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35 Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

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San Diego County overflows with fun for families. As a mom who lived in this Southern California beach city for many years and returns regularly with her brood, I'm excited to share the best things to do in San Diego with kids. There are plentiful activities to keep all ages content from theme parks and animal adventures to nature play and museums. Take a look at 35 San Diego attractions for families!

La Jolla Shores Beach in San Diego County
La Jolla Shores Beach (Photo courtesy of SanDiego.org)

Find San Diego deals including attraction ticket discounts and discounted hotel packages. Scroll to the bottom of this list of San Diego attractions for kids to find a special San Diego discount just for Travel Mamas readers!

1. The Beach

When considering the best San Diego attractions for kids, the beach always tops the list. This Southern California city is renowned for its long sandy beaches and surf-able waves. In fact, San Diego boasts more than 70 miles of coastline. No matter what time of year you visit, beauty and fun abound at San Diego's beaches.

Summer San Diego beaches bustle with picnicking families. Families can build sandcastles and splash in the waves. Or, participate in water sports like surfing lessons, boogie boarding, or a sea-kayaking tour.

 

Cooler spring and fall temperatures mean more space to relax and spread out a beach blanket. For me, that's the best time to visit the beach in San Diego. Take a long walk on the sand, listen to the waves roll in and out, and watch the seagulls dive into the water for a seafood snack.

Those visiting in winter are often surprised to find the beaches too chilly for swimming. But wetsuits are available from surf shops for die-hard ocean lovers. Winter months are a great time to explore San Diego tide pools, searching for hermit crabs, sea stars, mussels, and other sea life at low tide.

La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club in La Jolla, California
Beach time in San Diego (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Best Beaches in San Diego for Families

With so many San Diego beaches, it can be hard to choose the right one for your family. Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach buzz with active boardwalks, beach volleyball, and horseshoe-playing college kids. For less hubbub, families may prefer the immaculate Coronado Island Beach.

The crescent-shaped La Jolla Shores Beach is also a stunner. Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach is always a family favorite with its sweet beachside playground. Meanwhile, Mission Beach offers very mellow waves for young children.

This koala at San Diego Zoo looks like he's waving hello, doesn't he?
Koala at San Diego Zoo (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. San Diego Zoo

Of course, you can't visit San Diego with kids without going to its famous zoo. Widely regarded as one of the best zoological centers in the world, the San Diego Zoo wows animal lovers. This zoo's focus is on the conservation of endangered animals and educating the public about the world's creatures.

Four thousand animals representing 800 species make their homes here. Take a peek at lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). But there are also koalas, Komodo dragons, kangaroos, and many other animals to fascinate visitors. Board the SkyFari Aerial Tram for an uplifting ride over the zoo’s canopy of leafy trees for a view of the animals below.

 

Kids will enjoy visiting the Children’s Zoo. There they can play on the Fisher-Price Discovery Playground and interact with goats, sheep, and other mellow creatures in the petting zoo.

Since the zoo is located within the beautiful Balboa Park, you could easily bring a cooler filled with food to keep in your (rental) car in the parking lot. Enjoy a meal at one of the picnic tables in the park and then reenter the zoo once your bellies are full.

Read my tips for making the most of visiting the San Diego Zoo with kids and buy your San Diego Zoo entry passes.

Balboa Park Lily Pond and Conservatory
Balboa Park Lily Pond and Conservatory (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Balboa Park

The location of the first-ever World’s Fair, Balboa Park is definitely one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids. It feels like a grand old European boulevard. Enjoy free admission to this spacious park with its multitude of gardens and five playgrounds.

The entire family will enjoy wandering through the park’s beautiful grounds. Be sure to visit the Balboa Park Rose Garden to stop and smell the fragrant flowers. For even more fun, sign up for a Balboa Park Scavenger Hunt.

Pay extra to explore Balboa Park's 17 onsite museums. San Diego's renowned Old Globe Theatre also puts on performances here throughout the year. The San Diego Zoo is technically part of Balboa Park, too.

Legoland California theme park
LEGOLAND California theme park (Photo credit: Legoland California)

4. LEGOLAND California

While many amusement parks present passive entertainment, parents will be pleased to discover interactive attractions at LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad. At the Volvo Driving School, children drive pint-sized cars around streets dotted with stop signs and working stoplights. Kids can also build and race LEGO vehicles and even program computerized LEGO Mindstorms robots.

The Police and Fire Academy Rescue ride gets Mom and Dad involved. Families pile into a fire truck or police car. Then they power it by pumping levers up and down as they race other teams to put out a “fire” and stop make-believe robbers.

Purchase discounted LEGOLAND California tickets now.

Safari Caravan at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Caravan Safari at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo Global)

5. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Safari Park is just as impressive as its sister property, the world-famous San Diego Zoo. This animal park encompasses a whopping 1,800 acres, compared to the zoo's 100.

The African Tram is the park's king attraction. It transports visitors through a wide-open landscape similar to that of the African Savannah. Riders spy on such creatures as rhinos, giraffes, and Cape buffaloes. Pay an additional fee to get up close to the animals on a Caravan Safari (shown above).

But that's not the only memorable adventure at the Safari Park. Purchase a cup of nectar at Lorikeet Landing to come nose to beak with brightly plumed lorikeet parrots. You can even zip-line at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park over the heads of wild animals. Or, for a truly memorable adventure, sign up for the Roar and Snore overnight camping in the park.

