Families visiting San Diego, CA with teenagers in tow will have no problem unplugging them for a bit to enjoy outdoor activities and even a little edutainment. We’re the perfect destination for this somewhat picky set (tweens included, too).
I’ve listed the best beaches, tours, museums, and other things to do in San Diego with teens and tweens. My daughter now fits into this age group, and a big part of what I do is help people visiting San Diego with kids plan their family vacations. I’ll also tell you how best to buy tickets where necessary to keep them on budget and where to stay.
Two things to note: You’ll want to check with each venue or activity listed below for information about what’s open and running during your visit as we are living in an ever-changing world. I specialize in helping families save money on San Diego vacations. If you purchase tickets, sightseeing passes, or hotels through the links in this post, I may be compensated.
20 Fun Things to Do in San Diego with Teens and Tweens
- La Jolla Shores Beach
- Pacific Beach/Mission Beach
- Mission Bay Water Sports and Beaches
- Coronado Beach
- La Jolla Seals and Sea Lions
- Belmont Park
- SeaWorld San Diego
- San Diego Zoo Safari Park
- San Diego Zoo
- USS Midway Museum
- Maritime Museum of San Diego
- Balboa Park Museums
- Patriot Jet Boat
- Speed Boat Adventures
- San Diego Fly Rides Electric Bike Tours
- Padres Games or PETCO Park Tours
- La Jolla Zip Zoom
- Old Town San Diego
- San Diego Instagram Spots
- Mall and Outlet Shopping
Tip: Most of these attractions are on the Go San Diego card.
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San Diego Beaches for Teens
With 70 miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that some of it will appeal to the teen set. These three San Diego beaches offer the most activities that will appeal to teens and tweens.
La Jolla Shores Beach
La Jolla Shores Beach makes an excellent teen beach because of the activities on offer. Plus, the sand is gorgeous for regular beachgoing. Families often choose to base their San Diego vacations at one of the beachfront hotels (La Jolla Shores Hotel or La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club) for this reason.
The San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park is located right offshore. Its four habitats (rocky reef, kelp bed, sand flats, and a submarine canyon) are home to an abundance of sea life and cause waves to break gently.
This is why snorkeling, scuba and kayak tours of La Jolla’s seven sea caves launch from here with ease. It’s also possible to boogie board and SUP. Excellent surfing happens to the north near Scripps Pier. Bring your gear or rent it nearby. Surf Diva offers lessons, clinics, and camps for kids and teens who want to learn how to surf or SUP (highly recommend) at La Jolla Shores, too. I also recommend Everyday California.
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Pacific Beach/Mission Beach
Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are young-at-heart neighborhoods located right next to each other. Pacific Beach, in particular, is popular with the college crowd. The neighborhoods share a nearly 3-mile beach boardwalk that is fun to ride, bike, and skate (safely) along.
Find excellent fast-casual food and Belmont Park along the boardwalk. An excellent surfing school, San Diego Surf School, gives lessons, camps, and clinics in the more family-friendly North Pacific Beach near Law Street.
Teens will also like browsing the shops along Pacific Beach’s Garnet Avenue. (Note: This beach area does not appeal to all families, but teens do tend to like it.)
We’re lucky to have bay beaches and ocean beaches in San Diego. Mission Bay is a humanmade aquatic park that borders Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. Hotels like The Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa offer water sports equipment rentals onsite for families to check out and use including kayaks, SUP, aqua cycles, sailboats, and more.
TIPYou can swim in the bay though the water can be murky in spots. It’s best for water sports.
Coronado beaches are some of San Diego’s best. Two appeal most to teenagers.
Coronado Central Beach in front of Hotel Del Coronado offers up gentle waves and a vast sandy area for beachgoing. The sand sparkles with gold flecks of a mineral called mica which is pretty to see in the shore break. It’s a big beach, should the teens and tweens want to break from the family to walk along the shoreline for shelling and even some winter tide pooling. You can learn to surf here, too.
Silver Strand State Beach in front of Loews Coronado Bay Resort is also a quintessential SoCal beach with lots of space on the sand and in the water to enjoy. Loews at the Strand (seasonal) offers beach rentals (free for hotel guests). Coronado Surfing Academy provides surfing lessons here. Enjoy fishing, swimming, shelling, surfing, camping, and all sorts of beach activities here.
La Jolla Seals and Sea Lions
This age group probably won’t do much beachgoing in this area, they do like walking between the La Jolla sea lions and seals. The sea lions hang out at La Jolla Cove and the seals are just down the way at Children’s Pool Beach.
Teens will love taking photos of our pinnipeds. You can stay on the boardwalk and usually manage to snap a selfie with them in the background. (Resist the temptation to get close to these wild animals.)
