40 Best Things To Do In San Diego With Kids

The list includes popular San Diego attractions, best museums for kids, beaches and free outdoor fun

San Diego is one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the United States. There are plenty of things to do in San Diego with kids so just be sure to plan enough time to tick as many items as possible off of your bucket list.

The good news is that these San Diego attractions are just as fun for parents as they are for kids.

Best San Diego Attractions for Kids

1. San Diego Zoo

The world-famous San Diego Zoo tops the list of things to do in San Diego with kids. Not only is it home to over 3700 rare and endangered animals, there is a beautiful display of over 700,000 exotic plants throughout the 100 acres. It’s pleasant to walk around the zoo which has nicely-maintained and spacious (for a zoo) animal enclosures. The zoo is dedicated to conservation and research. Highlights include Polar Bear Plunge, the pandas, Skyfari tram and other exhibits.

Live cams (Panda cam, ape cam, etc.) are available online should you like to prep the kids prior to a visit. We also like to go right when it opens as the weather is cool and some animals enjoy breakfast during this time. Tickets can be purchased in advance. Location: Balboa Park

2. 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. Safaris to schedule range from the Africa Tram tour around the park to the Skyline Safari on a zipline over some of the animal enclosures. The park is noted for its California condor breeding program and the world’s largest veterinary hospital. Be aware that in the summer, it can get quite hot. Watching the afternoon cheetah run is one of the most popular attractions. I’ve also written about the tigers of Tiger TrailLocation: Escondido

3. LEGOLAND California

LEGOLAND California - San Diego attractions for kids

The word LEGO just calls out to kids which is why LEGOLAND California is a great choice for things to do in San Diego with kids. Add in the success of The LEGO Movie as well as the largest selection of LEGOs in the nation at The Big Shop in the park where LEGOs can be shipped from here to anywhere in the world, you have one great San Diego attraction for kids.

LEGOLAND California Resort consists of LEGOLAND California, SEA LIFE Aquarium, LEGOLAND Hotel, LEGOLAND Water Park and the soon-to-open LEGO Legends of Chima water park. The water parks are an additional cost of $20 above the LEGOLAND California ticket price.  During the school year LEGOLAND California is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

If pressed for time, LEGOLAND California can be visited in a half-day. The park is best for younger kids (suggested age is between 2-12)… I think teens would have to be die-hard LEGO lovers to enjoy it as the rides might be too juvenile. If after visiting, you’d like to come back the next day, stop by Guest Services to purchase an upgrade. Also, the food at LEGOLAND California Resort outlets is surprisingly good though no alcohol is available anywhere inside the parks. Location: Carlsbad

The 5-day park hopper ticket is only a few dollars more than a 1-day park hopper. Check out the latest (partner link) LEGOLAND ticket pricing.

4. Aquatica Water Park

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 and much more. Aquatica offers private cabana rentals are available by the day. Location: Chula Vista

5. SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego alone draws tourists to our city from all over the world. Regardless of how you or I feel about it, it would be negligent omit it from a list like this. A number of special behind-the-scenes tours are available. Sesame Street Bay of Play entertains young kids with mild rides and lots to climb on while Manta roller coaster thrills older riders. It’s possible to learn about penguins, rays, dolphins and much more in this beautifully-landscaped park. They do serve beer–it’s a Busch park after all. Location: Mission Bay

6. Belmont Park

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

San Diego’s seaside amusement park is a great way to spend a half-day. 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. It’s located right on the beach and home to what are now a couple of pretty good restaurants. Tip: They serve Dole Whip and you can buy discounted unlimited ride tickets through Costco or (partner link) Groupon. Location: Mission Beach

7. Old Town San Diego

Known as the birthplace of California, Old Town is fun to run around. In addition to a variety of shops and restaurants (many serve Mexican food), there is a lovely park and a number of historic sites. The Whaley House is one of the coolest haunted houses in the country, 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 so check the event calendar. Location: Old Town

8. Seaport Village

Yes, it’s a touristy spot, but Seaport Village is fun seaside entertainment area for local and visiting families. We’re talking about a fudge store, cupcake shop, an awesome kite store, roaming entertainment, ocean views and great dining… over 50 restaurants and shops in all. It’s a great spot for family photos and within walking distance of many hotels in downtown San Diego. The historic carousel is fun to ride for younger kids. Location: Downtown San Diego

9. Balboa Park

The nation’s largest urban cultural park is home to 16 museums, a number of gorgeous gardens, the San Diego Zoo (mentioned above), restaurants and performing arts venues. Balboa Park is free to enter though the museums have individual ticket fees. It is absolutely lovely to spend a day walking around here even without going into a museum, however, the most kid-friendly options are numbers 10 – 14 below. If you visit Balboa Park, our favorite al fresco, sit-down restaurant is Panama 66.