On hot days, bring swim gear so children can cool off in the animal-shaped fountains at the Savannah Cool Zone.

Buy your San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets now!

Dolphin Days show at SeaWorld San Diego
Dolphin Days show at SeaWorld San Diego (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego is best known for shows starring ocean animals like dolphins and sea lions. Aquariums filled with sea life abound here, too, including a walk-through shark tank. For an extra special treat, book a Premier Experience, like a Dine with Orcas Meal or Penguin Encounter.

This theme park also features fun rides. Sesame Street Bay of Play provides sweet rides for young ones like Elmo's Flying Fish and Abby's Sea Star Spin. The Sky Tower and Bayside Skyride provide impressive views of Mission Bay. Meanwhile, roller coasters like Manta and Shipwreck Rapids thrill adventurous parkgoers.

Read my tips for visiting SeaWorld San Diego with kids and buy your SeaWorld San Diego Skip-the-Line Tickets.

Seals at the Children's Pool at La Jolla Cove
Seals at the Children's Pool at La Jolla Cove

7. La Jolla Cove

La Jolla is well-known for its designer shops and upscale dining options. But La Jolla Cove is also a fabulous place to enjoy the outdoors.

Start with a picnic lunch on an expansive grassy area overlooking the ocean at Scripps Parkway. Then walk along sea cliffs and peer at California Harbor seals lazing on the beach at Children’s Pool. This is a small cove protected by a concrete breaker, which particularly appeals to seals.

Whenever my family makes our way to this beautiful area of San Diego County, my Midwestern husband and I stare out at the ocean’s waves pounding white ruffles of water against the rocks and say, “How lucky are we to be here?” La Jolla Cove overwhelms us with its beauty every time.

Scripps Birch Aquarium in San Diego with kids
Scripps Birch Aquarium (Photo credit: Wayne Martin Belger, courtesy of Birch Aquarium)

8. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

This aquarium in La Jolla provides a worthwhile alternative to SeaWorld San Diego. It's a great place for families on a tight budget or with limited time. The focus at Birch Aquarium is on ocean education, animal care, and conservation.

I especially recommend this San Diego attraction for families with babies and toddlers. Young ones love to get an up-close view of tanks filled with fish. Get your fill of glowing moon jellies, beautiful lionfish, silvery sardines, sharks, and other sea creatures.

Older children also enjoy viewing marine life and exploring hands-on exhibits. They can even gently pet sandpapery sea stars and slimy sea cucumbers at the outdoor Tide Pool Plaza.

Read all my tips for exploring Birch Aquarium with kids.

San Diego Botanic Garden
San Diego Botanic Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. San Diego Botanic Garden

The 37-acre San Diego Botanic Garden contains more than two dozen themed gardens situated along four miles of trails. This is one of my personal favorite things to do in San Diego with kids and a must-see every time we return to our former hometown in Southern California.

The Seeds of Wonder Children's Garden is geared toward young kids (kindergarten and younger). Children might enjoy making bubbles with tubs of soapy water and wands. Then, dig up buried plastic dinosaurs. A child-sized playhouse is always a hit for pretend play. Best of all is the model railroad track with trains that chug through the garden.

Hamilton Children's Garden appeals to bigger kids. Here, families play a giant game of tic-tac-toe. Next, wander through a labyrinth made of feathery plants. Children can learn to read a sundial and climb the centerpiece treehouse, too. On hot summer days, kids play with toy boats and cool off their tootsies in a miniature stream.

This botanic garden is one of my favorite things to do in San Diego with kids. My family makes a point of visiting here nearly every time we return to Southern California. Learn why in my full San Diego Botanic Garden review.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego County
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (Photo credit: Feverpitch, Depositphotos.com)

10. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

The reserve is home to the rare twisty Torrey pine as well as desert brush, prickly pear cactus, wildflowers, and other native plants. Choose from eight hiking trails at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. After your hike, cool off in the ocean at the Torrey Pines State Beach below beach cliffs.

My favorite path is the Beach Trail, which descends over three-quarters of a mile from sea cliff to beach. Take in sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean along the way.

An easier path, Guy Fleming Trail, is a 2/3-mile loop. This is probably the best pick for families with young children.

Everyone, including those in wheelchairs or strollers, can enjoy Discovery Trail. This short .5-mile loop near the Torrey Pines Lodge features information markers about local plants.

Old Town San Diego
Old Town San Diego (Photo courtesy of SanDiego.org)

11. Old Town San Diego

Step back in time in this historic area of San Diego. Staking claim as the birthplace of modern California, Old Town is where the first Spanish settlers arrived in 1769 and built the first of 21 missions in the state.

Today, vacationers and locals wander through 15 historic buildings here. These include a variety of stores peddling souvenirs, homemade soaps, candies, and more. Get more out of your visit with an Old Town California: Hop-On Hop-Off Narrated Trolley Tour.

Old Town Trolley Tour
Old Town Trolley Tour (Photo credit: Old Town Trolley Tour)

The real reason my family loves Old Town? The food! With over 25 eateries within a one-mile radius, you are sure to find something to please every family member's taste buds. The specialty here, though, is Mexican cuisine. Menus burst with traditional dishes like tamales, enchiladas, and chiles rellenos.

Belmont Park in Mission Bay
Belmont Park (Photo credit: f8grapher, Depositphotos.com)

12. Belmont Park

Take theme park lovers to Belmont Park on the Mission Beach Boardwalk. Go here for carnival games with prizes, ice creams, funnel cakes, and a handful of theme park rides.