Popular Amusement Parks
Teens and tweens can have a great time at any of San Diego’s amusement parks and theme parks, but these are favorites. While all of these places are open, rides currently are not.
Our seaside amusement park is home to a historic roller coaster (which might be a tame ride by some teen standards), a variety of hair raising rides, carnival games, a zip line, mini-golf, giant ice cream cones, Dole Whip, and more ways to spend a half-day. The beach is a few steps away so it’s easy for them to run back and forth from the sand to the attractions.
SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego has upped its ride offerings with three, soon to be four, roller coasters that older kids love. The Electric Eel is currently the city’s tallest and fastest roller coaster featuring looping twists, an inverted heartline roll, and 60 mph speed. Tidal Twister is a dueling roller coaster that recently opened and you can look forward to California’s first floorless dive coaster called Emperor, slated to open at the theme park in 2021.
Tweens and teenagers will also love the Shipwreck Rapids water ride with its waterfall finale and the Journey to Atlantis roller coaster/water ride and DeepSEE VR: Orca 360 (pictured above) for ages 13 and older. And, of course, there are the usual animal shows, festive foods, chances to learn about wildlife conservation, and other must-see attractions.
SKIP THE LINESQuick Queue passes enable guests to enjoy shorter lines. Usually, the best way to buy discount SeaWorld San Diego tickets is through their website but if you are if you’re visiting multiple attractions consider the Go San Diego pass.
(SeaWorld San Diego owns Aquatica San Diego, a water park that you may see on other lists. This park did not open for the 2020 season and is supposed to transition to a Sesame Street Place theme park, which caters mostly to younger kids. However, since this has been a strange year, I am not sure what the future will hold.)
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
While all ages love the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, teens particularly enjoy these two safaris.
Flightline Safari is a zip line up to 130 feet in the air while spying rhinos, giraffes, and more along the way. It’s two zip lines, a 1-hour adventure in total, and you can rent a helmet camera should you want to record the trip.
Participants climb, balance, swing, and walk through the trees on the Jungle Ropes Safari while wearing a harness to cross tightropes, rope bridges, and other challenging (yet fun) obstacles. Choose between three trails of varying difficulty and, of course, you’ll see animals along the way.
Be sure to look at the calendar of events during your dates. Other fun activities include Breakfast with Kangaroos and Roar and Snore Safari (spend the night!).
San Diego Zoo
No visit to San Diego is complete without a stop at the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Spend a day or half-day viewing favorite animals, enjoying the Skyfari Tram ride, or taking advantage of upgraded experiences (some are for ages 12 and older) like Keeper for a Day. There is also no need to pay full price as you can use my ticket discount.
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San Diego Museums for Teens and Tweens
This age group’s advantage is that they may have a deeper understanding of history or appreciation for art based on what they’re learning at school. San Diego’s military history is one thing, but the city is also regarded as California’s birthplace, so there’s lots to learn while having fun.
USS Midway Museum
All ages should plan a visit to the USS Midway Museum if time permits. It was one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers of the 20th century, serving from 1945 through the Cold War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and other events up to 1992.
It’s now a museum docked at the Embarcadero in downtown San Diego. The audio tour (free with admission) is narrated by 70 sailors who served onboard and leads visitors through the galley, sleeping quarters, mailroom, engine room, and more throughout the aircraft carrier. Grab discounted tickets.
Maritime Museum of San Diego
Next door to the USS Midway Museum, you’ll see the Star of India ship which signals the entrance to the Maritime Museum of San Diego. These restored and replica ships are great for Instagram. You can also climb into a restored Cold War submarine. Grab discounted tickets.
Balboa Park Museums
Take the teens and tweens to Balboa Park for the day but be sure to have a Go San Diego pass or Balboa Park Explorer Pass to save money on museums. They aren’t huge, which means you WILL see more than one.
Any Balboa Park museum will do, but these pique the interest of teens:
- Museum of Photographic Arts: Perfect for those interested in filmmaking or photography.
- Fleet Science Center: All ages love hands-on science exhibits and IMAX movies.
- Museum of Us: Go to this anthropology museum to learn about cannibals, mummies, the origins of race and racism, the Kumeyaay native Californians, and more.
While you’re in Balboa Park you can take advantage of the hiking trails and places to eat.
San Diego Tours and Sightseeing for Teens
Sightseeing is far from dull in San Diego if you know which tours to book.
Patriot Jet Boat
As rock music blares, ride at speeds of up to 50 mph past military ships, along the downtown skyline, and under the iconic Coronado Bridge on the Patriot Jet Boat.
You will get wet on this 30-minute thrill ride, but teens will love it. It departs from the Embarcadero near many downtown San Diego hotels. Patriot Jet Boat operates daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and then weekends only through the rest of the year. Reserve your time in advance.
