I help people plan San Diego family vacations and am a trusted resource for locals in search of things to do in San Diego with kids. Why? I live here and despite regularly traveling the world, I strongly believe that San Diego is one of the best destinations in the United States to spend a holiday no matter how old you are.
There are baby activities in San Diego, toddler activities, and plenty of things to do in San Diego with teens and tweens, too. Some of these attractions are free to enter, many are near my favorite kid-friendly hotels in San Diego, and I have tons of advice on how to save money on tickets. It’s a big list but that’s because I’ve included some ideas that even residents may not know about.
Check Before You Go (Last Update 8/6/20)
Indoor museums and some theme parks (LEGOLAND, SeaWorld, Aquatica) are not yet open. The Zoo, Safari Park, USS Midway, gardens, are open. Most sightseeing tours are running. Open attractions may temporarily have modified offerings.
Top Things to Do in San Diego with Kids
Let’s start with the kid-friendly attractions that are at the top of most family sightseeing itineraries.
Tip: If you are going to visit more than one of these activities, it may be worth considering a multi-attraction pass like Go San Diego. I have an exclusive discount on their All-Inclusive passes. I may be compensated if you make purchases using links to trusted partners in this post. You can also take a look at ticket combo packages for major attractions.
1. San Diego Zoo©
Location: Balboa ParkThe koalas at the San Diego Zoo are popular with all ages.
The world-famous San Diego Zoo tops my list of things to do in San Diego with kids. It’s home to over 3700 rare and endangered animals and a beautiful display of over 700,000 exotic plants throughout its 100 acres.
San Diego Zoo is part of San Diego Zoo Global, an organization dedicated to saving species across the globe. Every dollar that you spend at the Zoo goes toward animal care and these conservation efforts, which you’ll learn more about during your visit. Yes, your day will involve animals and education — a perfect combination for kids.
I’ve written about my favorite San Diego Zoo animals and exhibits in detail, but don’t miss the koalas, polar bears, new baby pygmy hippo, Galapagos tortoises, and Keeper Talks.
We also like to go right when it opens when the weather is cool and some animals eat breakfast. However, I encourage you to check out their upgraded tours and experiences (when available). Some begin before the park opens so you’ll already be inside with a head start to favorite animals. Read all San Diego Zoo posts.
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2. San Diego Zoo Safari Park©
Location: EscondidoGet up-close to rhinos on the Caravan Safari.
Over 2600 animals including giraffes, elephants, lions, and more roam in large, free-range enclosures at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Tour the park on your own or schedule a safari (or both). Two of the most popular safaris include the free Africa Tram tour around the park and the Caravan Safari. You can also zipline over some of the animal enclosures on the Skyline Safari.
Be aware that it gets pretty hot over here in the summer. Animal enclosures are spread out so that they can house big animals. Watching the afternoon cheetah run is one of the most popular attractions. We love the tigers of Tiger Trail, Nairobi Village (where the petting zoo is), and Walkabout Australia where wallabies jump around you — without a barrier.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park also has live cams to watch prior to a visiting or to check on favorite animals after arriving home. They’re part of San Diego Zoo Global and home to the world’s largest veterinary facility and a frozen zoo from which they hope to bring back the Northern White Rhino from extinction.
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3. LEGOLAND© California
Location: CarlsbadDriving school at LEGOLAND California.
LEGOLAND California is, of course, one of the most popular things to do in San Diego with kids. The resort consists of LEGOLAND California, SEA LIFE® Aquarium, LEGOLAND Water Park, LEGOLAND Hotel, and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel.
If pressed for time, LEGOLAND California theme park can be visited in a half-day. The park is best for toddlers and younger kids as the suggested age is between 2–12. Teens would have to be die-hard LEGO lovers to enjoy it without accompanying a younger guest as most rides may be too juvenile for them.
The average visit to SEA LIFE Aquarium is about 45 minutes, and it’s a fun stop, too. Don’t forget to bring LEGO Minifigures to trade with staff members.
Important: During the school year, LEGOLAND California closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The water park is also seasonal. Check their calendar before planning a visit.
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4. SeaWorld© San Diego
Location: Mission BayTweens and teens love the SeaWorld San Diego roller coasters.
SeaWorld San Diego alone draws tourists to our city from all over the world to enjoy up-close animal interactions, fun rides, and educational experiences.
Special behind-the-scenes tours give guests the opportunity to learn more about penguins, rays, dolphins, sea otters and more. Sesame Street Bay of Play® entertains young kids with mild rides and lots to climb on. The Manta roller coaster and new Electric Eel roller coaster thrill older riders. SeaWorld San Diego uses its facilities to rescue local sea life, including the La Jolla seals.
Most guests spend an entire day here. A half-day is doable if short on time.
Tip: Skip the lines with a Quick Queue® Premier pass. Discounted SeaWorld San Diego tickets are usually best bought through them directly. If you’re certain you’ll spend an entire day in the park, check out the All-Day Dining Plan.
