(North County San Diego)
So, we’re about to reach a year of #quarantinelife. Needless to say, it’s challenging to keep toddlers engaged while also staying sane ourselves. So here’s a list of COVID safe activities that provide a nice deviation from the daily routine.
1. Farm / Petting Zoo visit
“Studies show that animals help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.” No brainer! Get outside and visit with some animals and I guarantee everyone will feel a bit happier! Here are some local SD places to do so:
- Children’s Nature Retreat (Alpine, CA)
This one is in Alpine so requires a day trip but lots of moms in the 101 Mamas group say it’s well worth the trip because it’s huge, affordable and has a wide variety of animals (alpacas, ostriches, mini ponies and many more!). A day pass is $38/adult and $20/child 2 yrs+.
- Sand n’ Straw Community Farm (Vista, CA)
This small hobby farm is owned by a family from Encinitas who wanted to add a bit of country to their beachy lifestyle. They offer 30 minute farm visits for $10/person as well as weekly story time, mommy + me and daddy + me events for $10 as well. A family visit for up to 5 people is $50 for 75 minutes. FYI, it’s quite small and there are only a couple farm animals but makes for a nice outing.
- Sugar Sweet Farm (Encinitas, CA)
This farm is smaller and more pricey but it’s all organic, has quite a few different animals and it’s located here in Encinitas which gives it extra points because convenience is often worth a fortune with a toddler. Cost is $120.00 for a 1.5 hour private farm tour for up to 8 people (worth it to go with a big group then!).
- Sunshine Gardens (Encinitas, CA)
Most parents in the Encinitas area may already know about this magical place but if not, you’re in luck! Sunshine Gardens is a large plant nursery right off Encinitas Boulevard that has a tortoise, goats, birds, chickens, a mini bull and even various tanks of koi fish! In the same area, there’s also Encinitas House of Art which provides art classes for kids (must be scheduled in advance). And best of all, Sunshine Gardens is FREE (which may explain their non-functional website lol).
2. Botanical Gardens
Take advantage of our amazing year-round weather and visit one of the many gardens around the county. 🌸🌸
- San Diego Botanical Garden (Encinitas, CA)
Such a haven, the San Diego Botanical Gardens is 37 acres and includes a huge pirate themed treehouse playground and herb garden for kids. I highly recommend getting the year pass if you’re local. During non-Covid times, they also do free entrance the first Tuesday of every month.
- Alta Vista Botanical Gardens (Vista, CA)
These gardens are a bit more rootsy but are extra special because of the featured art throughout, hilly natural terrain and garden tunnels where toddlers can safely play. There arelots of shady spots where you can have a picnic lunch on even the hottest of days. FYI: At least during COVID, there’s only a port-a-potty bathroom although it’s very clean!
- Balboa Park Gardens (San Diego, CA)
Click on the link above to see the 19+ gardens they have on their grounds — all great for a day of exploring with your little one(s). There’s a Japanese Garden, Botanic Indoor Garden with a lily pond outside, a cactus garden, a Children’s Peace Garden and several others. And it’s next door to the SD Zoo!
It’s hard to have a bad day at the beach, no matter how cranky your toddler is (just be prepared to get wet and sandy and bring lots of snacks and sun protection).
- Some of the most family-friendly beaches include Cardiff and Ponto (easy to find parking during the week and the spots are right next to the sand), Moonlight and Del Mar (both have a playground and all the amenities). Swami has big stairs which can be tricky with little ones but it’s extra magical when the tide is low and you can visit the tide pools (in pic above). But as I’m sure you know, each beach has something special about it so go where you feel most at ease and I’m sure your little(s) will feel it too. 🌊
4. Visit a New Playground!
I find that a fresh new playground always excites my daughter and makes for a nice break in the day-to-day routine. These 3 Instagram profiles have been an amazingly valuable resource for finding kid-friendly outdoor activities in the San Diego region:
5. San Dieguito Park (Solana Beach, CA)
I wanted to give this park it’s own feature because it holds a special place in my heart because I’ve been going there since I was teeny tiny. It has at least 4 playgrounds, myriad shady, grassy areas as well as some amazing log bridges and fort-like structures that kids have a BALL climbing on.
FYI: park along Highland Drive to easily access the playgrounds or down on El Camino Real on the Rancho Santa Fe side if you’re looking to relax in the grassy, shady areas for a picnic day.
101 Mama Jen White says: “Walking around La Jolla cove and checking out the seals or playing in the grass and trees is so much fun. You can always grab some takeout from a restaurant around there and eat on the grass. Brockton villa has amazing breakfast (French toast!) and outdoor seating overlooking the water if you’re comfortable with that.”
101 Mama Michelle Levy wrote: “It was just our family on the boat so felt totally safe. We went for an hour (4–5) and it was lovely! Max loved seeing the ducks and feeding them bread. They used to do half off on weekdays so made the price much more affordable. We also ate outside at the restaurant on the dock (Amalfi).”
8. Sea World (now open again)
101 Mama Alicia Ortego wrote: “They open at 10, arrive at 9:40 at the latest to avoid any lines. VIP parking is totally worth it. It’s totally worth getting the platinum pass if you are going more than once in the next year.”
10. Craft Day!
After a year of trying to create my own activities, I’ve learned about a lot of great ideas from mamas in the group. Here are some fun craft suggestions and helpful kid-friendly craft blogs:
- Play-Doh: Buy or make your own. Use plastic cookie cutters to make it more interesting!
- Oobleck — A simple sensory activity, made from a 2:1 ratio of corn starch to water. 101 Mama Klaudia Hochfilzer wrote: “I did 2 cups corn starch and one cup water and added some food coloring. Zoe then added some of her toy utensils and small animals and was fascinated by the solid, but kind of liquid substance😊”
- 12 Awesome Shaving Cream Projects for Kids
- No Mess Rainbow Painting Activity (this blog also has a great list of outdoor activities like making your own bird feeder)
- This blog has great craft suggestions including 25 Quarantine Activities for Toddlers
- Toddler Approved blog
- Poms2Moms — 5 Activities to Keep Your toddler busy without a trip to the store
11. Cook or Bake!
You’ll be surprised to see how engaged and excited your little(s) can get around cooking if they’re given a bit of agency. Muffins, waffles/pancakes, no bake energy balls are all great places to start. A few of us have found that our kids especially enjoy peeling herbs, kale or spinach from the stems so involve them in salad prep whenever possible. Also, a lot of mamas recommend these toddler knives to help them improve their fine motor skills and feel like a big kid while helping. My daughter’s preschool uses these wooden knives. I also highly recommend getting a helper tower for kitchen/cooking help. Bonus points for getting mama and little matching aprons!
12. Dance party!
Several mamas in the group have been raving about how sporadic (or scheduled!) dance parties boost morale throughout the household. Some do morning dance parties and some do after-dinner, but whenever it is, make sure the parents enjoy the music too so the kiddos can feel your enthusiasm. 101 Mama Anne Bertens swears by her dance parties to music by the BeeGee’s if that helps give you ideas of what music to play. 💃🕺🏽
P.S. If you’re driving long distance to get your activity, make a little activity box for the ride. See suggestions from my blog post on traveling in the car with toddlers.