I help people plan San Diego family vacations and am a trusted resource for locals in search of things to do in San Diego with kids. Why? I live here and despite regularly traveling the world, I strongly believe that San Diego is one of the best destinations in the United States to spend a holiday no matter how old you are.
There are baby activities in San Diego, toddler activities, and plenty of things to do in San Diego with teens and tweens, too. Some of these attractions are free to enter, many are near my favorite kid-friendly hotels in San Diego, and I have tons of advice on how to save money on tickets.
Top Things to Do in San Diego with Kids
My goal is to provide up-to-date research on how to save families money on San Diego sightseeing and I may generate revenue via purchases made through links to some of the trusted travel partners mentioned below.
1. San Diego Zoo©
Location: Balboa ParkThe koalas at the San Diego Zoo are popular with all ages.
The world-famous San Diego Zoo tops the list of things to do in San Diego with kids. It’s home to over 3700 rare and endangered animals and a beautiful display of over 700,000 exotic plants throughout its 100 acres.
Walking around the zoo’s maintained gardens is a pleasant way to spend a full-day or half-day. The San Diego Zoo is dedicated to conservation and pioneered cageless exhibits that replicate an animal’s natural habitat.
Highlights include the Polar Bear Plunge, Skyfari tram (panoramic views), Children’s Zoo and Africa Rocks. Live cams (ape cam, etc.) are available online should you like to get the kids excited before a visit.
We also like to go right when it opens as the weather is cool and some animals enjoy breakfast during this time. However, I would highly encourage you to check out their upgraded tours and experiences, some of which you join before the park opens.
Use promo code LAJOLLAMOM for $6 off 1-Day adult and child tickets!
2. San Diego Zoo Safari Park©
Location: EscondidoGet up-close to rhinos on the Caravan Safari.
Over 2600 animals ranging from giraffes, elephants, lions and more roam in large, free-range enclosures at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Tour on your own or schedule a safari (or both). Two of the most popular safaris include the Africa Tram tour around the park and the Skyline Safari zip line over some of the animal enclosures.
Be aware that it gets pretty hot in the summer. Animal enclosures can be spread out (these are mostly big animals, after all). Watching the afternoon cheetah run is one of the most popular attractions. We love the tigers of Tiger Trail, Nairobi Village (where the petting zoo is), and Walkabout Australia.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park also has live cams to check out to get the family excited prior to a visit or to check on favorite animals long after you get home.
Use promo code LAJOLLAMOM for $6 off 1-Day adult and child tickets!
3. LEGOLAND© California
Location: CarlsbadDriving school at LEGOLAND California.
LEGOLAND California is, of course, one of the most popular things to do in San Diego with kids. The resort consists of LEGOLAND California, SEA LIFE® Aquarium, LEGOLAND Water Park, LEGOLAND Hotel, and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel.
If pressed for time, LEGOLAND California theme park can be visited in a half-day. The park is best for toddlers and younger kids as the suggested age is between 2–12. Teens would have to be die-hard LEGO lovers to enjoy it without accompanying a younger guest as most rides might be too young for them. The average visit to SEA LIFE Aquarium is about 45 minutes, and it’s a fun stop, too.
Tip: Bring mini figures to trade with staff members.
Important: During the school year, LEGOLAND California closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The water park is also seasonal. Check their calendar before planning a visit.
4. SeaWorld© San Diego
Location: Mission BayTweens and teens love the SeaWorld San Diego roller coasters.
SeaWorld San Diego alone draws tourists to our city from all over the world to enjoy up-close animal interactions, fun rides, and educational experiences.
Special behind-the-scenes tours give guests the opportunity to learn more about penguins, rays, dolphins, sea otters and more. Sesame Street Bay of Play® entertains young kids with mild rides and lots to climb on. The Manta roller coaster and new Electric Eel roller coaster thrill older riders. SeaWorld San Diego uses its facilities to rescue local sea life, including the La Jolla seals.
Most guests spend an entire day here. A half-day is doable if short on time.
Tip: Skip the lines with a Quick Queue® Premier pass. Discounted SeaWorld San Diego tickets are usually best bought through them directly.
5. Aquatica San Diego Water Park (Seasonal)
Location: Chula VistaKids love this seasonal water park.
Our only water park features a wide range of attractions for any level of swimmer including wave pools, lazy river, water slides up to 78′, interactive water play areas, private cabana rentals and much more. Discounted Aquatica San Diego tickets are most often purchased through SeaWorld directly.
