Whether it’s a road trip down south to a rustic destination like New Braunfels or you’ve got the family on board for a city destination a few short hours away in a plane to San Diego, it’s easy to see why both of these destinations are crowd pleasers for all ages. What better way to end the summer season than with amusement and water parks, kids’ museums and even some animal stories they can brag about long after school starts in the fall.
BY PLANE: San Diego, California
WHAT TO DO: Less than a three-hour, non-stop flight from Dallas, San Diego is the kind of destination perfect for a family with children. Any trip must include the world famous San Diego Zoo (619/231-1515; sandiegozoo.org) with 100 acres of tropical gardens housing 4,000 animals of 800 rare and exotic species. Your kid will earn bragging rights when he tells his classmates he took part in the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge, where there is a chance to come within feet of the zoo’s polar bears as keepers tend to them behind large-glass panels. Along the same theme is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (760/747-8702; sandiegozoo.org/safaripark), where kids can experience the Journey into Africa Tour aboard an open-air tram. The tour is inspired by the legendary safari trains of Africa, brings riders eye-level with exotic animals like white rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, Roosevelt’s gazelles and African crowned cranes. There’s also SeaWorld San Diego (800/25-Shamu; seaworldsandiego.com). Passes to all three attractions can be bought combined for $99 children 12 and under or $129 otherwise. LEGOLAND California (760/918-5346; legoland.com) is a must-stop and The New Children’s Museum (619/233-8792; thinkplaycreate.org) is only $10 for children and adults. The museum is an interactive arts destination that encourages children to think, play and create with innovative, hands-on art opportunities, classes and exhibitions designed by emerging and established contemporary artists.
WHERE TO REST YOUR HEAD: A cool place to stay at any age, Rancho Bernardo Inn (877/517-9340; ranchobernardoinn.com) is just 25 minutes from downtown. Kids eat free all day and have a chance to take in a Dive-in movie complete with s’mores. The Kids Rule, Parents Drool package for kids ages 4 to 11 includes an in-room pizza party, Wii Lounge access and more. Rates vary depending on season and availability.
WHERE TO EAT: San Diego boasts a number of kid-friendly eateries to whet your palate. Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza (619/230-8888; sammyspizza.com) has locations in both downtown and La Jolla. Sassy waitresses in poodle skirts serve burgers and shakes at Corvette Diner (619/542-1476; cohnrestaurants.com/menu-restaurants/corvette-diner/). Café Coyote (619/291-4695; cafecoyoteoldtown.com) is the best place for Mexican—or, head on over to Anthony’s Fish Grotto (619/232-5103; gofishanthonys.com) on San Diego Bay for fresh seafood. You are at the beach after all.
BY CAR: NEW BRAUNFELS, TEXAS
WHAT TO DO: Touted as the number one summer destination in Texas, New Braunfels is just a four-hour drive away. Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort (830/625-2351; schlitterbahn.com) contains more than 40 family attractions ranging from seven children’s water playgrounds to the legendary Master Blaster uphill water coaster. Day passes are $63.97 for ages 12 and up or $55.97 for ages 3 to 11 if purchased online. Natural Bridge Caverns (210/651-6101; naturalbridgecaverns.com) is the state’s biggest show cave where kids can experience limestone formations first-hand in 70-degree temperatures year round. Go on a Texas-style safari at the 400-acre Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch (830/438-7400; wildliferanchtexas.com), and see more than 40 different species from antelope to zebra and a kid-friendly petting zoo. Families also flock to nearby Gruene to tube down the Guadalupe River (830/625-2800; grueneriverco.com).
WHERE TO REST YOUR HEAD: The best place to keep the kids happy is one of two Schlitterbahn resorts (830/608-8520; schlitterbahn.com/resorts/), either the “Resort at the Bahn” or the “Resort at the Rapids.” The Schlitterbahn Unlimited Stay and Play Package includes unlimited use of the entire Waterpark until the day you check out as well as resort amenities like free Wi-Fi and use of resort-only pools and hot tubs. Skip the hassle of parking while at the park with free resort parking and a shuttle to the park. Rates vary depending on season and availability.
WHERE TO EAT: One place you don’t want the kids to miss is Cantina Del Rio (830/51-1950; cantinaingruene.com) in New Braunfels’ historic Gruene area. The atmosphere is an old fashioned south Texas ice house serving the best of enchiladas, fajitas and tacos Texas style. At the Gristmill River Restaurant (830/625-0684; gristmillrestaurant.com), also located in Gruene, the setting is an old cotton gin right on the banks of the river with a kid’s choice menu depending on the day’s specials.