20 Fun Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

Theme parks, museums, beaches and more await

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Traveling with children is a different experience. It’s not a bad way to see a new place, but it does require a bit more planning (and a lot more packing) than if you were traveling solo or with a partner or friend. Enter our guide to the best things to do in San Diego with kids. No matter how old your child is or what they’re into, there's a family-friendly activity for them below.

Got a kid who’s a budding master builder? Check into the Legoland Castle Hotel for the night and hit the brick-filled theme park in the morning. Or maybe you you have an older child who’s interested in STEM activities—rest assured that the Fleet Science Center is sure to impress. But let’s not forget about the grown-ups! Whether you want to do some shopping (Seaport Village), sightseeing (Old Town trolley tours) or relaxing (Mission Bay), there are plenty of fun-filled experiences waiting for you and your brood in San Diego.

20 Fun Things to Do with Kids in Los Angeles

1. Explore the San Diego Zoo

  • Location: Balboa Park
  • Why We Recommend It: tons of animals to see, fun rides for all ages, learning experience
  • Price: from $57 per person (children under 2 go free)

If you’ve seen one zoo, you’ve seen them all, right? Wrong. The San Diego Zoo is one of the best zoos in the entire country, not to mention one of the largest (100 acres!). Split up into eight geographic areas, the zoo houses more than 650 different species of animals (including the Amur leopard, the most critically endangered big cat on the planet), making it feel like you’re actually traveling across the world in a single visit. The zoo is hilly so bring the stroller for little kids, or consider exploring the park on a guided bus tour. Got a thrill seeker on your hand? Check out the Skyfari Aerial Tram, while it's all aboard for young adventurers on the miniature train ride. Tip: Because of its size, it's a good idea to download the app before your visit so you can really make the most out of your trip.

2. Swim, Surf and Play in Mission Bay

  • Location: Mission Bay
  • Why We Recommend It: outdoor activities, great for all ages, barbecues and bonfires
  • Price: free

San Diego boasts multiple soft sand beaches, including many that are pet- and family-friendly. The manmade Mission Bay park is a self-proclaimed  4,600-acre aquatic playground that is surrounded by 27 miles of shoreline and one of our favorite beaches for kids. It’s the perfect places for families to enjoy water skiing, wakeboarding, kite surfing and more. Or kick back with your brood and simply relax on the sand (picnics, barbecues and bonfires await).

This is also one of our top recommendations for where to stay in San Diego—San Diego Mission Bay Resort is right by on the beach and provides access to outdoor activity rentals, including bikes, paddleboards, sailboats and more. They also offer family-friendly packages and an on-site kiddie pool in addition to the large pool, plus lots of dining options and kid amenities (hello, milk and cookies in the room).

3. See the Seals and Sea Lions at La Jolla Cove

  • Location: La Jolla
  • Why We Recommend It: natural wildlife, tide pools, beautiful views
  • Price: free

It’s one thing to see the seals at the zoo, but quite another to spot them up close as they lay, play and swim on the beach. La Jolla Cove is a beautiful stretch of shoreline where, yes, you’ll see sea creatures in their natural habitat, but you’ll also find crystal-clear waters, tide pools and soft sands for playing. Note: This isn’t the best beach in San Diego for swimming due to bacteria levels and a strong odor from the seals, and remember to respect the animals—no flash photography and keep your distance.

4. Go Back in Time in Old Town

  • Location: Old Town State Historic Park
  • Why We Recommend It: history, lots of dining options, interactive experiences
  • Price: admission to Old Town and the individual museums is free.

The site of the first European settlement in California, Old Town is a family-fun playground with historic buildings (the Whaley House is said to be haunted!), charming shops featuring items made by local artisans, museums where kids can pan for gold and delicious Mexican cuisine (Fiesta de Reyes is a popular choice for families). Littles will love the many reenactments and demonstrations around (like a working blacksmith shop and brick making), while adults will enjoy learning about the fascinating history of the area.

