San Diego is one of the best places in the world to be in the summer season whether you live here or are on a San Diego vacation. During the summer of 2019, things to do in San Diego with kids include some new events in addition to our usual, seasonal ones.
It’s by no means a complete list so if you have ideas, please leave them in the comments.
1. Watch an Outdoor Movie (Parks, Beach, or USS Midway)
This summer, make it a plan to watch one of our outdoor movies. The Summer Movies in the Park initiative began several years ago to draw attention to local parks. It’s been such a huge success that venues like the USS Midway are participating. What a unique opportunity to watch a movie from the deck of a famous aircraft carrier!
Other opportunities to watch a movie al fresco include a series shown on the Botanical Lawn by the San Diego Museum of Art that highlights themes incorporated into recent gallery installations.
Watch a movie at the beach, hosted by Hotel Del Coronado. Sit on the sand or arrive early to secure a Del Beach chair rental. VIP Movie packages include s’mores, two Del Beach chairs and a Del Beach day bed (reserve in advance, $300).
2. Grab Tickets for the San Diego Symphony’s Bayside Summer Nights
Bayside Summer Nights is the San Diego Symphony’s outdoor summer concert series (Summer Pops) at the Embarcadero Marina Park South. I can’t tell you enough how much I recommend this experience for the entire family as it’s one of our favorite summer activities in San Diego. You’ll see a beautiful sunset over the San Diego Bay during the concert while sipping wine or noshing on gourmet fare.
Concerts this year feature the likes of the B-52s, Chaka Khan, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and more. Grab your friends with kids and go for some fun family time (Or, go for date night). Tip: Bring glow sticks for the kids and check out their new ticket packages.
3. Explore the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park
La Jolla is home to a unique underwater park that is full of marine life. The San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park is 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.
Take a guided snorkeling tour or rent a kayak at one of the vendors in La Jolla Shores.
4. 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 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).
5. Go Grunion Running
Yes! The grunion are running on various days all summer long. Grunion runs occur late at night so the activity suits tweens and teens best. Check the calendar and note when its open or closed season. Closed season means that there is no fishing allowed. Open season means you can actually catch them with a valid fishing license. Tip: It’s more fun with a headlamp to see the fish versus risking your phone over water or sand.
6. Sleep at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, USS Midway Museum, or Maritime Museum
Looking for a cool overnight thing to do in San Diego with kids this summer? Did you know that you can glamp with the animals at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?
Themed overnights provide an opportunity to sleep (safely) near animals, enjoy educational programming, and participate in special close-up encounters. Don’t stress about having camping gear as it can be provided. The Roar and Snore Safari offers several tent options (including deluxe cabins with beds).
Sleepover at the USS Midway Museum during youth, family, and movie night Overnight Adventures. You’ll dine like crew in the galley, sleep on sailor bunks, and participate in unique behind-the-scenes activities.
Join the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s Family Overnight on the Star of India on June 22.
7. Ride Water Slides at Aquatica San Diego
San Diego’s seasonal water park is open on select dates from May 24–October 6. All ages have something to do at Aquatica San Diego between high-speed thrill rides and a special area for kids no taller than 48″. Reserve a private cabana or lounger, eat funnel cakes and California-inspired food (craft beer and frozen margaritas for 21+), and lounge in the lazy river. There are several ways to buy discount Aquatica San Diego tickets.
8. Look for Special Theme Park/Museum Experiences
So, maybe you already have an annual San Diego Zoo membership or a Balboa Park Explorer pass. Scour their websites to find additional programming to take advantage of as these attractions offer many, many edutainment opportunities led by experts in their fields.
- Fleet Science Center has Saturday Science Club for kids on the second Saturday of each month.
- Join Birch Aquarium for their long list of summer camps.
- San Diego Museum of Natural History offers hikes, toddler story time and more. Check their family event calendar.
The list goes on.
9. Visit Balboa Park on Friday Nights
Be sure to check the Balboa Park event calendar for a Food Truck Fridays between May 31–September 27 where several museums stay open late, food trucks line Plaza de Panama, and musical performers entertain.
10. Explore a New-to-You San Diego Museum
Don’t forget about Residents Free Tuesdays where San Diego residents receive free admission to a rotating list of Balboa Park museums on Tuesdays. And, if you expect to visit two or more museums or attractions within 30 days, consider the Build-Your-Own Go San Diego Card.
11. Hike Torrey Pines
The trails of Torrey Pines State Park are fantastic for those who want a bit of outdoor exercise but they are easily explored at a leisurely pace with kids. The views of the Pacific are fantastic and between the flora and fauna, there’s quite a bit of fun stuff to look at.
Food isn’t allowed but you could picnic on the beach or grab a sandwich at the Torrey Pines Gliderport afterward.
12. Ride a Surrey
Have you ever seen those multiple passenger bikes cruising down San Diego boardwalks? These surreys are available for the public to rent by the hour in front of the Hilton San Diego Resort (Mission Bay), Hotel Del Coronado, Loews Coronado Bay, and other resorts mostly via Action Sport Rentals. It’s another fantastic and fun way to explore.