The star attraction is the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. This historic wooden roller coaster was originally built in 1925 and has been restored for your rickety riding pleasure. Be warned that this is a very jerky ride. Teens will love it. Grown-ups? Probably less.

Admission is free at this popular San Diego attraction for families. Pay as you go so swing by to ride and play what you like and move on. For unlimited access to 13 rides and included parking, purchase a Belmont Park Ride & Play Pass.

Expect kiddie rides on dry land like Super Grover's Box Car Derby mini roller coaster. For a splashing good time, young kids will enjoy amusements like Elmo's Silly Sand Slides and The Count's Splash Castle. Parades and beloved Sesame Street character meet-and-greets round out the family fun.

Bigger kids will be excited to find thrilling water slides, too. For example, Cookie's Monster Mixer is a 4-story raft ride that sends families on a swirling, swishing adventure.

The New Children's Museum in San Diego
The New Children's Museum (Photo courtesy of The New Children's Museum)

13. The New Children's Museum

With 17 museums at Balboa Park, it's easy to miss this fun spot for children in the heart of San Diego's downtown Gaslamp Quarter. This museum was designed to encourage children to think, play, and create using hands-on exhibitions and artistic activities.

Some areas of The New Children's Museum are age-specific, like Sketch Aquarium for ages 2+ and Reconnecting to Home for ages 6+. Other spaces engage children across age groups. It's the perfect place to go when parents want to rest while the kids play.

Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument (Photo credit: bonandbon, Depositphotos.com)

14. Cabrillo National Monument

Bring the kids to Cabrillo National Monument for a San Diego history lesson. Then hike along the Bayside Trail to take in gorgeous panoramic views of the ocean and the city below. You may even see migrating whales in January and February.

This national monument is named for Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. In 1542, he was the leader of the first European expedition on what is now the West Coast of the United States.

The highlight is a visit to Old Point Loma Lighthouse. This lit the way for sailors entering San Diego Bay from 1855 to 1891. Today, visitors get a glimpse of life in the 1800s through period furnishings and lighthouse tools on display.

The LEGOLAND Waterpark at LEGOLAND California
The LEGOLAND Waterpark at LEGOLAND California (Photo credit: LEGOLAND California)

15. LEGOLAND Water Park

For water lovers, LEGOLAND Water Park is definitely one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids. This aquatic center offers exciting full-sized water slides and a lazy river for big kids, teens, and grown-ups. For young kids, there are water playgrounds with mellow waterslides and animal-shaped fountains. Dive into all the splashy fun with my LEGOLAND Water Park tips.

Whale watching in Southern California
Whale watching in Southern California (Photo credit: ronniechua, Depositphotos.com)

16. Whale Watching in San Diego

San Diego is one of the best places to go whale watching all year long. Gray whales migrate from Mexico to Alaska and back from mid-December to mid-March. Off the Pacific Coast in summers, you might even spot the world's largest animals, blue whales. You'll likely spot dolphins, too, during your San Diego whale-watching adventure.

Book your San Diego whale-watching tour now with our partner, GetYourGuide.

For families who suffer from motion sickness, pack some Dramamine just in case! My daughter and I both sometimes suffer from seasickness and fared well on our San Diego whale watching tour, but you never know.

Sesame Place San Diego
Sesame Place San Diego (Photo credit: Sesame Place)

17. Sesame Place San Diego

Sesame Place opened in the southern suburb of Chula Vista in 2022. This theme park was designed specifically for children aged 3 to 10.

Expect live shows, parades, and photo ops with beloved characters like Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Cookie Monster. There are a handful of sweet rides for young ones like Super Grover's Box Car Derby and the Sunny Day Carousel.

Enjoy several splashy water rides at this theme park, too. Think waterslides, a lazy river, a wave pool, and The Count's Splash Tower with a 500-gallon water bucket drop.

Seaport Village
Seaport Village (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

18. Seaport Village

Wander through quirky boutiques and souvenir shops at the waterfront Seaport Village shopping and entertainment complex. It's situated beside San Diego Bay near downtown San Diego.

This is one of the best places to take in bay views over a restaurant meal. Kids will especially enjoy the Historic Carousel and video game arcade here.

Carlsbad Flower Fields in San Diego County
Carlsbad Flower Fields (Photo credit: bonandbon, Depositphotos.com)

19. Carlsbad Flower Fields

Every spring locals and tourists alike flock to the Flower Fields at Carlsbad. Smell the ranunculus and pose for amazing photo opportunities among thousands of blooms.

Ride a tractor-pulled wagon through more than 50 acres of rainbow-colored rows of flowers. Then tiptoe through a maze made of sweet peas. Older kids who like a challenge can fill paper passports at stamp stations throughout the Flower Fields.

At Santa’s Playground, children climb and slide among restored playhouses and gigantic mushrooms. These were once part of the popular Santa’s Village amusement area. It was located in Lake Arrowhead from 1955 to 1998 before being relocated to the flower fields.

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad are typically open from March through Mother's Day each year. Read my advice for visiting the Carlsbad Flower Fields with kids.

Petco Park
Petco Park (Photo credit: SherryVSmith, Depositphotos.com)

20. Petco Park

One of the coolest places in the country to watch a baseball game is Petco Park. That's because it's built right into the historic Western Metal Supply Company Building in the Gaslamp Quarter. Take in views of downtown while cheering on the home team, the San Diego Padres. Plus, there are plenty of places to explore right before or after the game.

