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50+ Top Things to Do In San Diego with Kids (2024)

50+ Top Things to Do In San Diego with Kids (2024)

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With its temperate climate year-round, San Diego is a beautiful place to explore both indoors and outdoors. When visiting San Diego with kids, there are locations throughout the county to please the whole family. Find out the kid-friendly attractions to do on a San Diego family vacation!

Two young children sitting on a rock at the San Diego Zoo

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This article was published July 14th, 2020 and has been updated and republished with a new date.

San Diego With Kids

“America’s Finest City” is made for family travel! Venture from North County to the South Bay for locations that families will enjoy. From the west coast beaches to the mountains in the east, there are tons of San Diego activities for children.

The Star of India is part of San Diego’s Maritime Museum

I’ve lived in San Diego my entire life and I have a confession to make. Even I haven’t done everything on this list! There’s just so much to see and do in San Diego with kids.

This article has suggestions for young children to teens, with year-round ideas for this Southern California hot spot. Whether you live here or visiting for the first time, there are plenty of things to keep you busy throughout the county.

These are ideas for both indoor and outdoor entertainment throughout the county. These are the best things to do in San Diego with kids!

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Things to Do Outside in San Diego with Kids

If you’re visiting Southern California, you’ll want to get outdoors as much as you can! Fortunately there are tons of things for families with children to do outdoors in San Diego county.

I’ve even included some free and budget-friendly things to do in San Diego with kids! Keep reading for the best San Diego attractions for kids to do outside.

Outdoor Recreational Areas in San Diego

Mission Trails

Start at the Visitor Center where you can learn history of the area and about natural wildlife. Then lace up your hiking shoes for one of the many rugged trails here (not stroller appropriate). Bring plenty of water, there’s not a lot of shade on the trails.

Mission Trails in Santee CA

Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad

The tidal wetlands trail here is stroller friendly and you can spy habitats for birds, fish and other animals.

Shelter Island

From fishing, water sports and dining the Point Loma-area Shelter Island is a wonderful place to explore all day with the kids.

Santee Lakes

Grab your fishing pole and toss a line into one of the many lakes here. Bring a bike, a suit and towel for the splash pad or just play at one of the playgrounds.

There are also boats for rent as well as campsites and cabins. We stayed in one of the well-appointed lakefront cabins and it was an awesome retreat! Reserve early as they book up quickly.

Fishing at Santee Lakes
Enjoying the weekend with a fishing pole at Santee Lakes

Old Poway Park

Plenty of space for grass play and picnics with the family. While the park is open each day, the Poway-Midland Railroad, Nelson House and Heritage Museum are only open on weekends.

Biking at the Beach

Carlsbad gets my vote as one of the best beaches in San Diego for families. My two little ones and I enjoyed a bike ride along the coast in Carlsbad last year.

Pedego Electric Bikes gave me a bike with a seat in front for my toddler. They even had a bike with training wheels for my kindergartner! You can find bike rental locations all over San Diego, especially near the shore.

Bicycling at the beach in San Diego Carlsbad

Outdoor Educational Spots for Kids in San Diego

Cabrillo Monument

Located in the Point Loma area, see where Juan Cabrillo first landed in San Diego nearly 400 years ago. The Cabrillo Monument houses a visitor center, lighthouse, whale outlook, trails and tide pools. Admission to all is charged per vehicle.

Cabrillo Monument in San Diego Point Loma
Old Point Loma Lighthouse at the Cabrillo Monument.

Tide Pools

There are tide pools at different coastal locations throughout San Diego, including Point Loma and La Jolla. One of the best tide pooling locations is at Cabrillo Monument. Admission to these tide pools is included in the entrance fee cost.

While these spots are open year-round, there are certain seasons in which to best spot wild life. You may need to do a little research to find out when it’s low tide.

Cabrillo Tide Pools

Julian

Step back to the Gold Rush days in the quaint town of Julian. Particularly popular in the fall during apple pie season. Or venture here during the winter when there’s lots of snow on the ground.

Living Coast Discovery Center

Located south of downtown San Diego in Chula Vista, this zoo & aquarium offers environmental education and animal encounters with SoCal wildlife.

San Diego Harbor

Take tours on the USS Midway aircraft carrier or Maritime Museum of San Diego with the Star of India and HMS Surprise.

