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12 Unforgettable Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

Located on the coast of southern California, the sun-drenched city of San Diego has earned its reputation as a top family-friendly destination. You’ll find an abundance of exciting things to do in San Diego with kids of all ages!

12 Unforgettable Things to Do with Kids in San Diego - Kids Are A Trip

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Where to Stay in San Diego

San Diego county covers 4,300 square miles, so it’s important to find a hotel that is central to the attractions your family plans to visit. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Hotel del Coronado – located on Coronado Island, this historic property is on the beach and has swimming, tennis, surfing, and movies on the beach.
  • Loews Coronado Bay Resort – also located on Coronado, this resort has 3 swimming pools, pickleball courts, babysitting, and water sport and bicycle rentals.
  • La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club – this beach and tennis resort is located in La Jolla, which is centrally located to many San Diego attractions.
  • Fairmont Grand Del Mar – luxury hotel located in Del Mar, has a golf course, 4 swimming pools, pickleball, and even a 3-Michelin star restaurant.
  • The Seabird Resort – fabulous oceanfront resort in Oceanside, located in North San Diego County. It’s convenient to shops and restaurants and right on the beach. See our review here.
  • Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa & Marina – centrally located to downtown San Diego and Mission Bay, this property has three pools and waterslides, and you can rent kayaks and paddle boards on-site.
  • Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter – if your family plans to catch a game at Petco Park, this is the perfect downtown hotel that’s close to shopping and restaurants. It also has easy access to Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo.

Is San Diego worth visiting with family?

Of course it is! San Diego enjoys mild winters and warm summers, which is perfect for year-round outdoor fun. This means you can build sandcastles on the beach, explore tide pools for marine life, hike coastal bluffs, or ride roller coasters throughout the year!

But it’s not just the great outdoors that make San Diego special. The city boasts a treasure trove of engaging indoor activities, interactive museums, and educational experiences that will captivate children and parents alike.

San Diego will always be a special place for my family. It was our home for 7 years and it was where 2 of our children were born! We get back whenever we can, knowing that we’ll enjoy a variety of kid-friendly places and activities. It’s also a great starting point for a California road trip with kids.

Many people think of heading straight to the San Diego beaches, but there’s so much more! I suggest you check out one of these fun things to do in San Diego with kids.

Top Family-Friendly Things to Do in San Diego

1. Experience Nature at Balboa Park

Nestled in the heart of San Diego, Balboa Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States, covering 1,200 acres! This sprawling public park is an enchanting destination any time of the year, with a variety of things to do in San Diego with kids.

At the center of the park is where most of the magic happens. This is where you’ll find all kinds of indoor attractions (as well as parking), like the Spanish Village Arts Center, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the Balboa Park Activity Center, and more.

Balboa Park San Diego with teenagers

For families seeking outdoor activities, the opportunities feel endless! Enjoy ball courts, open green spaces, hiking trails, and several playgrounds that are perfect for kids of all ages.

But perhaps one of the best places to explore in Balboa Park is wandering through its collection of beautiful gardens, each with a unique theme. Take a walk through the cactus garden, the Japanese Friendship Garden, or the Zoro Garden.

Many attractions within Balboa Park offer free admission for kids or even free days for everyone to enjoy. Families can relish a day of free things to do with kids in San Diego, from attending cultural performances to participating in family-friendly workshops. Plus, you can easily stay nearby in a surrounding neighborhood like Bankers Hill or Little Italy to be close to all the action.

2. Visit the World-Famous San Diego Zoo

The world-famous San Diego Zoo is a must-visit destination for families. This iconic zoo, located in Balboa Park, is one of the most renowned zoological parks globally. Spanning over 100 acres, this captivating destination is home to over 3,500 animals, including endangered species.

At the zoo, your kids will have the chance to encounter some of the planet’s most fascinating creatures up close. You can see pandas, elephants, monkeys, lions, and more in beautiful habitats. There are also interactive exhibits, wildlife shows, and animal encounters that will captivate young minds.

San Diego Zoo Koala
Who doesn’t love koalas?

You can hop aboard the guided bus tour or explore the zoo’s sprawling grounds aboard the iconic Skyfari aerial tram. This is a great way to enjoy breathtaking views of the animal enclosures and Balboa Park! And the Kangaroo Bus and the Discovery Cart Tour both provide unique opportunities to get up close with some of San Diego Zoo’s friendliest animal residents.

