornblower to whale watch with a naturalist on board.

Give the kids perspective on how the First Transcontinental Railroad opened the West with the new exhibit at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum where kids and adults will especially like the Toy Train Layout, complete with a “Choo-Choo cam” to give visitors a first-person virtual view. Learn about the history of San Diego, which dates back to the 16th century, at the San Diego History Center.

Young artists and art lovers will enjoy the San Diego Museum of Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art, which showcases work by artists living between Los Angeles and Tijuana, and the Timken Museum of Art with free docent-guided tours. Check for special family programs.

Happy travels!

(For more Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The Kid’s Guide to Philadelphia and The Kid’s Guide to Camping are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)

©2023 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.