Fun with kids in non-kid-friendly places: UCSD

  • Posted on: 5 February 2013
  • By: kate

Two weekends ago, I found myself and my two kids on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. My husband was attending a conference, and, aside from visiting friends in town for a small part of our trip, my kids and I had no agenda. We needed some fun stuff to do, and fast.

The UCSD Snake Path. Photo courtesy of UCSD Stuart Collection.

College campuses aren't the most kid-friendly of places. If I really wanted to show my sons a good time in San Diego, I would have gone to LegoLand or SeaWorld. Here we were, however, on campus on a rainy weekend, sharing a car with my husband, who wasn't sure when he'd be done for the day. We had a couple of hours to kill - and we managed to find some fun stuff to do.

UCSD's Geisel Library is named for Theodor Seuss Geisel, or, as you might know him better, Dr. Seuss. We got very excited about the Seuss Collection, which is housed in the Geisel Library, and asked one of the librarians if anything was on display. Sadly, nothing was on exhibit until March, the month of Dr. Seuss's birthday. We did, however, get to go up the Snake Path. The path starts at the tail and winds up the hill to the library. Halfway along it is a giant granite book carved with a passage from Milton's Paradise Lost: "And wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a Paradise within thee, happier far." The only reason I was loath to leave the Paradise of the Snake Path: there was no elevator down to the library entrance (which is a few floors below where the snake path ends up). I had to lift the stroller down several steps, and then back up them again, which was a pain in the ass - I can't imagine trying to navigate a wheelchair around there. Not cool.

Fallen Star. Photo courtesy of UCSD Stuart Collection.

Next stop: Fallen Star, a tiny cottage perched precariously atop Jacobs Hall, one of UCSD's engineering buildings. We took the elevator up to the top floor of Jacobs Hall. (Even the elevator gets fun points, for being just rickety and shaky enough to give my four-year-old a thrill without actually seeming dangerous.) There, we peeked out through a glass door at Fallen Star, balanced at an unbelievable angle on a corner of the building, 100 feet in the air. You can actually go into the cottage - you walk down a little path into the front yard, where two Adirondack chairs sit - but a sign posted by the door told us that it was only open for visiting on Tuesdays and Thursdays. According to UCSD's website, the house is furnished, and lights come on at night.

Inside Fallen Star. Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann for Stuart Collection (UCSD).

Down in the lobby of Jacobs Hall, two movies were projected onto the walls: one depicted the building and installation of Fallen Star, and the other showed footage from the Hubble Space Telescope (perhaps connected with this professor emeritus). Both enthralled my four-year-old - and, unfortunately, my baby, too. My pediatrician advised me not to let the baby have any type of screen time - computer, iPad, phone, or TV - before he's two years old, according to AAP guidelines. I dutifully turned him away from the Hubble video, but couldn't help thinking that if little dude is going to catch a few seconds of TV every so often, these amazing images of space are probably closer to brain food than most other video content out there.

Water fountain/bottle refiller. Image courtesy of

Last but not least, UCSD has these cool drinking fountains/water bottle refillers. They use sensors, so when you put your water bottle up to the spout - or your finger, in my four-year-old's case - the water starts to pour out. It stops as soon as you remove whatever object you're putting up to the sensor. Turns out little kids think this is the most hilarious thing in the whole universe. My son could have spent all afternoon putting his finger up to the sensor and yanking it away again. If you're at UCSD with a cranky kid, find one of these machines, stat.

The conference my husband attended is a yearly one, so we'll probably find ourselves back at UCSD next January. Do you know any other cool kid-friendly spots on or near campus?


I should hook you up with my friend Colleen - she went to UCSD. I bet she knows a number of places. Also, I would've pointed you at DZ Akins, which may be the best breakfast place IN THE ENTIRE WORLD :)

Must go there next time. What do you guys eat when you go there?

There is of course the San Diego Zoo - even more so now they've closed the Wgasa Bush Railway and you no longer have to field questions from the kids about what 'Wgasa' stands for.

I hadn't heard about this, and I just looked it up... hahaha!!

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