Kids can explore the Midway for free in San Diego during October

Free Things to Do in San Diego

San Diego has a great number of free or low-cost locations to explore with children. If you’re visiting during the month of October, check out this article with additional free things for kids in San Diego.

Embarcadero Park

Walking and biking paths along with lots of shady trees and green space for napping or running around. Bring a kite as this location has some of the best kite flying wind around!

Embarcadero Park

Old Town San Diego

The perfect place to start if you want to give kids a history lesson on the beginnings of this city. Kids can walk through the free museums of Old Town, including the old school house to see how people lived in San Diego 150 years ago.

Old Town post office in San Diego

Balboa Park

You could spend a week in this huge outdoor venue and still not experience everything! From weekly outdoor concerts at the organ pavilion and free special events, there’s a lot of ground to cover at Balboa Park.

Take time to walk through the hiking trails, grassy areas for picnicking and the many public gardens.

San Diego Resident FREE Museums

Are you a San Diego resident? Consider visiting Balboa Park on Tuesdays, when museums rotate free admission, only for San Diego residents. Check the Balboa Park website to know which museums are participating on the day of your visit.

Balboa Park

San Diego Theme Parks for Kids

Amusement parks are a big draw for families in the San Diego area. There are many theme parks across San Diego country that are appealing for all ages. Click the links in each section to find out how you can purchase discount tickets to these popular attractions!

SeaWorld San Diego – Everyone can make a splash at the family fun theme park SeaWorld, with a great mix of aquariums and thrill rides.

SeaWorld San Diego has a focus on animal education in a safe environment with touch pools, shows and sea life interaction. Sesame Street Bay of Play is great for younger kids to run and play.

SeaWorld San Diego tide pools

LEGOLAND California Theme Park – LEGOLAND is a family theme park destination with amusement park rides that are best suited for ages 3-10.

This LEGO-themed amusement park includes mild rides, shows and block building opportunities. Read more about the Best Tips for LEGOLAND California with Kids.

San Diego Zoo – This is the ultimate zoo for nearly every animal under the sun! Read more in this guide on how to cover the San Diego Zoo in a single day.

There’s a reason that this world-famous San Diego Zoo is a vacation must-do. Plan to stay all day at this beautifully immersive zoo in the middle of the city.

kids standing in front of entrance sign at the san diego zoo
A Southern California must-do with kids, the San Diego Zoo!

San Diego Zoo Safari Park – These are the animals you’d see on safari, including giraffes, rhinos and zebras, roaming in a more natural environment. This guide will give you all the tips for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park with kids.

Bring your walking shoes, this 1800 acre park in Escondido covers a lot of ground. Don’t miss the Africa Tram, you’ll be able to get a closer view of the animals.

Visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park with kids? Read this ultimate guide on what to do and see, what's new at the Safari Park, how to navigate and where to purchase discounted tickets for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Best Beaches in San Diego for Kids

A day at the beautiful beaches is an inexpensive way to vacation in San Diego. Pack a lunch, lay out your towels on the sand and enjoy the sunshine and waves! There are miles of coastline to explore, so aim to spend a little time at several of the San Diego beaches.

I share more details about the best beaches in San Diego for kids, with additional tips for families and a free printable packing list.

Mission Beach

Enjoy this popular boardwalk beach with lots of sand and waves, a favorite for local families. Arrive early to grab free parking in the parking lot.

Mission Beach also houses Belmont Park with amusements like the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, Wave House and other kid-friendly activities. When traveling with babies or toddlers, visit nearby Mission Bay, with tame waters, grassy parks and playgrounds.

Man standing with baby on San Diego beach

Snorkling in La Jolla Cove

You’ll find Garibaldi and leopard sharks (both tame to swim around) in the beautiful waters of La Jolla. Bring your snorkle to spy these creatures.

The beach here is very tiny and extremely popular so arrive early to stake out parking and a spot on the sand.

Carlsbad

There are several great beach spots for families here including Tamarack-State Beach and South Ponto Beach. Both have lifeguards on duty and public restrooms with showers.

Tamarack State Beach in Carlsbad

Water Parks in San Diego

Sesame Place

Everyone can have fun in the sun at Sesame Place, located in the South Bay area. This hybrid theme park/water park serves up both dry and wet rides.