The park is open in summer and select fall weekends so check the park calendar before going. Note that the park’s last year will be 2020. After this, it will transition to Sesame Place which is scheduled to open in 2021.
6. Belmont Park
Location: Mission Beach (Free to enter)
Break from the beach for a few hours to pop into San Diego’s seaside amusement park in Mission Beach (but also walkable from Pacific Beach).
Between a historic roller coaster, an arcade, numerous rides, giant scoops of ice cream, a zip line, laser tag and more, Belmont Park is a great thing to do in San Diego with kids and also ranks as one of the best things to do in San Diego with teens.
It’s located right on Mission Beach and home to a couple of pretty good restaurants. They even have a Dole Whip® truck.
Tickets: You can buy discounted unlimited ride tickets sometimes through Costco or Groupon. The Go San Diego pass includes the all-access combo pass. Belmont Park now has an annual pass that residents may want to check out. Entrance to Belmont Park is free, but the cost of rides and activities can add up quickly here because kids love this park.
7. Old Town San Diego
Location: Old Town (Free to Enter)Old Town San Diego shops have crafts, candy, and souvenirs.
Known as the birthplace of California, Old Town San Diego is good for free family fun in San Diego. In addition to a variety of shops and restaurants (many serve Mexican food), there is a lovely park and some historic sites.
The Whaley House is one of the coolest haunted houses in the country while the Seeley Stables is an old stagecoach stop. The Serra Museum showcases Kumeyaay Indians Spanish and Mexican exhibits of local history starting in the 1700s and much more.
Old Town often has mariachis and people dressed in period costumes as well as other live entertainment. Check the event calendar. Kids also like popping into the shops.
8. Seaport Village
Location: Downtown San Diego (Free to Enter)A great place to walk along the water and shop in downtown.
Yes, it’s a touristy spot, but Seaport Village is a fun seaside entertainment area for local and visiting families.
We’re talking about a fudge store, an awesome kite store (fly a kite on the nearby grassy area on the bay), roaming entertainment, ocean views, and dining at over 50 restaurants and shops in all.
It’s an excellent spot for family photos and within walking distance of many hotels in downtown. The historic carousel is fun to ride for younger kids.
9. Balboa Park
Location: Balboa Park (Free to Enter)
The nation’s largest urban cultural park is home to 16 museums (the most kid-friendly options are enumerated in 10-14 below), many gorgeous gardens, the San Diego Zoo (mentioned above), restaurants, and performing arts venues. It is indeed one of the most fun places in San Diego.
Balboa Park is free to enter though the museums have individual ticket fees. The museums are best visited using a Balboa Park Explorer pass (provides entrance to all museums, with an option to include the San Diego Zoo, for a specified number of days) or the Go San Diego pass.
Tip: Our favorite al fresco, counter-order restaurants are Panama 66 and the Japanese Tea Pavilion.
See also: Where to Eat and Drink in Balboa Park
Best Museums in San Diego for Kids
Tip: Admission to the Balboa Park Museums can add up as they are not large and you’ll likely visit more than one or even two. Buy the Go San Diego pass or the Balboa Park Explorer Pass to avoid multiple a la carte ticket purchases to these kid-friendly San Diego museums.
10. Fleet Science Center
Location: Balboa Park
Fleet Science Center is one of our favorite places for hands-on science education. Kids (and adults) love exploring the 100 hands-on exhibits throughout eight galleries. Learn how gravity works, build stuff, watch movies in the world’s first dome IMAX theatre and then some.
11. San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT)
Location: Balboa ParkThere are two scavenger hunts to try inside theNAT.
Located across the courtyard from the Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Natural History Museum is home to fossils, scavenger hunts, and exhibits regarding local geology, ecosystems, and history. Kids under 5 will love the new Backyard play area (parents can watch with latte in-hand from the cafe only steps away).
12. San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Location: Balboa Park
The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is North America’s largest model railroad museum (27,000 square feet) and a toy train enthusiast’s dream with its four enormous scale and model layouts. The detail on the trains and the scenery is staggering. Admire and tinker with toy trains here, too.
13. San Diego Air and Space Museum
Location: Balboa Park
Go to the San Diego Air and Space Museum to learn about the history of flight from early balloon ascents to space travel. Over 50 aircraft hang from the rafters, and the various galleries showcase the Wright brothers, the Golden Age of flight, World Wars I and II, the Jet Age in addition to women in flight.
