La Jolla Mom

52 Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

Popular San Diego attractions, best museums for kids, beaches and free outdoor fun - Updated for 2020

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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. This list could be much longer than it already is. The best news is that these San Diego attractions are just as fun for parents, some are free to enter, and I have tons of advice on how to save money on tickets.

Top Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

Tip: If you plan on visiting two or more San Diego attractions, consider purchasing the Go San Diego® sightseeing pass.

They have a Build Your Own pass option with savings starting at 20% off. The more attractions you add, the higher your savings will be Or, choose the All-Inclusive pass which saves up to 55% off of 35+ attractions.

Exclusive La Jolla Mom Discount

Click here to apply an extra 10% off All-Inclusive Go San Diego sightseeing passes.
Offer expires June 30, 2020.

Most of the ticketed attractions below are on the Go San Diego pass. Otherwise, I’ve listed the best place I know of for discounted tickets (usually aRes Travel™, a San Diego-based ticket seller) where applicable under each attraction.

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.

See also: San Diego Discounts: Experience the City for Less

1. San Diego Zoo©

Location: Balboa Park

A koala in a tree at the San Diego Zoo

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!

Buy Discounted San Diego Zoo Tickets (Use code LAJOLLAMOM for extra savings)

See also: How to Buy Discounted Tickets to the San Diego Zoo

2. San Diego Zoo Safari Park©

Location: Escondido

Things to do in San Diego with kids: San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo Safari Park

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.

Use promo code LAJOLLAMOM for $6 off 1-Day adult and child tickets!

Buy San Diego Zoo Safari Park Discount Tickets (Use code LAJOLLAMOM for extra savings)

3. LEGOLAND© California

Location: Carlsbad

San Diego with kids: LEGOLAND California Resort

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 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.

The food at LEGOLAND California Resort outlets is surprisingly good for a theme park.

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.

Buy Discounted LEGOLAND Tickets

4. SeaWorld© San Diego

Location: Mission Bay

Things to do in San Diego with Kids: SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego alone draws tourists to our city from all over the world to enjoy up-close animal interactions, 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 often famished La Jolla seals.

Most guests spend an entire day here. A half-day is doable if short on time.

Tip: Now you can buy a Quick Queue® Premier pass to skip the lines. Discounted SeaWorld San Diego tickets are usually best bought through them directly.

Buy SeaWorld San Diego Tickets

5. Aquatica San Diego Water Park (Seasonal)

Location: Chula Vista

Things to do in San Diego with kids: Aquatica

San Diego’s 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.

Buy Aquatica ticketss

6. Belmont Park

Location: Mission Beach

Belmont Park is a fun seaside amusement park for kids located in San Diego on Mission Beach.

Break from the beach for a few hours to pop into San Diego’s seaside amusement park.

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 the 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.

See also: 12 Things to Do at Belmont Park in San Diego

7. Old Town San Diego

Location: Old Town

Things to do in San Diego with kids: Old Town

Known as the birthplace of California, Old Town is fun to visit on a trip to San Diego. In addition to a variety of shops and restaurants (many serve Mexican food), there is a lovely park and some historic sites that provide free family fun in San Diego.

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 San Diego 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.

See also: Guide to Old Town San Diego – Restaurants, Shopping and More

8. Seaport Village

Location: Downtown San Diego

Things to do in San Diego with Kids: Seaport Village

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, Frost Me Gourmet cupcakes (winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars), 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 in San Diego.

9. Balboa Park

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 multiple. Buy the Go San Diego pass or the Balboa Park Explorer Pass to avoid multiple a la carte tickets.

10. Fleet Science Center

Location: Balboa Park

Fleet Science Center is one of our favorite museums 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

Location: Balboa Park

Located across the courtyard from the Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Natural History Museum is home to fossils, scavenger hunts, and exhibits regarding San Diego 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).

See also: A Local Kids’ Guide to the San Diego Natural History Museum

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. Kids will enjoy pushing buttons in the children’s area.

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.

15. San Diego Botanic Gardens

Location: Encinitas

If you’re looking for both a fun day outside with the kids and garden inspiration, this is your 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 for kids in San Diego. Guests can join a tour ranging from bird watching to various walks catered toward specific age groups.