The zoo also hosts special events throughout the year, including summer night concerts and holiday celebrations. Admission passes are available (kids under 3 are free) to both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Located about 35 miles away in Escondido, the San Diego Safari Park is a massive park designed like a wildlife preserve. Here, you can go on safari tours and witness animals in expansive natural habitats designed to resemble their native environments.

3. Engage with Interactive Exhibits at the Fleet Science Center

The Fleet Science Center is one of San Diego’s premier family-friendly attractions in the heart of Balboa Park. The center features over 100 hands-on exhibits where children are encouraged to explore. You’ll find that there’s something for everyone in the family, and it’s a great place to make memories with your kids.

Best Hikes in San Diego with Kids

From uncovering the mysteries of the human body to venturing into outer space, each exhibit will engage your kids and help them appreciate the wonders of science. For younger kids, there’s Kid City. This area features age-appropriate hands-on science exhibits and a miniature cityscape for pretend play!

Fleet Science Center things to do in San Diego with kids

One of the Fleet Science Center’s highlights is the Heikoff Giant Dome Theater, an IMAX theater where kids can see fun movies and documentaries on space, the ocean, and the plains of Africa. The stunning visuals and surround sound make for a captivating experience that brings educational films to life.

Around the center, families can participate in live science demonstrations where educators make complex scientific concepts more fun and easier to understand! And the center hosts regular events and programs, including family workshops and science-themed weekends for different age groups.

The Fleet Science Center is open every day of the week from 10 AM to 5 PM and until 6 PM on the weekend. There’s an admission fee for everyone 3 and up that includes access to all exhibits, including a documentary in the theater. And the first Tuesday of the month is free for San Diego residents.

4. Play and Relax at Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach in San Diego is a family paradise, renowned for its pristine shores and kid-friendly atmosphere. Situated on the beautiful Coronado Island, this coastal gem is perfect for beachgoers of all ages.

Families flock to Coronado Beach for its gentle waves and soft, golden sands. It’s the ideal setting for kids to build sandcastles, play beach games, and splash in the refreshing water. If you have toddlers and young swimmers, you’ll love the beach’s calm waters!

Coronado Beach boasts a spacious shoreline, and it’s never overly crowded. There’s ample space for families to spread out and enjoy picnics, play beach volleyball, or simply relax on the sand.

Coronado Beach Hotel del Coronado San Diego

There are showers on the beach and lifeguards are always on duty. Just off the beach, you can rent bikes and enjoy a family bike ride with ocean views along the shore.

In nearby Coronado Village, you’ll find a charming downtown area with shops, ice cream parlors, and family-friendly restaurants.

If you’re interested in San Diego history, the Hotel del Coronado is just a short walk from the beach. You can explore the iconic Victorian-style hotel, with its fascinating history and beautiful architecture.

5. Spend the Day at Mission Beach and Belmont Park

Another beach even more synonymous with San Diego is Mission Beach. This is where you’ll find Belmont Park, one of California’s oldest amusement parks. Mission Beach and Belmont Park form a dynamic duo, offering the perfect beach day in San Diego with kids and teens!

Located on a narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay, Mission Beach boasts a lively atmosphere with something exciting for everyone. The Mission Beach Boardwalk is the heart of the action, stretching along the shore and featuring bike paths, pedestrian lanes, and scenic views. You can rent bikes, rollerblades, or surreys to cruise along the boardwalk.

Mission beach boardwalk San Diego
The Mission Beach boardwalk is perfect for cycling when it isn’t crowded.

At the heart of Mission Beach lies Belmont Park, boasting all the classic fun rides you love. Kids and adults alike can ride the classic wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster, offering an adrenaline-pumping experience and stunning views of the beach. There are also great rides just for kids, like the Tilt-A-Whirl, bumper cars, and more. A must-do is the Liberty Carousel, with its beautifully crafted animals.

For an additional dose of excitement, Belmont Park offers arcade games, mini-golf, and shops selling beach gear and souvenirs. You can check out the rock wall, the zipline course, and more! Plus, parking and admission to the park are both free, and you can buy bundles and passes that give you a discount on rides and attractions.