14. Museum of Man
Location: Balboa Park
Kids can channel their inner archeologist at the Museum of Man. They can also dress up as a Pharaoh in addition to learning about excavating and wrapping mummies. The iconic California Tower is here but climbing it would only be suitable for older kids and a reservation is required.
15. San Diego Botanic Gardens
If you’re looking for outdoor fun for kids in San Diego and garden inspiration, this is a great place. The San Diego Botanic Garden is home to 30 gorgeous gardens with themes ranging from fire safety to olive trees to plants native to the Canary Islands, in addition to the Hamilton Gardens filled with activities. Guests can join a tour ranging from bird watching to various walks catered toward specific age groups.
16. Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Location: La JollaThe Kelp Forest tank showcases sea life that live off the coast of San Diego.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for the prestigious Scripps Institution of Oceanography and one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids for a few hours that you can pair with other La Jolla activities.
Enter, and walk to the right where the impressive aquarium displays 60 habitats of fishes and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and beyond. On the other side, kids play with hands-on educational exhibits that teach the value of conservation.
A tide pool area in the back boasts panoramic ocean views over La Jolla Shores beach and is where docents help visitors gently touch starfish and anemones. And, there’s more.
I would also encourage you to take a look at their calendar of off-site programming, including whale watching tours (December through April), tide pool tours (winter), snorkeling with leopard sharks (summer), summer camps and other special events.
17. USS Midway Museum®
One of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers is now a popular maritime museum home to 60 exhibits and 29 restored aircraft. Kids will love learning what life was like at sea on the USS Midway in addition to trying two flight simulators (height restrictions apply). Some of the USS Midway Museum docents lived on board the ship, and it’s one of my favorite places to recommend because there isn’t another museum like it.
See also: Tips for Visiting the USS Midway Museum
18. Maritime Museum of San Diego®
This San Diego museum preserves one of the largest collections of historic vessels in the country. Visitors may climb on board to explore the ships, some of which still occasionally sail (check the website for tours on the bay). Highlights include the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship, and the Soviet-era B-39 submarine, one of the largest conventionally-powered submarines ever built.
Tip: It’s easy to combine a visit to the Maritime Museum of San Diego with the USS Midway Museum and Waterfront Park as they are neighbors on the Embarcadero. (Grab a taco at Carnitas Snack Shack here, too.)
19. The New Children’s Museum®
The goal of The New Children’s Museum is for children of all ages to experience the arts in ways that are meaningful to them. Their motto is, “think, play, create” and that’s exactly what kids do there through arts and crafts, hands-on exhibits and performing arts. Looking for things to do in San Diego with babies? This museum is free for babies under 12 months and is engaging for your littlest family members because they’ll love watching all the kids.
The activities in the museum are appropriate for toddlers up to teenagers. It’s one of the San Diego attractions for kids that will spark their love of learning early.
20. San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum
If you happen to be in the area, stop by the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum. It’s entirely dedicated to learning through play throughout 6000 square feet of indoor space and even more outside where there are chicken coops, worm farms and other investigative stations. The themes of water and energy conservation are present throughout.
21. Living Coast Discovery Center
Location: Chula Vista
Those interested in California’s coastal flora and fauna should plan a visit to The Living Coast Discovery Center, about 15 minutes south of downtown. It’s a popular location for school field trips (typically also a less busy spot than many of our other popular animal attractions) and you can add on a variety of experiences like bat ray feedings and reptile meet and greets to enhance your days. Take a look at their calendar of events as guests can participate in bird walks, composting classes, and much more family fun in San Diego.
Best San Diego Beaches for Families
Our beautiful San Diego beaches top most family sightseeing itineraries and they are free to use after you secure parking.
One of the most popular things to do in San Diego is going to the beach in any season. We have 70 miles of stunning coastline which means there are many best San Diego beaches to choose from. The odds are that there is a family-friendly beach near where you are staying, but here are my top picks.
See also: 15 Best Beach Hotels in San Diego
22. Coronado Central Beach
This beach is in front of the Hotel del Coronado® though it extends quite a distance past the luxury hotel. The water is usually pretty calm here, with a wide flat sandy beach to chill out on. You can walk up to eat at The Del and even rent chairs and umbrellas from their Del Beach area even if you’re not an overnight guest.
