[Holland America Line’s Westerdam is in San Diego today.]
For families, there is no better cruise port than San Diego. Only a few minutes from the cruise terminal is Balboa Park, the nation’s largest urban cultural park. Encompassing 1,200 acres, Balboa Park is second only to the Smithsonian in size and is often referred to as the “Smithsonian of the West.” The Park is home to 85 cultural institutions, including 15 museums that range from anthropology to science, from classic to contemporary art, performing arts venues, art galleries, botanical gardens and the San Diego Zoo, home to 4,000 animals representing 800 species on 100 acres. Balboa Park is the perfect destination for families.
The San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, a 2,200-acre nature preserve 30 miles northeast of downtown. The animal preserve features more than 3,000 wild animals that roam over expanses resembling their native habitats. A one-acre Lion Camp habitat allows you to come face to face with lions. Hop on the guide-narrated monorail tour or walk the 1.75-mile Kilimanjaro Hiking Trail through lush botanical gardens. Along the way, you will pass the habitats of gorillas, elephants, cheetahs, lions and many other species.
Animal lovers will also enjoy SeaWorld San Diego, a 189-acre marine park featuring trained killer whales and other marine life. Situated on Mission Bay, Seaworld San Diego was the nation’s first Seaworld park. Of course, the real attraction here is Shamu Adventure, which features the world-famous killer whale, Shamu, performing in a 2.5-million- gallon pool. But there is more than the passive viewing of marine life here. Brace yourself for Journey to Atlantis, the park’s newest thrill ride, based on the tale of the “lost city.” The six-minute journey includes a 60-foot plunge and a heart-pounding negative G force drop set against a backdrop of the sunken city.
Just 30 minutes north of San Diego is LEGOLAND California, featuring more than 50 hands-on interactive attractions, rides and shows. The 128-acre theme park for families with children ages 2-12 is the only family park of its kind in North America. Legoland also features more than 1,000 Lego models, including “minilands,” miniature cities constructed of Legos.
Closer to the cruise terminal, families also enjoy Westfield Shoppingtown Horton Plaza, a 6.5-block, open-air shopping center that resides in a dramatic architectural setting that calls to mind a Technicolor M.C. Escher drawing. With its five staggered levels, Horton Plaza features 140 specialty shops, restaurants and attractions, including a 14-screen movie theater and live theater performances at Lyceum Theater.
Parents may enjoy the stroll through the historic Gaslamp Quarter. Founded in 1867, the 16-block Victorian-era district is home to more than 100 of San Diego’s finest restaurants, 40 nightclubs and bars, and 100 retail shops (the legendary Wyatt Earp ran three gambling halls in this once-notorious “red light” district). From here, it is only a short walk back through Seaport Village, with its 14 acres of waterfront shopping and dining, to the cruise terminal.