Petco Park is also the only major league baseball stadium with a hotel directly connected to it. My husband and I stayed here one weekend and it was such a thrill to walk right across the skyway from the hotel to the stadium! Look for special baseball packages at the Omni Hotel San Diego.

Hotel del Coronado is one of the best hotels in San Diego
Hotel del Coronado (Photo credit: Hotel del Coronado)

21. Hotel del Coronado

Yes, it's a hotel. But the Hotel Del Coronado is also a tourist attraction in its own right. Many people come just for the day.

The resort is renowned for its extravagant weekend brunch, fancy-schmancy shops, and an immaculate stretch of beach. The beach is public so anyone can splash and play here.

The Hotel del Coronado is worthy of a visit year-round. During winter holidays, day visitors and hotel guests alike can take a spin on the Del's oceanside outdoor ice skating rink.

Adding to the glamorous vibe, many movies have been filmed here, most notably Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe.

The Hotel Del is located on Coronado Island across from downtown San Diego. The “island” is actually a peninsula, but it's got an island vibe and feels worlds away from the city. It made our list of the best beach hotels in the world.

Little Italy San Diego
Little Italy San Diego (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

22. Little Italy

San Diego's Little Italy packs a tasty punch. This is a super fun place to stroll and dine. Meander through art galleries and darling shops in this neighborhood near the Gaslamp Quarter.

Of course, the main draw is delicious Italian cuisine. From gelaterias and pasta shops to high-end cuisine, you won't go hungry in Little Italy.

The most fun for families is Filippi's Pizza Grotto. A wee grocery filled with delightfully stinky cheeses, hanging salamis, and other Italian goodies will entertain hungry customers waiting for a table. And the pizza? Fugheddaboudit!

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
Fleet Science Center (Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Lisa M. Tourtelot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

23. Fleet Science Center

Located at Balboa Park, Fleet Science Center (formerly Reuben H. Fleet Science Center) is filled with interactive exhibits. Kids of all ages will be having so much fun turning knobs and pressing buttons, they won't realize they're learning about science.

The Star of India at the Maritime Museum
The Star of India at the Maritime Museum (Photo credit: neilld, Depositphotos.com)

24. Maritime Museum of San Diego

The whole family will enjoy touring unique sailing vessels at the floating Maritime Museum. Steam-powered boats, sailing ships, and submarines make up the museum's fleet of nine boats.

 

The experience includes the Star of India, the world's oldest active sailing yacht. Kids get a kick out of pretending they are pirates on the high seas.

USS Midway Museum
USS Midway Museum (Photo credit: dcwcreations, Depositphotos.com)

25. USS Midway Museum

Not far from the Maritime Museum, seafarers and military buffs will appreciate the USS Midway Museum at Naval Pier. Climb aboard to explore this retired naval aircraft carrier. Reserve your USS Midway Museum Skip-the-Line Tickets now.

SEA LIFE Aquarium
SEA LIFE Aquarium (Photo credit: SEA LIFE Aquarium)

26. Sea Life Carlsbad Aquarium

Visitors get a glimpse of what it's like to live under the sea at Sea Life Carlsbad Aquarium from encapsulated pop-up plastic bubbles in fish-filled tanks. Purchase separate tickets or park hoppers to explore this aquarium located at LEGOLAND California.

Learn more about both the theme park and the aquarium with my LEGOLAND California tips.

Balboa Park Carousel
Balboa Park Carousel (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

27. Balboa Park Carousel

The Balboa Park Carousel was built in 1910. It features three chariots, 27 hand-carved horses, and 25 other animals including giraffes, pigs, and a dragon. The carousel is open typically on weekends and school holidays.

This is one of the few carousels in the world that still offers the brass ring game. Big kids and adults who want to play should choose an outside horse. Then reach out to grasp the small rings on each spin. Iron rings don’t count. Only the rider who nabs the brass ring wins a free ride!

Balboa Park Railroad
Balboa Park Railroad (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

28. Balboa Park Railroad

Climb aboard a miniature train located just outside the San Diego Zoo’s entrance. It takes three minutes to chug through Balboa Park's grassy landscape and a long tunnel. The train typically runs every day during summer and spring break, but only on weekends off-season.

If sharing a train ride with a gaggle of school-aged children, then beware that field-tripping kids scream in unison through the tunnel. It’s best to wait for the next train.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum
San Diego Model Railroad Museum (Photo credit: San Diego Model Railroad Museum Facebook page)

29. San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Got a kid who loves trains? Then the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is for you! It houses one of the largest indoor model train displays in the world.

This attraction is a huge hit with the preschooler set. Find this museum celebrating all things choo-choo at Balboa Park.

San Diego Natural History Museum
San Diego Natural History Museum (Photo credit: SherryVSmith, Depositphotos.com)

30. San Diego Natural History Museum

The entire family will enjoy learning about dinosaurs, ocean creatures, geodes, and more at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park. Kids will be enthralled by the huge fountain out front, too.

Unconditional Surrender Statue in San Diego
Unconditional Surrender Statue (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

31. Unconditional Surrender

In front of the USS Midway in the waterfront park, Tuna Harbor, you'll find the iconic Unconditional Surrender statue. This 25-foot-tall sculpture celebrates the victory of the Allied Forces after World War II.

It is based on the famous photo of a sailor and a nurse embracing in a kiss after the news of Japan's surrender in 1945.