Coronado Central Beach ranks highly on national travel publication lists including Travel + Leisure. The north end is dog-friendly and suitable for surfing when waves cooperate.
See also: Detailed Guide to Coronado Beaches
23. La Jolla Shores Beach
Location: La Jolla
This beach (and one of our favorite places in town) suits people of all ages who crave ocean activities. The beach is flat, sandy, and an especially great place for kids.
Kellogg Park’s playground, grassy areas, and amenities are right here, too. Lifeguards patrol the area, visitors may use the handful of fire pits (first come, first served), and the bathrooms are reasonably nice.
Walk easily to Avenida de la Playa, the main street in the La Jolla Shores neighborhood, for snacks (grab a sandwich at The Cheese Shop) or essentials like forgotten sunscreen. The parking lot is reasonably big but go early during summer months to avoid parking issues.
We list several popular things to do with kids at La Jolla Shores Beach below in #24 and #25.
24. Kayak the Sea Caves
Location: La Jolla Shores Beach
Rent a double kayak, bring your own or join a tour. Kayaks launch easily from La Jolla Shores Beach for exploration of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park. From above, you can see orange Garibaldi fish and our friendly sea lions.
You’ll pass by our sea caves. All but one are only visible from the ocean. Some tours will take you through Clam’s Cave where the barks of sea lions are almost deafening (but funny) though this is not something you should try on your own. I recommend a sea cave tour with Everyday California.
Tip: Use code lajollamom and click the green checkmark for a 20% discount on tours, lessons, and rentals at Everyday California. This includes private surf lessons, kayaking tours, SUP rentals, and more. Like their retail offerings? Use code LJM20 for 20% off of clothes and accessories online.
25. Snorkel or Swim with Leopard Sharks (Summer)
Location: La Jolla Shores Beach
La Jolla Shores Beach is also home to the largest aggregation of leopard sharks in the world. They arrive starting in June, but numbers peak around August and September. You’ll see them even in knee-deep water but mostly while snorkeling (swim slowly). No, they don’t bite which is why it’s on this list of best things to do in San Diego with kids.
26. Del Mar Beaches
Location: Del Mar
From 15th street in Del Mar through 29th street is an area of beach in front of beautiful homes that is very popular especially during the summer (when parking is difficult). It’s walkable from some of the most popular restaurants in Del Mar as well as L’Auberge Del Mar Hotel and a few smaller inns.
Another stretch of Del Mar beach is Torrey Pines State Beach, near the famous state reserve. The state park system administers it so you’ll need to pay at a kiosk to park.
The most family-friendly strip of beach is located closest to Torrey Pines Road. Find bathrooms, showers, and lifeguards here as well as in addition to a fun little area where kids can play next to the lagoon. If you’re looking for baby activities in San Diego, Del Mar Beaches are a good choice.
27. Moonlight Beach
Further north awaits Moonlight Beach. It’s a favorite North San Diego County hotel concierge recommendation because it has probably the most family-friendly amenities of beaches in the area. Between picnic tables, fire rings, lifeguards, restrooms, volleyball courts, a snack bar, and even equipment rentals, needs are very well taken care of here. Fun fact: The name Moonlight Beach stems from the fact that residents used to picnic here late at night during the 1900s.
28. Mission Bay Beaches
Location: Mission Bay
The largest human-made aquatic park in America is Mission Bay. In addition to vendors who offer a myriad of water sports from water skiing to SUP to aqua cycles, bay beaches are great for young families because there are no waves compared to the ocean beach but older kids enjoy the water sports.
The sand is soft, and water is as calm as can be (though it can be murky in spots). Access the Mission Bay beaches from a variety of places and resorts, but Sail Bay Beach in front of Fanuel Park in Pacific Beach is a favorite.
See also: 8 Best Mission Beach Hotels in San Diego
Fun Outdoor San Diego Kids Activities
The good news is that you can enjoy these activities on a trip to San Diego County any time of the year.
29. Learn to Surf
One of the coolest things to do in San Diego with kids that embodies the California lifestyle is to get them up on a surfboard. Kids as young as five can take surfing lessons. It’s easy to enroll in private lessons, group lessons or even a half-day summer camp (that you can book by the day or week).
I would recommend Surf Diva® at La Jolla Shores or San Diego Surfing School in Pacific Beach, though there are accredited surf schools all up and down the coast including Mission Beach and Del Mar.
30. Children’s Pool Seals and La Jolla Sea Lions
Location: La Jolla (Free to Enter)Seals sunbathe at golden hour at Children’s Pool Beach.