6. Discover the Tide Pools at Cabrillo National Monument

Your kids will have an unforgettable adventure when you explore the tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument. It’s definitely a must-do if you’re looking for the best things to do in San Diego with kids!

During low tide, you can drive down to the rocky shores to discover an array of sea creatures that call the tide pools their home. It’s exciting to find colorful starfish, sea anemones, and scuttling hermit crabs in the tide pools! And this is an excellent opportunity for kids to learn about marine ecosystems and the importance of preserving these delicate habitats.

Cabrillo National Monument coast line

When you arrive, make sure to stop by the visitor center, where park rangers and educational displays offer even more information. Families can learn how to interact gently with the creatures and follow park guidelines to help preserve these natural treasures. 

Cabrillo National Monument is also known for its historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which you can go inside for a fee (it’s pricey, though). Nearby, you can also explore walking trails and visit overlooks with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. It’s also a great place to catch a glimpse of whales during the winter months!

7. Enjoy the Family-Friendly Beaches of La Jolla

Another must-visit destination in San Diego with kids of all ages is La Jolla. What sets La Jolla beaches apart are their variety. You can find excellent surfing beaches, as well as cove beaches with calmer waters.

La Jolla Shores is a favorite among families, boasting sandy beaches, gentle waves, and a range of amenities. Kids can play safely in the shallows while parents relax on the soft sand. Or if you have older kids, this is a popular beach for scuba diving and snorkeling! The beach also features playgrounds, grassy parks, and boat launches.

La Jolla Seals Sea Lions
One of our favorite things to see in La Jolla: the seals and sea lions!

Meanwhile, older kids can venture to La Jolla Cove, where the calm waters are ideal for snorkeling. It’s also perfect for younger kids and toddlers to wade in. This beach is off Ellen Browning Scripps Park, where you’ll also find showers, picnic tables, and more.

Nearby, La Jolla Children’s Pool is a famous cove beach where you can also enjoy watching harbor seals and sea lions in their natural habitat.

If you want to experience more sea life, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla offers even more opportunities to see marine animals up close.

8. Go Hiking at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

It doesn’t get much better than hiking in San Diego with kids. Just north of La Jolla, the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve is another natural gem that promises exciting outdoor adventures with the kids. This coastal preserve boasts rugged cliffs, clearly marked hiking trails, and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

Torrey Pines Natural Reserve offers a variety of hiking trails suitable for families of all skill levels, making it one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids.

Your Essential Game Plan for Napa Valley with Kids

Guy Fleming Trail is an easy, well-marked trail that’s perfect for young explorers. Less than a mile long, you can take the short loop and check out different scenic viewpoints. During the summer, this path features lots of wildflowers, too!

Torrey Pines beach ocean view

If you have older kids (and more experience hiking), you can take the Beach Trail Loop leads down to the sandy shores. This is a much longer but rewarding hike. You’ll take the trail down to the beach, so bring your swimsuit! Just watch out for high tide, when the beach isn’t accessible.

The natural reserve is a protected area and is home to wildlife, including snakes. This presents an excellent opportunity for kids to learn about hiking safety and the region’s desert ecosystem.  Bring plenty of water, wear comfortable shoes, and be mindful of trail signs and guidelines.

At the visitor center, you can pick up educational materials to enrich your hiking experience. There’s a parking lot nearby, or you can try to get free parking along the road.

Southern California CityPASS

9. Ignite Creativity at the New Children’s Museum

While you’re in San Diego, don’t miss out on a visit to the New Children’s Museum. This art-centric museum is a haven for kids of all ages, offering a delightful blend of interactive installations and workshops.

Kids can engage in hands-on activities, such as painting, sculpting, and experimenting with various art forms, all in an accessible environment.

The New Children's Museum San Diego with kids
Photo credit: New Children’s Museum – Exterior architecture by Rob Quigley

Everywhere you turn inside the New Children’s Museum, you’ll find interactive installations that kids can explore, climb inside of, take pictures with, and more! Inspire your budding artist by learning about the museum’s current artists in residence. And each exhibit is carefully designed to allow kids to move freely and enjoy creative play.

If you have toddlers, you’ll love the soft sculpture exhibit, Wobbleland! There are also sensory-break zones located throughout the museum. For families who need a more sensory-friendly experience, the museum hosts free Accessibility Mornings on the second Saturday of each month.

