For families beginning the San Diego vacation planning process, researching San Diego theme parks and amusement parks is an excellent place to start. In fact, they can be a primary reason why people come to my city to begin with.

I’ll tell you a little about each, what age groups they’re appropriate for, and provide tips on buying tickets.

You can save on tickets, tours, and hotels through my affiliations. If you make purchases through some links in this post, I may be compensated. Our editorial guidelines.

1. San Diego Zoo

A koala in a tree at the San Diego Zoo
I love the koala exhibit — it’s the largest group of them outside of Australia

The San Diego Zoo is San Diego’s most popular attraction and is renowned for its conservation efforts. Having visited many zoos across the country and globe, ours is undoubtedly among the best in the world (some might say the best).

Highlights include the koalas, Polar Bear Plunge, Wildlife Explorers Basecamp (children’s zoo), Skyfari Tram, Africa Rocks, and more. A full day is advisable, but some time spent here is better than none. Over 750,000 gorgeous exotic and rare plants also decorate and shade many parts of the zoo.

Best for: Adults and kids alike. Locals come to walk in the morning for exercise. We bring babies in strollers for a nice day out. Our school kids take field trips here. My husband and I visited using annual passes before my daughter was born and we’re still members. Everyone enjoys the zoo and it’s in the Balboa Park area, adjacent to some great museums.

Special experiences: Look at the behind-the-scenes tours such as the Inside Look Tours and more.

Tickets: To summarize my post about how to buy discount San Diego Zoo tickets, there are basically two places to look. I have (I seriously promise) the best price on San Diego Zoo tickets thanks to my volume. You can request it below.

The second is via the Go San Diego pass (use promo code GOSDO5LJM) bundled attractions pass which works if visiting multiple San Diego attractions.

GET MY EXCLUSIVE SAN DIEGO ZOO DISCOUNT!

I have the best final price on San Diego Zoo tickets that is available to the general public, with no membership required. For this reason, we can’t publish the promo code online, but you can get it by text or email. The price is $66/adult and $56/child (ages 3–11) — all taxes and fees included!

*By texting the word SDZOO to 1-833-490-0799 you agree to receive automated promotional messages with how to secure my deeper ticket discount and this agreement isn’t a condition of any purchase. Msg and data rates may apply. 2 msg/mo. Reply STOP to cancel. Read my full privacy policy.

Where to stay: We have a list of hotels near San Diego Zoo. There’s nothing great within walking distance so most people drive in from wherever they’re staying since parking is free.

2. LEGOLAND California

LEGOLAND California theme park
So many LEGOs, so little time! (Photo courtesy of LEGOLAND California)

LEGOLAND California transports guests into the colorful world of LEGOs through shows, rides, displays, and plenty of LEGO pits (play areas full of loose pieces). In addition to the LEGOLAND theme park, there is also a water park, SEA LIFE Aquarium, and two resort hotels.

A common question that I receive is how many days one should plan at LEGOLAND California. One is usually enough unless you have an extreme LEGO fan, are staying in Carlsbad, so have easy access to the park, or like to experience theme parks on a half-day basis. Then, two or even three days can work, especially if the water park is open. Before planning a visit, it is incredibly important to check the calendar, as the parks are not open every day of the year.

Best for: This San Diego theme park is geared mostly toward kids ages 12 and younger though you’ll want to visit at the peak of LEGO enthusiasm. However, I can tell you that teens still like the carnival games, food, shows, and a handful of rides, but if I were on a San Diego family vacation with only teenagers, I might skip it unless they really want to go.

Special experiences: LEGOLAND California offers VIP experiences with priority line access, a VIP host for the day, exclusive tours, and more. You can also purchase Reserve N Ride to shorten your line waits.

Tickets: Make sure that the LEGOLAND ticket you buy covers what you want to see, as park-only and resort hopper tickets are available. Plus, sightseeing passes usually only cover the theme park, but you can upgrade them at guest relations to include things like Reserve N Ride and the water park.

You can buy discounted LEGOLAND tickets through several methods. The most important thing is that you have a date-specific ticket and buy online to avoid gate prices. Here are the most popular methods.

Where to stay: Check our lists of hotels near LEGOLAND California and Carlsbad hotels. Of course there is the onside LEGOLAND Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel, but my favorite places to stay are:

3. SeaWorld San Diego

My daughter looks at the Manta rollercoaster at SeaWorld San Diego.

SeaWorld San Diego is a sealife theme park located on Mission Bay. These days, visitors come to see the marine animals, enjoy rides, and take advantage of California sunshine. The new Electric Eel roller coaster is the tallest in San Diego and makes going more appealing to tweens and teens, though I can tell you firsthand that they do still enjoy the special animal interactions (most are paid upgrades), such as getting up-close with a Beluga whale or going behind the scenes in the penguin enclosure.

SeaWorld San Diego is a fantastic place to visit with toddlers because, in addition to it being easy to push a stroller around the park, little kids LOVE the Rescue Jr. area. The jungle gym, a handful of rides for little kids, and splash pads are known to keep young kids in this area for the entire day.

Best for: All ages who are interested in sea life shows, interactive experiences, and some rides. As mentioned above, it is popular with families of younger kids but now draws in tweens and teens with the thrilling rides like the multiple roller coasters.