Best San Diego Museums for Kids

10. Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is one of our favorite museums for hands-on science education throughout 8 galleries featuring over 100 exhibits. Learn how gravity works, build stuff, watch movies in the world’s first dome IMAX theatre and then some. Location: Balboa Park

11. San Diego Natural History Museum

Located across the courtyard from the Fleet, the San Diego Natural History Museum has some smaller dinosaur bones and a number of exhibits regarding San Diego geology, ecosystems and history. Temporary exhibits are also well done. Right now there’s exhibits surrounding the Titanic, Ansel Adams, coffee and more. Location: Balboa Park

12. San Diego Model Railroad Museum

San Diego Railroad Museum - San Diego attractions for kids

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is North America’s largest model railroad museum (27,000 square feet) is a toy train enthusiast’s dream with four enormous scale and model layouts. Admire and tinker with toy trains here, too. The detail on the trains and scenery is staggering. Location: Balboa Park

13. San Diego Air and Space Museum

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. Location: Balboa Park

14. Museum of Man

Kids can channel their inner archeologist at the Museum of Man. The can also dress up as a Pharaoh in addition to learning about excavating and wrapping mummies. The iconic California Tower is here and you can climb it with a reservation. This activity would only be suitable for older kids, however. Location: Balboa Park

15. San Diego Botanic Gardens

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. Guests can join a tour ranging from bird watching to various walks catered toward specific age groups. Location: Encinitas

16. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

For a peaceful hour or two, roam the Birch Aquarium at Scripps which is the public exploration center for the prestigious Scripps Institute of Oceanography. 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. Turn left after the entrance to play with hands-on educational exhibits that teach the value of conservation.

Out back is a tide pool area where docents help visitors touch starfish and anemones. Bring your camera as the view over the ocean and La Jolla is spectacular. From December through April, join one of their whale watching tours. This is a great educational option for things to do in San Diego with kids. Location: La Jolla

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 the two flight simulators (height restrictions apply). Some of the docents were actually stationed on board the ship. Location: Downtown San Diego

18. New Children’s Museum

Things to do in San Diego with kids - 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. The museum is appropriate for toddlers up to teenagers. This is one option of things to do in San Diego with kids that will spark their love of learning. Location: Downtown

19. San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum

If you happen to be in the area, stop by the San Diego Children’s Museum which is 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. Location: Escondido

Best San Diego Beaches for Kids

La Jolla Kayak on La Jolla Shores Beach is one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids

San Diego is home to 70 miles of stunning coastline which means there are a number of 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

20. 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 nice flat sandy beach to chill out on. You can walk up to eat at the Del if you aren’t too sandy and dressed appropriately. Coronado Central Beach ranks highly on a number of national travel publication lists including Travel + Leisure. The north end is dog-friendly and good for surfing when waves cooperate. Location: Coronado

21. La Jolla Shores Beach

This is the beach for people who crave ocean activities (some listed below) The beach is flat and sandy and great for kids especially. Kellogg Park’s playground, grassy areas, and amenities are right here, too. Lifeguards patrol the area, there are a handful of fire pits and bathrooms are fairly nice (with showers). It’s easy to walk 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 fairly sizable but go early during summer months to avoid parking issues. We list several things to do with kids at La Jolla Shores beach below. Location: La Jolla 

22. Kayak the Sea Caves

Rent a double kayak, bring your own or join in on a tour. Kayaks are easy to launch from La Jolla Shores Beach for exploration of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park. From above, you can see orange garabaldi 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 deaffening (but funny) though this is not something you should try on your own. I recommend a sea cave tour with Everyday CaliforniaLocation: La Jolla Shores Beach

23. Snorkel or Swim with Leopard Sharks (Summer)

La Jolla Shores Beach is also home to the largest aggregation of leopard sharks in the world. They come starting in June but numbers peak around August and September. You’ll see them in even knee deep water but mostly while snorkeling (swim slowly). No, they don’t bite. Location: La Jolla Shores Beach

24. Del Mar Beach

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 tough). It’s walkable from a some of the most popular restaurants in Del Mar as well as L’Auberge Hotel and a few smaller Inns.

Another stretch of Del Mar beach is Torrey Pines State Beach, near the famous state reserve. Because it is administered by the state park system, you’ll need to pay to park at the kiosk. The most family-friendly strip of beach is the one that is closest to the highway. There are bathrooms, showers and lifeguards here as well as a fun little area where kids can play next to the lagoon. Location: Del Mar

25. Moonlight Beach

Further north awaits Moonlight Beach which is a popular concierge recommendation because it has probably the most family-friendly amenities of any North County San Diego beach. 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: It’s named Moonlight Beach because residents used to picnic here late night during the 1900s. Location: Encinitas

26. Mission Bay Beaches

The largest man 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. You can access the bay beaches in a number of places but Sail Bay Beach in front of Fanuel Park in Pacific Beach is a favorite. Location: Mission Bay.