5. Ride a Rollercoaster at LEGOLAND

  • Location: Carlsbad, CA (about a 30-minute drive from San Diego)
  • Why We Recommend It: water park, rollercoasters, meet-and-greet with LEGO characters
  • Price: from $89 per person

Everything is awesome when your kid gets to enjoy more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions at this Carlsbad theme park that even has a water park to cool off in during the warmer months. We recently explored this kids’ wonderland with a 4-year-old and 1-year-old and both littles had a blast (the big kid got to ride his first roller coaster and the toddler got the wiggles out at the Duplo playgtown). Aimed at families with children between the ages of two and 12, we highly recommend staying at the Legoland Hotel or Legoland Castle Hotel for an experience your kid is unlikely to forget (driving a Lego car and earning their Legoland driver’s license is sure to be another highlight).

6. Blow Their Mind at the Fleet Science Center

  • Location: Balboa Park
  • Why We Recommend It: educational, interactive, great for all ages
  • Price: from $20 per person

Located in Balboa Park, this interactive museum offers lots of hands-on experiences to explore various scientific concepts, like outer space, electricity, optical illusions, video game design and more. Because learning is supposed to be fun, right? Visitors ages five and under will love the engaging Kid City and the Little Learner’s Lab (there’s even an infant crawling area). 

7. Hit the Arcade in Belmont Park

  • Location: Belmont Park
  • Why We Recommend It: lots of dining options, rides for different ages, close to beach
  • Price: free admission; all-day ride passes start from $55 per person

Located in Belmont Park, this Mission Beach institution is a great destination for families with kids of all ages. There’s an arcade, plenty of games, kid-friendly food, tons of rides (bumper cars, roller coasters, a carousel) and seasonal events. Spend the day here and then unwind on the beach afterwards to watch the sun set.

8. Learn Something New at the USS Midway Museum

  • Location: Navy Pier
  • Why We Recommend It: educational, interactive
  • Price: from $21 per person

This historic US Navy aircraft carrier-turned-floating-museum features fascinating exhibits (think: restored aircraft, interactive displays and stories of those served aboard the ship), flight simulators, an engine room and more. While this is a very kid-friendly museum (the control room with all its buttons to push is sure to be a hit!), we think it’s best for kiddos ages 4 and up.

9. Say Hi to Elmo at Sesame Place

  • Location: Chula Vista
  • Why We Recommend It: great for young children and Sesame Street fans, rides, water park
  • Price: from $65 per person

Younger kids (and grown-ups) will love meeting their favorite Sesame Street characters and sitting on Big Bird’s famous 123 Stoop. This recently-opened theme park features lots of rides and attractions, interactive shows and parades, plus a water park that's open during the warmer months. Pro tip: Purchase one of the interactive bubble wands—there are locations around the park for kids to tap the wand and unlock fun surprises.

10. Dive Into the Wonders of the Ocean at Birch Aquarium

  • Location: La Jolla
  • Why We Recommend It: tons of fascinating marine life, great views, interactive
  • Price: from $20 per person

One of the best aquariums in the U.S., Birch Aquarium boasts gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean below and over 60 habitats with species found in the Pacific Northwest all the way to Mexico. Here, future marine biologists can go on a guided tide pool walk, get a behind-the-scenes tour, feel something slippery or spiky in the touch tank, and enjoy the normally private pier at sunset. The blue penguins (the smallest penguins in the world) are too cute and a must-see.

11. Get Inspired at the New Children’s Museum

  • Location: downtown San Diego
  • Why We Recommend It: interactive, special events, lots of arts and crafts
  • Price: from $15 per person

Packed with interactive exhibits and art installations, this kid-friendly museum is designed to encourage imagination and creativity. Those under four will especially appreciate Wobbleland, a toddler-approved exhibit that looks like a big kitchen sink and is filled with soft, giant food sculptures. Check the museum’s calendar before visiting—they often host events like storytime, robot-building and crafts.

12. Hop on Board a Trolley Tour

  • Location: the tour starts in Old Town market
  • Why We Recommend It: fun way to see the city; educational; hop-on, hop-off
  • Price: from $46 per person

Featuring 12 stops, this 25-mile guided tour is a great way for families to explore San Diego’s main attractions at their own pace (and minus the 'my legs are tired' moaning). The tour is narrated with interesting facts and stories (hey, maybe your kid will learn something) and stops include Seaport Village, Old Town, the Gaslamp Quarter, Horton Plaza, Little Italy, Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo.

