Looking for the best things to do in San Diego with kids? My family and I have traveled all over the world and lived in many places. But there’s something special about San Diego, California. No wonder it's referred to as “America's Finest City!” We often stop in San Diego County on our way to Hawaii with kids each August.
It could be the sunny skies, warm (but not too humid) temperatures, or the ocean air. Or maybe it's all those California quotes, songs written about it, or movies that showcase the beauty of this place (Top Gun anyone?).
But I think it's also that there are so many fun things to do with kids in San Diego. It's also one of the best places to visit for Spring Break in California.
From the San Diego Zoo to discovering history in Old Town, San Diego, having fun at the amusement parks, to a day at the beach, there’s plenty to see and things to do in San Diego with kids. Here are my best picks for what you should not miss when you visit America's Finest City with kids!
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Why You Should Experience Family Fun In San Diego
If you’ve never been to this part of California, you’re in for a treat. It's one of the best places in California to visit.
First, the history of California is interesting alone, and each area of the state is distinctively different.
But San Diego – in the very southern part of California on the coast – is known for its pristine beaches and family attractions. The San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND California, and SeaWorld San Diego are some well-known places to visit, with Disneyland only an hour and a half drive away too. And while these locations are great, there is so much more to San Diego than simply these attractions.
This area is one of my favorite family-oriented locations, much like Orlando, Florida, and Boston, Massachusetts in the USA. There are hundreds of activities to do on your California vacation, but I’ve narrowed it down to the 18 best things to do in San Diego with kids.
Top 18 Things To Do In San Diego With Kids
1. San Diego Zoo
Part of the San Diego Zoo Global, this is one of our favorite things to do in San Diego with kids! This zoo combines wildlife science, care, and health to create sustainable conservation solutions to protect the world’s wildlife.
With 800 acres dedicated to the welfare of animals, it is home to the zoo and safari park along with other great attractions. The zoo is just 10 acres of this property, but it’s the most popular part.
While many people ask if the Giant Panda's are at the San Diego Zoo, the last two Giant Pandas were returned to their home in China in 2019, in accordance with the zoo's partnership with the country. We were lucky to see them the last time we visited America's Finest City.
However, there are over 650 species of animals at the San Diego Zoo, known for being one of the best zoos in the USA. Plus, you can see 2,000 species of bromeliads in the Bromeliad Garden, where the pineapple is the most well-known variety of this rainforest plant. Visit the Hummingbird Aviary or the Pygmy Hippo who is endangered with only 2,500 left in the African wild.
Kids can even play in the water during the summer at the Savannah Cool Zone. Don’t miss the Polar Bear exhibit, where children can see a “den” and even crawl through it and learn all about these endangered creatures.
With countless attractions and activities, visiting San Diego's zoo is one of the best things to do with kids on your California vacation.
2. San Diego Wild Animal Park
While part of the San Diego Zoo, The Safari Park is a separate attraction and should have its own dedicated day. The Safari Park takes up the rest of the 1,800 acres of the San Diego Zoo, and this is an adventure your family will never forget.
What makes this one of the top things to do in San Diego with kids is that it is a unique way to experience wildlife. There are several Safari’s you can go on, including:
- Behind-the-Scenes Safari
- Wildlife Safari
- Cart Safaris
- Sun Up Cheetah Safari
- Ultimate Safari
- Roar & Snore Safaris
- Flightline Safari
- Safari Cabanas
- Caravan Safari
How about a sleepover adventure right in the San Diego Safari Park? At the Roar & Snore for all ages, the whole family gets to experience close-up animal encounters with exclusive access to the Butterfly jungle that only these Safari’s get.
The Cabana Safaris are also unique. Here you can enjoy a private cabana with an open vista view you share with rhinos, giraffes, and other African wildlife. You’ll even have a host to assist with your lunch, who will share beautiful conservation stories. It’s truly a unique experience and one of the most fun things to do in San Diego with kids.
Want to see the animals from above? Check out the Flightline Safari and get a birdseye view of many of the Safari Park's residents!
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a must on any San Diego family vacation!
3. Old Town San Diego
Did you know that the first evidence of people living in the San Diego area dates back 9,000 years? Travel back in time and learn more about the history of the Native Americans who lived here and the arrival of Spanish settlers in 1769 when you visit historical Old Town San Diego.
