Q & A: Dip with the dolphins in San Diego

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered


Q. We are grandparents with two offspring in Britain and one in Sydney. They have six children between them (ages 10, seven, six, four and two one-year-olds). We want to get together for a holiday next year, probably during the British summer holidays, roughly half-way to restrict expense and, crucially, to cut down on travelling time. Our first thought was to fly to LA and then perhaps head down to San Diego or somewhere in that vicinity. We want a beach, swimming pool and activities in self-catering accommodation. It is vital that we all have separate bolt-holes. I have searched guide books in the San Diego region but can never find any names or details of apartments or complexes. Can you suggest any or companies which can help. Is San Diego a good choice for children or are there more attractive areas closer to LA?

Q. We are grandparents with two offspring in Britain and one in Sydney. They have six children between them (ages 10, seven, six, four and two one-year-olds). We want to get together for a holiday next year, probably during the British summer holidays, roughly half-way to restrict expense and, crucially, to cut down on travelling time. Our first thought was to fly to LA and then perhaps head down to San Diego or somewhere in that vicinity. We want a beach, swimming pool and activities in self-catering accommodation. It is vital that we all have separate bolt-holes. I have searched guide books in the San Diego region but can never find any names or details of apartments or complexes. Can you suggest any or companies which can help. Is San Diego a good choice for children or are there more attractive areas closer to LA?

Phyllis Day, Frodsham

A. San Diego is an ideal choice, perched as it is on the Pacific 5,500 miles from Britain and only a little further from Sydney. Getting there is easy; the British contingent can fly direct from Gatwick on British Airways (lowest fares through discount agents), landing practically downtown. From Sydney, there are frequent non-stop flights on Qantas and Air New Zealand to Los Angeles, with fast connections by air or bus to San Diego - or rent a car, which you'll probably want anyway during your stay. It's a two-hour drive down Interstate 5 to San Diego, or make a day of it and stick to the coastal Highway One.

The city is set on a picturesque bay in Southern California, and is made up of different districts, each with their own distinct flavours. I stayed in La Jolla during a fly-drive trip to California a couple of years ago. The resort is about 12 miles north of the downtown area and very pretty, with a lively atmosphere and good beaches.

In downtown San Diego you'll find the Gaslamp Quarter, which has some great restaurants, and the waterfront or Embarcadero. The Old Town is to the northwest - an historic park with museums and attractions. At Mission Bay and Pacific Beach you can ride on the Giant Dipper, a vintage wooden rollercoaster, and take the children to Sea World (00 1 619 226 3901, www.seaworld.com), a 150-acre aquatic playground. A day-pass costs about £30 for adults and £23 for children aged three to 11. Children aged under three go free. To swim with dolphins, book in advance.

To get a good overview of this disjointed but beautiful city you could take a ride on the Old Town Trolley (00 1 619 298 8687) which operates a hop-on hop-off, open-air bus tour of the city highlights and costs about £17 for adults and £8.50 for children.

The 1,400-acre Balbao Park is the city's cultural centre. Entrance to the park is free, but most of the attractions, which include the San Diego Automotive Museum and the Aerospace Museum, charge admission. But a Balbao Park Pass (about £13) will get you into 10 attractions. And there's the San Diego Zoo (00 1 619 234 3153), famed for its exotic species and, as grandparents may recall, for appearing on the cover of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album. Finally, for a true American experience, a baseball game is in order. San Diego's Padres play at the Jack Murphy Stadium in Mission Valley (00 1 619 283 4494).

I'm not surprised that you have had difficulty finding information on apartments, as most of the brochures concentrate on hotels. Contact the San Diego International Visitor Information Center (00 1 619 236 1212, www.sandiego.org) for a free vacation planner pack; on the website there is information on apartment accommodation such as The Beach Cottages (call 00 1 858 483 7440) or Beach Towne Rentals (00 1 619 222 4836). You can combine this with a fly-drive option from discount specialists such as Trailfinders (020-7937 5400, www.trailfinders.com) and Bon Voyage (0800 316 3008, www.bon-voyage.co.uk).

Alternatively, I've found one UK company that offers apartments: North American Holidays, (01892 619000, www.northamericanholidays.co.uk) can tailor-make a trip with accommodation in the Mission Valley Apartments - a 10-minute drive from the beaches and downtown area and with the required swimming pool! A two-bedroom apartment, sleeping five, costs £995 for two weeks.

Q. I am a widower with twin boys aged 17. Before I was married I spent a couple of years living and working in Bombay and would love to take my sons to Southern India for a holiday, preferably to Kerala, which I loved. Ideally I would like something quite adventurous as we're all quite fit and would prefer a fair amount of activity.

James Rutherford, Oxford

A. How about a cycling trip in Kerala? It is the smallest southern Indian state and, as you know, is a tropical oasis of lush vegetation, tranquil waterways and an amazing array of decorated temples that intoxicate visitors. In the great port of Cochin you can meander around the old quarters where the spice and tea trades still flourish, while in the capital, Trivandrum you can explore the palm-fringed beaches nearby. One of best ways to travel is by boat on the many waterways, catching a glimpse of village life close up. To escape the heat, journey up into the hills.

Exodus (020-8675 5550, www.exodus.co.uk) has a new cycling trip for 2001, 'Southern India Backroads', which takes you on a tour from the cool heights of the Western Ghats down to the shores of the Indian Ocean. You fly into Madras, then cross the plains of Mysore with time to explore temples and grand palaces. Stopping off at the wildlife sanctuaries at Bandipur and Mudumalai, you might spot wild elephants, and possibly even a tiger in the bamboo forests. The ride continues down through the mountains to Kerala. A boat trip provides a break from cycling before the final stretch to Kovalam, where you can finish the holiday lazing on the beach. The trip is graded "moderate" and requires a reasonable level of fitness. About 10 of the 16 days are spent in the saddle, covering about 50 miles on each of them. The next trip leaves on 17 February and costs £1,485 per person, including flights.

Alternatively, High Places (0114 275 7500. www.highplaces.co.uk) has a 17-day 'Journey through Kerala, Bikes, Hikes and Boats'. Slightly less strenuous, it includes a train ride to the Periyar wildlife reserve (again you might see tigers, elephant, deer, wild boar, monkeys, fish eagles, hornbills and kingfishers).

It also takes you on foot through spice plantations, hiking through the Cardamom hills, and climbing to the highest peaks in South India. Cochin, India's spice centre, is also included, as is island-hopping in Kerala's backwaters, stopping to try your hand at south Indian cooking, Kathakali dance, martial arts and woodcarving. The trip costs from £1,480 per person.

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