Looking for uncharted territory to explore and new outdoor family activities to enjoy with your kids while social distancing? You’ll find plenty of excitement and adventure in these secret spots and hidden gems. From messages written in the rocks to a backyard farm, and magical fairy homes to a ship that has never set sail, your family will delight in discovering these special places right here in San Diego that feel like they’re a world away.

Sand n’ Straw Community Farm

Feed the animals, sip a homemade almond milk latte, buy local honey, soaps, jam and other organic goods and produce. This is more than just an organic produce stand. The family lives and works here and it feels like you’re just a neighbor popping by for a chat and a bag of oranges. The kids can play on the lowered climbing wall and slide, while adults can relax in their cute backyard lounge area and sip on fresh made lattes. Our favorite was talking to and feeding the animals; they have pigs, goats, chickens and bunnies.

IMPORTANT: Online reservations are REQUIRED in advance to allow for social distancing in this small space. No walk-ups will be allowed.

Cost: $10 per family for a 30 minute time to feed their animals. A lettuce bundle is included.

Capacity: Only 3 families will be allowed per time slot.

COVID Rules: Face masks are required to be worn at all times for adults and kids over 2 years old, unless you're sitting down eating or drinking. Social distancing is in effect here, please stay 6' apart from other households during your visit.

Current Hours: Weds. & Sat. from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

629 Mar Vista Dr., Vista
760-877-9054
Online: sandnstraw.com
Instagram: @sandnstraw

Dave’s Rock Garden

Walk through these colorful painted rock pathways filled with messages of kindness and hope that’s sure to bring a smile to your face. What once was a littered vacant lot growing with weeds, has been magically transformed by the neighbor into this inspiring place. This is a city own lot that Dave took upon himself to clean up, fill with beautiful plants and create this work of art. He encourages people to leave their own painted rocks behind. Before you go here, paint your own rocks at home to leave them here so you can spread your own love for others to see. If you don’t have your own rocks or paint, you can email the caretaker and he’ll be happy to provide some for you.

What’s nearby: Walk 2 blocks up for some scoops at Cali Cream Homemade Ice Cream (formerly Handels) or walk 2 blocks down to Moonlight Beach. Or both!

200 B St., Encinitas
Email: davedeancommercial@gmail.com
Instagram: @davesrockgarden

Butterfly Farms

Chase the butterflies around in the largest butterfly vivarium on the West coast. This nonprofit helps the native butterflies and pollinators by studying the plants and pollination in their ecosystem. They have butterflies year round so you’ll likely see different ones every time you go. Stop by their nursery to pick up some milkweed and watch the monarchs flutter over to your own backyard.

Current Hours: daily 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Cost: $6/person, active duty military and ages 2 and under are free, $3/military family members

441 Saxony Rd., Encinitas
760-613-5867
Online: butterflyfarms.org
Instagram: @butterflyfarms

photo: Bonnie Taylor

Harper’s Topiary Garden

Whales and bunnies and bears, oh my! Finding over 40 different shapes trimmed in these topiary hedges will keep the kids busy and amazed for a while. This is a private residential garden so it’s more of a stop and look spot, but it’s one that’s worthy of a drive by to see.

3549 Union St., San Diego (Middletown)

City Farmers Nursery

Exploring the plant and animal kingdoms here could take you a while. With roosters, turkeys, turtles, goats, bunnies, birds, fish, chicks, ducks, some new donkeys and probably a few others, just finding the animals will be worth your stop. They have a kids playground area, but it’s currently closed. For some extra fun, try to find the special painted rock that’s hidden around the gardens. Oh, and don’t forget to grab some plants for your garden while you’re there. You might want to walk through the succulent section for some pick-me-ups, like “Lookin’ Sharp!” or “You had me at Aloe!”

Current Hours: Thurs.-Sat. from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

3110 Euclid Ave., San Diego (City Heights)
619-284-6358
Online: cityfarmersnursery.com
Instagram: @cityfarmersnsy

Water Conservation Garden

Relax in these beautiful gardens as you wander around the meticulously maintained grounds. It’s meant as an educational resource for those looking to “green” their landscaping, but it’s been one of my kids’ favorite places to visit in all of San Diego. Kids love to run on the pathways, dig in the children’s garden, look for butterflies in the butterfly pavilion and play with the water ball fountain. If you start your tour towards the left after you enter, you’ll find the magical fairy gardens that surround Ms. Smartyplants’ (the children’s educator) office. You’ll find tortoises across from the gift shop and koi fish in the ponds near the entrance. There are lots of great picnic spots here at either the shaded outdoor amphitheater, the covered gazebo or underneath the trellised pergolas.

Current Hours: Tues.-Sun. from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Cost: $8/adults; $5/seniors 55+, students & military; $4/kids ages 3-17; Free for kids 2 & under

12122 Cuyamaca College Dr. W., El Cajon
619-660-0614
Online: thegarden.org
Instagram: @thewaterconservationgarden

USS Recruit

'Seas' the Day and keep the pirates away when you visit this grounded naval ship at Liberty Station. This is a scale model that has actually never set sail and was only used for training naval recruits. Kids love using their imaginations here to pretend like they’re sailing on the high seas. Bring a picnic lunch or grab some pizza from nearby Oggi’s when your little sailors get hungry. There’s lots of room to spread out on the fields nearby or alongside the waterway.

Parking: The side street that you’ll park on isn’t named, so enter on Laning Rd. and head towards Oggi’s to park next to the Homewood Suites by Hilton.

4461 N Harbor Dr., Liberty Station

Summers 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 and a gardening store. Parents will appreciate the small coffee bar too! Be sure to visit the gift shop to take home a special treasure. 

Open Fri.-Sun. 9 a.m.- 2 p.m.

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

––Bonnie Taylor

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