Visit the Mormon Battalion, where 500 men marched with 32 women from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego in 1846. Or take a step back in time to the haunted Whaley House.
The whole experience feels like you have stepped into a historic town, with many historic buildings, storefronts, homes, and more. It is both a history lesson and an experience, coupled with modern-day living.
Enjoy delicious Mexican food at Casa de Reyes, Old Town Mexican Cafe, Casa Guadalajara, or other great downtown restaurants. You’ll even find sushi, pizza, and all the other foods your family loves.
You will also find great shops with handicrafts and souvenirs on your family vacation to America's Finest City.
You can even stay in Old Town at one of the many fine hotels in downtown San Diego. There are a lot of kid-friendly things to do in Old Town San Diego.
4. Cabrillo National Monument
Named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to find what we know as the West Coast today, this park tells the tale of 16th-century North America exploration. The Cabrillo National Monument Park is home to many resources – both natural and cultural.
There is also a hike on Bayside Trail to take in gorgeous views of the area below.
Visit the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and learn about its history. It has been refurbished to its historic appearance from the late 1800's with period furnishings and decor. It is a fascinating step into the seafaring history of San Diego.
For more family fun, everyone can go on a self-guided field trip using one of these guides. The kids will love the various birds and reptiles and the unique Rocky Intertidal ecosystem. It makes this list of the fun things to do in San Diego with kids because it combines fun, wildlife, and history.
This is one of the best San Diego kids' activities to do on your family vacation.
5. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines Natural Reserve is a wilderness island in an urban sea and home to the rarest pine tree in America – the Pinus torreyana. This tree used to grow in other areas, but here and Santa Rosa Island are the only places you can see it.
There’s more to see here than trees or hiking the various hiking trails. The park is also home to one of the only waterfowl refuges and salt marshes in Southern California.
The views of deep ravines and broken cliffs are breathtaking. You can hike with the family on a trail that leads through stunning scenery and visit the pueblo-style building that once housed a restaurant but now serves as the visitor center. The trail is not challenging making it one of the fun outdoor activities to do in San Diego with kids.
6. The New Children's Museum
This museum is one of the best things to do in San Diego with toddlers because it is, after all, a children’s museum. It is also one of the best indoor activities downtown San Diego offers toddlers!
You’ll find a variety of art displays with interactive activities that sharpen your little ones’ critical thinking skills.
They’ll love the room filled with mattresses where even grown-ups can crawl and jump all over the place. Then there’s the Sketch Aquarium, where you can draw sea creatures that come to life in the enormous digital aquarium.
The kids love the interactive art installations like the Wonder Sound, where you can enter the passageways and explore its rooms. It is reminiscent of treehouses, gardens, and other strange things that are oddly recognizable.
If you stay downtown, it’s easy to get to, and the kids will love it. So, add this to your list of things to do in San Diego with kids.
7. Visit the Seals at La Jolla Cove
Visiting the seals at La Jolla Cove is one of the great San Diego kid’s activities unique to this area. You’ll want to plan your visit in advance if you want to add a visit to the California Harbor Seals to your itinerary because it’s closed from December 15 to May 15 to protect newborn seal pups.
You can still watch the La Jolla Cove sea lions from the sea wall that was erected to protect the swimming cove, thanks to the American philanthropist and journalist Ellen Browning Scripps. It provides a safe place for the seals to swim and sunbathe.
From there, you can take a quick 10-minute walk to the Children’s Pool when it’s open. There you can watch more Pacific Ocean wildlife or have a picnic lunch in Ellen Browning Scripps Park. There are several kid-friendly restaurants near La Jolla Cove to stop for lunch and there are even fine dining options.
8. Birch Aquarium at Scripps
This museum is another one of the perfect indoor activities San Diego has to offer, and it's a great thing to do with toddlers. Your family can see colorful and unique marine life in more than 60 exhibits here.
Visit the magical world of Seahorses and Sea-dragons or the Hidden Heroes of the Scripps collection. This collection is a comic book-inspired fun exhibit that showcases the amazing adaptations (superpowers) of ocean life.
Or visit an experiment in progress at the experimental reef, the 100 Island Challenge, that lets you see the Scripps Oceanography scientists develop interesting coral research techniques. Other exhibits include the Hall of Fishes, Giant Kelp Forest, Tidepool Plazas, Shark Shores, and many more.