Buy San Diego Botanic Garden Tickets

16. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Location: La Jolla

Things to do in San Diego with kids: Birch Aquarium

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.

Enter, and to the right, 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.

Tickets: Buy directly through Birch Aquarium or entrance is included on the Go San Diego pass.

See also: Guide to Birch Aquarium (Tips, Tickets, Offsite Adventures, and More)

17. USS Midway Museum®

Location: Downtown

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 the most unique museums you’ll ever visit.

Discount USS Midway Tickets

See also: Tips for Visiting the USS Midway Museum

18. Maritime Museum of San Diego®

Location: Downtown

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 pair a visit to the Maritime Museum of San Diego, USS Midway 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®

Location: Downtown

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 things to do in San Diego with kids that will spark their love of learning early.

20. San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum

Location: Escondido

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.

Best San Diego Beaches for Families

Things to do in San Diego with kids: Go to the beach

When you’re looking for fun places in San Diego County, look no further than the beach. San Diego is home to 70 miles of stunning coastline which means there are many 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

Location: Coronado

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.

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 suits people of all ages who crave ocean activities (some are listed below). The beach is flat, sandy and great for kids especially.

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 La Jolla Shores, for snacks (grab a sandwich at The Cheese Shop) or forgotten sunscreen. The parking lot is reasonably big but go early during summer months to avoid parking issues.

We list several things to do with kids at La Jolla Shores beach below (22 and 23).

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.  

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 the highway. 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

Location: Encinitas

Further north awaits Moonlight Beach. It’s a favorite concierge recommendation because it has probably the most family-friendly amenities of the North County San Diego beaches. 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.

The sand is soft, and water is as calm as can be (though it can be murky in spots). Access the bay beaches in some places, 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

29. Learn to Surf

Location: Various

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.

30. Children’s Pool Seals and La Jolla Sea Lions

Location: La Jolla

Things to do in San Diego with kids: Children's Pool seals

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 from here to the Cave Store along Coast Blvd. and you’ll also see a myriad of sea lions along La Jolla Cove.

See also: Guide to visiting the La Jolla seals and sea lions

31. Cabrillo National Monument

Location: Point Loma

San Diego’s National Park is a fun one for all ages. 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, spectacular ocean views, and eight miles of trails, many of which are suitable for kids. Take advantage of the free public guided walks for families and small groups 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

Location: Downtown

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 a fun activity when with kids in San Diego.

34. Waterfront Park

Location: Downtown

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 great for picnics and games, and they even show outdoor movies here in the summer.

The views over the harbor 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. 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. 

Shop Electric Bike Tours

37. Queen Calafia®’s Magic Circle

Location: Escondido

A somewhat hidden gem in North 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. Download the map.

39. San Elijo Lagoon

Location: Cardiff

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 trails are closed. Hiking here can be mild and fun for kids.

40. Golf

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 Acadamy (near Park Hyatt Aviara and Four Seasons Resort and Residences), and elsewhere. All three are steps from popular San Diego family hotels.

See also: The Best Kid-Friendly Hotels in San Diego

41. Hotel Pool Day Pass

Location: San Diego hotels across the 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. 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

44. San Diego Seal Tours

Location: Embarcadero or Seaport Village (Downtown)

Yes, even we has 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 spots and then submerge into the San Diego bay for skyline views and seal sightings.

Tickets: Join a Seal Tour at the Embarcadero or Seaport Village.

45. Speed Boat Adventures®

Location: Harbor Island (Downtown)

Even if you’ve never driven a boat, you can drive these. Speed Boat Adventures has boats that 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 see the San Diego Harbor and they even do sunset tours.

Tip: The way to guarantee your date and time at time of booking is to book direct.

Book Through Speedboat Adventures

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 San Diego. 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.

Buy Old Town Trolley Tickets

Seasonal Activities in San Diego for Kids

47. Winter Tide Pooling

Location: Various

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.

See also: Top 8 Places to Go Tide Pooling in San Diego County

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 here in San Diego. 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 in 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.

Browse Whale Watching Tours

49. Butterfly Farms

Location: Encinitas

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

Location: Downtown

While you should check the San Diego Symphony calendar year-round, their outdoor summer concert series is a fantastic family event. 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®

Location: Carlsbad

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:

Frequently Asked Questions / 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, and the 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 trip to San Diego.

What is there to do in San Diego with a baby?

