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A large outdoor patio with communal tables overlooking a lagoon.
Viewpoint Brewing
ViewpointBrewing/Facebook

Kid-Friendly Restaurants in San Diego That Also Appeal to Adults

Find creative children’s menus, play areas, and food that parents won’t find boring

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Viewpoint Brewing
| ViewpointBrewing/Facebook

Attention, humans with children: There is hope. Eating out doesn’t have to mean Chuck E. Cheese, especially in family-friendly San Diego. Adults can find quality, innovative food and drinks, kids can find reassuring staples like pizza and nuggets, and at some restaurants with versatile menus, crossover items might just appeal to all age groups.

Beyond the food, what makes a place kid-friendly is the space and the attitude. Some of these places have play areas or games. Some have changing tables. (Including in the men’s restroom, we double checked.) All deliver on two fronts: they let parents feel like people and pint-sized patrons are more than just tolerated.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Campfire

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2725 State St
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 637-5121
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Let’s not bury the lede: they have s’mores. But Campfire, which serves food at tables and/or firepits, has a lot more. The current seasonal menu features flat iron steak with smoked pears and charred broccolini; ember roasted prawns; grilled peaches with chamomille and new potatoes; and a smoked lamb belly appetizer. The mood is woodsy, rustic, homey, and chic. The kids menu has grilled cheese, plus steak, fish, and chicken in smaller portions than the main menu.

A teepee for kids on the side patio of Campfire. Campfire/Facebook

2. The Crack Shack - Encinitas

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407 Encinitas Blvd
Encinitas, CA 92024
(760) 230-2968
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The kids menu at Crack Shack is a lot like the grown-up menu. Because: fried chicken! Adults can check out their sandwiches with delicacies like fried Jidori chicken breast, pickled fresno chilies, pickles, lime mayo, and napa cabbage, all nestled into brioche buns. For pipsqueaks, they keep things simple, with nuggets or grilled chicken with carrots or fries. (And if there ever were a place to order nuggets, this is it.) Food aside, the Little Italy and Encinitas locations both have whimsical play areas that are a good fit for preschoolers and grade schoolers.

3. Viewpoint Brewing Company

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2201 San Dieguito Dr Suite D
Del Mar, CA 92014
(858) 356-9346
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In a sea of child-friendly restaurants where the main draw is some kind of play structure or two-foot-tall chess set — and where everything else (i.e. menu, ingredients, methods) might seem like an afterthought — this brewery and restaurant stands out thanks to its gorgeous venue and broad menu, with everything from ceviche and steak frites to beer flights. While there’s no play area with slides or a sandbox, there are some cool shaped swinging seats. And the lagoon-front location with walking paths offers a perfect detour until their food (burger, grilled cheese, and more) lands or a place get the wiggles out after a slice of dense, squishy bread pudding.

Central bar counter and taps at Viewpoint Brewing with bar-height tables in the dining area. Viewpoint Public

4. Cesarina

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4161 Voltaire St
San Diego, CA 92107
(619) 226-6222
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Food and community drive one another, and that’s the spirit of this Italian restaurant. For children who need a little extra encouragement to try to sit still and eat (in case the pappardelle bolognese isn’t enough), Cesarina’s legendary tiramisu, where clouds of mascarpone and espresso-soaked, homemade lady fingers are layered tableside, is the perfect leverage. For anyone avoiding caffeine, they can use less or no espresso. For exhausted parents, they can drench it with more. Also key: there are changing tables in both the men’s and women’s restrooms, and there’s an extensive vegan menu.

5. Brickyard Coffee & Tea

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675 W G St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 696-7220

This cafe is especially dog-friendly, which some might conclude makes it kid unfriendly. But there’s enough room for everyone on their broad terrace. And the location, right next to a trolley stop, is perfect for a train-watching. So picture this: your train obsessed child is ogling that track traffic while you get to eat more than one bite of your sandwich in peace. Another plus: it’s a short walk from a park, the waterfront, and the New Children’s Museum.

6. True Food Kitchen

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7007 Friars Rd Suite 394
San Diego, CA 92108
(619) 810-2929
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True Food’s menu has tantalizing options for the younger crowd, like a just cheesy enough pizza and a gluten-free chicken teriyaki bowl. But there are also items on the main menu that might appeal to kids in case you want to give them a bite off your plate, like a dessert-y chopped salad with dates, dried cranberries, jicama, and almonds and the Ancient Grains bowl with sweet potato, snap peas, portobellos, avocado, and pesto.