9. San Diego Maritime Museum
Another fun and educational family vacation activity is the Maritime Museum of San Diego located on the San Diego harbor.
There are very few places where you can walk the decks of actual historical ships, like the Star of India, Steam Ferry Berkley, or 555 USS Dolphin submarine. The Star of India was built in 1863 and is the oldest active sailing ship.
You can even go on historic cruises or take the Swift Boat Naval History Tour on the legendary Swift Boat PCF-816 at this San Diego museum. I promise there aren’t many places in the world where your family can experience a high-seas adventure like this.
10. Seaport Village
You can't go on a San Diego trip and not visit Seaport Village. This unique location is 14-acres of shopping, entertainment, and dining that celebrates all things local. It was built to recreate a centuries-old harborside setting.
You’ll find a variety of events going on as well as great places to eat and shop highlighting San Diego cuisine and merchandise. The Village makes my list of things to do in San Diego with kids because it focuses on local culture. It's also a great place to find a souvenir to take home!
11. The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
This activity is another one to plan ahead for because the flower fields are only open a certain timeframe each year. But, it is definitely one of the fun things to do with kids in San Diego.
Take a wagon tour pulled by an antique tractor. Or visit the artist gardens and bird aviaries, Cymbidium Orchid Greenhouse, American Flag of Flowers, and many more beautiful flower displays.
Your kids will love the Sweet Pea Maze (don’t worry, it’s not too tall, so you can peak over the side if you get lost).
12. Belmont Park – The Seaside Amusement Park
Among the many family activities in San Diego, this is probably one of the most interesting! Kids love nothing better than an old-fashioned amusement park, and this one is on the beach with a boardwalk! You’ll find common amusement park rides and attractions like bumper cars, a carousel, a roller coaster, and Tilt-A-Whirl.
But there are some rides unique to Belmont Park, such as the Crazy Submarine (and yes, it’s yellow), Beach Blaster, and Control Freak.
When you’re done riding exciting rides, you can walk the boardwalk or eat in one of the different restaurants on the beach. Or just sit and watch the surfers catch some waves, which is what my boys love to do. It is definitely one of the best San Diego attractions for kids to enjoy!
13. Spend A Day On One of the San Diego Beaches
San Diego is known for its beautiful beaches too, so you’ll want to spend a day at Moonlight Beach in San Diego County, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, or Coronado Central Beach.
Moonlight Beach is a California State Park, and Coronado Central Beach is popular with beachcombers, surfers, swimmers, and people who just want to sunbathe on the beach. In fact, you can even take a surf lesson! On the other hand, Mission Beach also has a historical amusement park that kids will love!
Other San Diego beaches worth visiting with the kids include; La Jolla Shores Beach, the Pacific Beach area, and South Mission Beach if you want to slow down a bit.
It’s the perfect way to relax on your San Diego family vacation and a change of scenery from running from one activity to the next. After all, this is supposed to be a vacation, right? Plus, it’s a free San Diego kids' activity all ages can enjoy!
14. Sea Caves Kayak Tours
There’s no better way to explore San Diego's Seven Sea Caves, one of the neatest San Diego attractions than up close in a kayak. Even if you’ve never been kayaking, you can take a tour of the La Jolla Ecological Reserve with a guide.
Home to a flourishing underwater ecosystem, the Ecological Reserve is the place to see Leopard Sharks and even Gray Whales during their annual migration from Alaska to California.
This activity is more suitable to children five years and older, and there are tours with snorkeling, but you must be able to swim at a beginner’s level. One of the more unique activities to enjoy on your San Diego family vacation, it is one your kids will remember for life!
15. Balboa Park – Other Activities
A visit to Balboa Park is another great thing to do in San Diego and it is a toddler-friendly activity. Balboa Park is 1,200 acres of hiking trails, gardens, arts and cultural activities, and more.
You’ll find 17 best museums, performing arts venues, gardens, and other recreational and creative places to visit. San Diego's Balboa Park is also home to the San Diego Zoo and a historic carousel.
There are activities here to keep you busy for days, if not weeks while enjoying your San Diego vacation. And there are many kid-friendly activities like:
- San Diego Model Railroad Museum
- Museum of Us
- Japanese Friendship Garden
- San Diego Air and Space Museum
- Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater
- Pepper Grove Playground
- Fleet Science Center
- San Diego Natural History Museum
And many more fun places to visit. The kids won’t be bored here!
