Yes, I realize that summer is almost over. This is a post that I update every year but this is obviously a very different summer. Since I specialize in fun things to do in San Diego with kids and San Diego family vacations, I figured better late than never.
Of course, you’ll need to check opening hours and safety requirements for these family activities before you go. And, you’ll need to wear a mask and maintain a safe distance from others if you’re out in public.
You can save on tickets, tours, and hotels through my affiliations. If you make purchases through the links in this post, I may be compensated.
1. Birch Aquarium Virtual Camps
Did you know that Birch Aquarium offers half-day virtual camps? Registration is still open and kids in kindergarten through 5th grade will spend the day making crafts, virtually interacting with ocean animals, and learning tons about oceanography — all from home.
2. Waterfront Park Fountains
The playground is closed but the fountains are running at Waterfront Park should you find yourself looking for things to do in downtown San Diego on a hot day. Yes, it’s completely fine to run through them.
3. Check the Tide Pools
Visiting San Diego tide pools is mostly a winter activity, but you can see a little bit in the summer, especially at Shell Beach in La Jolla.
It’s definitely one of the best La Jolla tide pools in winter but what I realized recently is that you can see a little bit of sea life in the summer. Plenty of people were looking in the rocks and wading into the shallow waters where there are sea anemones and fish. Check the tide calendar for low tides.
There were also people beachcombing through a long row of shells that had washed up earlier. I love this little spot but it’s for beach activities other than swimming.
4. Visit the La Jolla Seals and Sea Lions Early
Take an early morning (before it gets busy) trip over to the Children’s Pool to see the seals and walk over to La Jolla Cove for sea lion viewing (Shell Beach mentioned above is in between these two spots).
TIP: The La Jolla seals tend to vacate the beach, which is now open to the public, early in the morning and they return in the evenings when people leave.
The chatty La Jolla Cove sea lions are pretty much always around and it’s a little easier to keep your distance from others on this part of the boardwalk.
5. Rent Kayak or Take a Tour of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park
La Jolla is home to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park that is full of marine life. It’s outlined by seven sea caves, including Sunny Jim, the only sea cave in the West that is accessible by land (via the Cave Store on Coast Blvd). Their history is an interesting one as some were used to smuggle booze during prohibition.
You can rent a kayak or take a tour. I have a discount on both at Everyday California in La Jolla Shores.
EXCLUSIVE EVERYDAY CALIFORNIA DISCOUNTUse code lajollamom for a 20% discount on kayak and snorkeling tours, lessons, and rentals. Book now.
6. Take a Surfing Lesson
San Diego is home to some truly awesome summer surf camps that you can sign up for on a weekly basis or book for a half-day. They’re great for kids ages 5 and above (sometimes, even a bit younger) and adults can join in the fun, too.
This is something I always encourage families who are visiting San Diego to look into. Try Surf Diva Surf School in La Jolla Shores, San Diego Surfing School in Pacific Beach, or use my discount above at Everyday California.
7. See the La Jolla Leopard Sharks
La Jolla is home to the largest aggregation of leopard sharks in the world and it’s possible to enjoy them in even knee-deep water. Females come to incubate in warm waters near The Marine Room restaurant on La Jolla Shores beach.
Yes, they’re safe to be around. Numbers usually peak in July and August so plan to paddle out on SUP or kayak for a look. You can also snorkel and swim among them (minimize kicking to avoid scaring them away).
8. Visit the San Diego Zoo
As you may know, the San Diego Zoo is open at a reduced capacity. Some indoor viewing sections are closed but to be honest, it won’t impact your experience there. They’ve implemented health and safety measures to help guests stay safe while enjoying their time.
Every dollar that you spend at San Diego Zoo goes toward upkeep and animals and they do need our support after being closed. I suggest going when it opens so that you can both stay cool and see the animals when they’re usually the most active. If you don’t have an annual pass, don’t forget to use my promo code below for San Diego Zoo tickets.
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Check for unpublished deeper savings on tickets through my partnership with aRes Travel, an authorized San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance ticket seller.
I’ve written extensively about San Diego Zoo (we’re members) so you can also check my San Diego Zoo tips, what to see at San Diego Zoo for kids, and a quick round-up of where to eat given the reduced capacity.
9. Try the New Wildlife Safari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
A handful of San Diego Zoo Safari Park tours are temporarily available for a private buyout, but the only one that will put you up-close with animals is the new Wildlife Safari.
This tour will take up to six guests from your household on a safari out into the African Savannah for an hour. To me, this sounds like an abbreviated version of the Caravan Safari, the most popular safari that the park offers.
And the price starts at $399 for your entire group. You’ll still need San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets and can use my promo code mentioned above for $6 off.
10. Spot Koi at Japanese Friendship Garden
Some outdoor spaces at Balboa Park are open including the Japanese Friendship Garden San Diego where show-quality koi live. Meet them online and even download a fun worksheet to see which types you can see swimming in the ponds.
Finish with lunch at the Tea Pavilion, one of my favorite Balboa Park restaurants.
11. Tour the Flight Deck and Hangar Deck at USS Midway Museum
Some of the indoor spaces and all simulators are closed at the USS Midway Museum but you can still spend some time checking out the aircraft on the Hangar Deck and Flight Deck.
Climb-aboard cockpits are also temporarily closed but you still can have a great time admiring the aircraft nonetheless. A timed ticket is required for entry.
12. Enjoy Water Sports on Mission Bay
Action Sports Rentals is open. Through their various locations, guests can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and a variety of boats by the hour. What’s on offer depends on the location you choose.