7. Panama 66

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1450 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 696-1966
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At Panama 66, the kids menu offers reassuring basics like PB&J and grilled cheese. But for those miraculous days when junior’s palate is open to something with a little oomph, a lot of the adult menu can work for kids too: There’s a turkey and brie sandwich, a cheese and a charcuterie plate, and a range of salads. The San Diego Museum of Art’s adjacent sculpture garden provides room to run (while keeping a careful distance from the art, of course).

The open-air main bar at Panama 66 in front of the sculpture garden. Panama 66

8. Underbelly North Park

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3000 Upas St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 487-9909
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This ramen bar, with a few locations across San Diego, has something for everyone. For kids: rich bone broth that can come plain or with all the fixings, plus finger foods like crispy fried chicken, shrimp gyoza, and bao buns. For adults: ramen in traditional and more playful styles, plus cocktails like the Orchid of Asia, made with Japanese whiskey, ginger lotus root cordial, and spiced bitters. The line can grow long, which might be hard for impatient types of all ages, but once seated, the turnaround time here isn’t too bad.

9. Communal Coffee

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2335 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 363-7737
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This coffee shop, with locations in North Park and South Park (and a newly opened outpost in Oceanside), may be better known for its Instagram-worthy scenery, but the beverages and broad menu are equally worth exploring. In North Park, pizzas ($18 each) have toppings like miso-roasted mushrooms, prosciutto, and confit pearl onions. South Park’s kitchen and menu are smaller, but it also features drinks, baked goods, and a few savory items. South Park’s all-patio location has plenty of shade, toys and books while North Park’s patio is comfortable and enclosed for little ones. Also, North Park’s gender-neutral bathroom has a changing table. And the Oceanside location has a patio (in the Tremont Collective outdoor area) that’s good for little explorers.

10. Dos Palmas Cafe

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3562 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 496-4343
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Nothing about this coffee shop (with a breakfast and lunch menu consisting of avocado toast, panini, and an acai bowl) in Normal Heights screams child-friendly, but beyond the indoor counter and kitchen is a wondrous patio filled with quaint, artsy details like a succulent-filled bathtub and brightly-colored patio furniture. Maybe for this reason, or because of the incredibly nice staff, there’s a regular flow of parents — mostly with younger children who are hanging out in their strollers or exploring the garden while dads and moms get some much needed sunshine and coffee.

11. Longshadow Ranch Winery

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39847 Calle Contento
Temecula, CA 92591
(951) 587-6221
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Longshadow is a Temecula winery but there’s plenty to keep kids busy while parents sip pinot. Near the outdoor bar, there’s a play structure — the kind you might find at an actual park — and a few feet away, farm animals, many of which are rescues. And the whole family can go on a stroll through the vineyards. Brunch (with wine or mimosas) is served family-style, with waffles, quiches, or cinnamon rolls for two to three people. They also have bonfires (and, seasonally, ”Boo”-nfires).

12. Surf Rider Pizza Company La Mesa

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8381 La Mesa Blvd
La Mesa, CA 91942
(619) 340-1270
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Downtown La Mesa has a number of child-friendly restaurants within a short walk, but this eatery hits the trifecta of a broad menu, an outdoor play area, and reasonable prices. The extensive pizza menu at this casual Cohn Restaurant Group spot offers topping combos like bacon, chicken, roma tomatoes, cilantro, and ranch; and roasted garlic, white sauce, gorgonzola, tomatoes, and basil (that’s their signature). Pizzas can be ordered with regular or gluten-free cauliflower crust. There’s also a full bar and bakery. But what make this place especially family-friendly is their patio, with shaded picnic tables and outdoor games.

Pizza and beer from Surf Rider Pizza.
Pizza and beer from Surf Rider Pizza.
Surf Rider Pizza

13. Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs

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15505 Olde Hwy 80
El Cajon, CA 92021
(619) 312-0714
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This sprawling indoor and outdoor barbecue joint in East County, which serves “Central Texas style slow smoked meats,” is a kid’s paradise. There’s room to play and a laid-back vibe. The kids menu has chicken strips and a pulled pork sandwich, but the general menu has options for carnivores of all ages: spare ribs, short ribs, brisket, burgers, and more. On the days when they play live music, the volume can be loud – something to consider for fragile eardrums.