Speed Boat Adventures
This boat tour involves driving your own 16-foot mini speed boat in the San Diego Bay, narrated by a guide in a boat ahead of you.
There is quite a bit to learn on the bay including San Diego’s military history, tidbits about wildlife, and even the discovery of California at Cabrillo National Monument.
Drivers must be 16 years old with an adult in the boat, or 18 years old to drive alone. Reserve your time and boat in advance.
San Diego Fly Rides
Take an electric bike tour with San Diego Fly Rides (or, rent your own). You’ll still pedal, but these bikes take riders with ease up hills and on longer rides while you enjoy and learn about the San Diego coastline.
Other Fun Things to Do in San Diego with Teens and Tweens
The best of the rest to put on your San Diego family travel bucket list.
Padres Game or PETCO Park Tour
If it’s baseball season and you’re in San Diego with teens or tweens, head to a Padres game. PETCO Park is conveniently located in downtown San Diego near some of the city’s best shopping and restaurants. The park itself also houses smaller outlets of popular restaurants like Blue Water Seafood, Pizza Port, Lucha Libre, and many more.
If the Padres aren’t playing, you can still take one of the daily guided, behind-the-scenes PETCO Park tours.
La Jolla Zip Zoom
It’s a day trip, but San Diego County is home to California’s longest zip line. The La Jolla Zip Zoom is located in Pauma Valley, about 90 minutes from downtown San Diego.
It’s four courses ranging from 300 to 2700 feet in length. You’ll reach speeds of up to 55 mph, and since it’s a side-by-side zip line, you can experience it together. Must be 48″ tall and 65-250 lbs.
Old Town San Diego
Old Town San Diego doesn’t seem like a place for teenagers and tweens, but I can tell you that the whole family will enjoy a few hours spent here capped off with some Mexican food. In fact, if you choose one of the restaurants adjacent to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, it’s easy to let older kids walk around on their own to browse shops for souvenir trinkets and maybe even check out some of the free museums (perhaps while you leisurely sip a margarita).
Fun San Diego Instagram Spots
For the teenagers and tweens who love Instagram, turn to San Diego’s street art and drool-worthy desserts. These suggestions are near tourist spots.
La Jolla has a couple of murals that are accessible at street level. Take a look at the map of current projects. (Favorite Color at 7596 Eads Avenue, La Jolla is popular.)
North Park’s Pigment store is a place both parents and teens may like. Take a photo inside and against the colorful exterior living plant wall. The “Greetings from San Diego” mural also awaits in North Park.
When it comes to desserts, check out these San Diego Instagram spots:
- @donutbar (Downtown)
- @holymatchaa (North Park)
- @hammondsicecream (Sports Arena & University Heights — ice cream flights!)
- @bobabarsd (Kearny Mesa)
Where to Go Shopping with Teens in San Diego
Here’s where our local tweens and teenagers like to go shopping.
Westfield UTC Mall
Our newly-renovated Westfield UTC mall near La Jolla is a neat lifestyle complex that the whole family will love. Stores the like include H&M, Zumiez, Vans, Lululemon, Lush, Sephora, and many others. Other stores range from Nordstrom to Hermes to Geppetto’s Toys so the whole family will love it.
The other popular shopping spot is on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach. It’s eclectic and you might see some smoke shops and bars but there are second-hand shops to browse for cool finds, cheaper accessory shops, places for desserts (like Mr. Frosty), Brandy Melville, Urban Outfitters, Vans, and more.
Carlsbad Premium Outlets
We have a handful of San Diego outlet malls, but since many families choose to stay in Carlsbad hotels I’ll mention Carlsbad Premium Outlets. You can find deals on Nike, Kate Spade, Puma, Tory Burch, Volcom, and more.
Where to Stay in San Diego with Teenagers
And of the San Diego hotels that I work with will be fine for teenagers and teens. However, this group tends to like to stay in San Diego beachfront hotels where there are things to do within walking distance. My top picks include the below.
- Pacific Terrace Hotel: Located on the Pacific Beach boardwalk and near teen-centric shopping.
- La Jolla Shores Hotel or La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club: Both are located on La Jolla Shores Beach and within walking distance to a handful of shops and restaurants in the La Jolla Shores business district. This beach is a great place to learn how to surf or SUP.
- Hotel del Coronado: Teenagers and tweens love this full-service resort, the beach, the new Main Pool, and walking around Coronado shops on Orange Avenue.
- South Mission Beach vacation rentals: This part of Mission Beach is more family-centric with easy access to sand volleyball courts, Belmont Park, a gorgeous beach, and Mission Bay water sports.
For more details see my list of top San Diego family hotels and resorts.
What are your favorite things to do in San Diego with teens and tweens?