If you're in the area for the holidays, Balboa Park has a free holiday festival in early December. December Nights is a two-day festival with live music, amazing food, and all the museums offer free admission.
Other Things To Do In San Diego
But these aren’t the only San Diego attractions for kids. Here are some other fun places to take the kids that aren’t specifically unique to the area. But they are great things to do when visiting San Diego with kids!
16. San Diego SeaWorld
Visit live animal exhibits and shows featuring orcas, belugas, otters, bat rays, sea lions, dolphins, eels, flamingos, and more. You’ll also find special events like the Seven Seas Food Festival or Sesame Street Kids’ Weekends at Sesame Street Bay of Play at certain times of the year.
17. Legoland California
Kids LOVE legos, and seeing them come to life is like a dream come true. Children love San Diego's LEGOLAND, so it’s worth a visit if you’ve never been. There are tons of things to do here like:
- Adventurer’s Club – Journey through the Amazon, Arctic, and ancient Egypt.
- Build and Test Zone
- Coast Cruise
- Coast Guard Build-A-Boat
- Digo Those Dinos
- Duplo Play (a great thing to do with toddlers)
And much more.
18. Aquatica San Diego
Looking for more fun family things to do on your San Diego vacation? Look no further than Aquatica San Diego.
Aquatica is a fun-filled SeaWorld waterpark perfect for the summer weather. You’ll find slides, pools, lazy rivers, and various water rides here, such as Woohoo Falls and the Walhalla Wave.
Getting To San Diego
San Diego has an international airport if you are flying into the city, and from there you can use a ride share or rent a car to get to your hotel.
But if you are in the Los Angeles area, you can also get to San Diego by driving, train, or by bus. In fact, taking a bus from Los Angeles to San Diego is an affordable option, and is just under 2 hours (on the FlixBus) from door to door. A train ride from Los Angeles to San Diego is around $35 one way, and a bus ride is around $15.
A Few More Things To Do In San Diego With Kids
Other fun kids activities in America's Finest City include San Diego seal tours to see more of these cute animals, exploring the USS Midway Museum, picnicking at Waterfront Park, and enjoying the beauty of the San Diego Botanic Garden. Also, take in the Old Town Trolley Tours to get an overview of the city.
We love taking a San Diego seal tour each time we visit this part of California and the whole family enjoyed the USS Midway Museum.
There are so many things to do in San Diego that you could visit every year for years and see different attractions without having to repeat activities. It’s truly a family-friendly location where you can make amazing memories with your kids.
You’ll leave Southern California wishing you could stay forever.
Need more ideas on what to do in San Diego with Kids? Below are some;
- Coronado Island
- Waterfront Park
- Hamilton Children's Garden
- Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
- Petco Park
- Little Italy
- Go on a Whale Watching tour in Mission Bay, Ocean Side, or Downtown San Diego.
- Watch a San Diego Padres game
Frequently Asked Questions About San Diego Activities for Kids
What is there to do in San Diego with a baby?
You could visit places like the Ellen Brown Scripps Park where you can have a picnic or watch the seals and birds. The Birch Aquarium is another great place for babies where they can see fish and other sea creatures up close.
They’ll love the San Diego Zoo too, with all the animals to watch. If your baby sleeps okay in the car, you can also go on a scenic drive up the coast. Many of the activities above are baby-friendly places.
What is free for kids in San Diego?
Besides a relaxing day at the beach, the San Diego Zoo and the LEGOLAND California Theme Park are free for kids three years old and under. Torrey Pines Natural Reserve, Mission Bay Park, and Old Town San Diego State Historic Park are also free places to go. And of course, a beach day is free for kids in San Diego.
Is there anything to do in San Diego with teenagers?
SeaWorld San Diego is a great place for teenagers because it has some great roller coasters your teenager will love. Teenagers will also love visiting the Maritime Museum, San Diego Fly Rides Electric Bike Tours, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, as well as Padres games or trips to the beach. Teens could take a surf lesson at La Jolla Shores or try the Sea Caves Kayak Tour.
Final Thought On The Best Things To Do In San Diego With Kids
San Diego is a great place for a family vacation, or for a stopover to one of the Hawaiian islands. There is so much to do there with kids, toddlers, and teenagers. With its moderate temperatures, San Diego is a year-round destination, and one of our favorite cities in America for kids. Be sure and add San Diego to your USA family bucket list!