Summer in Southern California brings tons of sunshine and warm weather. It’s when America’s Finest City, San Diego, truly shines.

I specialize in fun things to do in San Diego with kids and San Diego family vacations, and think that the summer months are the best time to visit San Diego.

From beach towns with live music to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to a picnic at Balboa Park, there is no shortage of things to do during the peak season that is summer in San Diego.

We can help you save on tickets, tours, and hotels. If you purchase through some of the links below, we may be compensated. Thank you for supporting our small business! Our editorial guidelines.

1. Birch Aquarium Camps

Did you know that Birch Aquarium offers summer camps? Registration is open, and kids ages 4-13  will spend the day making crafts, interacting with ocean animals, and learning tons about oceanography.

2. Waterfront Park Fountains and Playground

What kid doesn’t love a fountain they can run through, plus a playground? It’s the perfect combination, and should you find yourself looking for things to do in downtown San Diego on a hot day, plan to stop at Waterfront Park.

3. Check the Tide Pools

Beachgoers walk in shallow water on the rocks at Shell Beach, La Jolla.
This is at 10:30 a.m. after the low point of .5 at 7:30 a.m.

Visiting San Diego tide pools is mostly an activity we enjoy in the winter months, but you can see a few 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 were 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 at Children’s Pool and Sea Lions at La Jolla Cove Early

Seals lay on the beach at the Children's Pool.
Taken with a zoom lens.

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 return in the evenings when people leave.

The chatty La Jolla Cove sea lions are pretty much always around. Stay on the sidewalk and keep your distance from the seals and sea lions.

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, which is full of marine life. It’s outlined by seven sea caves, including Sunny Jim, the only sea cave in the West 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 DISCOUNT

Use code LJMOM20 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

Swimming with leopard sharks is one of La Jolla's best summer attractions and a great things to do in San Diego with kids this summer.

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

Summer in San Diego wouldn’t be complete without a visit to San Diego Zoo.

Every dollar you spend at San Diego Zoo goes toward upkeep and animals. I suggest going when it opens so you can 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.

GET MY EXCLUSIVE TICKET DISCOUNTS

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 $68/adult and $58/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.

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 a Safari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park tours are called Safaris. The most popular one that will take you closer to animals in one of the savannahs is the Wildlife Safari.

Other options include a Behind-the-Scenes Safari where you can go behind the scenes of Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center and Elephant Valley, Walkabout Australia, see multiple resident babies, or other themes. Or, you can zip line through the park on Flightline Safari.

You’ll still need San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets and can use my above promo code to save even more.

10. Spot Koi at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Koi swim in a pond at the Japanese Friendship Garden.
So many koi.

With comfortable average temperatures for San Diego’s summer weather, Balboa Park is always on my list of popular attractions. Visit the Japanese Friendship Garden San Diego where show-quality koi live or 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 USS Midway Museum

San Diego’s very own aircraft carrier is the place to check out vintage aircraft and flight simulators and climb into cockpits aboard the USS Midway Museum in San Diego Bay. Don’t forget to visit the Hangar Deck and Flight Deck (because who says San Diego beaches are the only place to catch some summer rays?)

12. Enjoy Water Sports on Mission Bay

Through their various locations, guests can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and various boats by the hour at Action Sports Rentals. 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 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 — there’s a grassy area on the water near the store where people often fly kites. 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

While the fabulous weather (even June gloom can still be warm and inviting) in San Diego offers the possibility to picnic almost year-round, it’s fun to add a picnic to our summer events. 

Enjoy the great outdoors, pack a lunch (or, heck, grab some awesome sandwiches for takeout) and head to a local park with picnic facilities, the beach, Harbor Island, Balboa Park, or Coronado Island just to name a few. San Diego is brimming with spots to get your picnic on! 

Bundle this activity with kite flying and other outdoor fun to knock several items off your summer bucket list in San Diego.

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

Get out on the water with the family with one of these suggestions:

18. Pick a San Diego 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 view of the statue and bay 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 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:

21. Plan a San Diego Daycation — at a Hotel Pool

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. This means you can save money with a day trip by enjoying hotel amenities without paying peak summer hotel prices, so pack that bathing suit and sunscreen!

22. Find a New Beach Game

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

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? This organized itinerary means that you aren’t driving around aimlessly as you make your way up the coast and along the Pacific Ocean.

(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 you need help passing the time.)

24. Do Volunteer Work at Home and Elsewhere

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 several ways for small groups and individuals to volunteer.
  • Participate in a beach clean up (we need lots of help during the summer months)

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.

26. Get Some Ice Cream

Is it even summer without ice cream? We didn’t think so, either. Make plans this summer to stop by fan favorite MooTime Creamery in Coronado, the fairly new Jeni’s in Carlsbad, the iconic Mr. Frostie in Pacific Beach, and others.

Or look for other best desserts in La Jolla.

27. Ride and Slide at Sesame Place San Diego 

While there is certainly no shortage of theme parks in Southern California and, specifically, San Diego County, it’s worth mentioning the newest one — Sesame Place. It’s also an important summer focus because it’s a seasonal water park with a Sesame Street theme.

My complete guide on Sesame Place San Diego will give you the low down on tickets, shows, rides, tips and more. 

Don’t forget that you can buy discount Sesame Place San Diego tickets.

28. Hike the Coast 

Hiking trails in the summer along the coast are a great way to enjoy the views, soak in the rays and get some cardio in.

Several state parks in the San Diego area, like Border Field, San Onofre, and Torrey Pines, offer sweeping views.

At the same time, popular Sunset Cliffs, Annie’s Canyon trail, and the Coastal Reserve Biodiversity Trail near Scripps Institution of Oceanography are all fabulous options to get your hike in.

29. Find an Outdoor Concert

Summer concerts galore fill the San Diego summer scene and you’ll find plenty of live music to tap your toes to. Check schedules online before you go. Most are also free!

30. San Diego County Fair

San Diego Summer Events: San Diego County Fair

If the San Diego County Fair doesn’t scream summer, then we’re not sure what does.

Live entertainment and music, rides, games, contests, and classic fair food are all lined up for the very best summer night out. 

31. Padres Game at Petco Park

Summer is the perfect time to take part in America’s favorite pastime. Take on a baseball game at Petco Park to fill out the rest of your summer bucket list.

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!

See also: How to Save Money on San Diego Attractions

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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4 Comments

  1. I love all of these ideas! Makes me wish I was staying in San Diego a bit longer this summer so I could squeeze a few of these in!

  2. These are all great ideas. I only wish I had more time on my recent trips to San Diego. We weren’t able to do most of these things, but I would definitely add going to a baseball game at PetCo, and going to the New Children’s Museum.

  3. You forgot the best animal encounter experience in San Diego, Children’s Nature Retreat! It’s a 20-acre farm in Alpine that has over 100 animals that visitors can pet and feed with animal food (they grow on site hydroponically) at each enclosure all included with the cost of admission. You can bring your own picnic and hang out all day in the countryside watching zebras, camels, alpacas, ostriches, African cattle, horses, donkeys, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, miniature animals… They just built a giant vegetable garden and fruit orchard as well. We will definitely be buying a membership!
    http://childrensnatureretreat.com/
    https://www.facebook.com/childrensnatureretreat/

  4. Try your hand at Falconry! That is something I’d like to do. Thanks for the Inspo Kate and a wonderful site – love love love it. xo

    Rene