You can visit the New Children’s Museum from 9 AM to 4 PM every day but Tuesday. There’s an admission fee for everyone 1 year and older. After a morning of art exploration, you could also head to the nearby Seaport Village for a refreshing lunch and some shopping.

10. Explore History at the USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum in downtown San Diego is a popular attraction for history buffs and families. Sitting on San Diego Bay, this museum is actually aboard an actual aircraft carrier, offering an immersive experience that brings the past to life!

This aircraft carrier served the US Navy for almost 50 years and played a crucial role in significant historical events. You can explore the massive ship, both inside and out, to learn about naval aviation and maritime history.

USS Midway carrier ship

The interior of the ship is set up like a museum with exhibits, as well as different rooms that look like they did when the carrier was in use. Outside on the flight deck, you’ll walk around different vehicles, including helicopters and fighter jets!

Most people take self-guided audio tours while they visit the different displays, and there are docents throughout the space to answer any questions you have. The USS Midway Museum also offers family-oriented guided tours where you’ll hear stories about life on an aircraft carrier.

A highlight for kids are the interactive flight simulators where you can experience the thrill of piloting military aircraft! No one can resist taking on the role of a fighter pilot and going on thrilling missions! Just note that kids have to be 42″ tall to ride simulators with an adult and 48″ without one.

You can visit the USS Midway Museum 7 days a week from 10 AM to 5 PM (last admission is at 4 PM). Kids 5 and under are free. After the museum visit, families can head over to Waterfront Park, which is located nearby. This beautiful park overlooking the bay provides a great space for kids to run and play, making it an ideal spot for a post-museum picnic and relaxation.

11. See a Game at Petco Park

Do you have Padre fans in the family? Why not attend a game at Petco Park? Nestled in the heart of the historic Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego, this modern stadium offers a perfect setting for families to enjoy America’s favorite pastime.

The experience of an MLB game is unforgettable, with a fun, electric atmosphere and passionate fans! Plus, the stadium boasts various amenities for families. There are family restrooms and concessions with kid-friendly food options.

Petco Park San Diego Padres Baseball

A huge appeal for families with young kids is Petco Park’s “Park at the Park.” This is a fantastic space behind the outfield fence. Families can relax on the grassy lawn and still catch all the action on the large video screen. There are picnic tables, grassy spaces for kids to play, and more. Visiting when the Padres aren’t playing? Then, the Park at the Park is open to the public!

If you’re in San Diego and don’t have a chance to attend a home game, don’t worry! You can still take a behind-the-scenes tour of Petco Stadium.

12. Have a Blast at LEGOLAND California Resort

When visiting San Diego with kids, a major attraction is LEGOLAND California Resort in Carlsbad, especially for young LEGO lovers! This top-notch theme park caters to the imaginations of kids and adults alike, with all kinds of attractions that appeal to all ages.

LEGOLAND California Resort boasts a variety of rides, shows, and play areas, ensuring that everyone in the family can have a fantastic time. For young kids, DUPLO Playtown is a safe and interactive space where they can build, play, and explore with larger LEGO bricks.

Front entrance of legoland in Southern California.

For more adventurous kiddos, LEGO City offers exciting experiences like Junior Driving School. Here, kids can get behind the wheel of a LEGO car! And Coast Cruise is a gentle boat ride showcasing famous landmarks made from LEGO bricks. The whole family can also embark on a leisurely boat ride at Fairy Tale Brook, featuring LEGO-built scenes from classic stories.

LEGOLAND California Resort also features live shows, a small water park, an immersive 4D theater, and thrill rides. The Dragon Coaster and the LEGO Technic Coaster are both perfect for older kids and adults.

And if you’re looking for places to stay in San Diego with kids, consider the LEGOLAND California Hotel or the LEGOLAND Castle Hotel. Each one offers themed rooms, complimentary breakfasts, guest-only pools, children’s entertainment, and more!

Enjoy the Best Kid-Friendly Things to Do in San Diego

Maybe you live in San Diego, or you’re planning the ultimate San Diego family vacation. From exploring the diverse terrains of Torrey Pines State Park to discovering the wonders of the San Diego Zoo, there’s something for everyone. This vibrant city promises an unforgettable experience for families. You can’t go wrong with its amazing weather and diverse range of things to do in San Diego with kids!