San Marcos is steadily ranked as a great place to raise a family, thanks to its top-notch schools and high quality of life. Look around town and you’ll see that affirmed. Children 9 or younger make up about 15 percent of the city’s population. That’s higher than San Diego County’s rate, which is closer to 12 percent.
The local dining scene has taken note, too. A fresh crop of family-focused restaurants has sprouted in recent years. And these aren’t the kiddie chains most of us remember from our childhoods. At these spots, parents can still enjoy a quality meal while their kids can—well, be kids.
The newest to open its doors is My Yard Live, 288 Rancheros Drive, which serves family-style food with a backyard vibe (think smoked brisket by the pound and picnic tables). Billed for the “young and young at heart,” it aims to entice folks to linger awhile—much like you would at a neighborhood party. Live music, lawn games and lots of lounge areas underscore that comfy vibe.
For example, families can relax on a large patio that features a play area and treehouse for kids to explore. Months of research went into perfecting this treehouse, and the company that built it has created similar structures for Disneyland.
Because My Yard Live brews its own beer, parents can sample its in-house program—or one of the many guest brews it has on tap. There’s also a full bar offering all sorts of craft cocktails and wine.
Many dishes can be served family-style, including roasted chicken, St. Louis-style ribs, smoked brisket and a sausage platter. Adults can also pick from salads, sandwiches, burgers and entrees—while kids can take their pick from staples such as mac-and-cheese, hotdogs and chicken tenders.
Family dining at URGE-Just across Interstate 78 is URGE Gastro Pub & Common House, 255 Redel Road, a sprawling eatery serving up family fun with a hip twist. For starters, there’s a bowling alley with a Big Lebowski theme. And yes, parents can order a proper White Russian at the bar—there are nine varieties, in fact. Parents with younger kids will appreciate the gutter guards and bowling ball ramps to make the game easier. Because there are just eight bowling lanes, everyone is encouraged to reserve one online at sm.urgegastropub.com/bowling—and check rates, as they vary.
The back patio also feels more like a backyard thanks to a large, grassy area, which was recently added with kids in mind. In fact, this space offers all the makings of a family game night—including giant sized chess, Jenga, Connect Four, cornhole and bucket ball. This back patio is dog-friendly, so families can bring their four-legged children, too.
Urge also houses its own brewery, Mason Ale Works. Those in-house brews are on tap, along with dozens of other local craft beers. There’s also a hefty whisky list with more than 70 varieties, plus a full bar and sophisticated wine list.
Most of the menu can be summed up as classic pub food, which includes burgers, fish and chips, schnitzels and meatloaf. There are also several salads, flatbreads and shared plates. The kids’ menu includes crowd-pleasers, such as mac-and-cheese, chicken tenders and sliders.
The past couple of years has also ushered in Landon’s East Meets West—formerly Landon’s Gourmet Kitchen—1020 West San Marcos Boulevard. As the new name indicates, the restaurant recently pivoted its concept to feature a more Asian inspired menu. That comes through in dishes like kimchi fried rice and tandoori chicken. Fans of the original menu will still find burgers, flatbreads and stuffed avocados—and many of the other dinner entrees will return soon.
A good selection of wine and craft beers also remains, though some imports have been added to pair with the Eastern-inspired entrees. The kids’ menu includes crowd-pleasers such a grilled cheese and gluten-free chicken nuggets.
Lucky for parents, one thing that hasn’t changed here is the supervised playroom, which truly sets this restaurant apart. Here, attendants will happily entertain kids for a reasonable rate ($8 per hour for one child or $12 per hour for two children). Kids can make crafts, play games or enjoy the treasure trove of toys, including a life-sized stuffed pony, dollhouse and musical instruments.
The playroom, however, is not open every day: It is now only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays—though there are plans to eventually open it on Sundays.
Also, worth noting: Dining is allowed in the playroom, which a gamechanger for parents who want to enjoy some uninterrupted adult conversation over dinner—while still giving their kids a fun night out