One of the best free things to do in La Jolla is to visit the seals and sea lions. They’re cute, noisy and perhaps a bit stinky. As far as cool stuff to do in San Diego goes, this is definitely a kid-pleaser.
The most popular location is called the Children’s Pool, a small stretch of beach protected by a partial seawall that was initially intended for kids to have a safe place to swim. Well, the seals took it over. Some say they should go, but in the meantime, they’re here hanging out and sunbathing for all to see. You may not touch them, and most of the time people may not walk on the beach here.
It is technically okay to swim at the Children’s Pool, but the water is not of the highest quality. It’s quite a scenic spot for photographs. Walk along the boardwalk from here to the Cave Store along Coast Blvd. and you’ll also see a myriad of sea lions along La Jolla Cove.
31. Cabrillo National Monument
Location: Point LomaA great place to photograph water views is Cabrillo National Monument.
San Diego’s only National Park is definitely one of the fun and educational family things to do in San Diego. Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo is thought to have discovered California in 1542 at Cabrillo National Monument.
In addition to panoramic views of downtown San Diego over the bay, other sights here include the iconic lighthouse, a visitor’s center where kids can earn a Junior Ranger stamp, lovely trail walks and fantastic tide pools (best viewing is November–March when low tides typically happen during the day).
32. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Location: La Jolla
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is home to the rare Torrey Pine tree, some of the best San Diego ocean views, and eight miles of hiking trails, many of which are suitable for kids. Take advantage of the free public guided walks for families and small groups that are on weekends and holidays to spot local flora and fauna. And, Torrey Pines State Beach is below the park so add on some fun in the sand before or after your visit.
33. Petco Park Baseball Game and Tour
Even if the Padres aren’t in season, take a behind the scenes tour of Petco Park. The tours are approximately 80 minutes in length and involve about 1.5 miles of walking onto the field, in the press box and more. The state-of-the-art, open-air ballpark boasts views of downtown and beyond.
If the team is playing, definitely grab tickets for a game. Petco Park boasts some of the best sight lines in baseball and is definitely one of the popular family things to do in San Diego.
34. Waterfront Park
Families love this big waterfront park (hence the name) with its interactive water fountains (yes, they can play in them) and playground equipment. The large grassy area is a great place for picnics and games, and they even show outdoor movies here in the summer.
The views over San Diego Bay are also spectacular. It is located across from the Maritime Museum of San Diego and next door to the Wyndham San Diego Bayfront.
35. Falconry Lessons
Location: La Jolla, Alpine, Ramona
The Torrey Pines Gliderport is also home to some cool falconry and owl experiences through Total Raptor eXperience where participants will enjoy the up-close interaction and learn to fly a raptor. All ages are welcome in the introductory class.
We enjoyed a falconry lesson with Sky Falconry at the Torrey Pines Gliderport a few years ago. They offer these lessons now only at their Alpine ranch. If you’re looking for things to do in San Diego with kids involving animal interaction, I would highly recommend them.
36. Electric Bike Tours
Location: La Jolla, Pacific Beach, or Downtown
One of the most fun things to do in San Diego with teens is an electric bike tour (must be 13 or older) that allows riders to pedal when they like. Tour La Jolla beaches like La Jolla Cove and scenic hilltops, downtown sights and more. Or, rent one of these cool bikes for a few hours to do it on your own.
37. Queen Calafia®’s Magic Circle
Location: Escondido (Free to Enter)
A somewhat hidden gem in North San Diego County, Queen Califia’s Magic Circle is the only American sculpture garden by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle who is famous for colorful mosaics. This display includes nine large sculptures, a circular “snake wall” (400 feet long with varying heights), and a maze entryway in addition to some bench seating. Find it in Kit Carson Park.
38. The Stuart Collection at UC San Diego
Location: La Jolla
Another striking art installation is woven throughout the campus of UC San Diego. The Stuart Collection has 18 rather large pieces of public art ranging from an actual house hanging off the side of the Engineering Building (Fallen Star by Doh Ho Suh), steel trees, and the Sun God by Niki de Saint Phalle.
It makes a fun scavenger hunt for kids or something fun to look out for when touring the campus with a potential student.