1. Campfire

2725 State St, Carlsbad, CA 92008
A teepee for kids on the side patio of Campfire. Campfire/Facebook

Let’s not bury the lede: they have s’mores. But Campfire, which serves food at tables and/or firepits, has a lot more. The current seasonal menu features flat iron steak with smoked pears and charred broccolini; ember roasted prawns; grilled peaches with chamomille and new potatoes; and a smoked lamb belly appetizer. The mood is woodsy, rustic, homey, and chic. The kids menu has grilled cheese, plus steak, fish, and chicken in smaller portions than the main menu.

2725 State St
Carlsbad, CA 92008

2. The Crack Shack - Encinitas

407 Encinitas Blvd, Encinitas, CA 92024

The kids menu at Crack Shack is a lot like the grown-up menu. Because: fried chicken! Adults can check out their sandwiches with delicacies like fried Jidori chicken breast, pickled fresno chilies, pickles, lime mayo, and napa cabbage, all nestled into brioche buns. For pipsqueaks, they keep things simple, with nuggets or grilled chicken with carrots or fries. (And if there ever were a place to order nuggets, this is it.) Food aside, the Little Italy and Encinitas locations both have whimsical play areas that are a good fit for preschoolers and grade schoolers.

407 Encinitas Blvd
Encinitas, CA 92024

3. Viewpoint Brewing Company

2201 San Dieguito Dr Suite D, Del Mar, CA 92014
Central bar counter and taps at Viewpoint Brewing with bar-height tables in the dining area. Viewpoint Public

In a sea of child-friendly restaurants where the main draw is some kind of play structure or two-foot-tall chess set — and where everything else (i.e. menu, ingredients, methods) might seem like an afterthought — this brewery and restaurant stands out thanks to its gorgeous venue and broad menu, with everything from ceviche and steak frites to beer flights. While there’s no play area with slides or a sandbox, there are some cool shaped swinging seats. And the lagoon-front location with walking paths offers a perfect detour until their food (burger, grilled cheese, and more) lands or a place get the wiggles out after a slice of dense, squishy bread pudding.

2201 San Dieguito Dr Suite D
Del Mar, CA 92014

4. Cesarina

4161 Voltaire St, San Diego, CA 92107

Food and community drive one another, and that’s the spirit of this Italian restaurant. For children who need a little extra encouragement to try to sit still and eat (in case the pappardelle bolognese isn’t enough), Cesarina’s legendary tiramisu, where clouds of mascarpone and espresso-soaked, homemade lady fingers are layered tableside, is the perfect leverage. For anyone avoiding caffeine, they can use less or no espresso. For exhausted parents, they can drench it with more. Also key: there are changing tables in both the men’s and women’s restrooms, and there’s an extensive vegan menu.

4161 Voltaire St
San Diego, CA 92107

5. Brickyard Coffee & Tea

675 W G St, San Diego, CA 92101

This cafe is especially dog-friendly, which some might conclude makes it kid unfriendly. But there’s enough room for everyone on their broad terrace. And the location, right next to a trolley stop, is perfect for a train-watching. So picture this: your train obsessed child is ogling that track traffic while you get to eat more than one bite of your sandwich in peace. Another plus: it’s a short walk from a park, the waterfront, and the New Children’s Museum.

675 W G St
San Diego, CA 92101

6. True Food Kitchen

7007 Friars Rd Suite 394, San Diego, CA 92108

True Food’s menu has tantalizing options for the younger crowd, like a just cheesy enough pizza and a gluten-free chicken teriyaki bowl. But there are also items on the main menu that might appeal to kids in case you want to give them a bite off your plate, like a dessert-y chopped salad with dates, dried cranberries, jicama, and almonds and the Ancient Grains bowl with sweet potato, snap peas, portobellos, avocado, and pesto.