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Save money by purchasing SeaWorld San Diego tickets and upgrades online, in advance. Gate prices are higher.
5. Aquatica San Diego Water Park (Seasonal)
Location: Chula VistaKids love this seasonal water park.
Our only water park features a wide range of attractions for any level of swimmer including wave pools, lazy river, huge water slides, interactive water play areas, private cabana rentals, and much more.
Given our current climate, I’m not sure if Aquatica San Diego will reopen. The park’s last season was supposed to be summer 2020. After this, it will transition to Sesame Place which is scheduled to open in 2021. If it does open, discounted Aquatica San Diego tickets are most often purchased through SeaWorld directly.
6. Belmont Park
Location: Mission Beach (free to enter)
Break from the beach for a few hours to pop into San Diego’s seaside amusement park. It’s free to walk around Belmont Park San Diego, but you’ll need tickets for the games and rides.
We’re talking about a historic roller coaster, an arcade, carnival rides, giant scoops of ice cream, a zip line, laser tag, and miniature golf. With all of this, how can Belmont Park not be one of the most fun things to do in San Diego with kids? It’s also on my list of best things to do in San Diego with teens.
It’s home to a couple of pretty good restaurants like Cannonball and Beach House. The latter is a family-friendly beach bar on sand. Save room for dessert from the onsite Dole Whip® truck.
Don’t pay for rides a la carte: The cost of rides and activities can add up quickly but that’s because kids love this park. You can sometimes buy discounted unlimited ride tickets through Costco or Groupon. The Go San Diego sightseeing pass includes the all-access combo pass. If you live in San Diego, consider the annual pass which will pay for itself after a few visits.
7. Balboa Park
Location: Balboa Park (free to enter)
The nation’s largest urban cultural park is home to 17 museums (the most kid-friendly options are enumerated in 9-13 below), many gorgeous gardens, the San Diego Zoo, restaurants, and performing arts venues. It is indeed one of the most fun places in San Diego for every member of the family.
Balboa Park is free to enter though the museums have individual ticket fees. These museums are best visited using a Balboa Park Explorer pass or the Go San Diego pass. Both combine passes include multiple museums for a flat fee.
Tip: Our favorite al fresco, counter-order restaurants are Panama 66 and the Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden.
See also: Where to Eat and Drink in Balboa Park
8. Old Town San Diego
Location: Old Town San Diego (free to enter)Old Town San Diego shops have crafts, candy, and souvenirs.
Old Town San Diego, referred to as the birthplace of California, is a fun half-day visit when in San Diego with children. Kids tend to like The Whaley House, one of the coolest haunted houses in the country, and walking through the graves at El Campo Santo Cemetery.
If that sounds too creepy, not to worry. You can enjoy our sunshine in Old Town State Historic Park in between popping into the free museums that showcase what life was like in early California. Just above the park, you’ll find the Serra Museum, which showcases Kumeyaay Indians Spanish and Mexican exhibits of local history starting in the 1700s.
Pick up a festive souvenir from one of the many shops. And, yes, most of the restaurants here serve good Mexican food and giant margaritas on their patios. Old Town San Diego often has mariachi performances, people dressed in period costumes, and other live entertainment for free family fun in San Diego. Check the event calendar.
Best Museums in San Diego for Kids
Tip: Admission to the Balboa Park Museums can add up. They are not large and you’ll likely visit more than one or even two. Buy the Go San Diego pass or the Balboa Park Explorer Pass (tourist passes will return when indoor museums open). This way, you’ll avoid multiple a la carte ticket purchases to the San Diego children’s museums mentioned below.
9. Fleet Science Center
Location: Balboa Park
The whole family will love exploring the 100 hands-on exhibits scattered throughout the eight galleries at Fleet Science Center. You’ll learn how gravity works, build stuff, watch movies in the world’s first dome IMAX theatre, and then some. Toddlers and even babies can get in on the “do touch” fun in the special Kid City section for kids 5 and under.
10. San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT)
Location: Balboa ParkThere are two scavenger hunts to try inside theNAT.
Located across the courtyard from the Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Natural History Museum is home to fossils, scavenger hunts, and exhibits regarding local geology, ecosystems, and history. This is where you bring the family learn about the biodiversity of our binational region.
Kids under 5 will love The Backyard play area. Parents can watch them explore with a latte in-hand from The Flying Squirrel Cafe next door. I love this museum and it’s been a favorite of my daughter’s, too, throughout her entire life.
11. San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Location: Balboa Park
The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is North America’s largest model railroad museum and a toy train enthusiast’s dream. Inside, you’ll find four enormous scale and model layouts. The detail on the trains and the scenery is staggering. Visitors can admire and tinker with toy trains here, too.
12. San Diego Air and Space Museum
Location: Balboa Park
Go to the San Diego Air and Space Museum to learn about the history of flight from early balloon ascents to space travel. Over 50 aircraft hang from the rafters, and the various galleries showcase the Wright brothers, the Golden Age of Flight, World Wars I and II, the Jet Age, and women in flight.
