More than terrific tacos - best places to eat with kids in San Diego
Admittedly, San Diego is better known for its beaches than its dining. But in “America’s Finest City,” flocks of tourists and conventioneers ensure that casual dining abounds. Dining with kids is a piece of cake when nearly every restaurant has an outdoor patio. Plus, the locals are often in yoga attire or flip flops; there’s rarely a dress code in paradise!
1430 Union St., Little Italy
Clearly, Extraordinary Desserts was not designed for children, but it’s a spacious restaurant, so why not include an amazing food experience on your itinerary? With an industrial vibe and concrete flooring, it’s already bustling and noisy before your child adds to the decibel level. This location offers mouthwatering sweets as well as an amazing selection of teas. But that’s not all; it also serves wine and beer alongside its equally-extraordinary savory menu of organic, locally-grown and locally-sourced ingredients. Reservations are available before 4 p.m. Additional location near Balboa Park is not at all child-friendly. $$$
KidTripster Tip: Chocolate lovers will not regret the Viking cake. Or the Chocolate Dulce de Leche. Or, let’s be honest, anything in that beautiful display case of cakes, bread puddings, and cookies. The hostess provides pencil and clipboard, so that you can browse, record choices, and order from server once seated.
3794 30th St., North Park
At Waypoint Public, hip urbanites wear their babes, deposit their more mobile tikes into a fenced corral (lined with books and toys), and lift a drink with reverence. Truly, it’s the stuff of parental dreams! An extensive beer list, intriguing menu items, and, of course, an array of kid-friendly fare combined with charming wait staff and unpretentious décor make it a dining experience that you’ll wish you had in your hometown. There’s a solid kids’ menu, but I only had eyes for my lemony flash-fried Brussels sprouts and my New Holland Dragon’s Milk Stout. Arrive early to stake out a table near the corral. $$-$$$
1026 Wall St., La Jolla
Bright, colorful, breezy, and delicious served here. At Puesto, recently voted as one of San Diego’s "most important” restaurants, our server patiently answered first-visitor questions. No high-fructose corn syrup sodas here, only cane sugar carbonation. If you weren’t thinking about a soda, fear not; the margaritas and white sangrias are well worth tasting, too. My daughter enjoyed watching the cooks make the tortillas through a wall-size window. No need for a kids' menu, because the tacos are the price of a drive-thru kids' meal, and, frankly, far more chic. Featuring organic and non-GMO ingredients, our meals were generously portioned and highly satisfying, especially my GF carnitas bowl. Reservations are highly recommended; additional location downtown. $$
689 H St. & 556 Broadway, Chula Vista
You surely didn’t travel to San Diego for a burger! At Tacos El Gordo, enjoy tacos like you’d get in Tijuana but without the hassle of crossing the border. You’ll see few tourists here - just locals inhaling authentic, no-frills tacos. Or, for a greater degree of authenticity, try the sopes.
The original Rubio’s (4504 E. Mission Bay Dr., Pacific Beach) fish taco stand opened right here; this San Diego institution can now be found in several states. If you don’t try a fish taco, then you’ll have missed out on an essential San Diego experience, and I will have failed as your cheerfully-bossy tour guide! Their kids’ meals are substantial and include an activity book. Besides the fish tacos, my family is also partial to classic steak tacos, bean and cheese burritos, and the grilled shrimp and bacon burrito. Ambiance varies in additional locations across San Diego. $
KidTripster Tip: Join the Beach Club online ahead of your first visit in order to redeem your free taco.
5/Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar
1202 Camino Del Rio N, Mission Valley
There is nothing unenergetic about Lazy Dog’s menu or its canine-themed décor. With plenty of items appealing to a range of taste buds – and a full (and festive) bar - there's no excuse for grumpy faces after a long day of vacationing. My kids especially like the chicken teriyaki on the kids' menu; I enjoy the pesto chicken and hummus salad. (Okay, being honest here, my daughter really, really loved the skillet brownie, best of all.) If you brought your social pooch to San Diego, then bring him along, sit on the patio; he, too, can enjoy a meal! Health-conscious families can eat happily knowing that Lazy Dog runs a “scratch kitchen,” meaning everything is processed on site from its raw elements. $$
KidTripster Tip: If you have a choice in seating, I'd recommend avoiding the yard, as waiters have a long walk and little reason to pass your table.