Special experiences: Guests can get in the dolphin pool for special animal interactions, go behind the scenes in the penguin enclosure, take a VIP tour, interact with a beluga whale, and more.

Tickets: I have a guide for how to buy discount SeaWorld San Diego tickets. You don’t need reservations to visit but you should buy tickets in advance to avoid gate prices.

Where to stay: Check our list of best hotels near SeaWorld San Diego. My favorite places include

4. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

How to Buy San Diego Zoo Safari Park Discount Tickets

Over 2600 wild and endangered animals from the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia live at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park). The Lemur Walk, Tiger Trail, and Elephant Valley are some of the many highlights. Don’t miss the various animal interactions such as feeding lorikeets, petting goats in Nairobi Village, wallabies jumping around you in Walkabout Australia, free Africa Tram, and various shows.

Best for: All ages. Bring strollers for younger kids as otherwise, it can be a lot of walking. The enclosures, understandably for animals like this, are spread out but you can stop at the various play areas for a break.

Special experiences: Take a look at the various safaris (these are paid upgrades) to book before visiting, including the Wildlife Safari (most popular), Flightline Safari (zip line), Sun up Cheetah Safari, and more.

Tickets: I’ve also written about how to buy discount San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets, but like the Zoo, there are basically two places to look. I have (I seriously promise) the best price on Safari tickets, thanks to my volume. You can request it below.

The second is via the Go San Diego pass (use promo code GOSDO5LJM), which works if you have a lot of things to do in San Diego on your list.

ACCESS MY EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT

I have the best final price on San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets that is available to the general public, with no membership required, through my partnership with aRes Travel an authorized San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance ticket seller. For this reason, we can’t publish the promo code online, but you can get it by text or email. The price is $66/adult and $56/child (ages 3–11) — all taxes and fees included!

*By texting the word SAFARI to 1-833-490-0799 you agree to receive automated promotional messages with how to secure my deeper ticket discount and this agreement isn’t a condition of any purchase. Msg and data rates may apply. 2 msg/mo. Reply STOP to cancel. Read my full privacy policy.

Where to stay: Although we have a list of best hotels near San Diego Zoo Safari Park, like the Zoo, most people drive in from wherever they are staying due to the park’s remote location.

Can you see the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park on the same day?

Technically, yes, but I do not recommend it. Without traffic, these San Diego theme parks are 45 minutes apart, and you simply won’t be able to enjoy the best of both with a jammed itinerary as both typically close around 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. Learn more about San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park.

5. Sesame Place San Diego

Aerial view of Sesame Place San Diego including water park attractions.
Lazy river

SeaWorld’s other San Diego theme park is a Sesame Street-themed water park called Sesame Place San Diego (formerly known as Aquatica San Diego). Located in Chula Vista, it’s a bit off the beaten path (about 25 minutes southeast of downtown San Diego). It’s worth the drive when it’s open during summer months if you have kids that love waterslides big and small.

They’ve made it part beachside resort with cabanas you can reserve and sandy beaches. Some waterslides are quite fast, but small kids can splash around in heated pools, lazy rivers, and splash pads. There are also character meet and greets along with special holiday events.

Best for: All ages who love water parks and tourists who have already seen the bigger San Diego theme parks on this list. Young kids who watch Sesame Street.

Special experiences: As Sesame Place San Diego can be busy in the summer, it may be wise to reserve a cabana or lounger in advance online also because it does get quite hot in Chula Vista which is inland. The Quick Queue pass allows riders to skip to the front of the line.

Tickets: Residents should buy a pass good for an entire summer of fun for less than the cost of one-day admission.

Tickets: I have a guide for how to buy discount Sesame Place San Diego tickets. You don’t need reservations to visit but you should buy tickets in advance to avoid gate prices.


6. Belmont Park Amusement Park

Belmont Park is one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids.

The seaside amusement park in San Diego is a classic. Perched steps from the sand of Mission Beach, Belmont Park is fun for Dole Whip, carnival games, rides, and more. Play arcade games, ride the historic Giant Dipper roller coaster, and dine at one of the ten places to eat. Head here also for a little bit of beachside shopping for swimwear and funky souvenirs.

Best for: Kids old enough to enjoy the rides, laser tag, games and miniature golf. Adults without kids may enjoy a walk-through after a beer at Draft.

Tickets: Single tickets for rides add up quickly so it’s best to buy a combo pass or unlimited ride wristband. I’ve been in many situations where I thought a ride or two would be fine, and then the kids want more. You’d buy these online through Belmont Park or at the gate (online is usually cheaper). The unlimited ride wristband is also part of Go San Diego pass ((use promo code GOSDO5LJM)).

What About Amusement Parks in San Diego I’ve Seen on Other Lists?

I’ve seen lists featuring 20 or more theme parks and amusement parks in San Diego. There simply aren’t that many. We have six, and they are listed above.

Sure, a seasonal Inflatable World appears in a parking lot in Mission Valley. It’s fun. We have K1 Indoor Kart racing, Boomers, and other family entertainment centers geared toward residents and birthday parties. These operate on a smaller scale and are not meant to be a destination so can’t be classified as a San Diego theme park or amusement park.

Have questions? Let me know.

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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