13. Museum of Us
Location: Balboa Park
Kids can channel their inner archeologist at the Museum of Us, our anthropology museum. They can also dress up as a Pharaoh in addition to learning about excavating and wrapping mummies. Other exhibit topics include cannibalism, beer, race, and living with animals.
Older kids may enjoy climbing to the top of the iconic California Tower for spectacular San Diego views. A reservation is required.
14. San Diego Botanic Garden
If you’re looking for outdoor fun for kids in San Diego and garden inspiration, the San Diego Botanic Garden is your place. Spend an hour or two walking through 29 gorgeous gardens with themes ranging from fire safety to olive trees to plants native to the Canary Islands.
Hamilton Children’s Garden is home to a treehouse, grass maze, and special kids’ activities. You can also tour ranging from bird watching to various walks catered toward specific age groups.
15. Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Location: La JollaThe Kelp Forest tank showcases sea life that live off the coast of San Diego.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for the prestigious Scripps Institution of Oceanography. It’s one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids for a few hours, especially if they’re lovers of marine life.
Enter, and walk to the right to see the 60 habitats of fishes and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and beyond. On the other side of the aquarium, kids can play with hands-on educational exhibits that teach the value of conservation.
A human-made tide pool area on the back patio boasts panoramic ocean views over La Jolla Shores Beach. Here, docents help visitors gently touch starfish and anemones while answering questions.
I also encourage you to take a look at their calendar of off-site programming, including whale watching tours (December through April), tide pool tours (winter), snorkeling with leopard sharks (summer), summer camps and other special events.
16. USS Midway Museum®
One of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers is now a popular maritime museum with 60 exhibits and 29 restored aircraft. Kids love learning what life was like at sea on the USS Midway in addition to trying two flight simulators (height restrictions apply).
Some of the USS Midway Museum docents lived on board the ship, and it’s one of my favorite places to recommend because there isn’t another museum like it.
Bundle Tickets with San Diego Zoo
One of the most popular ticket bundles that I sell is the USS Midway Museum + San Diego Zoo combo (save $10).
See also: Tips for Visiting the USS Midway Museum
17. Maritime Museum of San Diego®
This San Diego museum preserves one of the largest collections of historic vessels in the country. Visitors may climb on board to explore the ships, some of which still occasionally sail (check the website for tours on the bay). Highlights include the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship, and the Soviet-era B-39 submarine, one of the largest conventionally-powered submarines ever built.
Tip: It’s easy to combine a visit to the Maritime Museum of San Diego with the USS Midway Museum and Waterfront Park as they are neighbors on the Embarcadero. (Grab a taco at Carnitas Snack Shack here, too.)
18. The New Children’s Museum®
The goal of The New Children’s Museum is for children of all ages to experience the arts in ways that are meaningful to them. Their motto is, “think, play, create” and that’s exactly what kids do there through arts and crafts, hands-on exhibits and performing arts.
Looking for things to do in San Diego with babies? This museum is free for babies under 12 months and is engaging for your littlest family members because they’ll love watching other kids in motion.
The activities in the museum are appropriate for toddlers up to teenagers. It’s one of the San Diego attractions for kids that will spark their love of learning early.
19. San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum
If you happen to be in the area, stop by the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum. It’s entirely dedicated to learning through play throughout 6000 square feet of indoor space and even more outside where there are chicken coops, worm farms, and other investigative stations. Themes of water and energy conservation are present throughout the facility.
Tip: It’s very close to San Diego Zoo Safari Park so you could visit both in the same (albeit long) day.
20. Museum of Making Music
This is a fun San Diego museum for children or adults who are interested in music or the history of music. But, let me tell you why you need to go when the kids are young.
Kids don’t always know what instrument they’d like to learn how to play. Sometimes, they need to choose one for a school music class. At other times, parents encourage learning an instrument to broaden their minds. A big highlight of the Museum of Making Music is the instrument room where you can pick up and play hundreds of instruments from around the world. It’s fun for the whole family, and it gives kids a chance to feel what playing an electric guitar, trumpet or flute might be like.
Note: They’re renovating but I want to leave it as a placeholder for the families planning future vacations and so that residents know big improvements are coming.
21. Living Coast Discovery Center
Location: Chula Vista
Those interested in California’s coastal flora and fauna should plan a visit to The Living Coast Discovery Center, about 15 minutes south of downtown. It’s a popular location for school field trips (typically also a less busy spot than many of our other popular San Diego animal attractions).
You can add on a variety of experiences like bat ray feedings and reptile meet and greets to enhance your day there. Take a look at their calendar of events as guests can participate in bird walks, composting classes, and much more family fun in San Diego.
Best San Diego Beaches for Families
Our beautiful San Diego beaches top most family sightseeing itineraries and they are free to use after you secure parking.
During any season, things to do in San Diego include going to the beach. We have 70 miles of stunning coastline which means there are many San Diego beaches to choose from, each with their own characteristics. The odds are that there is a family-friendly beach near where you are staying in San Diego, but here are my top picks for families.
