Hang on to your hats and glasses because throngs of vacationers are set to arrive in San Diego for spring break over the coming weeks. But while the crowds get wild, we’re taking a walk on the ‘mild’ side by visiting 5 hidden gems around the city. Find out where you and your kids can unearth a new family outing while avoiding the chaos. Shh… it’ll be our little secret.

free-flight

Photo: Sarah B. via Yelp

Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary
You can feed exotic birds on the quaint, tropical grounds of this unique bird sanctuary in Del Mar. The non-profit organization not only saves and rehabilitates exotic birds, but it also has helpful docents who will educate young bird lovers and teach them how to interact with these beautiful creatures.

For a small fee, you can purchase a fresh produce mix to feed the birds in a bowl. Kids can also feed the always hungry koi fish that reside there! Take advantage of the docents, who will provide you with the names and a detailed history of each bird. They can also direct you to which birds are social and can be handled by little hands. After interacting with the feathered friends and Koi, there are also benches where you can just sit and soak in the beauty of the sanctuary. If you happen to fall in love with a particular bird, most of them are up for adoption! If adopting a bird is not in the cards, sponsoring one is another rewarding option.

Free Flight is open daily 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., except Wednesday when it’s open 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. If there’s inclement weather (either too hot or cool), be sure to call in advance to learn if the birds are out.

2132 Jimmy Durante Blvd.
Del Mar, Ca  92014
Phone number (858) 481-3148
Online: freeflightbirds.org

queen-califia

Photo: Ed Schipul via Flickr

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle
This little-known gem in Escondido is a whimsical sculpture garden by artist Niki de Saint Phalle. It features nine large-scale sculptures inspired by California’s history, including the mythical warrior queen, Califia. Kids will love the brightly colored mosaics, which are surrounded by a black and white mirrored maze and a cool snake wall. After checking out the sculptures, have a picnic lunch and play on the playground at Kit Carson park.

The Magical Circle is free, and open to the public only on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. – noon. They are also open the second Saturday of each month, from 9 a.m. – noon.

Insider’s Tip: When you enter at the corner of Bear Valley Parkway and Mary Lane, follow signs toward the Arboretum and park in the Arboretum lot.

3333 Bear Valley Pkwy.
Escondido, Ca 92025
Online: queencalifia.org

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Photo: Marissa Mullen

Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve
This state-run center in Imperial Beach is a quiet oasis, and a great place to spend a morning or afternoon. The estuary serves as a refuge for wildlife, and features many walking trails and a small educational museum. Be sure to take a stroll on the North McCoy nature trail. It’s not only the shortest, but it’s also the only trail that’s accessible from the Visitors Center. Challenge your kids to see how many different types of flowers, plants and birds they can spot.

Insider’s Tip: Since it’s part of the California State Parks system, the center offers a Junior Ranger program for ages 7-12 every Thursday from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m., free of charge!

301 Caspian Way
Imperial Beach, Ca
619-575-3613
Online: trnerr.org

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Photo: Marissa Mullen

Summer’s Past Farms
If a quiet day in the country is what you’re after, venture just outside of San Diego to this family-owned farm. Summers Past Farm is a scenic, peaceful getaway where kiddos can frolic in the beautiful gardens and interact with the resident cats, dogs, bunnies and chickens. You’ll also find a sweet pea maze, a pint-sized sand box and a gardening store. Parents will appreciate the small coffee bar too! Be sure to visit the gift shop for their fairy garden supplies where kids can create their own fairy gardens. Check out their website for a variety of cooking, gardening and arts and craft classes.

Spring hours, March to June: Closed Mon. & Tues.; Open Weds.-Sat. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

15602 Olde Hwy 80
El Cajon, CA 92021
(619) 390-1523
Online: summerspastfarms.com

mormon-battalion

Kathy M. via Yelp

Mormon Battalion Historic Site
Head to Old Town, but take advantage of the light crowds and the private parking lot at the Mormon Battalion exhibit. This historical museum is perfect for school age children to learn about the group of people who helped to pave the Santa Fe Trail and establish San Diego during the Mexican War. The interactive tour lasts about forty minutes, and is completely free. Kids will love the engaging displays and the multimedia technology used to make the story come alive. After your tour, you can take a free souvenir photo and pan for gold in the little courtyard area outside.

The museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m to 9:00 p.m, with the last tour beginning at 8:00 p.m.

2510 Juan St.
San Diego, Ca 92110
619-298-3317
Online: mormon.org/mb

What hidden gems do you like to visit around town? Let us know in the comments!

–– Marissa Mullen