I have a friend who is headed to San Diego for a vacation. Having lived in SD for 14 years, plus visiting with the kids recently, I thought I might be able to give some advice on where to go!
You must drive by the Mormon Temple. It is like a giant sand castle. If you head down 5S, you are sure to see it around University City.
The beach on the Cove in La Jolla. There is also a shell shop and a cave that you can walk down to from the shell shop! It is pretty cool, but we didn't do it this trip. It is pretty steep & parts are wet rock, so be sure to wear non-slippery, comfortable shoes.
George's at the Cove is a wonderful place to eat lunch. They have a balcony that overlooks the ocean. The food is really good. If they still have it, try the Smoked Chicken and Black Bean Soup. Oh so good! Very pretty and fairly reasonable prices for La Jolla. Another place to eat lunch which is less fancy & sit down is Girard Gourmet Deli. It is a counter where you order your food. I've had lots of great sandwiches there while working in La Jolla.
Check out the super awesome trees in the park at the Cove in La Jolla
And Children's Beach (which should really be called Seal Beach!)
and Del Mar. On your way there, stop at Whole Foods and pick up a picnic lunch to eat at the park overlooking the ocean! Parking is a pain in Del Mar and the meters are watched, so be careful.
There is a great play park on the beach if you walk down beside L'Auberage in Del Mar which happens to be on L'Auberge Del Mar Street.
If you have lots of money, stay there, I've heard it is wonderful. Never stayed though!
There is also the Del Mar Plaza across the street from L'Auberage. There are great shops (including a White House/Black Market... my fav) and a really nice book store and amazing restaurants.
Old Town is full of beautiful colors! A must see for historical purposes and for the kitsch of some of it. There are also great Mexican restaurants where you can watch them make tortillas and then you get to eat them. :-) I suggest Old Town Mexican Café. I was going to suggest Casa De Pico first as it was my favorite, but I see they have moved! Boooo! Well, it is still a good one to seek out although it is no longer located in Old Town. It is now at Grossmont Center. It just doesn't seem right. But they do have really great food.
The Tide Pools on Point Loma (Go to Cabrillo and follow the signs) There is a $5 charge per carload to get into the park. You can see all kinds of amazing creatures here. Again, a word of warning, it is a fairly steep climb down to the water and there are wet rocks. Do not wear flip-flops. A pair of shoes with some grips is very important. Trust me.... you will see flip-flops in our pics. Learn from our mistakes. Also go at low-tide or your tide pools will be covered.
There is also Cabrillo Monument, a beautiful view, a gift shop and the light house to visit in the park as long as you are there.
Balboa Park! This link has a great map.
The architecture is worth the trip in itself, but there are also many museums, gardens and things for the kids to do like a puppet theater, carousel, etc.
While at Balboa Park, be sure to search out the Artist's Village. It is number 3 on this map. It is awesome. Beautiful art, pottery, jewelry, etc to buy! There are also glass blowing demonstrations and it is just a pretty place to sit and rest after a walk around the park. It is HUGE! Consider yourself warned! You can really spend two days looking around the park... especially if you like museums.
There is also a little train and the carousel very close to the Artist's Village, so if your kids are getting bored with museums and art, you can take them to do something fun.
The Organ Pavilion at Balboa Park
The Rose Gardens at Balboa Park
Bird Rock Café has yummy coffee and isn't your same old, same old Starbucks! This is between Mission Bay and La Jolla. A beautiful scenic drive! There is also a little train table and books for kids to play with while you sip your coffee.
Of course, there is also the San Diego Zoo. I'm sure I don't even need to mention the zoo since it is known world-wide. It is not to be missed! It is a hike, so wear comfortable shoes and maybe even plan two days there if you love zoos. There is a train ride you can take that is outside of the zoo which little kids love. Also near the entrance of the zoo and near the Museum of Natural History is the carousel. It is really pretty and a nice ride, but it is only open in the summertime, so you might want to call before going.
If you have kids, LEGOLAND is a fun place to go. They loved it. Oh, and if they love Legos and Star Wars... they will spend all day looking at the Star Wars displays. As an adult woman, I say, "Meh". The rides are fun and the photos are colorful. I think my husband loved it as much as the kids though.
Be sure to bring some money, because these are Mini-Fig bins. You can choose your own parts and make your own mini-figs.
There are lots of other places to go and eat in San Diego which should be mentioned here.
I'm going to just list them and give you the links and you can decide! Most of these are casual and pretty kid friendly.
Hash House A Go Go for brunch note: Hash house has a long wait but is very casual)
The Mission for breakfast (Can have a line, but so worth it. Very casual)
Point Loma Seafood for lunch (Walk up fish counter. Take a number, seat yourself)
Ethnic foods on India Street (many different restaurants!)
Saffron on India Street (Order at counter Thai)
El Indio for lunch or dinner (mmmm potato tacos!) (Order at counter Mexican)
Sushi Ota in Pacific Beach for dinner (Sit down, but so yummy)
Yogurtland in Pacific Beach (had to give it a shout-out because our kids love it)
Indigo Grill for dinner (reservations) (Sit down, but not too stuffy)
World Curry in Pacific Beach. (Beach casual)
Sammy's Wood-fired Pizza (There are several around SD. Very yummy)
Corvette Diner - 50's theme restaurant. Fun for kids but somewhat loud.
Extraordinary Desserts- Seriously awesome coffee and delicious desserts!
Filippi's Pizza Grotto - Busy on weekend nights, but great for lunch. They are all over the city check the internet to see if there is one where you are. (PB, India Street, Scripps Ranch, etc)
If you are going to any beaches or picnic-type places, shop at Trader Joe's to pick up stuff for lunch. The locations are in the links. Great cheeses and crackers and breads and wines.
Okay, that's as many as I can think of right now, but I will add to the list as I think of them!