DLR and San Diego - first time

My family and I (2 adults and 1 child age 8) are planning to head to DLR and San Diego for the first time May 23-31 2020. We would also be interested in spending one night at Hotel Del Coronado as well as exploring some beaches on our drive up (we will start in San Diego and likely rent a car to drive up to DLR where we will return it). I’m trying to understand how many days I should allocate to each area of the trip. We know we want at least 3 1/2 days in DLR. Here is a rough sketch of my plans:

May 23 - Fly into San Diego. Do some brief touring of the city/area (Hotel TBD)
May 24 - Full day at the zoo (Hotel TBD)
May 25 - Check into Hotel Del and spend the day there relaxing/swimming, maybe some more touring around the city
May 26 - Pick up rental car and drive north. This is where I need the most help - where to stay and prioritizing what we see along the way.
May 27 - Drive the rest of the way up to DLR and drop rental car (Hotel TBD). Visit the parks upon arrival
May 28-30 - 3 full days at DLR (Hotel TBD)
May 31 - Fly day back home

Here are my questions:
Does this allocation of time make sense?
I really need help knowing what to see and do and where to stay on our drive from San Diego to DLR - any ideas?

As some background, we are beach lovers and love seeing the ocean as often as possible. The 8 year old has no fear of anything and is quite the foodie - just like mom and dad. I can be picky about hotel rooms. My husband would lay his head anywhere and gets frustrated with me, but I am the person that spends a ridiculous amount of time reading hotel reviews. It doesn’t have to be fancy by any means - just really clean and safe. We are budget conscious, but not on an extremely tight budget. We are the type of people who stay at value resorts while at WDW, but will gladly spend the money for things like a dessert party and other extras. We simply prioritize how we spend our budget is the best way to put it I suppose.

Any help is appreciated! I realize we aren’t really under a time crunch, but just trying to get rough schedule in place to help with narrowing down costs so we can decide what fits best in our budget and time restraints.

My daughter is a senior at UC San Diego so we have been going to SD 3-4 times a year, the past 4 years. We have our favorite digs. Our favorite destination is La Jolla Cove! You can literally swim with the seals and sea lions. They come up onto the beach.We like to start at La Jolla Cave and walk all the way down. It’s a beautiful walk. The sunset is gorgeous! Balboa Park has lots of museums and it’s a great place to ride a bike. My kids at 6 and 8 loved the train museum and running around the Park. In San Diego, you must have Mexican food. We love the Taco Stand in La Jolla, especially the fish taco, CA burrito, and made to order churros. Use mobile ordering. If you like it spicy, try El Gordo Taco in San Diego. Bobboi Gelato in La Jolla is the bomb. If you love seafood, Bluewater Grill near the SD airport. We go there every time we are in San Diego. It is very reasonably priced for the fresh and yummy fish tacos, fish sandwiches, and fish platters. It is always crowded. We also like Mt. Soledad for a 360 view of San Diego. Extraordinary Desserts is fabulous! The cakes are beautiful and delicious. We like the one on Union Street because the seating is better. Our favorite is the Shangi La Cake. If you enjoy steak, Trulucks. Steak, seafood, and desserts are great, better than Ruth Chris or Flemings, in our opinion. We went there to celebrate DS’s high school graduation. DD says she wants to go there to celebrate her college graduation. If you enjoy Asian foods, we love Tajima for lunch or dinner and Yakyudori for dinner because it has grilled skewers.

We haven’t done too much between San Diego and Anaheim. But if you have never been to Legoland, there is one in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego.

When we go to Disneyland, we stay at the Best Western Plus Park Place Inn - Mini Suites. It is right at the crosswalk to DLR. It is very convenient to get back to the hotel since it is so close. It is clean, but well used. And not even like the Value Resorts in WDW. But it is better than some other ones we have stayed across the street from DLR.

We recently visited the Mission San Juan Capistrano which is between San Diego and Anaheim. It was really beautiful and amazing. Also enjoyed the old town area of San Diego.

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Yes, I think you have a good amount of time in each location. Disneyland in three days (plus sounds like a little of a fourth day) will be perfect. And San Diego has plenty of attractions to keep you busy, plus if you like the beach you could spend all day there. Hotel Del is amazing, btw.

The drive up the coast will keep you fairly close to the ocean - you could stop by a few beach spots on your way if you wanted. And it’s not that long of a drive, all things considered. I wouldn’t recommend going to Legoland unless you have close to a full day to spend there and if your child is interested (8 is right on the cusp of where they might start to lose interest).

Sea World and the zoo are also worth visiting while in SD and have fun attractions for all ages. I second the old town recommendation - make sure to scope out the Mexican restaurants ahead of time and try one or two while you’re there.

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I spent a lot of time visiting this site in the months leading up to our trip last year.

We drove from NY to SoCal and spent 8 nights in Anaheim in an AirBnB. We did four park days from open to close and Paradise/Pixar pier was closed. We did a few repeats, but mostly tried to do “everything.” We came close enough to feel satisfied, but have enough left that we can’t wait for “next time.”

We drove to San Juan Capistrano on Father’s Day and visited Crescent Beach.

We went to three beaches while visiting, and also went to an aquarium and Hollywood. We found our beaches from Casey’s site.

We are not foodies, but found DLR food to be extremely good.


I lived in San Diego for 6 years, and my parents lived there for most of 20 (on Coronado), so I’m pretty familiar with the area. I probably made the drive to DLR from San Diego 3 or 4 dozen times over the years.

