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Last week, I stopped by the new waterfront park at 1600 Pacific Highway with the kids and had a picnic by the enormous fountain and its “interactive” water arches. My little ones got drenched and were happy. The bigger kids, however, long for more sophisticated water sports.

Jenn at the SDSU Aztec Aquaplex (619-594-7946; aztecaquaplex.sdsu.edu) told me they offered “two large solar-heated outdoor pools and a 20-person spa. We’re open to the community as well as students. All the areas are open to adults 18 and up,” as long as they’re not reserved for other uses. “So you are welcome to use the raft lounge [rafts are provided], sit in the sun, shoot hoops in the water-basketball section, swim laps in the lap pool, or use the diving boards. We have a one-meter and a three-meter board for public use. Families with children under 18 are welcome during family swim time: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 12:30 to 7 p.m., and weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. If kids want to use the diving boards [check for availability] or the water-basketball area, they must pass a swim test. It’s 25 yards freestyle with your face in the water — no doggie paddling — and treading water for 30 seconds.” Adults 18 and over can access the Aquaplex and Aztec Recreation Center free for one week (apply online for pass). Daily prices for the Aquaplex are $3 for students, $4 for kids under 18, and $5 for community members.

Jenn also warned against bringing in flotation devices “unless they are Coast Guard–approved. So, no noodles or things like that. But we do provide kickboards — for swimming, not surfing — and sinking toys, like rings.”

Belmont Park Wave House

Justin at the Belmont Park Wave House in Mission Beach (858-228-9283; wavehousesd.com) told me about their FlowRider and FlowBarrel wave machines. “We run one-hour sessions from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. The FlowRider is the smaller of the two. It’s like a static trampoline, suspended with 35,000 gallons of water pumping down it. Basically, what you’re doing is a sort of hybrid sport, similar to surfing, snowboarding, or wakeboarding. You can use it either laying down on a bodyboard [42-inch minimum height requirement] or standing up [52-inch minimum]. If you want to stand, an instructor will give you a rope you can hold on to while you get up and get the hang of it. Once you fall off or get to the end of the ‘wave,’ you can get back in line to go again.”

The FlowBarrel is bigger and more advanced. “It’s a ten-foot wave machine that creates a tube for you to ride through. But it’s different from riding ocean waves. Even really good surfers don’t just get on and do well. It takes some time to master, but once you do, you can do tricks — do turns at the top of the wave, get some air. That’s fun to watch.”

There is a onetime registration fee of $10. After that, it’s $20 per hour for the FlowRider and $40 for the FlowBarrel. A $55 combo package gets you one hour on each.

Of course, I had to check in with Chula Vista’s Aquatica water park (now a SeaWorld property; 800-257-4268; aquaticabyseaworld.com). The park offers seven slide rides, the newest being the Taumata Racer, a fast 375-foot slide that you tackle head-first and belly-down on a rubber mat. Other attractions include the wave pool and slow-float Lazy River. Tickets are $35 for adults and $29 for kids age 3–9, but if you purchase online, you can save $5 per ticket.

Finally, my friend Katie told me about her time at the Legoland Water Park (760-918-5346; california.legoland.com). Tickets aren’t cheap (online special: $86 adults, $76 kids 3–12), but the price includes a Legoland pass, and she thought the water park was “fun, easy, clean, and varied. It seems to lean toward a younger crowd, and it’s easy for moms and dads to join their little ones for those first slides down the pipes. There are plenty of spacious changing areas and it’s not crazy-busy or full of lines. My kids loved the wave pool, the build-a-boat racing area, and Pirate Reef. The big slides offered plenty of excitement as well.”

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