13. Ride an Aquacycle on Mission Bay
Speaking of fun rentals, wouldn’t the kids get a kick out of riding an aquacycle with you on top of the water. They basically look like a giant floating tricycle. We haven’t done it, so it’s on our list for something to do in San Diego with kids this summer.
The same venues that offer water sports rentals also usually offer stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, Jet Skis and other fun things to do in the water. You may also try jetpacking. Carlsbad Lagoon rentals on Agua Hedionda lagoon also has aquacycles.
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 green space (there is plenty) around Mission Bay, South Carlsbad State Beach, Dog Beach (when not crowded), or a park near you to fly a kite.
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.
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 to-do’s off your summer bucket list at once. My picnic to-do includes nabbing one of the green huts along Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla in time for the sunset.
16. Attend an Outdoor Concert
A number of cities throughout San Diego County (Del Mar, Carlsbad, Coronado, Santee, El Cajon, Mission Hills and more) offer summer outdoor concerts that are free to attend. There is usually plenty of space for the kids to run around, food for sale, raffle prizes and more.
Check the list here, which also includes some fun ticketed options.
17. Attend Raptor School (La Jolla, Ramona, and Alpine)
This is one of the more unique things to do in San Diego with kids this summer though it’s available year-round. Total Raptor eXperience offers owl encounters and falconry classes for all ages at the Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla and their main facilities in Ramona.
We’ve taken a basic falconry class with Sky Falconry. They offer hawk walks, falconry classes, and more at their ranch in Alpine. These classes not only provide unique interactions with raptors but also teach you about how our actions impact amazing animals like these.
18. Support San Diego’s Only Rollerskating Rink
It’s been in business for over four decades and the historic building is threatened by closure. So, get out there and roller skate with the family at Skateworld. It’s great exercise, gets kids off their electronics and its super fun. They’re offering rollerskating camps, too.
19. Take an Electric Bike Tour
This idea will suit the teens in your life (typically ages 16 and older) but an electric bike tour is an excellent way to see San Diego. This summer, I’d like to take the SoCal Riviera Tour of La Jolla and Mount Soledad with San Diego Fly Rides. I see these riders cruising my neighborhood on occasion and it looks like so much fun. Plus, there is way less pedaling (if you want) on an electric bike.
20. Visit a California Mission
This tip is especially relevant when kids are studying missions in 4th grade. But, it’s just as easy to pop a baby in a carrier for a nice walk around a new place.
San Diego County is home to the largest of the 21 California missions, Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside. It is open daily for self-guided tours of the onsite museum and grounds, but do check their calendar for a list of events including behind-the-scenes tours, retreats, cooking classes, and workshops.
Mission San Diego de Alcala, which overlooks Old Town San Diego, was California’s first mission. Visitors can explore the grounds, attend mass or sit for quiet reflection in the gardens. An audio tour is available.
Or, it is incredibly easy to take an Amtrak train to San Juan Capistrano. The mission there is within a very short walk of the station and such a cool day trip.
21. Tour the Stuart Collection
Take kids on somewhat of a scavenger hunt to find the various sculptures and art installations in the Stuart Collection, a public art display that is sprinkled throughout UC San Diego. Stop into one of the casual campus restaurants that are open during summer for lunch or a snack. Read more about the Stuart Collection.
22. Have Afternoon Tea
If the kids are feeling fidgety in the late afternoon and you’re not feeling like an outdoor activity, how about a proper afternoon tea with scones, tea sandwiches, and sweets? Choices include:
23. Attend a Luau
The Catamaran is hosting its annual summer luaus on the beach on Tuesdays and Fridays. The buffet menu includes a long list of Hawaiian favorites such as Kalua Roast Pig. Enjoy live music, lei making, and more without the long flight.
24. 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 or San Diego Surfing School in Pacific Beach.
25. Tour the San Diego Bay
Get out on the water with the family with one of these suggestions:
- Take a Seal Tour 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?
- Take the Coronado ferry between downtown and Coronado
- Zoom around the bay in the high-speed Patriot Jet Boat
26. 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?
27. Plan a San Diego Staycation
I’m a huge fan of being a tourist at home. Visit a part of San Diego that you’ve never actually explored before. Popular staycation hotels include:
- Fairmont Grand Del Mar
- Omni La Costa Resort and Spa
- Hotel Del Coronado
- Rancho Valencia
- Cape Rey Carlsbad
- Pier South
28. Go to the Beach
While this is an obvious thing to do in San Diego with kids this summer, it has to be mentioned. Top beach picks include Coronado Municipal Beach, Law Street beach, La Jolla Shores beach, Del Mar beach, and Moonlight beach for family-friendly amenities.
Go luxe at the beach by renting a cabana at Del Beach in front of the Hotel Del Coronado. You’ll love the margaritas while the kids will love the shade and food. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to book one either.
29. Join a Beach Cleanup
Check the calendars for I Love a Clean San Diego and San Diego Surfrider Foundation for opportunities to join an organized beach cleanup. Summer equals more people on our beaches, and inevitably more trash.
30. Do Volunteer Work at Home and Elsewhere
San Diego is full of 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.
- Feeding San Diego offers opportunities for ages 6 and older to fill backpacks for kids in need, sort food and more.
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!