39. San Elijo Lagoon
Location: Cardiff (Free to Enter)
The nearly 1000-acre San Elijo Lagoon is one of San Diego’s most diverse coastal wetlands. See if you can spot some of the over 1000 species of birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals that call this area home. Before visiting, check their website for special programming and to see if any hiking trails are closed. Hiking here can be mild and is one of the fun things to do in San Diego for kids outside.
Location: La Jolla, La Costa, Carlsbad
If your child has ever wanted to try golf or needs to polish his or her skills, San Diego is the perfect place for it. Find junior golf academies at Torrey Pines Golf Course, Omni La Costa, Aviara Golf Academy (near Park Hyatt Aviara and Four Seasons Resort and Residences), and elsewhere. All three are steps from popular San Diego family hotels.
41. Hotel Pool Day Pass
Location: Hotels across San Diego County
Families who feel like they need a change of scenery now have the option through ResortPass to book a day at one of our fantastic local hotel pools. Options include Hyatt Regency Mission Bay (water slides!), Loews Coronado Bay, Hilton San Diego Resort and Spa, Estancia La Jolla, and many more.
See also: The Best San Diego Hotel Pools
42. Skate Parks
Some of the world’s most famous skateboarders, including Tony Hawk, have called San Diego home. Needless to say, we have a variety of skate parks scattered across the county that cater to various levels and they are free to use. Try:
- Linda Vista Skate Park (the second-largest in California)
- Carlsbad Skate Park (good for beginners)
- Washington Street Skate Park (good for experts)
43. San Diego Missions
A very popular reason for a San Diego family vacation is to learn about California history, especially when kids who live in the state need to prepare for their 4th grade Mission project.
Mission San Diego de Alcala in Old Town was the first of the 21 California Missions and you can also visit Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, the largest of the California Misions. Both are open to the public daily.
Best San Diego Tours for Kids and Teens
If you’re wondering what to do in San Diego with kids in regard to sightseeing tours, rest assured that with these they will not be boring.
44. San Diego Seal Tours
Location: Embarcadero or Seaport Village (Downtown)Drive right from land to water on the bus boat.
Yes, even we have the famous bus-boats that start on land and head into the San Diego Bay. San Diego Seal Tours are 90-minute, fully-narrated tours on an amphibious vehicle that tour scenic downtown San Diego spots and then submerge into the bay for skyline views and seal sightings.
45. Speed Boat Adventures®
Location: Harbor Island (Downtown)
Even if you’ve never driven a boat, you can drive these. Speed Boat Adventures boats are 13′ mini speed boats with quiet, eco-friendly motors that carry up to three people (small children sit in the middle). Boats have a two-way communicator so you can hear narration from the guide. It’s a fabulous way to sightsee from the San Diego Bay and they even do sunset tours.
Tip: The way to guarantee your date and time at time of booking is to book direct.
46. Old Town Trolley Tours®
Location: Various stops from La Jolla to Downtown
The orange and green Old Town Trolley Tours cars allow guests to hop on and of at various stops around town. This service can eliminate the need for a rental car in San Diego.
Download the trolley’s interactive map on to your phone for information about stops, attractions, and restaurants near stops and more. Check the route as you can even get to La Jolla Cove on the trolley.
Seasonal Activities in San Diego for Kids
47. Winter Tide Pooling
Location: Various (Free to Explore After You Park)Cabrillo National Monument is a great place for tide pools.
Tide pooling season begins in November and spans through roughly March when tides are low during the day. See sea creatures galore including sea anemones, hermit crabs, octopus, sea stars, sea slugs and more live in our tide pools.
Birch Aquarium leads tide pool tours near Scripps Pier at La Jolla Shores. Other great locations include the Cabrillo National Monument, Shell Beach in La Jolla, Tourmaline Surfing Park in Pacific Beach, in front of the Hotel del Coronado and more.
48. Whale Watching
Location: Cruises typically depart from Downtown San Diego
Whale watching in San Diego is viable for about nine months of the year. The types of whales seen depend on the season.
Roughly 20,000 gray whales make the 10,000-mile migration from Alaska to the warm waters of Mexico annually to give birth. Gray whales swim offshore mostly from mid-December to April.
Your chances of seeing them from land (Torrey Pines State Park and Cabrillo National Monument are two excellent spots) are better earlier in the season as they tend to swim a bit closer to shore when en route to Mexico.
Blue whales are among the largest creatures on earth and spotted between mid-June and September. A variety of local companies offer whale watching tours including some that depart from downtown, Mission Bay, and Oceanside in North San Diego County.