See also: 15 Best Beach Hotels in San Diego
22. Coronado Central Beach
Location: Coronado (free to enter)
This gorgeous beach is in front of the Hotel del Coronado® though it extends quite a distance past the luxury hotel. The water is usually pretty calm here and the wide flat sandy beach is dreamy to chill out on. You can walk up to eat at The Del and rent chairs and umbrellas from their Del Beach area even if you’re not an overnight guest.
Coronado Central Beach ranks highly on national travel publication lists including Travel + Leisure. The north end is dog-friendly and suitable for surfing when waves cooperate.
See also: Detailed Guide to Coronado Beaches
23. La Jolla Shores Beach
Location: La Jolla (free to enter)
This family-friendly beach is one of our favorites in town because it suits people of all ages who crave ocean activities. The beach is flat, sandy, and an especially great place for kids.
Lifeguards patrol the area, visitors may use the handful of fire pits (first come, first served), and the bathrooms are reasonably nice. Kellogg Park’s playground, grassy areas, and amenities are steps from the sand, too.
Walk easily to Avenida de la Playa, the main street in the La Jolla Shores neighborhood, for snacks (grab a sandwich at The Cheese Shop) or essentials like forgotten sunscreen. The parking lot is reasonably big but go early during summer months to avoid parking issues.
We list several popular things to do with kids at La Jolla Shores Beach under outdoor activities below because it’s an excellent spot for water sports like snorkeling and learning how to durf.
24. Del Mar Beaches
Location: Del Mar (free to enter)
The Del Mar beach between 15th Street and 29th Street is very popular, especially during the summer (when parking in this residential neighborhood is difficult). Walk there from some of the most popular restaurants in Del Mar as well as L’Auberge Del Mar Hotel and a few smaller inns.
Another fun stretch of Del Mar beach is Torrey Pines State Beach, near the famous state reserve. The state park system administers it so you’ll need to pay at a kiosk to park.
The most family-friendly part is located closest to Torrey Pines Road. Here, you’ll find bathrooms, showers, and lifeguards. Kids like to play in the little area where the shallow lagoon water trickles into the ocean.
25. Moonlight Beach
Location: Encinitas (free to enter)
Further north awaits Moonlight Beach. North San Diego County hotel concierges send guests here, even if there’s a closer beach to their property. This is because it has the most family-friendly amenities of beaches in the area. Between picnic tables, fire rings, lifeguards, restrooms, volleyball courts, a snack bar, and even equipment rentals, guest needs are well taken care of here.
Fun fact: The name “Moonlight Beach” dates back to the early 1900s when residents used to picnic here late at night.
26. Mission Bay Beaches
Location: Mission Bay (free to enter)
The largest human-made aquatic park in America is Mission Bay and it’s heaven for water sports enthusiasts. Rent boats, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, aqua cycles, and more from vendors in front of the Mission Bay hotels. Bay beaches appeal to young families because there are no waves compared to the ocean beach. Older kids enjoy water sports here.
The sand is soft, and water is as calm though it can be murky in spots. You can access the Mission Bay beaches from a variety of places and resorts, but Sail Bay Beach in front of Fanuel Park in Pacific Beach is a favorite.
See also: 8 Best Mission Beach Hotels in San Diego
Fun Outdoor San Diego Kids Activities
The good news is that the whole family can enjoy these activities on a trip to San Diego County at any time of the year.
27. Snorkel or Swim with Leopard Sharks (Summer)
Location: La Jolla Shores Beach (free to go with your own gear)
While this doesn’t sound like an activity for a list of best things to do in San Diego with kids, we residents send our offspring into the water with the leopard sharks. It’s fun! And, no, they don’t bite.
La Jolla Shores Beach is home to the largest aggregation of leopard sharks in the world. They start to arrive in June, but the numbers peak around August and September. You’ll see them even in knee-deep water, but mostly while snorkeling (swim slowly to avoid scaring them).
28. Kayak the Sea Caves
Location: La Jolla Shores Beach (free to go with your own gear)
Rent a double kayak, bring your own, or join a tour. Kayaks launch easily from La Jolla Shores Beach and many, many people use them to explore the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park. While paddling, you can see bright orange Garibaldi fish and leopard sharks swim below the surface. Our friendly sea lions are always around for entertainment, too.
Most people kayak toward the La Jolla sea caves. All but one are only visible from the ocean and it’s a marine life rich area. Some tours will take you through Clam’s Cave where the barks of sea lions are almost deafening (but funny), though this is not something you should try on your own. I recommend a sea cave kayak tour with Everyday California.
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29. Seaport Village
Location: Downtown San Diego (free to enter)A great place to walk along the water and shop in downtown.
Yes, it’s a touristy spot, but Seaport Village is a fun bayside entertainment area for local and visiting families.
We’re talking about a fudge store, an awesome kite store (and a nearby grassy area to fly one), roaming entertainment, ocean views, and dining at over 50 restaurants and shops in total.