KidTripster Tip: The free valet area is for nearby Gordon Biersch and Lazy Dog. That means you!
1351 Orange Ave., Coronado
In my unending quest for the perfect margarita, Miguel's Cocina is a favorite. My teenaged sons love the one-pound Surf & Turf Burrito, which houses shrimp, carne asada, and the essence of a California burrito, French fries. Miguel’s serves the most delicious complimentary con queso dip with chips and salsa, but its appetizer sampler is pretty awesome, too. The challenge is not filling up before your meals appear! Additional locations: Old Town, Point Loma, Carlsbad, and Chula Vista. Our family frequents the Old Town location with parking behind the building and a kids' menu. $$
7/Point Loma Seafood
2805 Emerson St., Point Loma
If you want to eat like a local, you must stop at Point Loma Seafood on the way back from Cabrillo. Not at all fancy (as it’s part fish market and part restaurant) but with a view of the marina and a chance to watch live lobsters in a tank, this is a great place for fresh seafood. Yes, they have chicken fingers, but I sure hope you and the kids try their crab cake sandwich on sourdough and an order of onion rings with a frosty cold local brew. Smoked fish is also a specialty. At peak hours, staff helps guide you into free parking lot, so don’t panic if there seems to be a line. Eat outside, if your youngster enjoys birds really up close! $$
KidTripster Tip: Figure out what you want in the uncrowded center of the market; then dispatch one adult to belly up to the counter and order. Don’t be rude, but if you try to stand placidly trying to discern a line, you will be there forever. Here, the epitome of disrespectfulness is taking up more than a person’s worth of space at the counter. It is a unique cultural phenomenon - embrace it! Then, for the love of all things holy, listen for your number!
8/Café on Park
3831 Park Blvd., Balboa Park
If you can’t stand the thought of another free hotel breakfast buffet, head to cheery Café on Park, just a few blocks for Balboa Park attractions. No children’s menu needed when there are myriad of breakfast items à la carte, including a $4 bowl of Cap’n Crunch. Most of the adult portions are plenty generous to divide up with a youngster. The cornmeal and honey pancakes are pure yumminess, and the salmon hash is a savory delight. $/$$
KidTripster Tip: There’s unmetered parking a short stroll away. Program your GPS for Industrial Grind Coffee to arrive unfazed by one-way streets and odd bus lanes. (By the way, Industrial Grind Coffee has great brew!)
2965 Historic Decatur Rd., Point Loma
Complete with sassy servers, kitschy 1950s décor, and great milkshakes, Corvette Diner appeals to kids of all ages. But let’s be frank, there’s also appeal to a burger joint with enough entertainment value (arcade room!) to allow parents to savor a Vanilla Bourbon or Kahlúa Mocha Chocolate shake slowly enough to avoid even a delightfully-induced brain freeze. $$
10/O's American Kitchen
8590 Rio San Diego Dr., Mission Valley
To eat O’s American Kitchen breadsticks would be reason enough to try this eatery. If you’re feeding an entourage and crave comfort food, then this restaurant is a perfect fit. Its “Bundles” include choices of salad, ribs or wings, a pizza, and pastas with hot, delicious, garlicky, chewy breadsticks. Additional locations: Mira Mesa, San Marcos, National City, and El Cajon. $/$$
KidTripster Tip: If the family is swimming at the hotel pool, dispatch an adult to fetch a to-go order. Just try not to eat more than two breadsticks on the drive back!
Moira Allbritton was voted “Least Likely to Live in So-Cal” out of 496 students in her corn belt-located high school graduating class. Despite this inauspicious designation and her general loathing of sand on the floor, she has called San Diego home for more than two decades as a Navy wife and mom to five boisterous, quirky characters.
This writer received some complimentary meals for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.