49. Butterfly Farms
Butterfly Farms is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the survival of our native butterflies and pollinators. It’s open daily for public visits from April to November.
Docents are on-hand to educate guests about the research and conservation efforts that happen at Butterfly Farms and you’ll be able to walk through the 3000-square-foot Vivarium where butterflies fly free. Looking for butterfly-friendly plants? You can also buy them here.
50. Bayside Summer Nights Concerts
While you should check the San Diego Symphony calendar year-round, their outdoor summer concert series is one of the fantastic seasonal things to do in San Diego with kids. Whether you picnic on the lawn (plenty of food and drinks are for sale at the event) and let the kids run around (bring some glow sticks) or order a bottle of champagne to a reserved table, you’ll listen to fantastic music themed to the event. There is usually a Harry Potter themed concert in and others that are themed to popular movies and television shows.
51. Carlsbad Flower Fields®
Every spring, a 50-acre Carlsbad hillside turns into an almost rainbow of color as thousands of ranunculus flowers bloom against an ocean backdrop. It’s a tradition going over 60 years strong. The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch is a family-friendly San Diego attraction open to the public for about 6-8 weeks, with hayrides and other special events.
52. Free Outdoor Summer Concerts
Location: All over San Diego
Free outdoor summer concerts pop up around town throughout the summer. Bring a blanket, a picnic, and listen to music under the stars roughly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Some of the many calendars to check out include:
Things to Do in San Diego with Toddlers
Photo courtesy of The New Children’s Museum — popular when in San Diego with kids.
Families email me quite a bit in search of recommendations for the best things to do in San Diego with toddlers. So, I’ve created a shortlist of the above San Diego attractions here specifically to address this age group.
First, note that ages 3 and under receive free admission to a variety of major attractions on this list so visiting with kids before they need a child’s ticket (same goes for Disneyland) is a great way to save money.
Residents in San Diego with toddlers take them to SeaWorld San Diego to visit Sesame Street Bay of Play. Tame rides include Elmo’s Flying Fish, Oscar’s Rocking Eel and Abby’s Sea Star Spin. After spending time in this colorful, kid-friendly land, you can visit the turtles, penguins, and other residents of the park.
The entire mission of The New Children’s Museum is to get young kids to think, play, and create. Toddlers and elementary school kids interact with exhibits, make crafts, listen to stories and then some here.
Pushing a stroller around San Diego Zoo is fantastic exercise in addition to a fun day out of the house. The Children’s Zoo is under renovation but you can roll kids up to exhibits, let them waddle around the playgrounds, and see them squeal when spying their favorite animal.
Balboa Park is actually one of the fantastic toddler activities in San Diego. Walk the trails and gardens but also stop into the museums like San Diego Natural History Museum and Fleet Science Center which both have play spaces for kids under 5.
All ages love the La Jolla seals and sea lions at the Children’s Pool Beach and La Jolla Cove. As soon as you see that your baby or toddler reacts to animals, they’ll be sure to smile at these loud, active residents.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps is another favorite of residents in San Diego with toddlers. Arrive when it opens to grab a parking space and spend a few hours here looking at fish and playing with hands-on exhibits.
As soon as your kids show an interest in LEGOs, you can take them to LEGOLAND California. Usually, this hits around age 2 and there are tame family rides they will enjoy, too.
Bring a carrier and consider a walk along some of our mild hiking trails. There’s a one-mile loop at San Elijo lagoon, easy trails throughout Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma or you can take in views at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
(Note that in 2021, we will have a Sesame Place theme park in Chula Vista that will be fantastic for visiting San Diego with kids in this age group.)
How to Save Money on Your San Diego Family Vacation
If you plan on visiting two or more of our attractions, consider purchasing the Go San Diego® sightseeing pass.
They have three different pass types. If you know exactly where you’re going, Build Your Own pass with savings starting at 20% off. The more attractions you add, the higher your savings will be. You can also choose a comprehensive All-Inclusive pass which saves up to 55% off of 35+ attractions or the new Explorer Pass which lets you visit 3, 4, 5, or 7 included attractions that you don’t have to preselect. Most of the ticketed attractions on this list are on the Go San Diego pass.
You can also bundle discounted tickets together or buy them a la carte at a discount through aRes Travel.
If you’re visiting in October, Kids Free San Diego offers free admission, meals, and hotel stays at over 100 participating restaurants, hotels, and attractions. It’s a great time of year to experience all of the cool stuff to do in San Diego for kids without going over budget. Adults will need to buy a qualifying ticket to take advantage of this promotion which is easy to do.