There is some controversy about this statue because the pair were not a couple. Rather, the woman was grabbed by a stranger who kissed her.

Grilled corn at San Diego County Fair
Grilled corn at San Diego County Fair (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

32. San Diego County Fair

If visiting San Diego with kids in summer, then hit up the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar. It typically runs from early June through early July each year. Expect theme park rides, carnival games with prizes, livestock displays, unusual retail offerings, and live entertainment. Food, garden, and art contests are also fun to peruse.

Fair food is another major draw. Get the grilled corn on the cob and slather it with cotija cheese and chili powder for a Mexican street corn treat. Deep-fried Twinkies and frybread tacos are always a hit, too. Parents will want to swing by the beer garden for an adult beverage to wash it all down.

Whaley House in Old Town San Diego
Whaley House in Old Town San Diego (Photo credit: iriana88w, Depositphotos.com)

33. Whaley House

While exploring Old Town San Diego, older kids might enjoy a tour of Whaley House. This supposedly haunted building was featured on the Travel Channel's America's Most Haunted. 

It is also San Diego's first house made from bricks. Over the years, the building has been used as a courthouse, theatre, billiard hall, and school.

San Diego Air and Space Museum
San Diego Air and Space Museum (Photo credit: San Diego Air and Space Museum)

34. San Diego Air and Space Museum

The San Diego Air and Space Museum is popular with would-be pilots and astronauts. Experience aerospace history with a re-creation of the Wright Brothers' 1901 glider. Also, view fighter planes from World War I, World War II, the Golden Age of Flight, and way beyond.

“Be the Astronaut” gives kids and adults alike a taste of space travel. This hands-on exhibit teaches about the excitement and challenges of exploring our solar system.

San Diego SEAL Tour
San Diego SEAL Tour (Photo credit: San Diego SEAL Tour )

35. San Diego SEAL Tour

A 1.5-hour San Diego SEAL Tour takes place on both land and sea. The narrated tour starts at Seaport Village and continues along San Diego streets. You'll learn about the history of the city along the way. Then your amphibious vehicle will carry your family into the harbor for a floating tour of the bay.

Save Money on Your San Diego Vacation

Want to save money on the best things to do in San Diego with kids? Of course, you do! Use discount code TravelMamas to get $10 off any two-night or longer Southern California package (hotel and two-ticket minimum) when you book through our partner, Get Away Today. Also, find San Diego deals including attraction ticket discounts!

Those considering a fall visit are in luck! October is Kids Free San Diego Month, with over 100 deals just for kids. It's a great way to save a bunch and gives families a good reason to head to San Diego off-season. Take a look at which attractions, hotels, and restaurants are offering freebies to families.

It's well worth investing in a Go San Diego Card. You'll save up to 55% on fun things to do in San Diego including the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, the New Children's Museum, and much more!

It makes good sense to check Groupon for discounts on activities and restaurants in your destination, and San Diego is no exception. View Groupon San Diego deals now.

Expedia Kids in the City San Diego video

Learn More About California with Kids

Check out my San Diego attractions with kids video that I made as part of Expedia's Kids in the City campaign. This project highlights 12 of America's most popular destinations, with recommendations from some of the top family travel bloggers.

Looking for good food in San Diego? Read my picks for the best San Diego restaurants for families.

A fabulous San Diego vacation needs fabulous accommodations. Take a look at the best hotels for kids in San Diego.

Explore more of the Golden State with these California vacations for families.

 
Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

Keep These San Diego Attractions

For future reference, save this list of things to do in San Diego with kids. The best way is to pin the image above to Pinterest. I hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

What do you think are the best San Diego attractions for kids? Let us know your tips and questions in the comments below!

Travel Mamas was compensated by Expedia for participating in the Kids in the City project when this story launched in 2012. This blog post is updated regularly to reflect San Diego's current offerings for families. 

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin, MBA, is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular travel blog, TravelMamas.com. She is an expert in travel with kids and without. As the author of the book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents how to make the most of traveling with babies and children. Colleen loves sharing tips on hotels, cruises, spas, theme parks, and global lifestyle topics. When she is not traveling the world, she lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Thank you for putting this wonderful list together. We have an impromptu stay in with the little ones in SD, so this is great.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Angi – I hope you have a wonderful time in San Diego and you love this beautiful city as much as our family does!

  2. Rachel Warrick says

    Thank you so much for this article. I have been a bit overwhelmed planning our vacation but these are a lot of great ideas, and not only super pricey ones! It is well laid-out and thorough.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      So glad my tips have been helpful in planning your San Diego trip! Have a wonderful time in America’s Finest City!

  3. Thanks for the tips they really helped me out

  4. Brooke|ExploringFootsteps says

    We sure loved the trolley ride tour with my 4 and 5 year-olds. They loved seeing all the sites and exploring in different areas. The bay side of Mission Beach was our favorite hang out spot. The water was super calm for the girls. Love these ideas. We hope to get back to San Diego soon. My five-year-old is convinced she is moving there when she is all grown up!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Such fun, Brooke! We’ve done so much in San Diego with kids over the years but have never done the trolley tour. Must give this a try during our next visit to America’s Finest City!

