Ready to learn about gorgeous parks that boast activities you never knew existed? We’re sharing 7 special places where your kids can up the ante on playtime. From a musical garden with real xylophones to play to volcano hiking and nature scavenger hunts, read on to learn where to explore unique nearby parks to discover new adventures.

Musical Garden at Briercrest Park, La Mesa

Bring music to your ears during a visit to this sensory park at Briercrest Park. You’ll find 4 mallet percussion instruments that have the sound quality worthy of an orchestra. This park also has a cute mosaic butterfly labyrinth for kids to follow, an herb garden, frog and lizard sculptures to climb on and our favorite are the bridges and gently rolling grassy hills to run on. The rock climbing wall and swings are currently closed. Bathrooms are open.

9001 Wakarusa St., La Mesa
619-667-1307
Online: cityoflamesa.com

Volcano Hiking at Lake Calavera, Carlsbad

If you’re looking for a little more adventure, take a hike on a volcano. Don’t worry though, it’s considered extinct as it last erupted over 20 million years ago. There are lots of easy and well-maintained trails criss-crossing all over this volcano. The loop trail up and around the lake and over the dam is almost 2 miles, but getting up to the top might be a bit too much for little legs to do on their own. Consider an out and back trip which starts on the easy flat foothills.

Good to know: The main entrance is on Tamarack where the bathrooms are and quick access to take the trail over the dam.

Secret Tip: If you get to the top, you’ll see a chain link fence and just beyond that is a really cool rock labyrinth and other rock art that others have left behind.

Tamarack Ave. near Strata Dr., Carlsbad
760-936-3098
Online: carlsbadca.gov

Pump Track at Pacific Highlands, Carmel Valley

Pump it up at this semi-new bike pump track. It’s open to all wheels, so bring the scooters, skateboards and bikes to roll over these bumps. Don't forget the helmets and pads! There are two tracks, the one on the right is a bit easier for littles or beginners since the one of the left has slightly deeper dips to get up and over. Both tracks have a one-way route that is clearly marked so everyone rolls in the same direction. Bathrooms are about a 5 min walk across the soccer fields, so plan ahead.

Good to know: It’s a little tricky to find once you’re at the rec center. Park in the smaller lot closer to the main street on Village Center Loop Rd. Walk towards the left of the soccer fields where you’ll find the exercise stations, then walk all the way down towards the bike park.

5977 Village Loop Rd., Carmel Valley
858-538-8184
Online: sandiego.gov

*Note: The Pump Track recently closed as of Oct. 5th so they can build a taller fence around the track––which posted signs say will take six months. In the meantime, check out Sweetwater Bike Park for your adventure on wheels.

Fishing at Santee Lakes

You don’t need a boat to take the kids fishing here. There are 7 different lakes to choose from and even though the fishing pier is currently closed (construction), there are various ramps and docks, but most fish from the shoreline. Fishing is currently allowed with social distancing from other guests. You’ll need to buy a fishing permit from the Gatehouse as you enter or from outside park staff. Capacity is currently limited and the gates will close when they’ve reached capacity. No fishing permits are needed for children under 7, but they must be with an adult who has one. Check the website for details about other ages and permits, as well as fishing limits and catch & release rules.

Current Park Hours (as of 9/30/20): 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. Fri.-Sun. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Parking: $4/car on weekdays; $6/car on weekends & holidays

9310 Fanita Pkwy., Santee
619-596-3141
Online: santeelakes.com

Skateboarding at Linda Vista Skate Park

Grab the boards and your little skaters and head to the skate park. There are so many skate parks in San Diego that I’m sure you’ll find one in your neighborhood. The Linda Vista Skate Park is the largest and one of the newest in San Diego. There are plenty of areas for all skill levels to practice tricks or just to learn how to ride.

Good To Know: Helmets and knee & elbow pads are required at all skate parks. Some have a nominal entry fee, while others are free.

Hours: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Mon.-Sun.

7064 Levant St., Linda Vista
858-573-1392
Online: sandiego.gov

Splash at the Waterfront Park, Downtown

Splish splash the day away at the always fun Waterfront Park downtown. Kids love to frolic through the fountains as they spray into the pool area. This is great for littles because it has a zero entry and the depth is just a couple of inches. There’s a playground just behind the splash area and a large grassy field for kids to run around. Sometimes the snack shop is open and there are bathrooms closer to the playground.

Good To Know: There's no shade so bring your own tents or pop-ups as there’s plenty of grassy area to set them up.

Insider’s Tip: There are actually two splash areas. The main one is in front of the playground on the South side of the County Administration Building, but if you walk North of the building you’ll find another large splash park that’s usually less crowded.

Parking: The underground parking garage is the best place to park because it’s right underneath the park, it’s about $10 to park all day. Otherwise you’ll have to find a street parking meter or a nearby parking lot a couple blocks away.

Park Hours: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily

North & South Fountain Jet Hours: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily

1600 Pacific Highway, downtown
619-232-7275
Online: sdparks.org

Nature Scavenger Hunts at San Dieguito County Park, Del Mar

Just one more reason to love San Dieguito County Park are all the interactive self-guided kids programs they have. Once you pass the entry ranger station, look just beyond the booth and you’ll find a little information stand. It’s filled with pamphlets to grab for Scavenger Hunts, Nature Hide & Seek and a Sensory Challenge. You’ll find this cute Butterfly Garden to the right of the entry ranger booth next to the bathrooms. When you’ve found everything on your scavenger hunt, head over to Activity Hill where you’ll find the most amazing swinging bridges, climbing walls and staircase lookouts.

Parking: $3/car in the lower parking lot off of El Camino Real near Highland Dr.

1628 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Del Mar
858-755-2386
Online: sdparks.org

Editor’s Note: At the time of this writing, all of the places listed here are open to the public. Check directly with each locale before you go because things are always changing. Know that face masks for persons 2 years and older are required when within 6’ of others not from your own household; and social distancing is required in public and places of businesses. Some places have capacity or timed limits so be sure to read posted notices or ask ahead of time what their policies are.

––Bonnie Taylor

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