7007 Friars Rd Suite 394
San Diego, CA 92108

7. Panama 66

1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
The open-air main bar at Panama 66 in front of the sculpture garden. Panama 66

At Panama 66, the kids menu offers reassuring basics like PB&J and grilled cheese. But for those miraculous days when junior’s palate is open to something with a little oomph, a lot of the adult menu can work for kids too: There’s a turkey and brie sandwich, a cheese and a charcuterie plate, and a range of salads. The San Diego Museum of Art’s adjacent sculpture garden provides room to run (while keeping a careful distance from the art, of course).

1450 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101

8. Underbelly North Park

3000 Upas St, San Diego, CA 92104

This ramen bar, with a few locations across San Diego, has something for everyone. For kids: rich bone broth that can come plain or with all the fixings, plus finger foods like crispy fried chicken, shrimp gyoza, and bao buns. For adults: ramen in traditional and more playful styles, plus cocktails like the Orchid of Asia, made with Japanese whiskey, ginger lotus root cordial, and spiced bitters. The line can grow long, which might be hard for impatient types of all ages, but once seated, the turnaround time here isn’t too bad.

3000 Upas St
San Diego, CA 92104

9. Communal Coffee

2335 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104

This coffee shop, with locations in North Park and South Park (and a newly opened outpost in Oceanside), may be better known for its Instagram-worthy scenery, but the beverages and broad menu are equally worth exploring. In North Park, pizzas ($18 each) have toppings like miso-roasted mushrooms, prosciutto, and confit pearl onions. South Park’s kitchen and menu are smaller, but it also features drinks, baked goods, and a few savory items. South Park’s all-patio location has plenty of shade, toys and books while North Park’s patio is comfortable and enclosed for little ones. Also, North Park’s gender-neutral bathroom has a changing table. And the Oceanside location has a patio (in the Tremont Collective outdoor area) that’s good for little explorers.

2335 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104

10. Dos Palmas Cafe

3562 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116

Nothing about this coffee shop (with a breakfast and lunch menu consisting of avocado toast, panini, and an acai bowl) in Normal Heights screams child-friendly, but beyond the indoor counter and kitchen is a wondrous patio filled with quaint, artsy details like a succulent-filled bathtub and brightly-colored patio furniture. Maybe for this reason, or because of the incredibly nice staff, there’s a regular flow of parents — mostly with younger children who are hanging out in their strollers or exploring the garden while dads and moms get some much needed sunshine and coffee.

3562 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116

11. Longshadow Ranch Winery

39847 Calle Contento, Temecula, CA 92591

Longshadow is a Temecula winery but there’s plenty to keep kids busy while parents sip pinot. Near the outdoor bar, there’s a play structure — the kind you might find at an actual park — and a few feet away, farm animals, many of which are rescues. And the whole family can go on a stroll through the vineyards. Brunch (with wine or mimosas) is served family-style, with waffles, quiches, or cinnamon rolls for two to three people. They also have bonfires (and, seasonally, ”Boo”-nfires).

39847 Calle Contento
Temecula, CA 92591

12. Surf Rider Pizza Company La Mesa

8381 La Mesa Blvd, La Mesa, CA 91942
Pizza and beer from Surf Rider Pizza.
Pizza and beer from Surf Rider Pizza.
Surf Rider Pizza

Downtown La Mesa has a number of child-friendly restaurants within a short walk, but this eatery hits the trifecta of a broad menu, an outdoor play area, and reasonable prices. The extensive pizza menu at this casual Cohn Restaurant Group spot offers topping combos like bacon, chicken, roma tomatoes, cilantro, and ranch; and roasted garlic, white sauce, gorgonzola, tomatoes, and basil (that’s their signature). Pizzas can be ordered with regular or gluten-free cauliflower crust. There’s also a full bar and bakery. But what make this place especially family-friendly is their patio, with shaded picnic tables and outdoor games.

8381 La Mesa Blvd
La Mesa, CA 91942

13. Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs

15505 Olde Hwy 80, El Cajon, CA 92021

This sprawling indoor and outdoor barbecue joint in East County, which serves “Central Texas style slow smoked meats,” is a kid’s paradise. There’s room to play and a laid-back vibe. The kids menu has chicken strips and a pulled pork sandwich, but the general menu has options for carnivores of all ages: spare ribs, short ribs, brisket, burgers, and more. On the days when they play live music, the volume can be loud – something to consider for fragile eardrums.

15505 Olde Hwy 80
El Cajon, CA 92021

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