FAQs About San Diego for Kids
Is San Diego family-friendly?
Yes! San Diego is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the world no matter how old your kids are. Our year-round temperature average of 70 degrees means that sightseeing at our most popular attractions like San Diego Zoo Safari Park, LEGOLAND California, and the San Diego Zoo are rarely limited by rainfall. You can go to the beach year-round and the vast majority of our restaurants of any caliber are welcoming to kids. We are your go-to resource for planning your San Diego family vacation.
What is there to do in San Diego with a baby?
Mild hikes are popular with families visiting with babies. We have fantastic beachfront parks, like Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla where you can lay out a blanket and let them roll around or sit in shade or sun for bird watching or a peek at the seals. Dip their toes in the ocean at one of our family-friendly beaches and get them up-close with fish at Birch Aquarium or even bigger animals at the San Diego Zoo. Check our list of best San Diego hotel pools for one to swish around with them in at the end of the day.
If your baby naps well in the car, a great way to make this happen is by heading out to parts of our famous 59-mile drive. While he or she sleeps, you listen to tunes and sightsee. Plan at least three hours to make the loop or split it into multiple days.
What is there to do with a 1-year-old in San Diego?
A fun activity for 1-year-olds is to take a walk around Balboa Park. Stop into the Backyard play space for ages 0-5 at San Diego Natural History Museum. Kid City inside Fleet Science Center also has a soft play area for this age. Admission for this age group to these museums is free.
What can a 2-year-old do in San Diego?
One of the best places to take a 2-year-old is Birch Aquarium at Scripps. This age group tends to love looking at the fish, the tide pool touch tank, and playing with hands-on exhibits in a safe, contained space.
Sesame Street Bay of Play at SeaWorld San Diego is also a favorite of local 2-year-olds especially if they are Elmo fans. At the age of 2, my daughter also loved the San Diego Zoo as there are plenty of animals to see up-close.
What is there to do in San Diego with teenagers?
Aside from visiting to tour our fantastic colleges, we have plenty of fun activities for older kids. SeaWorld San Diego is home to a few rollercoasters that teens love and they can learn how to shred some waves or showcase mad skills at a skate park.
There’s no lack of selfie spots as we have murals, cute cafes, and decorative desserts that are perfect for their Instagram feeds. Read the full list of things to do in San Diego with teens and tweens.
What is free for kids in San Diego?
Luckily, some of the best things to do in San Diego with kids are free. Kids ages 3 and under get in free to theme parks like the San Diego Zoo and LEGOLAND California. Top ideas for free family fun in San Diego include:
- the San Diego beaches (of course).
- Waterfront Park in downtown San Diego with its play structures and water play fountain.
- a visit to the La Jolla seals and La Jolla Cove sea lions.
- family-friendly hiking trails.
- exploring Old Town San Diego’s historic buildings and park.
- kids eat free restaurant promotions, though as these change you should check before you go.
What can a family in San Diego do at night?
San Diego kids’ activities at night vary by the season but there are always fun things to do. Check event calendars at local museums and attractions but suggestions include:
- evening Padres baseball games at PETCO Park.
- Belmont Park (usually open until 8 p.m).
- evening Old Town Trolley Tours that drive by haunted sights or holiday lights.
- evening bay dinner cruises.
- beach bonfires or s’more roasting (the latter you can do at Hotel del Coronado).
- family-friendly plays at local theaters such as The Old Globe (see The Grinch during the holidays), Prado Theatre, and San Diego Civic Theater.
- Bayside Summer Nights concerts.
What to do with kids in San Diego when it rains?
A rainy day is a perfect excuse to explore one of our many kid-friendly San Diego museums. Balboa Park is my top pick because its museums are close together which means that with an Explorer or Go San Diego pass, you can bounce between them at leisure without worrying about paying admission each time.
What is there to do in La Jolla with kids?
My seaside community of La Jolla offers kids fantastic opportunities to unplug in the outdoors be it a day at La Jolla Shores Beach, kayaking past our sea caves, or just gawking at our resident seals at the Children’s Pool and sea lions at La Jolla Cove. We have playgrounds and parks, Birch Aquarium, and family-friendly restaurants. Read my full rundown of things to do in La Jolla with kids.
What are your favorite things to do in San Diego with kids?