We all have our go-to outdoor hangouts in San Diego: a neighborhood park, your little one’s favorite playground, the one shady tree that’s perfect for a picnic. But it’s fun to get out and explore beyond your normal stomping grounds—or better yet, discover awesome parks where the family can spend a whole day! San Diego offers a plethora of parks and playgrounds; some rise above the rest. We’ve scoped out the best parks for your family’s next day trip—spots that offer picnic areas, playgrounds, trails and more. Time to explore!
Otay Lakes County Park
2270 Wueste Rd., Chula Vista
With mountain and water views, this 78-acre park makes you feel like you’re on a weekend getaway. Otay Lakes offers something for everyone —a 0.8-mile hike to the water tower for beginners or a 2.7-mile hike up to the summit (feel those glutes burn!). There are two playgrounds—one built for kids ages 5 to 12, and an adorable boat playground designed for ages 2 to 5, which is fenced in (parents rejoice!). The playgrounds are next to each other and close to parking, bathrooms, and grassy picnic areas. Be sure to adventure down the small, well-groomed nature trail.
- Pay the $3 parking fee; street parking is not nearby.
- Stop at Board & Brew on your way to pick up delicious sandwiches (located on Millenia Ave., near Otay Ranch Town Center). Pro tip: Ask for extra sauce!
Chollas Lake Park
6350 College Grove Dr., City Heights
This park is a hidden gem and keeps every family member happy. The beautiful lake is unlike anything in San Diego, featuring old trees with roots for kids to climb on all around the water. A paved walking trail surrounds the lake, with bathroom stops along the way. If you start your day at the playground, make sure to bring sand toys and running shoes. This playground has a special feature—exercise equipment for ages 14+ (not your typical pull-up bar) right next to the tot lot. Bring a picnic lunch and claim one of many shaded picnic tables along the walking path.
- If you start at the playground, skip the main parking lot. Find the smaller lot right before it.
- Grab lunch at Marketplace at the Grove Shopping Center on College Ave., which offers everything from Rubio’s to Coco’s Bakery.
San Dieguito County Park
1628 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Del Mar
Just off the coast of Del Mar, San Dieguito County Park has so much to offer that you’ll walk away tired—you may even get that naptime for the kids you were hoping for. Start your day by parking close to the Upper Park Entrance off Highland Drive, which is closest to the five—yes, FIVE!—playgrounds. There’s a tot lot close to the baseball field, and plenty to offer kids of all ages just up the hill. Once you’re done playing, put young kids in a jogging stroller or hiking backpack and take Sandstone Trail over to Hawk’s Nest Viewing Platform to enjoy views of the whole park. Walk down towards Activity Hill where you’ll find two amazing slides and fun suspension bridges. If you walk the rest of the way towards Pine Tower, you’ll find two ponds full of turtles and expansive green spaces perfect for a picnic. When you’re ready to head home, have your partner walk back to get the car or take the straight path closest to the Lower Park Entrance.
- Parking is $3, but there is typically street parking available.
- Grab a map near the parking lot or trailhead.
- On your way to the park, stop at Flower Hill Promenade on Via de la Valle to pick up lunch. Flower Child is a café offering a delicious menu, including vegan and vegetarian items.
Local mom and San Diego blogger, Sandra Page, can be found adventuring on Instagram at @playdatesandpints.
Chollas Lake and Otay Lakes courtesy of Sandra Page
San Dieguito courtesy of Lisa Gipson