See also: 8 Best Mission Beach Hotels in San Diego

Fun Outdoor Activities in San Diego with Kids

27. 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 surf board. Kids as young as five can take surfing lessons. It’s possible to take private lessons, group lessons or even enroll in a half-day summer camp (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. Location: Various

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

Free things to do with kids in La Jolla, California

One of the best free things to do in La Jolla is a visit to the Children’s Pool seals. They’re cute, noisy and perhaps a bit stinky (the city is apparently working on this). It’s called the Children’s Pool because it’s a small stretch of beach protected by a partial sea wall that was originally 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. It is technically O.K. to swim here but the water is not of the greatest 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. Location: La Jolla

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

29. Cabrillo National Monument

San Diego’s National Park is a fun one for all ages. It’s where Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo is thought to have discovered California in 1542. 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). Location: Point Loma

30. Petco Park Baseball Game and/or Tour

Even if the Padres aren’t in season it’s possible to 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 on to the field, in the press box and more. The state-of-the-art, open-air ballpark boasts views of downtown and beyond. But, if the team is playing, definitely grab tickets for a game! Location: Downtown

31. Waterfront Park

This brand new park is a nice hub for families. Kids love the interactive water fountains (yes, they can play in them) in addition to play ground equipment. The large grassy area is great for picnics, 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 Star of India and next door to the Wyndham San Diego BayfrontLocation: Downtown

32. A Falconry Lesson

From June – September it’s possible to enjoy a basic Falconry lesson by Sky Falconry at the Torrey Pines Gliderport and throughout the rest of the year at their Alpine ranch.  You can read more about our basic falconry lesson. Location: La Jolla or Alpine

33. Queen Calafia’s Magic Circle

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. It has nine large sculptures, a circular “snake wall” (it’s 400′ long with varying heights) and maze entryway in addition to some bench seating. It’s all located in Kit Carson Park. Location: Escondido

34. The Stuart Collection at UC San Diego

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. You can download the iPhone app but it actually makes a fun scavenger hunt for kids or something fun to look out for when touring the campus with teens. Location: La Jolla

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

Other Seasonal Activities for Kids

35. Winter Tide Pooling

Tide pooling season begins in November and spans through about March when tides are low during the day. See sea creatures galore including sea anemones, hermit crabs, octopus, sea stars, sea slugs and more can be found in our pools. The 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. Location: Various

36. Whale Watching

Whale Watching is viable for about 9 months of the year here in San Diego but which type you see depends on the season. About 20,000 grey whales make the 10,000 mile migration from Alaska to the warm waters of Mexico. They’re best seen in San Diego 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. Blue whales are among the largest creatures on earth and are generally spotted from mid-June through September. Location: Pacific Ocean

37. 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 hay rides and other special events. Location: Carlsbad

Best San Diego Tours for Kids

38. San Diego Seal Tours

Yes, even San Diego has the famous bus-boats that start off on land and head into the water. San Diego Seal Tours are 90-minute, full-narrated tours on an amphibious vehicle that start in Seaport Village, tour scenic downtown spots and then submerge into the San Diego bay for skyline views and seal sightings. Location: Seaport Village

39. Speed Boat Adventures

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. Location: Harbor Island

40. Old Town Trolley Tours

The orange and green Old Town Trolley Tours cars allow guests to hop on and off at various stops around San Diego. This 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. Location: Various stops from La Jolla to Downtown

See also: Book your San Diego tour through site partner Viator

How to Save Money on San Diego Attractions and Tours

There are a variety of ways to save money while sightseeing in San Diego. See San Diego Discounts: Experience the City for Less.

Have questions? Feel free to ask!

What are your favorite things to do in San Diego with kids?


Save up to 55% OFF Top San Diego Attractions to go with kids!

Photo credits: istockphoto, Flickr/Lavender Dreamer, LEGOLAND, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, New Children’s Museum

From attractions to beaches, these are the best things to do in San Diego with kids.
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4 Comments

  1. el
    June 16, 2016 at 11:16 am — Reply

    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.

    • June 16, 2016 at 11:26 am — Reply

      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!

  2. May 24, 2016 at 7:21 am — Reply

    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?

  3. May 29, 2014 at 2:01 am — Reply

    I completely adore San Diego! I wish I had a summerhouse at Mission beach! xx

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