  5. Hi Colleen,
    We are heading to San Diego in July for two weeks to visit my daughter and granddaughter. Would like to do all of these great outings. And coupon ideas to save a few $$$$?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Hi Martha – I suggest looking up Groupon and Living Social for the San Diego area to see if there are any discounted activities/restaurants that look appealing to you. GoCard San Diego also provides a great opportunity to save if you plan on visiting a lot of attractions. You can get San Diego discount deals when you book through Get Away Today. Use discount code TravelMamas to get $10 off any two-night or longer Southern California package (hotel and two ticket minimum) when you book here: https://www.getawaytoday.com/?referrerid=7425 Check out their attraction discounts here: https://www.getawaytoday.com/tickets/sandiego/?referrerid=7425 Have a fabulous time in San Diego!

  6. hi there,
    Thanks for this great article, really tempted to go!
    Do I need to rent a car to go to these places? I will be travelling by myself with 2 young children.
    Thank you!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Hi Jenny – Once upon a time I would have said you definitely need a car, but now with Uber you could probably skip it. That is, if you don’t mind using Uber with two little kids. Some hotels do offer free shuttles to the main attractions, but San Diego is definitely spread out so planning to rent a car or use Uber/Lyft is definitely the way to go. Enjoy San Diego! It’s such a great place for families with young kids!

      • Hi Colleen, thanks so much for your reply!
        The concern I have is my oldest in a booster, and the youngest still in a car seat…
        And I am planning to go with an AirBnb, way more affordable than a hotel room, although I will check out the ones you indicate first!
        Many thanks for the wealth of information!
        Jenny

        • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

          Since you’re still dealing with car seats, I’d definitely rent a car. I love AirBnB too, but sometimes it’s worth the extra cost for the amenities at a hotel. Whichever way you go, I hope you have a fab time in beautiful San Diego!

          • Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer! 🙂
            I am also trying to go on vacation on the cheap side (sorry!), but I really want to offer some vacation to the kids!

          • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

            No need to apologize! I love saving money while traveling. It means I can travel MORE! There are plenty of free and affordable things to do in San Diego like…the BEACH! Enjoy!

  7. Thank you for this list! Going to San Diego next week with 5 kids and I now have PLENTY of things for us to do!

  8. Are there any food tours that you would recommend with small children, or any that allow small children to come?

  9. Piotr Kowalski says

    It’s not FAIR that this are attractions for kids 😀 Just kidding, but LEGOLAND California is definitely a place I will visit as I simply love LEGO, it doesn’t matter how old are you in order to play LEGO, if you grow up with LEGOs then you know what I’m talking about.

  10. Darrell Redus says

    Great article! We will be using some of your suggestions when we visit the area next month with our one and three year old boys.

  11. Elizabeth says

    Thank you for the article, it is just what I needed. We have a trip to San Diego at the end of the month with a 4 year old.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      So glad you found the tips helpful, Elizabeth! Have a wonderful time in San Diego with your little one!

  12. Cassie Tucker says

    I have always wanted to find time to visit San Diego! The place I want to visit the most is the Zoo!

  13. Shannon Gurnee says

    We recently visited San Diego with our kids. We went to the San Diego Zoo and to Sea World and had a blast! We’ve been to Legoland before too! So many fun things to do!

  14. Seattle Travel Blogger says

    Wow, this is an impressive article – quite a reference for San Diego.
    The attraction list is awesome and not just for kids, as my husband and I would love to go to many of the places listed.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      So true – there are plenty of things for kids AND adults to enjoy in San Diego!

  15. Toni | Boulder Locavore says

    Definitely bookmarking this! I haven’t thought San Diego has all these fun ctivities!!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      There’s oh-so-much to do in San Diego! I miss having so many awesome family-friendly options now that I live in Arizona.

  16. Our Family World says

    San Diego is the best place or spot for a family with kids! I really wanted to go back with my kids they will love those beautiful attractions.

  17. Annemarie LeBlanc says

    We would love to go back to San Diego sometime when the grandchildren are older. We’d probably take them to the Legoland Water Park first. My little precious ones love the water! The San Diego Zoo Safari would be great to visit when they are a lot older. Thanks for the list!

  18. We saw the flower fields last year, and they were lovely. We all enjoyed the tractor ride, the rows of gorgeous flowers, and even the little playground. Can’t wait to go back over spring break.

  19. Wow these all look great! I have never been to San Diego but would love to be able to go at some point. These look like some fun things to do with the kids!

  20. This is so cool, I love that you can do so much in San Diego! I will have to share with friends who are traveling there this Summer because your list is pretty extensive and photos are beautiful!

  21. There is so much beauty in San Diego. I could really go for another trip there. I need to see the zoo’s safari park!

  22. Marcie W. says

    This post comes at the perfect time since we’re planning a family trip to San Diego this summer. Both the zoo and safari park are at the top of our list, but I look forward to adding Corvette Diner as well.

  23. robin Rue says

    We LOVE San Diego. The zoo is our favorite of all the attractions in that area.

  24. Jen Rattie says

    I’m bookmarking this. We love San Diego the last time we were there, but we never got to see everything it had to offer. The kids will be thoroughly satisfied on our next trip.

  25. Bill Sweeney says

    This is an awesome resource. We’ve been talking about heading to San Diego, and I think this will be a great help.

  26. I’d have my face pressed to that glass too. 🙂 I’d love to visit Cali.

  27. Amanda Love says

    Who knew that San Diego has this many attractions! I love that there’s so many vacation places here for the kids, it’s going to be one of my top choices for destinations during the summer! I’d love to take my family here, without a doubt!