It’s within walking distance of many hotels in downtown San Diego. And, the historic carousel isn’t huge but younger kids think that it’s fun.
30. Learn to Surf
One of the coolest things to do in San Diego with kids is to get them up on a surfboard. Kids as young as five can take surfing lessons. You can learn to hang ten, too. It’s never too late.
Book this quintessential Southern California experience through private lessons, group lessons, or even a half-day summer camp that you can book by the day or week.
I recommend Surf Diva® at La Jolla Shores or San Diego Surfing School in Pacific Beach, though there are accredited surf schools all up and down the coast. You can also find them in Mission Beach, Del Mar, and Carlsbad.
31. Children’s Pool Seals and La Jolla Cove Sea Lions
Location: La Jolla (free to enter)Seals sunbathe at golden hour at Children’s Pool Beach.
One of the best free things to do in La Jolla is to visit the seals and sea lions. They’re cute, noisy, and perhaps a bit stinky.
Habor seals hang out at the Children’s Pool, a small stretch of beach protected by a partial seawall that was initially intended for kids to have a safe place to swim. Well, the seals took it over. The beach is closed to the public so that seals can have their pups here between December 15–May 15. During peak tourist season they tend to leave the beach in the early morning, fish all day and return in the evening.
It is technically okay to swim at the Children’s Pool when the beach is open to the public, but the water is not of the highest quality. It’s quite a scenic spot for photographs though.
Walk north along the boardwalk from here to the Cave Store along Coast Blvd. and you’ll also see a myriad of sea lions along La Jolla Cove. As far as cool stuff to do in San Diego goes, this is definitely a kid-pleaser because they are pretty much always around. I never get tired of seeing them, either.
Learn exactly how to visit them in my Guide to Visiting the La Jolla Seals and Sea Lions.
32. Cabrillo National Monument
Location: Point LomaA great place to photograph water views is Cabrillo National Monument.
Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego’s only National Park, commemorates the 1542 landing of Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in San Diego Bay. This historic event is celebrated as the discovery of California.
A half-day visit here usually starts with a photo op at the statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo with the panoramic view of the bay and downtown behind you. Then, step into the Visitor Center to learn a little more about the site and get the information necessary for kids to earn a Junior Ranger badge.
Other outdoor family things to do in San Diego here lovely trail walks and fantastic tide pools (the best viewing of them is November–March when low tides happen during the day). You can walk into the Old Point Loma Lighthouse to see its frozen-in-time interior with furnishings that date back to 1855.
33. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Location: La Jolla
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is home to the rare Torrey Pine tree, some of the best San Diego ocean views, and eight miles of hiking trails — many of which are suitable for kids. Take advantage of the free public guided walks for families and small groups that happen on weekends and holidays to spot local flora and fauna.
And, Torrey Pines State Beach is below the park so it’s easy to add on some fun in the sand before or after your visit.
34. Petco Park Baseball Game and Tour
Even if the Padres aren’t playing, you can take a behind the scenes tour of Petco Park year-round. The tours last approximately 80 minutes and involve about 1.5 miles of walking around the field, in the press box, and more. The state-of-the-art, open-air ballpark boasts views of downtown, the Gaslamp Quarter, and beyond.
If the team is playing, definitely grab tickets for a game. Petco Park boasts some of the best sightlines in Major League Baseball. A day game is one of the popular family things to do in San Diego during the summer.
35. Waterfront Park
Location: Downtown (free to enter)
Families love this big waterfront park (hence the name) with its interactive water fountains (yes, they can play in them) and playground equipment. Its large grassy area is an excellent place for picnics and games, and they even show outdoor movies here in the summer.
The views over San Diego Bay from the park are also spectacular. It’s located across from the Maritime Museum of San Diego and next door to the Wyndham San Diego Bayfront.
36. Falconry Lessons
Location: La Jolla, Alpine, Ramona
If you’d like to learn falconry or see raptors in action up-close, you have a couple of great options.
We enjoyed a falconry lesson with Sky Falconry at the Torrey Pines Gliderport a few years ago. They now only offer these lessons at their beautiful Alpine ranch. If you’re looking for things to do in San Diego with kids involving animal interaction, I would highly recommend them. These lessons bond people with raptors and educate them about the human-related threats (climate change, pollution, etc.) these majestic creatures face that I still think about years later.
37. Electric Bike Tours
Location: La Jolla, Pacific Beach, or Downtown
Fun things to do in San Diego with teens include electric bike tours. Riders must be 13 or older, but you can pedal when you like and rely on the motor to get you up steeper hills. Tour La Jolla beaches like La Jolla Cove, in addition to scenic hilltops, downtown sights, and more.
Or, rent one of these cool bikes for a few hours to ride on your own. We like San Diego Fly Rides.
38. Queen Calafia®’s Magic Circle
Location: Escondido (free to enter)
A somewhat hidden gem in North San Diego County, Queen Califia’s Magic Circle is the only American sculpture garden by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle who is famous for colorful mosaics. This display includes nine large sculptures, a circular “snake wall” (400 feet long with varying heights), and a maze entryway in addition to some bench seating. You’ll find this touchable art is inside Kit Carson Park.