The drive from San Diego to Anaheim is only about 2 hours (unless you hit really bad traffic); not sure why you would need a hotel stop in the middle. Really the only thing of interest between the two is Legoland in Carlsbad (which is about a third the distance between the two). It’s pretty much a full day park - more if you want to do the water park too.

If Legoland isn’t your thing, then I would spend an extra night in either San Diego or Anaheim and do the drive in one shot. I’m glad you’ve chosen the Zoo as your primary San Diego attraction, but keep in mind that the Safari Park (also part of the Zoo) is equally amazing. Of course there’s also Sea World, and Balboa Park (right next to the Zoo) has numerous museums, gardens, etc. The Mission Beach area is kind of the “classic” SOCAL beach with surf shops, places to eat, and a small midway featuring a classic fully restored 1920s era wooden rollercoaster. An of course there’s the beach too… The Gaslamp Quarter is the main entertainment district in downtown and is packed with excellent restaurants, pubs, bars, etc. Right next to that is Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres (if you’re into baseball).

On your Coronado day, if you’re looking for more to do than just beach and pool, there’s a ferry/water taxi that will take you across the Bay to the downtown side where there are some museums, shops, places to eat, and great views of the Bay. You could also book a harbor boat tour.

As for beaches in between the two cities… If you go to the beach at the Del and/or Mission Beach in San Diego, there really isn’t much of a reason to go out of your way to hit any of the others. San Clemente is a nice little seaside town with a number of good restaurants, several motels, and a beautiful pier out into the ocean (great for sunsets). If you definitely want to stop midway (a bit closer to Anaheim), I would recommend here.


One other thing that people don’t realize - the water at SOCAL beaches is cold - even in the summer. In San Diego, in late August it peaks at 68-70, and in May you’ll be looking at 60-62.


This. We go to Mission Beach annually and many times I don’t even go in the water, even in late August. East coast, Hawaii, and Caribbean beaches are SO much warmer/nicer. But the beach is still fun.

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Wow! I had no idea. Not the OP, but learned something.

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I’m not really a “beach guy”, so that’s why I like Mission Beach; the beach is there, you get the great beach atmosphere, there are plenty of places to eat and drink, and the coaster is the icing on the cake.

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I have a story that is too long to post here that involves becoming severely hypothermic at La Jolla Shores during a water survival exercise - and it was August and I was in the water for less than an hour…

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The water is cold, but we’re from Washington state so well used to it. I remember taking my kids for a surfing lesson during a Disney spring break trip. It was cool and blustery that day. The instructor was blue and my kids were like, “What? This is normal weather!” I, on the other had, didn’t even dip my toe. Too cold for me!

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My initial thoughts are that your time in San Diego seems short with how much there is to do there & that instead of stopping a night on the way to Anaheim stay another night in San Diego & see more of it. And looking over @bswan26’s response (and I am so happy he weighed in with his local experience!), it seems he has similar advice & gives you some fantastic recommendations on things in San Diego.

The husband & I have been to San Diego in 2010 (pre-kids) and loved Old Town, the zoo, the zoo safari park, Sea World and Petco Park; our last trip there was 2013 with 2 small kids and the only thing we didn’t do with them was Petco Park and we loved all the rest of it as much as when we had done it pre-kids. I do think that our time in Old Town with them was a limited to one meal & a short stroll vs. pre-kids when we had just wandered shopping & enjoying the walk & the view.

Both times in San Diego we stayed at the Hampton Inn San Diego/Mission Valley. It includes free breakfast & is a great location being close to the airport, freeway, Sea World & Old Town. I don’t think it was inconvenient to get to the zoo either (nothing will really be convenient to the zoo park - but it is SO worth the drive out to it no matter where you stay). I don’t remember many details on the hotel but it was certainly clean & safe- but be sure to check more recent reviews on it since it has been some time since we last stayed there.


Agreed - I didn’t notice this when reading the OP but no need to spend the night in between SD and Anaheim. The exception would be if you really want to subject yourself to LEGOLAND for the love of your kid and if so, I highly recommend one of their official hotels. It is an experience in and of itself.

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My nephews loved doing this with their parents when they were about the ages that my older 2 kids are starting to be & I am starting to think I may need to research Legoland and their hotels in the next year or so.


I highly recommend it for the pre-K to 3rd grade age range. My kids adored every minute and I have to work very hard to convince them that Disney is better. If I asked them today whether they would rather go to Disney or Legoland, they would say Legoland, guaranteed.

The nice part is that it is relatively affordable, especially compared to Disney! For our family of 5, our package was just shy of $1000 for 2 days / 2 nights including room, tickets, valet parking, water park, etc. (not including food or travel). Same thing at Disneyland would have cost us twice that easily.

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I am so sad that I missed my window with my boys. They LOVED Legos and have tubs and tubs of them to prove it! DH refuses to go anywhere near San Diego (was sent down there for 6 weeks during fire season and hated every second of it, despite my trying to remind him that the beach part is very different than where he was fighting fire).

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I kind of have to disagree with this. I went to Legoland as a 50 year old guy (no kids with me) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.The rides are pretty much geared for kids, but the Lego sculptures are really quite amazing.

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Oh I think you can enjoy LEGOLAND as an adult. But not so much as an adult with children in tow. :joy:

In all seriousness, I did enjoy LEGOLAND but it was very exhausting as a parent. But it was worth it both for the attractions and for the joy on my kids faces. Just don’t expect Disneyland level thrills (which is a low bar honestly). But plenty of charm, especially in the newer attractions like the submarine ride, which is way better than Nemo. Some older rides are completely lacking charm, like the fairy tale boat ride.