The Sesame Street theme, characters and rides are great for younger kids, while the thrilling waterslides are ideal for older kids and adults. Be sure to check the schedule online as to when this water park will be open, as it has a seasonal calendar.

The Count's Splash Castle at Sesame Place San Diego with kids playing in the water

Waterfront Park

Kids can make a splash in this outdoor play area with splash pads and fountains along San Diego harbor. It’s free for families to play here, just bring water shoes and a towel.

LEGOLAND Water Park

The LEGOLAND waterpark is an excellent theme park add-to. While the regular theme park is geared more towards younger kids, the waterpark a great place for teens and adults, as well. The giant wave pools and adventurous slides are alongside toddler-friendly splash pads for full-family fun.

LEGOLAND San Diego California water park
Waiting for the water park to open at LEGOLAND California

Gardens to Explore

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

If you’re ready for the 2 hour drive to the far east edge of San Diego county, the sights of this state park are amazing. Families can hike the Pacific Crest Trail to see some of the beautiful wildflowers that bloom in this 600,000-acre state park.

Cost is per vehicle, charged Fri/Sat/Sun. If planning a warm-weather time visit, keep seasonal temperatures in mind and use safety precautions when hiking in the 100+ degree temps.

Carlsbad Lagoon

Rent an aqua cycle, stand up paddleboard, canoe or peddle boat to get kids active on the water! For more power they also rent wave runners, pontoon boats and power boats.

Water Conservation Garden in Rancho San Diego

Kids can learn about water conservation, drought tolerant plants and rain water collection in this large series of gardens. Kids especially enjoy the sensory garden. I’ve loved exploring the gardens as a pretty place for taking photos of the kids. Admission fee is nominal.

Water Conservation Garden little boy
The Water Conservation Garden has some beautiful back drops for portrait taking of the kids.

Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

This seasonal springtime event includes oceans of gorgeous flower gardens, tractor rides, and mazes. Check the website calendar when specific days are designated for kids with face painting, bubbles and more.

San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas

Kids can play in several of the beautiful gardens across 37 acres with 4,000 different species growing here. Purchase tickets and book reservations ahead of time on their website.

Adventures Outdoors in San Diego

Petco Park

What a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon in the sun, watching a major league baseball game in downtown San Diego. Check the Padres website to view the baseball season calendar and purchase tickets in advance.

After Sunday home games, kids have access to special activities like running the bases, bounce houses, playing catch on the field, autograph signings and more.

Potato Chip Rock

Adventurous kids who like to hike will enjoy standing on this famous rock near the top of Mt. Woodson in Poway.

Coronado Ferry

Hop aboard one of these “Flagship Cruises” that offer full tours of the harbor. These narrated cruises are an ideal way to get a unique view of downtown San Diego.

Additionally there are onsite sales for a ferry that will take you from downtown San Diego over to Coronado Island. Takes about 15 minutes total for around $5 per person one way.

Once at the Coronado Ferry Landing, you can walk or bike the paths along the water and enjoy the grassy areas, playgrounds, sandy beaches and public restrooms. The Hotel del Coronado is a great spot to explore with bonfire and s’mores on the sand.

Dunes in Coronado

Things to Do Indoors in San Diego with Kids

Yes, it really does rain in Southern California. Fall weather can also get really hot. While outdoor activities are the usual fare in San Diego, it’s a good idea to have some indoor locations worked into your trip itinerary.

If you’re visiting during the chillier spring or winter months, check out these indoor activities. These are some of the best San Diego attractions for kids to do indoors.

TheNat museum is a hit with kids

Balboa Park Museums

In addition to all the outdoor activities and gardens, Balboa Park offers a variety of diverse kid-friendly museums to entertain and teach. Housed within historic buildings, Balboa Park is a popular destination for locals and visitors. These are a few of the top suggestions for children:

  • The Fleet science center is a favorite with kids who enjoy the hands-on exhibits and IMAX theater.
  • Check out the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages on Sundays, when these cultural houses offer special programs.
  • Museum of US explores the human experience, in deeply moving exibits. This museum is most appropriate for older kids and teens. The museum also houses the California Tower. Museum guests may purchase a tour ticket (ages 6+ only) then take in the epic views of San Diego from the 8th floor viewing deck.
  • Natural History Museum explores Southern California history through their vast exhibits. TheNat collections include fossils, dinosaurs, and other nature items that children love to learn more about.
  • The San Diego Model Railroad Museum features room after room of train exhibits, many with interactive features and kid-friendly details.
Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park

New Children’s Museum

This multi-level center offers hands-on family activities both indoors and outside. The New Children’s Museum in San Diego has art installations that are best for kids under 10. There are baby and toddler specific areas, as well.