39. The Stuart Collection at UC San Diego
Location: La Jolla
A different striking art installation is woven throughout the campus of UC San Diego. The Stuart Collection features 20 rather large pieces of public art ranging from an actual house hanging off the side of the Engineering Building (Fallen Star by Doh Ho Suh) to the Sun God by Niki de Saint Phalle.
Download the map and use your creativity to make exploring the collection a fun scavenger hunt for kids. Or, let the pieces serve as something fun to look out for when touring the campus with a potential student.
40. San Elijo Lagoon
Location: Cardiff (free to enter)
The nearly 1000-acre San Elijo Lagoon is one of San Diego’s most diverse coastal wetlands. See if you can spot some of the over 1000 species of birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals that call this area home.
Before visiting, check their website for special programming (and trail closures if it’s just rained). Hiking here is one of the fun things to do in San Diego for kids outside because the trails are suitable for young children.
43. Skate Parks
Location: Various (free to enter)
Some of the world’s most famous skateboarders, including Tony Hawk, have called San Diego home. Needless to say, we have a variety of skate parks scattered across the county that cater to various levels. They are free to use. Try:
- Linda Vista Skate Park (the second-largest in California)
- Carlsbad Skate Park (good for beginners)
- Washington Street Skate Park (good for experts)
44. San Diego Missions
Location: San Diego (Grantville neighborhood) and Oceanside
A very popular reason for a San Diego family vacation is to learn about California history, especially when kids who live in the state need to prepare for their 4th grade Mission project.
Mission San Diego de Alcala was the first of the 21 California Missions. Its original location was in Old Town San Diego, but due to infertile land, it was moved six miles east into Mission Valley around 1774.
You can also visit Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, which is the largest of the California Missions. Both are open to the public daily.
45. Sand Castle Classes
Location: Del Mar
This came on to my radar recently as a fantastic idea especially since families are looking for more outdoor activities. Bond together over a sand castle building class! You’ll be completely blown away by the professional quality sand castle your group will build with some instruction and tools.
It’s best for kids over the age of 9 who have the patience and drive for a project like this (though younger kids have participated with reasonable expectations). Book through San Diego Sand Castles.
Best San Diego Tours for Kids and Teens
If you’re wondering what to do in San Diego with kids when it comes to sightseeing tours, rest assured that with these they will not be boring.
46. San Diego Seal Tours
Location: Embarcadero or Seaport Village (Downtown)Drive right from land to water on the bus boat.
San Diego Seal Tours are 90-minute, fully-narrated tours on an amphibious vehicle that tour scenic downtown San Diego spots on land and then submerge into the bay for skyline views and seal sightings.
47. Speed Boat Adventures®
Location: Harbor Island (Downtown)
Even if you’ve never driven a boat, you can drive these. Speed Boat Adventures boats are 13′ mini speed boats with quiet, eco-friendly motors that carry up to three people (small children sit in the middle).
Boats have a two-way communicator so you can hear narration from the guide. It’s a fabulous way to sightsee from the San Diego Bay. They also offer sunset tours.
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48. Old Town Trolley Tours®
Location: Various stops from La Jolla to Downtown
The orange and green Old Town Trolley Tours cars allow guests to hop on and off at various stops around town. This fun service can eliminate the need for a rental car in San Diego.
Check the trolley’s interactive map for information about stops, attractions, restaurants near stops, and more. Make sure you board the right route. You get as far north as La Jolla Cove and as far south as Coronado.
They, like SEAL Tours, sell tickets through Trusted Tours. You can currently buy a Silver Pass.
49. Patriot Jet Boat
Location: Downtown San Diego
If you need fun San Diego family activities that will entertain teens and tweens, look no further than the Patriot Jet Boat! It’s a 30-minute tour of the San Diego Bay on a speedboat that reaches speeds of up to 50 mph. They’ll love the twists and turns and the blaring rock music.
It’s like a thrill-ride on the water. But, you can actually see some sights and enjoy our sunshine in a short amount of time. You may (ok, will) get wet!
CHECK THESE SITES FOR DISCOUNTS
Seasonal Activities in San Diego for Kids
50. Winter Tide Pooling
Location: Various (free after you park a car)Cabrillo National Monument is a great place for tide pools.
Tide pooling season begins in November and extends roughly March when tides are low during the day. These low tides reveal sea creatures galore including sea anemones, hermit crabs, octopus, sea stars, sea slugs, and more living in our tide pools.
Birch Aquarium leads tide pool tours near Scripps Pier at La Jolla Shores Beach. Other great locations include the Cabrillo National Monument, Shell Beach in La Jolla, Tourmaline Surfing Park in Pacific Beach, in front of the Hotel del Coronado and more.