Our Mediterranean climate makes visiting with babies easy. It’s never too hot or too cold and while sun protection is a must, pop them in a baby carrier and take them wherever you want to go.

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 is the type to nap well in the car, consider San Diego’s 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 toddlers in San Diego?

San Diego is the perfect place to explore with toddlers. In addition to our animal-centric and kid-friendly things to do, ages 3 and under receive free admission to a variety of major attractions on this list.

(Note that in 2021, we will have a Sesame Place theme park in Chula Vista that will be fantastic for this age group.)

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. 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.

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 with a 1-year-old in San Diego?

Take one-year-olds to Balboa Park as there are two play spaces that they (and you) will enjoy in between exploring the gardens and perhaps some museums that pique your interest. The Backyard inside San Diego Natural History Museum is designed for kids ages 0-5 so that they can explore the natural world through play. It’s surrounded by seating and near the cafe so adults can take a break.

Kid City inside the Fleet Science Center provides another edutainment opportunity for this age group with a large multifaceted ball wall (designed for kids to observe physics) and even a soft play space for crawling kids only.

Another popular San Diego with toddlers activity is a visit to the New Children’s Museum in downtown.

Bring a carrier and consider some of our mild hikes. There’s a one-mile loop at San Elijo lagoon, easy trails throughout Cabrillo National Monument or you can walk along the La Jolla coast to take a peek at our La Jolla seals and sea lions.

What is there to do in San Diego with teenagers?

Aside from visiting to tour our fantastic colleges including UC San Diego, San Diego State University and the University of San Diego, we have plenty of fun activities for this age group. 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 opps 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 beaches (of course)
  • Waterfront Park in downtown with its play structures and water play fountain
  • A visit to the La Jolla seals and sea lions
  • Hiking on family-friendly trails
  • Exploring Old Town San Diego’s historic buildings and park
  • Residents Free Tuesdays where Balboa Park museums offer free on a rotating basis for San Diego County residents, active military personnel and their dependents
  • 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. It’s a good idea to check event calendars at local museums and attractions but here are some suggestions.

  • Evening Padres baseball games at PETCO Park
  • Belmont Park is open usually 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)
  • Check theatre schedules as we have lots of family-friendly plays at The Old Globe (see The Grinch during the holidays), Prado Theatre, San Diego Civic Theater and others.
  • 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 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?

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From theme parks to beaches, these are the best things to do in San Diego with kids — written by a local mom who specialized in helping people plan San Diego family vacations.

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10 thoughts on “52 Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

  1. Thanks for the tips! We’re making our first family trip to the area this fall with our 6 year old for 3.5 days. LegoLand and the zoo were on our list as well as a beach visit – appreciate the beach info – is there one in particular you’d recommend?

  2. How could you put SeaWorld on that list? This place is disgusting! Teaching your kids that it’s ok to lock up large marine mamals in tiny pools and train them circus shows is OK certainly should not be part of anyones education program.

    All other spots are great, agreed.

    1. Hi! Regardless of how anyone feels about SeaWorld, there are visitors to San Diego and residents who love it. As someone who writes about San Diego attractions on this site and for other major publications, it would be negligent and unprofessional for me to ignore its existence. People can make their own decisions whether or not they’d like to visit SeaWorld. I do appreciate your comment as it’s a good discussion to have!

  3. Old Town and Seaport Village are two of our favorite spots. The kids have to ride the historic carousal at Seaport Village every time.

  4. I personally love Seaworld and their love for marine life and continuing educating kids about marine life. There are so many memories as a child going there and seeing animals. Any type of zoological life is wonderful education for kids and helps educate them about these animals.

  5. Hello,
    I have A Japanese little girl (8yrs old)who’s visiting me first week of Aug. I live in Escondido and she’s only here from 4-7 August. I want to make the best of her visit. Her mother and I were like sisters when I lived in Japan- she passed 4 years ago. So the girl is like my niece. I was thinking to capture the most for the time while she’s here:
    1st Day:
    safari park – Escondido (don’t know how long it will take but maybe 3 hours?)
    And Carlsbad seashores.

    2nd Day: LEGO land

    3rd Day: SeaWorld and San Diego Children’s museum if we have time.

    Let me know if this is a good start. I have no small children and not familiar with the area yet.


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