Mission Bay Sports Center also offers a variety of similar rentals.
13. Ride Bikes Around Mission Bay
Did you know that Mission Bay has 12 miles of flat, easy bike paths that are mostly vehicle-free? Here is the map. You can also rent bikes at Action Sports Rentals.
14. Fly a Kite
Kite flying is not a lost art and it’s a great free thing to do in San Diego with kids this summer. Find a green space (there are plenty) around Mission Bay, South Carlsbad State Beach, Dog Beach (when not crowded), or a park near you to fly a kite.
TIP: REI has kites but you could always head to a kite store like Kite Flite in Seaport Village. Make sure that the kite is kid-friendly and that you are careful not to fly it over roads, over people, or near power lines. I’m also a fan of pocket kites for smaller kids.
15. Go on a Picnic
Enjoy the great outdoors by going on a picnic with family and friends. Pack a lunch (or, heck, grab some awesome sandwiches for takeout) and head to a local park with picnic facilities, the beach, Balboa Park, or wherever you like to eat outside.
Bundle this activity with kite flying and other outdoor fun to knock several items off your summer bucket list at once.
16. Take a Walk Through Old Town
At the time of this writing the indoor museums at Old Town San Diego, are closed but you can visit Old Town State Historic Park, Presidio Park, El Camp Santo Cemetery, and see the Victorian homes in Heritage Park.
A lot of the market stalls are outside but you’ll need to check hours as for example right now San Diego Old Town Market is open on weekends. Many Old Town San Diego restaurants also mostly offer patio dining anyway, but remember that they also offer take-out if you’re more comfortable eating at home.it
17. Tour the San Diego Bay
Some of the first local businesses to feel the pain of our recent shutdown are the tour operators on the bay. They are back up and running with new health and safety measures in place.
Get out on the water with the family with one of these suggestions:
- Take a Seal Tour (starting July 23) in the amphibious bus-boat that goes from land to water in a snap
- Drive your own mini speedboat on a tour with Speedboat Adventures
- How about Flagship Cruises harbor cruise? (There are multiple ways to cruise San Diego Bay with them and the dining cruises are also operational.)
- Take the Coronado ferry between downtown and Coronado
- Zoom around the bay in the high-speed Patriot Jet Boat
18. Pick a Pier
When was the last time you took a walk on one of our piers? Whether it’s Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach Pier, or Oceanside Pier, they’re fabulous places for ocean views and sunsets. Did you know that Oceanside Pier is the longest wooden pier on the West Coast?
19. Get a Junior Ranger Badge at Cabrillo National Monument
The trails and outdoor activities at Cabrillo National Monument are open daily which means that you can visit the statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the hiking trails, and the tide pools.
Junior Ranger books and badges, maps, and visitor information are available at an outdoor station located next to the Visitor Center. A ranger is on duty every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to offer the Junior Ranger program.
20. Plan a San Diego Staycation
I’m a huge fan of being a tourist at home which is definitely trending right now. Visit a part of San Diego that you’ve never actually explored before. Any of the properties on my list of best San Diego resorts or kid-friendly hotels in San Diego are great for staycations but popular choices include:
- Fairmont Grand Del Mar (open August 1)
- Omni La Costa Resort and Spa (open August 1)
- Hotel del Coronado
- Rancho Valencia
- Cape Rey Carlsbad
- Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina
21. Plan a San Diego Daycation
Enjoy some of our best hotel pools without spending the night with ResortPass. This service allows you to buy a day pass to places like San Diego Mission Bay Resort, Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina (three water slides), Estancia La Jolla, Rancho Bernardo Inn, and others.
The day pass can include a lounger, cabana rental, or even a day room at one of these fantastic properties.
22. Find a New Beach Game
While this is an obvious thing to do in San Diego with kids this summer, going to the beach has to be mentioned. Top San Diego family beaches include Coronado Municipal Beach, Law Street beach, La Jolla Shores beach, Del Mar beach, and Moonlight beach for family-friendly amenities.
I put together a list of beach games ranging from waterproof playing cards to Spikeball in addition to a list of neat beach accessories.
23. Take the 59-Mile Drive
Do you have kids who love to ride in the car? Did you know that San Diego has an organized 59-Mile Drive that hits main sites from downtown San Diego up to La Jolla?
While some attractions that you might normally get out and see will be closed, it gives you an organized itinerary so that you aren’t driving around aimlessly, if driving around gives you some peace of mind and something to do.
(I also have a long list of knock knock jokes for kids with a free printable, a list of travel games for kids and car games for kids if your little need help passing the time.)
24. Do Volunteer Work at Home
San Diego has a few opportunities for kids to get involved in community service.
- San Diego Humane Society needs kids (and adults) to make various DIY projects like no-sew blankets for dogs, pom-poms for cats, and more at home.
- The San Diego Food Bank offers a myriad of ways for small groups and individuals to volunteer.
- Write letters to seniors or better yet deliver some to a senior center near you.
I am actively looking for more ideas to add to this section. If you know of any please leave a comment.
25. Make Your Backyard Extra Fun
Who says that your house can’t be a fun place to be? I have a popular list of outdoor games that includes everything from lawn darts to giant dice.
That’s the list of my things to do in San Diego with kids this summer. Make your plans now, fall will be here before you know it!
LJM Exclusive: Use promo code LJM10SDO to apply an extra 10% discount on ALL Go San Diego passes. The discount stacks on top of sale prices. Expires 12/31/23.
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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Things to Do
Before You Go
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