13. Check Out the Fossils at the San Diego Natural History Museum

  • Location: Balboa Park
  • Why We Recommend It: educational, interactive, great for dino lovers
  • Price: from $14 per person

Did you know that San Diego is one of the most fossil-rich areas in the United States? Explore the natural history of Southern California and Baja California at this expansive museum where kids can learn about dinosaurs, watch scientists at work and marvel at sparkling gems and minerals. Young explorers also have the chance to meet some of the region’s not-so-cuddly residents in Living Lab (think: rattlesnakes, a Gila monster, centipedes and more).

14. Go Stargazing at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

  • Location: within the Colorado Desert of southern California
  • Why We Recommend It: beautiful landscape, outdoor activities, stargazing
  • Price: $10 per vehicle, per day

California’s largest state park lies about two hours northeast of San Diego and features striking badlands, natural palm oases, slot canyons, wildflowers and breathtaking landscapes. Adventure-seekers can go hiking, biking, horseback riding and camping here, the latter activity offering excellent opportunities for stargazing.

15. Catch a Game at Petco Park

  • Location: downtown San Diego
  • Why We Recommend It: great for baseball fans, kid-friendly food options, off-season tours
  • Price: varies, tickets to games start around $15 per person

Root for the San Diego Padres at Petco Park during the season, while chowing down on hot dogs, ice cream, nachos and more. During off-season, baseball fans can go on guided tours to get behind-the-scenes glimpses of the park, including the Padres Hall of Fame.

16. Go Hiking at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

  • Location: off North Torrey Pines Road
  • Why We Recommend It: beautiful wild scenery, great views, natural wildlife, easy hiking
  • Price: free

This coastal hike is perfect for young families, with easy-ish trails and plenty of beautiful sea views, flora and fauna (including the the iconic Torrey Pines trees) to spot along the way. Depending on the time of year, you may also see whales from the top. The trail ends at the beach, where you and the fam can play and splash away.

17. Check Out the Cabrillo National Monument

  • Location: Point Loma
  • Why We Recommend It: educational, great views, tide pools
  • Price: $10 per person

Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the expedition of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who is said to have been the first European explorer to sail up the California coast. The site boasts gorgeous views of the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean (where whale spotting is possible), as well as a visitor center, scenic trails and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse that’s open to the public. It’s not all history and learning here though—kids will also love exploring the tide pools and discovering the creatures that live there.

18. Grab an Ice Cream at Seaport Village

  • Location: Seaport Village
  • Why We Recommend It: shopping, lots of dining options, outdoor activities
  • Price: free

This shopping and dining hub has plenty to offer families, including souvenir boutiques, kid-friendly eateries (don’t miss grabbing a cone at the Seaport Fudge Factory) and a historic hand-carved carousel. While it's located by the water, there are no beach areas but there is a lush park that's great for kite flying and picnicking.

19. Drive Across the Coronado Bridge

  • Location: from San Diego to Coronado Island
  • Why We Recommend It: great views, beaches, outdoor activities
  • Price: free

The long bridge to Coronado Island is seriously impressive, as are the sandy shores that will greet you upon your arrival to the island. Spend a lazy afternoon here swimming (there are year-round lifeguards), playing volleyball, exploring tide pools and fishing, then watch the sun set while toasting s'mores.

20. Hit the Playgrounds at Balboa Park

  • Location: Balboa Park
  • Why We Recommend It: museums, outdoor space, playgrounds, lots of dining options
  • Price: free

This 1,200-acre park has plenty of notable attractions and museums to impress young minds, but if you just need someplace to go where they can run around and expend some of that energy, there's plenty of space for that, too. Walk through any of the lush gardens on the premise or try one of the easier trails (the Japanese Friendship Garden is a popular destination). There are also multiple playgrounds to explore. After a morning of climbing the monkey bars, grab lunch at one of the many restaurants dotted around the park.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...