Outdoor Activities for Babies and Toddlers in San Diego

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Hike it Baby, a local parent group that explores San Diego’s outdoor spaces with babies and toddlers is the perfect group to ask about San Diego’s best nature outings with little ones. Here are their suggestions, along with a few of our own.

Easy San Diego Hikes

Toddler and carrier friendly hikes are throughout San Diego County. Look for wide, flat trails with shady spots to rest. The Oak Grove Loop at Mission Trails Regional Park proves an excellent choice for a group of moms and kids. Children can wander just over one mile, and make a leisurely stop to explore the Kumeyaay grass house exhibit along the route. The Visitor Center Loop is a bit longer, but offers more shade.

Lake Miramar Trail is great for stroller walks, with its five-mile paved loop around the water. Older kids can keep up on bikes before scouting a scenic spot for a lakeside picnic.

At Chollas Lake Trail, relish a quiet walk around a small lake that’s pleasantly shaded by eucalyptus trees. A playground and restrooms are nearby. At just under one mile, this trail is easy and enjoyable to accomplish with a baby.

Water Babies

For a beach day with baby, consider Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado, which offers well-stocked restrooms, plenty of lifeguards and nearby parking for easy loading and unloading. 

Moonlight Beach in Encinitas is another family favorite. With its huge onsite playground, this spot tends to attract young families.

Visit the seals and sea lions (from a distance) at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla. Enjoy a breezy walk along the stunning cliffs to see even more sea life.

Toddlers love the Tide Pools at Cabrillo National Monument, where they might be lucky enough to glimpse a sea urchin, anemone or crab. Best viewing is Nov.-Feb. Remember to wear appropriate shoes and keep little hands away from the wildlife. Note: Before you embark on a trip to the tide pools, read these helpful tips from San Diego Coastkeeper: www.sandiegofamily.com/out-and-about/tips-for-tidepooling-in-san-diego.

Garden Time

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The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas boasts two children’s gardens with interactive spaces to dig, wander and blow bubbles. Older kids love the treehouse and miniature railroad. The gardens are stroller friendly.

Among Balboa Park’s 19 gardens is the Desert Garden—both stroller and toddler friendly, with 13,000 plants that grow in fascinating shapes. From the Desert Garden, head south to explore the calming sights and fragrances of the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, which boasts more than 130 varieties, blooming March through December. 

The Water Conservation Garden is a walkable, six-acre, water-saving landscape in East County. Don’t miss the annual Butterfly Festival in late April at the Dorcas E. Utter Memorial Butterfly Pavilion. The butterflies are usually available for viewing through late May. 

Tips for Exploring Nature with Toddlers

  • Bring lots of snacks. Kids burn tons of energy when they’re roaming outside. Keep them going with a variety of healthy snacks. With any luck, a full tummy and plenty of exercise will lead to a solid nap.
  • Leave no trace. It’s never too early to instill respect for nature. When exploring outdoors with children, leave nothing behind—not even fruit peels!
  • Do a scavenger hunt. Scavenger hunts keep kids motivated and attentive during outdoor adventures. Hike it Baby recommends color-themed or seasonally-relevant scavenger hunts.
  • Encourage healthy habits. Try to get outside when your child is irritable and make nature a requirement during times of stress. This will teach kids an effective, healthy strategy for coping with difficult emotions.
  • Go with a group. It’s difficult to get outdoors with little ones but committing to an outing with others is one way to stay accountable and make it happen. Check out San Diego’s Hike it Baby chapter at www.hikeitbaby.com or make a plan with friends.

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Anne Malinoski is a contributing writer and mother of two boys. She’s been described as “indoorsy,” but she’s working on it.

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