51. Whale Watching
Location: Cruises typically depart from Downtown San Diego, Mission Bay or Oceanside
Whale watching in San Diego is viable for about nine months of the year. The types of whales seen on these tours depend on the season.
Roughly 20,000 gray whales make the 10,000-mile migration from Alaska to the warm waters of Mexico annually to give birth. Gray whale season is roughly between mid-December and April.
Your chances of seeing them from land (Torrey Pines State Park and Cabrillo National Monument are two excellent spots) are better earlier in the season when they swim closer to shore on their way to Mexico. They swim further away from shore when they head back north with their calves.
Blue whales are among the largest creatures on earth and spotted between mid-June and September. A variety of local companies offer whale watching tours including some that depart from downtown, Mission Bay, and Oceanside in North San Diego County. Browse whale watching tours.
52. Butterfly Farms
Butterfly Farms is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the survival of our native butterflies and pollinators. It’s open daily for public visits from April to November.
Docents are on-hand to educate guests about the research and conservation efforts that happen at Butterfly Farms and you’ll be able to walk through the 3000-square-foot Vivarium where butterflies fly free. Looking for butterfly-friendly plants? You can also buy them here.
53. Bayside Summer Nights Concerts
While you should check the San Diego Symphony calendar year-round, their outdoor summer concert series is one of the fantastic seasonal things to do in San Diego with kids. I’m devastated that the 2020 season had to be canceled.
Whether you picnic on the lawn and let the kids run around (bring some glow sticks) or order a bottle of champagne to a reserved table, you’ll listen to fantastic music themed to the event. There is usually a Harry Potter themed concert and others on the schedule that are themed to popular movies and television shows.
54. Carlsbad Flower Fields®
Every spring, a 50-acre Carlsbad hillside turns into a rainbow of color as thousands of ranunculus flowers bloom against an ocean backdrop. The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch is a family-friendly San Diego attraction open to the public for about 6-8 weeks, with hayrides and other special events. It’s a tradition going over 60 years strong.
55. Free Outdoor Summer Concerts
Location: All over San Diego
Free outdoor summer concerts pop up around San Diego County throughout the summer. Bring a blanket, a picnic, and listen to live music under the stars between roughly Memorial Day and Labor Day. Some of the many calendars to check out include:
Things to Do in San Diego with Toddlers
If you’re not traveling with a toddler, jump to saving money in San Diego with kids.
Photo courtesy of The New Children’s Museum — popular when in San Diego with kids.
Families email me quite a bit in search of recommendations for the best things to do in San Diego with toddlers. So, I’ve created a shortlist of the above San Diego attractions here specifically to address this age group.
First, note that ages 3 and under receive free admission to a variety of major attractions on this list. Taking a San Diego family vacation before kids require a child’s ticket (the same goes for Disneyland) is a great way to save money.
Residents in San Diego with toddlers take them to SeaWorld San Diego to visit Sesame Street Bay of Play. Tame rides include Elmo’s Flying Fish, Oscar’s Rocking Eel, and Abby’s Sea Star Spin. After spending time in this colorful, kid-friendly land, you can visit the turtles, penguins, and other residents of the park.
The entire mission of The New Children’s Museum is to get young kids to think, play, and create. Toddlers and elementary school kids interact with exhibits, make crafts, listen to stories and then some here.
Pushing a stroller around San Diego Zoo is fantastic exercise in addition to a fun day out of the house. The Children’s Zoo is under renovation, but you can roll kids up to exhibits, let them waddle around the playgrounds, and see them squeal after spying their favorite animal.
Balboa Park is actually one of the fantastic toddler activities in San Diego. You can walk the trails and gardens but also stop in a few of the museums. San Diego Natural History Museum and Fleet Science Center both have play spaces for kids under 5.
All ages love the La Jolla seals and sea lions at Children’s Pool Beach and La Jolla Cove. As soon as you see that your baby or toddler reacts to animals, they’ll be sure to smile at these loud, active residents.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps is another favorite of residents in San Diego with toddlers. Arrive when it opens to grab a parking space. Then, spend a few hours here looking at fish and playing with hands-on exhibits.
As soon as your kids show an interest in LEGOs, you can take them to LEGOLAND California. Usually, this hits around age 2. There are tame family rides they will enjoy, too.
Bring a carrier and consider a walk along some of our mild hiking trails. There’s a one-mile loop at San Elijo lagoon, easy trails throughout Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma, or you can take in views at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
(Note that in 2021, we will have a Sesame Place theme park in Chula Vista that will be fantastic for visiting San Diego with kids in this age group.)
How to Save Money on Your San Diego Family Vacation
If you plan on visiting two or more of our attractions, consider purchasing the Go San Diego® sightseeing pass.
They have three different pass types. If you know exactly where you’re going, Build Your Own pass with savings starting at 20% off. The more attractions you add, the higher your savings will be. You can also choose a comprehensive All-Inclusive pass which saves up to 55% off of 35+ attractions or the new Explorer Pass which lets you visit 3, 4, 5, or 7 included attractions that you don’t have to preselect. Most of the ticketed attractions on this list are on the Go San Diego pass.