  28. Janell Poulette says

    My husband and I are dying to go to California, but weren’t sure where in CA we wanted to go. I would love to visit San Diego now that i know there is so much to do for kids. I especially would love to visit the Carlsbad Flower Fields, how beautiful!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Wonderful! Keep in mind that the Carlsbad Flower Fields are open from March through Mother’s Day each year. (I realized I forgot to include that tidbit and have just added it!) Enjoy your trip to San Diego!

  29. Chrystal | Nevermore Lane says

    So many wonderful things to see in SD. I have had friends who lived there and were always trying to get me to come out. I wish I had been able to, I would have loved to see some of these things.

  30. We Are planning a trip to San Diego with our kids and I honestly had no idea there were so many kid friendly attractions! I’m Bookmarking this site so we can plan our days accordingly! So excited to visit La Jolla!

  31. Our Family World says

    Wow, this is all in San Diego? I had a feeling that I missed out on a lot during my LA trip and I was right.

  32. Such a great post, you have highlighted everything! We were there two years ago and cannot wait to go back!

  33. Kita Bryant says

    The cove sounds like it’s right up our alley. What an amazing list and I’m sure there’s much more!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Yes! There’s also Aquatica Water Park south of San Diego in Chula Vista (owned and operated by SeaWorld). Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Island (actually, it’s a peninsula) is a grand place to shop, have a meal or stay the night. The boardwalk in Pacific Beach is full of all sorts of cute shops and places to grab a bite, or to rent a bicycle and take a ride. The darling mountain town of Julian is part of San Diego County ~ a wonderful day trip for apple picking and pie tasting. There’s Petco Park ballpark smack in the center of downtown. Oh! And the San Diego County Fair and horse races (with family days!) at the Del Mar Racetrack. All of the museums in Balboa Park could each have their own listings, too!

  34. San Diego looks SO awesome for families!!! I hope to visit one day!

  35. My daughter went to San Diego a few years back and loved it. She said La Jolla Cove was beautiful. These all sound like great attractions for kids.

  36. It’s been so long since I visited San Diego. We went to the zoo but I don’t really remember it now. It would be fun to go back with the kids.

  37. Jocelyn Cañasa Brown says

    What a great list. I want to take the kids to all 15 places on this list! So much fun!

  38. I have never been to San Diego, however, the way you explain the attraction, it excites me to visit the place once. Thanks to sharing wonderful guide.

  39. Love this round up! Legoland and the Birch Aquarium would be a huge hit with our family!

  40. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says

    I absolutely adore San Diego. There’s so much to do there! We’ve been a few times, and I still haven’t seen all these places with the kids.

  41. Meagan Browno says

    Hey, Colleen Lanin, I must say, your blog is really amazing! Actually, I am a big fan of California and San Diego is my favorite one. Thanks dear for sharing the best things about San Diego!

  42. I’ve been to Old Town California and loved it there! Hoping to visit it again soon!

  43. Deb at Headout says

    Such a cool list! I knew about San Diego zoo and the sea world, hence loved the other less known suggestions. Will keep this list in mind when we go to San Diego, and that will be very soon. By the way, can you suggest if we should do the night safari at San Diego zoo or stick to the daytime activities?

  44. Hi,
    I’m traveling to San Diego with my 2 kids (8&11), next week. We’ll be there 5 days (Thusday to Tuesday) and I’m planning in to go one day to the zoo, another to Sea World, another one shopping (pelease tell me if Las Americas Premium outlet is a good choice). I also would like to visit Balboa Park, USS Midway Museum, Old Town, Coronado Island or La Jolla cove.
    Do you recomend to go the same day to USS Midway Museum and another place, like Balboa Park or Old Town?
    Which place is better for kids:la Jolla or Coronado?
    We’ll stay at Chula Vista and rent a car.
    Thanks.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Hi Sarah –

      I have never been to Las Americas Premium Oulets in San Ysidro. That is pretty far south and close to the Mexican border. If you are looking for outlet shopping, I love Carlsbad Premium Outlets in Carlsbad (home of LEGOLAND California), which is about 30 minutes north of downtown San Diego. If you are staying downtown – there is a fabulous outdoor mall there called Horton Plaza. Fashion Valley is another great shopping option with lots of upscale store options – it’s not far from downtown but you would need to drive to get there. In La Jolla, there’s the outdoor Westfield UTC with a mini train for kids. It really depends on what type of shopping experience you’d like and where you’ll be staying.

      The USS Midway Museum will probably take a couple of hours to visit at most. You could easily visit that as well as Horton Plaza or Old Town in one day. Balboa Park could take anywhere from a couple hours to several days to visit, depending on what you want to do while there. If you just want to walk around and look at the gardens and architecture, it could be a brief visit or if you want to visit one or more of the museums it could take a lot of time. Keep in mind that the San Diego Zoo is part of Balboa Park, and that’s a full day visit in itself!

      Both La Jolla and Coronado are fun places to explore with children. In Coronado, you can wander through the shops at the Hotel del Coronado and snap some photos of the hotel’s lovely parapets and play at the lovely stretch of public beach in front of the hotel. You can also rent bicycles from a couple of rental places along the peninsula’s main drag, Orange Avenue, and wander among the shops and cafes. Coronado is home to a military base and has a small town, patriotic feel whereas La Jolla feels more upscale and fancy schmancy. Both are lovely. La Jolla Cove offers many art galleries and luxury boutiques. You can wander down to the Children’s Pool to watch seal families lazing on the beach. There are also La Jolla beaches to choose from, of course. If you go to La Jolla, make sure to walk through La Valencia Hotel to snap a gorgeous photo of the view overlooking their pool and out to the ocean. (This is a great place to get a drink with your honey!) There’s also the Cave Store in a La Jolla – a fun place to take kids to walk all of the way down the stairs to see ocean water splashing in the store. I recommend going on a kayak tour with older kids in La Jolla to get a whole different perspective on the area.

