With world-class attractions and pristine beaches, it’s no secret that San Diego vacations are popular with all types of travelers.

If you like to trade the guidebook for exclusive experiences and opportunities to dive a bit more into the local scene, check out these five unique things to do in San Diego with kids in tow (or not).

See also: Things to Do in Downtown San Diego.

1. Book a San Diego Zoo Upgraded Experience

Here’s your chance to visit the San Diego Zoo before it officially opens. A handful of San Diego Zoo tours start at 8:30 a.m., a half-hour before Zoo opens to the public. You’ll head into keeper-only areas in small groups to learn about what goes into caring for animals and current conservation efforts.

You can also book private VIP tours for the ultimate experience which includes more animal encounters and keeper-only areas.

2. Spend a Luxe Day at the Beach

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You don’t have to be an overnight guest of the Hotel Del Coronado to enjoy day rentals at Del Beach, located on what is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most beautiful beaches. The first-come, first-serve equipment rentals include sturdy umbrellas, towels, comfortable day beds, and lounge chairs. Boogie boards can be rented a bit south of the Coronado beach near the hotel’s pool.

Here is another major selling point: Adult beverages (try the margarita) and a small menu snacks, sandwiches and salads can be delivered to you on the sand. Booze is otherwise banned on this beach and most others throughout the county. Bottoms up!

3. Enjoy Dramatic High Tide Dining

During seasonal high tides, The Marine Room hosts special breakfasts and dinners to celebrate the fact that waves will likely crash on the restaurant’s expansive windows while you eat. The Marine Room rests literally in the sand on La Jolla Shores Beach and the view is spectacular regardless of where your table is.

Menus feature seafood with global influences and though it’s a fine dining restaurant (no dress code, however), it is particularly kid-friendly during the day, though we have no problem taking our daughter for dinner. High tide meal dates and times are posted on The Marine Room’s website but note that dining here any time throughout the year is a good idea.

4. Go Paddle Boarding at Night

Head over to San Diego Bay Adventures at sunset, located just steps from the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina. After a quick paddle boarding demo, guests hop on to LED-lit boards and paddle out into the calm marina for an unusual look at sea life and the city after dark. The water glows as you glide through it which draws various fish to the surface.

LED-lit kayaks are also available. The tour lasts about 1.5 hours and wraps up with authentic Hawaiian music and folklore as well as non-alcoholic drinks.

5. Spend the Night in the Wild

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Forget the flights to Africa. Book a special overnight camping adventure overlooking the African Plains exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. See and hear giraffes, rhinos, antelope, gazelles, and other denizens of Africa go about their daily business long after the park closes. Guests are treated to guided walks and campfire programming. Dinner and a hot breakfast are included. Yes, you’ll hear the animals throughout the night while sleeping safely in your tent. Speaking of tents, opt for ones with beds if you don’t feel like roughing it, though they sell out quickly.

Important tip: Do book these things in advance to avoid disappointment. Has your family enjoyed a unique experience in San Diego lately?

Looking for more to do in San Diego? Learn how to buy San Diego Zoo Safari Discount Tickets!

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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  1. I need to go back to Marine Room. I took my husband there years ago when we were dating, but the tide was a bit too low. I’d love to sleep over at the Zoo or Wild Animal Park with the family one day.

  2. We are so lucky to live in San Diego! But I have to say, even though I have lived here 15 years, some of these secrets are new to me!

  3. The Safari Park is an exceptional one…we were mesmerized on the train ride with our most knowledgeable engineer who's narrative was just as captivating as the vistas.