La Jolla Mom

26 Things to Do in San Diego with Kids This Summer

San Diego is one of the best places in the world to be during the summer season whether you live here or are on a San Diego vacation.

This summer, things to do in San Diego with kids includes 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. Stone Brewing at Liberty Station is getting in on the action, too, by showing movies like Big Lebowski, The Three Amigos and Coming to America every Tuesday this summer.

Watch a movie at the beach, hosted by Hotel Del Coronado. General admission includes a comfy Del Beach chair or reserve a VIP Movie package that includes s’mores, two Del Beach chairs and a Del Beach day bed.

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 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 Patti LaBelle, Burt Bacharach, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 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.

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 an 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.

4. See La Jolla’s 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 peak in July and August so it’s awesome to paddle out on SUP or kayak and snorkel among them (minimize kicking to avoid scaring them away).

In honor of annual leopard shark season, Birch Aquarium will offer multiple opportunities for you to snorkel with a Birch Aquarium naturalist.

5. Go Grunion Running

Yes! The grunion are running on various days 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 surround a theme and are organized by grade level.

7. Look for Special Theme Park/Museum Experiences

Have breakfast with the pandas at the San Diego Zoo

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.

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.

Fleet Science Center has Saturday Science Club for kids on the second Saturday of each month.

You can also climb the California Tower at the Museum of Man. The list goes on.

8. Visit Balboa Park After Dark

Be sure to check the Balboa Park Summer calendar for a variety of unique activities June 1 – September 3 including free concerts, food trucks, extended museum hours and more in celebration of the park’s 150th summer season.

9. Explore a New-to-You San Diego Museum

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. Visit the San Diego Museum Council’s list of museums and pick one that is new-to-you.

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. 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.

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 and fun 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 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.

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, over people or 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. 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, Balboa Park and more.

16. Go Bowling (Kids Bowl Free)

Register a child age 14 and under for a JR. KING PIN CLUB PASS and 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, it’s 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. 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. They even have an iPhone app that provides detail about each piece and you can stop at one of the casual campus restaurants that are open during summer for lunch or a snack. Read more about the Stuart Collection.

20. 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.

21. Attend a Luau

The Catamaran is hosting its 14th year of summer luaus on the beach. 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.

22. 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.

23. Tour the San Diego Bay

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

  • Take a Seal Tour in the 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

24. 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?

25. 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:

26. Go to the Beach

The beach in front of the Hotel Del Coronado

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.

See also: 

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!

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4 thoughts on “26 Things to Do in San Diego with Kids This Summer

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

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