If you’re visiting in October, Kids Free San Diego offers free admission, meals, and hotel stays at over 100 participating restaurants, hotels, and attractions. It’s a great time of year to experience all of the cool stuff to do in San Diego for kids without going over budget. Adults will need to buy a qualifying ticket (which you can at a discount through me when the time comes) to take advantage of this promotion which is easy to do.
FAQs About San Diego for Kids
These are the most frequently asked questions about things to do in San Diego with kids that I receive from readers.
Is San Diego family-friendly?
Yes! San Diego is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the world no matter how old your kids are. Our year-round temperature average of 70 degrees means that sightseeing at our most popular attractions like San Diego Zoo Safari Park, LEGOLAND California, and the San Diego Zoo are rarely limited by rainfall. You can go to the beach year-round and the vast majority of our restaurants of any caliber welcoming to kids. I am your go-to resource for planning your San Diego family vacation.
What is there to do in San Diego with a baby?
Mild hikes are popular with families visiting with babies. We have fantastic beachfront parks, like Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla where you can lay out a blanket and let them roll around or sit in shade or sun for bird watching or a peek at the seals. Dip their toes in the ocean at one of our family-friendly beaches and get them up-close with fish at Birch Aquarium or even bigger animals at the San Diego Zoo. Check my list of best San Diego hotel pools for one to swish around with them in at the end of the day.
If your baby naps well in the car, drive parts of our famous 59-mile scenic drive. While he or she sleeps, you can listen to tunes and sightsee. Plan at least three hours to make the loop or split it into multiple days.
What is there to do with a 1-year-old in San Diego?
A fun activity for 1-year-olds is to take a walk around Balboa Park. Stop into the Backyard play space for ages 0-5 at San Diego Natural History Museum. Kid City inside Fleet Science Center also has a soft play area for this age. Admission to these museums for this age group is free. This age group also gets a kick out of the La Jolla Cove sea lions and the beach.
What can a 2-year-old do in San Diego?
One of the best places to take a 2-year-old is Birch Aquarium at Scripps. This age group loves looking at the fish, touching sea creatures in the tide pools, and playing with hands-on exhibits in a safe, contained space.
Sesame Street Bay of Play at SeaWorld San Diego is also a favorite of local 2-year-olds especially if they are Elmo fans. At the age of 2, my daughter also loved the San Diego Zoo as there are plenty of animals to see up-close.
What is there to do in San Diego with teenagers?
Aside from touring our fantastic colleges, we have plenty of fun activities for older kids. SeaWorld San Diego is home to a few rollercoasters that teens love and they can learn how to shred some waves or showcase mad skills at a skate park.
There’s no lack of selfie spots. We have murals, cute cafes, and decorative desserts that are perfect for their Instagram feeds. Read the full list of things to do in San Diego with teens and tweens.
What is free for kids in San Diego?
Luckily, some of the best things to do in San Diego with kids are free. Kids ages 3 and under get in free to theme parks like the San Diego Zoo and LEGOLAND California. Top ideas for free family fun in San Diego include:
- the San Diego beaches (of course).
- Waterfront Park in downtown San Diego with its play structures and water play fountain.
- a visit to the La Jolla seals and La Jolla Cove sea lions.
- family-friendly hiking trails.
- exploring Old Town San Diego’s historic buildings and park.
- kids eat free restaurant promotions, though as these change you should check before you go.
What can a family in San Diego do at night?
San Diego kids’ activities at night vary by the season, but there are always fun things to do. Check event calendars at local museums and attractions. Suggestions include:
- evening Padres baseball games at PETCO Park.
- Belmont Park (usually open until 8 p.m).
- evening Old Town Trolley Tours that drive by haunted sights or holiday lights.
- evening bay dinner cruises.
- beach bonfires or s’more roasting (the latter you can do at Hotel del Coronado).
- family-friendly plays at local theaters such as The Old Globe (see The Grinch during the holidays), Prado Theatre, and San Diego Civic Theater.
- Bayside Summer Nights concerts.
What to do with kids in San Diego when it rains?
A rainy day is a perfect excuse to explore one of our many kid-friendly San Diego museums. Balboa Park is my top pick because its museums are close together which means that with an Explorer or Go San Diego pass, you can bounce between them at leisure without worrying about paying admission each time. Plus, you’re only walking short distances between many of them.
What is there to do in La Jolla with kids?
My seaside community of La Jolla offers kids fantastic opportunities to unplug in the outdoors be it a day at La Jolla Shores Beach, kayaking past our sea caves, or just gawking at our resident seals at the Children’s Pool and sea lions at La Jolla Cove. We have playgrounds and parks, Birch Aquarium, and family-friendly restaurants. Read my full rundown of things to do in La Jolla with kids.
If I had to pick 10 things, these are my favorite San Diego family activities:
Top 10 Things to Do in San Diego with Kids by lajollamom on Jumprope.
What are your favorite things to do in San Diego with kids?