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Lonely Planet Writer

Oh, the places you’ll go in San Diego with your kids

The fantastical world of Dr Seuss doesn’t hold a candle to the magic of San Diego. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but for a glimpse into the charm that helped make Seuss’ world come alive, you should put this SoCal beach city on your family-travel bucket list.

Family of four makes their way down to the beach © Hero Images / Getty Images
The magical world of Dr Seuss comes alive when you take your kids to San Diego © Hero Images / Getty Images

Theodor Seuss Geisel lived in San Diego’s seaside community of La Jolla for many years and wrote most of his beloved children’s books here, taking inspiration from the environment and characters he met. This summer, The Old Globe theater will be the first in the US to bring The Lorax to the stage. The show runs July 3–August 12. But you don’t have to see the show to see why San Diego was such an inspiration to our favorite doctor.

A boy examines a tide pool on the beach during sunset © Stephen Simpson / Getty Images
Spend a day looking for treasures in the La Jolla tide pools © Stephen Simpson / Getty Images

Go looking for the Lorax

San Diego has some amazing places to get outside and appreciate the environment that was so important to Dr Seuss. The book's truffula trees were inspired by the Monterey cypress, native to the California coast. For a peek at these rare trees, head to Scripps Park in La Jolla.

The park overlooks La Jolla Cove, where you can head down towards the water for a day among the tide pools. The protected La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Underwater Park spans 6,000 acres of ocean floor, tidelands and tidepools teeming with marine life. Searching for tiny crabs and sea anemones provides hours of exploration among the tide pools. Just south of La Jolla Cove you’ll find Children’s Pool, where dozens of seals raise their pups on the sheltered beach.

There are seven sea caves along the coast in La Jolla which can be accessed via snorkeling or kayaking, but for a land-based adventure, journey to the Cave Store, pay your $5 and head down the 150 steps into Sunny Jim cave. You never know who you may discover lounging on the rocks outside the cave entrance and even if you don’t see any seals, it's a wonderful view of the ocean from the cave entrance.

Girl looks over a barrier at a penguin staring back up at her © Sarah Stocking / Lonely Planet
Get nose to nose with a penguin on an Inside Look Tour of Africa Rocks at the San Diego Zoo © Sarah Stocking / Lonely Planet

If I ran the zoo

No trip to San Diego would be complete without a trip to San Diego Zoo. Tiers of open-air animal enclosures filled with and surrounded by carefully cultivated vegetation are spread across 100 acres of Balboa Park. San Diego Zoo was a pioneer of these cageless exhibits that recreate natural animal habitats.

The newest addition is the Africa Rocks exhibit, designed to guide visitors from the savanna to the sea and highlight the incredible biodiversity of Africa. You can watch African penguins from the south part of the continent glide through the water from below or waddle and nest in the rocks above. Or hang out with the hamadryas baboons from the north part of the continent, as they roam across the recreated desert landscape.

The zoo carefully selects volunteers, docents and zookeepers to answer questions and teach little-known facts about your favorite animals. Ask them anything – they’ll be thrilled to answer your questions.

A ticket to the zoo includes a ride on the aerial tram, a guided bus tour and all regularly scheduled shows, but if someone in your group has a particular interest in the animals, we suggest an Inside Look Tour. A zoo expert will pick you up in the front of the zoo and escort you in a golf cart on a behind-the-scenes look at some very special animals. Give a shout if there is something you really want to see, they are happy to include your requests when they can.

Family bikes near Scripps Park in La Jolla © San Diego Tourism Board
You can rent bikes and take the 8 mile route from La Jolla to Mission Beach and see all the sights along the way © Sandiego.org

The things I saw on Mulberry Street (or Pacific Beach)

San Diego does beach city right and Pacific Beach has it all. Rent bikes from Cheap Rentals where you can get kids’ bike tag-alongs, child trailers or child seats for your cruiser as well as e-scooters, rollerblades and skateboards to cruise the Ocean Front Walk from South Mission Jetty to Pacific Beach Point. It’s a great way to people watch, check out the beach shops and find a spot to spend some time in the sand.

Dog-friendly Ocean Beach is the hippy haven of San Diego beaches, with pizza joints, breweries and a fantastic Wednesday farmer's market. Grab a fresh picnic and head to the beach for the sunset with the locals. The drum circles add a nice soundtrack to the spectacle.

Girl plays with a scarf wind tunnel at The New Children's Museum in San Diego © Sarah Stocking / Lonely Planet
There is so much to play with at The New Children's Museum © Sarah Stocking / Lonely Planet

A rainy day, inspired by The Cat in the Hat

It happens on every trip: the weather changes and the rain comes pouring down. While San Diego has sunny days for much of the year, and maintains its 70-something degree temperature pretty much always, you just never know. But there is no need to fret: just like the Cat in the Hat, San Diego has rainy days covered too.

The New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego is full of adventures for your little ones. With a giant room dedicated to mass creativity, the museum makes creating art an all-inclusive experience. Upstairs there is what can only be described as a fully immersive no-parents-allowed secret fort. The newest edition to the museum is an exhibit dubbed No Rules...Except. Originally designed by artist Allan Kaprow, the exhibit has been reimagined by Brian Dick and filled with pillow tires and mattresses, it was created to give kids a place to literally bounce off the walls.

You could also check out Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla. Dr Seuss himself often featured the fish as one of his favorite characters and voices of reason, so why not get up close to a few? The wild and wonderful seadragon is a main draw at the aquarium where people are convinced this member of the seahorse family could have been invented by Dr Seuss himself.

A man and his daughter watch surfers on the beach while waiting for food © Sarah Stocking / Lonely Planet
Head to Woody's on Pacific Beach to watch the action while enjoying breakfast or lunch © Sarah Stocking / Lonely Planet

Where to find your Green Eggs & Ham

San Diego loves its kids. There is no better place to witness that than in the dining scene. Most restaurants don’t bat an eye when families show up with little ones in tow, so there are some fantastic choices. However, for pure kitschy fun check out the Corvette Diner. Servers in costume treat your kids like the star of the show while balloon men wander around making full fairy and knight regalia for your tiny pretenders. There is an arcade for older ones to disappear for a little while and full bar, so mom and dad can have a drink and listen to the oldies.

For breakfast, check out Breakfast Republic. With pancake choices like Oreo Cookies and churro along with breakfast hot dogs, you may be too full for your surf lessons. Or head to Woody’s on Pacific Beach for a laid-back and delicious breakfast or lunch, and watch the surfers from the top deck.

Finally, for the foodie family, check out Galaxy Tacos in La Jolla. Everyone will enjoy the attention to detail from a chef who insists on preparing every item from scratch. From the blue corn tortillas to the zesty guacamole you can taste the care that goes into each and every dish.

Sarah Stocking traveled to San Diego with support from the San Diego Tourism Board. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.