21 Things to Do in San Diego with Kids This Summer
Local or tourist, this list of San Diego summer fun is for you
San Diego is one of the best places in the world to be during the summer season. Sure, we get a little “May grey” and “June gloom” (seasonal cloud cover that often burns off in the afternoon), but don’t let that hold you back from exploring America’s Finest City with the family.
This list of things to do in San Diego with kids this summer is built partially with items on my personal to-do list. Other ideas are just plain awesome whether you’re planning a San Diego family vacation or live here and can be bundled together for an epic day out. This list is updated for 2016.
Table of Contents
- 21 Things To Do In San Diego With Kids This Summer
- 1. Watch an Outdoor Movie (in a Park or on the USS Midway)
- 2. Go to the San Diego Symphony’s Summer Pops
- 3. Explore the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park
- 4. See La Jolla’s Leopard Sharks
- 5. Go Grunion Running
- 6. Spend the Night at the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park (or Both)
- 7. Look for Special Experiences
- 8. Hike Torrey Pines
- 9. Explore a New San Diego Museum
- 10. Go to the Beach
- 11. Ride a Surrey
- 12. Ride an Aquacycle on Mission Bay
- 13. Fly a Kite
- 14. Go on a Picnic
- 15. Attend an Outdoor Concert
- 16. Go Bowling (Kids Bowl Free)
- 17. Take an Electric Bike Tour
- 18. Visit a California Mission
- 19. Have Afternoon Tea
- 20. Go LED Stand-Up Paddle Boarding
- 21. Be a Tourist at Home
- Watch My Fox 5 TV Segment
21 Things To Do In San Diego With Kids This Summer
1. Watch an Outdoor Movie (in a Park or on the USS Midway)
This summer, make it a plan to watch an outdoor movie. The initiative began several years ago to draw attention to local parks and it’s been such a huge success that venues like the USS Midway are participating. How cool would it be to watch a movie on the deck of an aircraft carrier? View the entire Summer Movies in the Park schedule.
Other opportunities to watch a movie al fresco include a series shown in the May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden by the San Diego Museum of Art designed to highlight current exhibitions. Stone Brewing at Liberty Station is getting in on the action, too, by showing movies like Goonies, Minions, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and more between now and August. BYO lawn chairs and blankets to both venues.
2. Go to the San Diego Symphony’s Summer Pops
Bayside Summer Nights is the San Diego Symphony’s outdoor summer concert series (Summer Pops) at the waterfront Embarcadero. I can’t tell you enough how much I recommend this experience for the entire family. This may be my favorite of all 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. The 25 concerts will this year feature the likes of Diana Ross, Seth MacFarlane, Amy Grant and Bernadette Peters. Grab your friends with kids and go for some fun family time or go for date night. Tip: Bring glow sticks for the kids.
3. Explore the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park
La Jolla is home to a very unique underwater park that is full of marine life that 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.) which have interesting history. Some were used to smuggle booze during prohibition!
You can take a guided snorkeling tour or rent a kayak at one of the vendors in La Jolla Shores. I recently took a guided kayaking tour with Everyday California that I can highly recommend.
4. See La Jolla’s 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. The mostly 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 it’s awesome to paddle out on SUP or kayak and snorkel among them (minimize kicking).
In honor of annual leopard shark season, Birch Aquarium will have shark activity stations, shark stories meet and greets, shark feeding presentations and even a full week of shark summer camp for kids. You can even register to snorkel with a Birch Aquarium naturalist on certain dates.
Tip: Follow their hashtag #ILoveSharks. And, watch the live footage of the sharks in the video below. It’s awesome.
5. Go Grunion Running
Yes! The grunion are running in some shape or form all summer long. It’s late so probably best for tweens and teens but fun nonetheless. Be sure to note when its open or closed season. Closed means that there is no “fishing” allowed and open season means you can actually catch them with a valid license.
6. Spend the Night at the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park (or Both)
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 or the San Diego Zoo Safari Park? Themed overnights provide an opportunity to sleep (safely) near animals, educational programming and 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). Wildlife Sleepovers at the San Diego Zoo happen on a less-frequent basis but tents are also provided.
7. Look for Special Experiences
So, maybe you already have an annual 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.
My daughter and I have enjoyed Early Morning with Pandas at the San Diego Zoo where we entered before it opens to learn about pandas and had plenty of time to ask keepers anything we wanted. The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center has Saturday Science Club for girls. The list goes on.