Birch Aquarium

Coastal wildlife abounds in this educational aquarium. Hands-on exhibits both indoor and outdoors, where there’s a vast overview of the ocean. Advance reservations are recommended as capacity is limited.

100+ free kids attractions, theme parks and dining in San Diego for the month of October.
Enjoying the Birch Aquarium

Top Hotels for San Diego with Kids

No matter where you’re vacationing within San Diego county, there are comfortable accommodations that are a perfect fit for your family. These are some of the top suggestions for overnight stays in San Diego with kids.

LEGOLAND Hotel

When visiting the LEGOLAND theme park, an overnight stay at the LEGOLAND Hotel is awesome! Both the LEGOLAND Hotel and Castle Hotel next door are a haven for children, with kid-friendly activities, playground, pool, and yes, lots of LEGO bricks!

Check out this full article about staying on-site in this LEGOLAND Hotel review.

More San Diego Hotels for Families

Consider a stay at the Bahia Resort Hotel, right along beautiful Mission Bay. This location is nearby SeaWorld and beaches.

Kona Kai Resort and Marina, also near Mission Beach has been recently renovated. The private beachfront is great for young kids.

Bunk beds and free continental breakfast are a highlight at the Comfort Inn & Suites, not far from Old Town San Diego.

Best Places to Eat in San Diego with Kids

A great many of the restaurants in San Diego offer outdoor dining for families. For more family-friendly eating out locations, check out this list of kid friendly restaurants in San Diego.

The following section makes suggestions on various San Diego areas where you’ll find multiple restaurant locations.

Plenty of patio dining in Liberty Station

Liberty Station

This hip center houses many restaurants, a movie theater, art studios, boutiques as well as historical museums, rose gardens and fountains. You can work up an appetite walking the length of the large Liberty Station area.

Breakfast Republic is the morning hot spot. Good thing they’re open into the afternoon for breakfast favorites, because this restaurant is very popular with the brunch crowd!

The Liberty Public Market offers up a variety of indoor dining. Slater’s 50/50 is the place for burgers. We personally enjoyed the al fresco dining at Officine Buona Forcetta. The authentic Italian food is incredible and there is a play set outside for the kids.

Point Loma's Buona Forcetta
The outdoor patio at Buona Forcetta (there’s a play structure for the kids on the lawn)

Little Italy

This tight-knit downtown San Diego community is host to a weekly outdoor mercado farmer’s market. There are also many family-friendly patio cafes, including at our favorite upscale restaurant in Little Italy, Civico 1845.

Looking for the best pizza in San Diego? There are many options for Italian food of course! Filippi’s Pizza Grotto is one of the best for classic kid-friendly fare.

Little Italy San Diego sign

Seaport Village

This 14-acre shopping district is located along the bay, with some beautiful boardwalk views. Seaport Village offers a lot of indoor and outdoor patio dining, both upscale and casual. Try Crack Taco Shop for yummy burritos, nachos and tacos.

In addition to restaurants, check out the kid-friendly shops and classic merry-go-round. There’s often weekend entertainment including live music that’s appealing to all ages.

Seaport Village carousel

Downtown San Diego

Start of the morning right at Richard Walker’s Pancake House. Get the apple pancake to share, it’s glorious! No reservations accepted, so arrive early. Casa Guadalajara is the best Mexican food experience with kids. They’ll enjoy the sizzling platters, live mariachi and “virgin” birdbath-sized margaritas!

Craving something sweet? Try the Sugar Factory. There are some large sharable food platters at this vibrant downtown restaurant. But what are we kidding, this place is all about the desserts! These insane milkshakes decked out with treats are fun for kids to share.


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