park facing san diego city

6 Exciting Things To Do In San Diego With Kids

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Visit San Diego with kids for the ultimate family vacation! San Diego is a popular tourist destination no matter your age, as it’s not known as America’s Finest City for nothing, but it’s also one of the most family-friendly cities in the country.

things to do in san diego with kids

What To Do In San Diego With Kids

There is no bad time to visit San Diego and you will have no struggle finding fun things to do as a family during your visit.

To help you plan your stay, check out this guide to six top things to do with kids in San Diego to keep kids of all ages happy. 

1. San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is on most San Diego itineraries as places you should visit not only with your family but no matter who you’re travelling with. 

While the zoo recently lost its biggest stars, the giant pandas, it remains a world-class institution known for its conservation efforts.

The pandas had to be returned to China following years of research into their habits and the zoo’s panda mating program. Six panda babies were born over the years at the San Diego Zoo, which is pretty special. 

If you’re really looking to treat the family, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is another fantastic option to see animals in more of natural habitat.

While not as centrally located, it’s well worth the drive up to Escondido, north of the city.

  • Address: 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego within Balboa Park
  • Open Times: 9 AM to 6 PM daily

2. LEGOLAND California

If you’re travelling with kids who love all things LEGO, you really can’t miss out on LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego.

The rides are geared towards younger visitors, but even adults will love the atmosphere.

You will find miniature cities all made out of LEGO, and opportunities for you and the kids to build your own creations. 

LEGOLAND Water Park California

If you’re travelling in the summer months and have more time for your visit, you can tack on a day at the LEGOLAND Water Park, or even an afternoon at the SEA LIFE Aquarium.

The fish here are real, not made out of LEGO.

There are park hopper packages for all three for some cost savings on your LEGO adventures. 

While not as centrally located, it’s well worth the drive up to Escondido, north of the city.

  • Address: One Legoland Dr, Carlsbad
  • Open Times: Varies. Check the website for exact times.

3. Balboa Park

Another iconic area of the city, Balboa Park is the cultural heart of San Diego, with a number of museums for you to choose from depending on everyone’s interest areas. 

The San Diego Natural History Museum is popular for dinosaur lovers, with interactive exhibits on fossil hunting.

The San Diego Air and Space Museum, affiliated with the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution, will top the wish lists of anyone interested in airplanes and simulators of some of the world’s most important aircrafts. 

Balboa park San Diego spanish inspired building

More active families will love all of the trails connecting different areas of the park, including a historic cactus garden.

Just make sure you look, don’t touch, when wandering through those cacti. 

Balboa Park is also perfect for whiling away an afternoon.

The people-watching is great, and there are lots of options for you as far as keeping the family fed and happy after all of that museum exploring.

While not as centrally located, it’s well worth the drive up to Escondido, north of the city.

  • Address: The centre of Balboa Park is located at 1549 El Prado, San Diego.
  • Open Times: Open 24 hours, however see individual attractions for their opening times.

4. The Beaches

As a coastal city, San Diego is known for its beautiful beaches, and you and your family can easily choose one – or more if you have the time – to spend a day.

Coronado is a popular option for soft sand and calm waters, with the backdrop of the famous Hotel del Coronado.

If you’re lucky, you may see some sandcastles while you’re there, as it’s popular among the city’s sand sculpture artists.

The scenic drive over the Coronado Bridge is a fun activity on its own.

Once you’re there, Coronado proper has lots of options for dining, too.  

La Jolla san diego coastline

The beaches of La Jolla are another popular option. If you’re looking for fun in the sun and sand, La Jolla Shores will be your best bet.

Don’t miss out on The Children’s Pool, a cove that has been taken over by a local seal population.

You can’t swim here, but the kids will love checking out these sunbathing marine mammals.

While not as centrally located, it’s well worth the drive up to Escondido, north of the city.

5. The Maritime Museum and Waterfront Park

Any kids with pirate aspirations will love a visit to the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

The museum consists of not one but several ships that you can board and explore.

The star of the show is the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship. This ship has been around since 1863. 

Once you’re done exploring the sea vessels, you’ll have plenty of food options in nearby Little Italy, along with beautiful views of the harbour and Waterfront Park.

San Diego waterfront park and city view

The park is fun for kids who love a good playground and parents who want to occupy the little ones for a while before moving on to the next thing.

If it’s a particularly hot day, the kids can even splash around at some of the water features there.

  • Address: 1492 N Harbor Dr, San Diego
  • Open Times: 10 AM to 5 PM daily

6. Julian Day Trip

If you’re looking for a great day trip while visiting San Diego, Julian is a great option, particularly if you’re travelling in the fall months. 

Home to the best apple pie you’ll find in the region, things to do in Julian also include apple picking, panning for gold at the Eagle and High Peak Mine, and a visit to the California Wolf Center.

The centre is a conservation and research site for wild wolf packs. 

A pie crawl to find your favourite apple pie is also highly recommended.

The Julian Pie Company and Mom’s compete for the local favourite.

You can taste them, though, to decide for yourself!

Other Day Trip Ideas From San Diego

Anaheim

Head to Anaheim for a day of Disneyland park fun or a chance to explore this beautiful, tidy city. There are great restaurants in Anaheim and plenty of family fun attractions at the Anaheim Garden Walk.

It takes approximately 1.5 hours from San Diego to Anaheim by car.

Los Angeles

Or travel a little further, with Los Angeles situated just under 2 hours from San Diego.

Stroll the Hollywood walk of fame, visit one of the many celebrity themed museums or enjoy a day of theme parks or beaches in Los Angeles.

Tijuana

Head over the border to Mexico for a visit to Tijuana. It takes approximately 30 minutes by car.

We recommend taking a guided day trip though if you are new to visiting Mexico and want to ensure a safe and fun family visit across the Mexican border.

How to get around San Diego with kids

San Diego Family Vacation Tips & Planning

Plan the perfect visit to San Diego with kids by preparing ahead of time with accommodation and transport:

Best Kid Friendly Hotels In San Diego

If you’re a family on a budget, consider finding accommodations outside of San Diego’s downtown and beach neighbourhoods.

The scenery won’t be as good, but lodging around Hotel Circle in Mission Valley will likely save you a few bucks.

And you’ll still be close to all of the attractions you won’t want to miss. 

Alternatively, an Airbnb can be a great alternative to hotels in San Diego with kids, since you can often find a place with a little extra space and facilities.

How To Get Around San Diego

As far as transportation, while San Diego does have a few options for public transportation, including a network of buses and trolleys, you’ll be better served with a car to get you and your family from point A to point B.

It will be most efficient, and you can pack all of those necessary car snacks that way, too. 

Check out more inspiration for Southern California and beyond:

Book The Essentials

  • Book your flights – We use Skyscanner to research and book flights. You can set up a price alert for your travel dates, plus it compares most major airlines in one place.
  • Book your Accommodation – We use Booking.com or Hotels Combined to book most of our hotel accommodation when we travel.
  • Book your tours & attractions – Our favourite attraction and tour booking services are Get Your Guide and Viator. Booking ahead will mean you don’t miss out on popular tours!

Author Bio: Agnes is the person behind Travel on the Reg, a travel blog focused on sharing her collected wisdom and (hopefully) amusing truths about travel when it’s done in a regular way. A Chicago native, Agnes moved to San Diego, America’s Finest City, in 2014, and has been enjoying the sunshine ever since.