8. 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.
9. Explore a New San Diego Museum
This year is Balboa Park’s centennial anniversary and each museum is offering special programming throughout the year. But, really, Balboa Park is a fantastic place to go any day of the year (we are huge fans of the value offered by the Explorer Pass). Why not visit a museum that you haven’t been to before? For us, that would be the San Diego Automotive Museum. But it wasn’t until recently that we set foot into the San Diego Model Railroad Museum… which I would highly recommend for young kids. Many of the museums also offer extended summer hours.
And don’t forget about Residents Free Tuesdays where San Diego residents receive free admission to a rotating list of Balboa Park museums on Tuesdays.
10. 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, 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.
11. 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 and more. It’s another fantastic way to explore.
12. Ride an Aquacycle on Mission Bay
Speaking of Mission Bay 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 its 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 jet packing. Carlsbad Lagoon rentals on Agua Hedionda lagoon also has aquacycles.
13. Fly a Kite
It’s 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 and over people as well as near power lines.
14. 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 take-out) and head to a local park with picnic facilities, the beach, Balboa Park or wherever you like to eat outside. Kids love picnics and they don’t have to be fancy.
Bundle this activity with kite flying and other outdoor fun to knock several to-do’s off of 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.
15. Attend an Outdoor Concert
A number of cities throughout San Diego offer seasonal outdoor concerts that are free to attend. La Jolla Concerts by the Sea happen at Ellen Browning Scripps Park at La Jolla Cover from 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. on Sundays from July 19 – September 6, 2015. There is plenty of space for the kids to run around, food for sale, raffle prizes and more. But, there are concerts in Del Mar, Carlsbad, Coronado, Hillcrest, Balboa Park and more.
16. Go Bowling (Kids Bowl Free)
If you register a child age 14 and under for a JR. KING PIN CLUB PASS, they’ll bowl for free at Tavern + Bowl one game per day from opening until 4:00 p.m. (shoes not included). Tavern + Bowl has elevated the bowling experience with nice lanes, craft cocktails and awesome food brought to a table at your land. Read about our experience… we loved it.
17. 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 certainly will take the SoCal Riviera Tour of La Jolla and Mount Soledad by 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 on an electric bike!
18. Visit a California Mission
This tip is especially relevant when kids are studying missions in 4th grade but just as easy to pop a baby in a carrier for a nice walk in 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, behind-the-scenes tours, retreats, cooking classes and workshops.
Mission San Diego de Alcala, which overlooks Old Town, 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!
19. Have Afternoon Tea
If the kids are feeling fidgety in the late afternoon and you’re not feeling like an outdoor activity, how about afternoon tea? My daughter and I have been meaning to try tea at Fairmont Grand Del Mar or The Westgate Hotel. My daughter loves scones and sweets while I appreciate a good cup of tea or glass of champagne if I’m in the mood for it. You could also opt for afternoon tea at Shakespeares’s, too.
20. Go LED Stand-Up Paddle Boarding
San Diego Bay Adventures offers a neat SUP tour called Nite Ops that starts after sunset. The paddle boards are lit with LED lights and often attract marine life to the surface. It looks really fun and you can see live footage of it in my news segment below.
21. Be a Tourist at Home
This is by far my favorite suggestion because I’m such an advocate of sightseeing in San Diego even if you live here. We have fabulous, FABULOUS tours and experiences. I already mentioned the electric bike tours, but how about these other summer activities in San Diego:
- Hop on and off the Old Town Trolley
- Take a Seal Tour in the the amphibious bus-boat that goes from land to water in a snap
- Rent a GoCar (this looks like a hoot)
- Take a local Segway tour (tweens and teens)
- How about brunch on a Hornblower harbor cruise?
- Visit a part of San Diego that you’ve never actually explored
- 11 Unique and Extreme San Diego Sightseeing Tours (ranging from hot air balloon rides to tours by biplane or Ferrari)
- My list of (affiliate link) Best Sightseeing Tours in San Diego
- How to Save Money on San Diego Attractions
That’s the list of my 21 things to do in San Diego with kids this summer. Make your plans now, fall will be here before you know it!
Watch My Fox 5 TV Segment
Really cool leopard shark and LED stand-up paddle board footage!