      Good luck and enjoy your time in beautiful San Diego!

  45. Can you recommended best park playground in San Diego or near Bonita, CA?

  46. Colleen – I LOVE your list! Planning a trip to SD from the East Coast and can’t wait. Spent 2 yrs in SoCal for grad school and am so excited to show my husband and sons. Can you please recommend a neighborhood/area to stay in? We will be exploring Balboa park, the zoo and def the Wildlife refuge, hoping to get to others on your list too. Want to be able to walk to some restaurants/coffee shops. Hubs and I would love a beach neighborhood. Thanks!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Lori – Del Mar and La Jolla (both a little north of San Diego) offer an upscale beach village vibe with some swankier hotels. For more affordable beachfront accommodations, check out the Pacific Beach area of San Diego, which is very near Balboa Park and the zoo. Or, you could stay in Carlsbad, which is north of San Diego (about a 30-60 min drive, depending on traffic) and home to Legoland California. I love West Inn & Suites up there: https://travelmamas.com/west-inn-suites-carlsbad-review/

  47. About 20 miles inland in Escondido is a special outdoor art exhibit called Califa by world famouse artist Niki de Saint Phalle. It is magical!! Limited hours. Also check out the grounds at UCSD. Look for nesting monarchs, sculptures, and talking trees!

  48. All of these places ROCK! San Diego is an amazing place to live and visit. I’ve used another website at http://www.sdfamilyfun.com that also provides many FREE family activities and events throughout San Diego. I scored checking out their site. Thanks for the great information, Colleen!

  49. Johnson'sLover says

    Definitely Love vacationing in San Diego and fortunately we have family there so we get to visit often! 🙂
    We love the San Diego Zoo, and always make a point to stop in at Belmont Park, the kids just love it!
    The city is great too! Great food, great weather, always a pleasure to visit there!

  50. New York Hotel says

    I love San Diego. I still pinch myself every now and then .. especially when I cross the Coronado Bridge. Also Love the Cabrillo Monumenti love San Diego.

  51. Ashley Cooke says

    I think I will have this list when we visit San Diego. We can cover everything in a week’s trip and the kids will have fond memories of the place.

  52. Thanks a lot for sharing such beautiful destinations which is loved by every child. San Diego has scene of love as well as fun…

  53. Boston Activities says

    San Diego is very comfortable and good place to spend the vacation with the family. I enjoyed the Botanic Garden with my kids, also felt very joyful at African Tram Safari. The royalty and finess of the city attracts me lot.

  54. Great list! I love taking my kids to San Diego. So much to do!

    I’d love to feature this list on our site. If you’re interested, let me know!

    Thanks!
    Shondra 🙂

  55. With so many outdoor activities to do in San Diego it’s nice to know that the weather can be counted on to make it all possible – not too hot or humid, not overly rainy but enough to keep it a lush green.

  56. What a great list! We only made it to your top 5 when we visited San Diego (and didn’t get to really play on the beach because it was winter). I was most disappointed about missing Old Town but it was pouring rain the day that we were planning to be there. Clearly we need a return visit to check out the rest that San Diego has to offer.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Lisa – Oh, you MUST come back to San Diego with your brood sometime! (And let me know when you’re here so we can get together!)

  57. Andi at The Particular Traveler says

    Perfect timing! I’m headed to San Diego this summer with my toddler and have been trying to research some fun things to do while we’re there…thank you for this great list! Now I’m off to check out your video and Kids in the City guide 🙂

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Andi – I’m so glad you found my San Diego picks helpful. I know you and your toddler will have a great time in my hometown of San Diego!

  58. Maggie @ MamaMaggies says

    I love San Diego. I still pinch myself every now and then.. especially when I’m crossing the Coronado Bridge. Love the Cabrillo Monument too.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Maggie – I feel that way when I go to Coronado too – such a gorgeous little island, well, peninsula!

  59. Mary @ The World Is A Book says

    Such an awesome list that includes some of our city’s hidden gems! We’re so lucky to live in such a family-friendly city. Anything dealing with the beach and nature is at the top of our list here. We love the tidepools at Cabrillo. I couldn’t agree with you more on Old Town food. Great job on the Expedia project!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Mary – I so agree about being lucky to live in San Diego. It’s amazing how many awesome family-friendly sites and activities we have in our own hometown!

  60. Deanna U says

    Love all of your ideas! I think I have been to each one of them. So many fun things to do in San Diego with the family!

  61. So many things to do here in sunny San Diego!

  62. Maribel Reyes says

    I agree with this great list! We’ve only missed visiting Cabrillo National Monument and mostly because every time we planned on visiting something would come up. It’s true San Diego weather is the best and it has lots to offer families!

  63. Our family visited San Diego a couple of years ago and it is a fantastic destination for families. The area is beautiful and there are so many fun things to do. We spent a busy week in San Diego and somehow did not do any of the things on your list above. Our visit included the obvious San Diego attractions like SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo and Coronado, which were also wonderful. Thanks for the insider recommendations and inspiration to make a return trip!

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