12 Things to Do for Families in San Diego: Kid-Friendly Attractions

by Jen
Best Things to Do for Families in San Diego
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Considering a family getaway? It’s time to think about visiting San Diego! This Southern Californian gem offers a blend of sun-soaked beaches, vibrant cultural hubs, and adventures that rank among the best family-friendly activities. Whether you’re in the mood for thrills, relaxation, or a mix of both, we compiled a list of the best things to do for families in San Diego to help you plan a memorable vacation!

Sun-kissed beaches, playful sea lions, and street tacos. Welcome to San Diego, a coastal paradise that beckons families to dive into its vibrant tapestry of experiences. Often dubbed “America’s Finest City,” San Diego is more than just its postcard-perfect beaches; it’s a treasure trove of adventures waiting to be discovered. From the world-famous San Diego Zoo where exotic animals roam, to the historic corridors of Balboa Park, every corner of this city tells a story.

Imagine your kids’ eyes lighting up as they build towering structures at LEGOLAND, or their wonder as they touch starfish at the Birch Aquarium. Picture a day when history comes alive at Belmont Park, only to end with a scoop of ice cream from Hammond’s as the sun sets over the Pacific. San Diego truly has it all when it comes to a fun family vacation.

Beyond the attractions, it’s the spirit of San Diego that captivates. A laid-back vibe, friendly locals, and a culture that celebrates both its Spanish roots and contemporary innovations. Whether you’re a family seeking thrill rides, beach days, or a touch of history, San Diego promises an unforgettable journey. Now, let’s explore all the things to do in San Diego with kids.

The top places to visit for families in San Diego right now
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Best Things to Do for Families in San Diego

San Diego is more than just a typical vacation spot; it’s a treasure trove of experiences. From bustling city attractions to serene natural getaways, San Diego has it all. Discover unique San Diego places to visit with families that will leave you in awe.

Are you drawn to cultural landmarks or perhaps seeking a peaceful retreat amidst nature? No matter your preference, the must sees in San Diego are sure to cater to your desires. Dive into our curated list of the best attractions in San Diego for families and let the adventures begin!

1. Spy on Wildlife at San Diego Zoo

Fun things to do in San Diego with kids often start with a visit to the world-renowned San Diego Zoo. Nestled in the heart of Balboa Park, this iconic attraction is more than just a zoo—it’s a vibrant ecosystem teeming with life and stories. With over 3,500 animals from more than 650 species, every path you take leads to a new discovery. From the playful antics of the giant pandas to the regal stride of the African lions, each animal has a tale waiting to be told.

When visiting San Diego, the zoo stands out as a testament to the city’s dedication to wildlife conservation and education. Beyond the animal exhibits, the zoo offers immersive experiences like the Jungle Ropes Safari, where you can navigate challenging rope courses high above the ground. For those looking for a more relaxed experience, the Skyfari aerial tram provides a bird’s-eye view of the entire park. This allows you to spot animals from a unique vantage point.

But the magic of the San Diego Zoo lies in its smaller moments: the joy of a child as they spot their favorite animal, the informative talks by passionate zookeepers, and the serene ambiance of the botanical gardens. It’s these moments that transform a simple zoo visit into a cherished memory.

Exploring San Diego Zoo is one of the best things to do for families in San Diego.
Discover the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, a vibrant ecosystem with over 3,500 animals from 650 species.

2. Brush Up Your Building Skills at LEGOLAND California Resort

LEGOLAND California Resort is more than just a theme park; it’s a realm where imagination and creativity reign supreme. Located a short drive from San Diego, this LEGO-themed park offers a plethora of attractions. It’s tailored for kids aged 2 to 12. This makes it a favorite attraction among families.

Travelers wondering where to visit in San Diego with family will have the time of their lives in LEGOLAND. With over 60 rides, shows, and attractions, every member of the family is guaranteed a day filled with excitement. From the exhilarating Dragon Coaster to the interactive LEGO Ninjago The Ride, there’s an adventure waiting at every corner.

One of the best things to do for families in San Diego is to explore the park’s themed zones. Venture into Pirate Shores, where water rides promise a splashy good time. Immerse yourself in the ancient world of Land of Adventure. And for the little builders, the Build & Test zone offers a space to create their own LEGO masterpieces. But the fun doesn’t stop there! The SEA LIFE Aquarium and the LEGOLAND Water Park provide additional avenues for entertainment, ensuring a full day of fun.

Experience the creative wonderland of LEGOLAND California Resort, where imagination comes to life.
Experience the creative wonderland of LEGOLAND California Resort, where imagination comes to life.

3. Discover Marine Wonders at Birch Aquarium

Perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Birch Aquarium offers families a mesmerizing journey into the marine world. As an integral part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, this marine haven not only showcases the beauty of the ocean but also emphasizes its significance in our ecosystem.

Dive into the diverse exhibits, and you’ll quickly find answers to the question of what to do in San Diego for families. The Giant Kelp Forest, a captivating two-story, 70,000-gallon tank, stands out, offering a glimpse into the dynamic underwater forest ecosystem. From the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical realms of Mexico, the aquarium houses over 60 habitats teeming with fishes and invertebrates.

Interactive touch pools present a hands-on experience. This allows both kids and adults to feel the textures of tide pool creatures, from spiky sea urchins to velvety starfish. Beyond the indoor wonders, the Birch Aquarium organizes outdoor tide pool excursions, letting families explore local marine life in its authentic setting.

More than just providing family-fun entertainment, the aquarium is a hub of marine education and conservation, driving home the importance of preserving our oceans for future generations. It’s a blend of fun, learning, and a call to action. This make the Birch Aquarium a cherished destination for families visiting San Diego.

Visit the Birch Aquarium, offering families an immersive marine experience, highlighting ocean beauty and importance in our ecosystem.
Visit the Birch Aquarium, offering families an immersive marine experience, highlighting ocean beauty and importance in our ecosystem.

4. Go Museum Hopping at Balboa Park

A must see in San Diego, Balboa Park stands as a testament to the city’s rich history and cultural diversity. Spanning 1,200 acres, this urban cultural park is a blend of lush gardens, walking paths, museums, and theaters. This makes it a haven for both nature lovers and culture enthusiasts. It’s truly the epitome of San Diego for kids.

The park’s architecture, influenced by Spanish Colonial Revival, adds a touch of grandeur, transporting visitors to a bygone era. As you stroll through the park, the melodious tunes from the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, home to one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, might serenade you.

For those wondering about Fun San Diego things to do for families, Balboa Park offers a plethora of options. The San Diego Air & Space Museum ignites the curiosity of budding astronauts, while the San Diego Natural History Museum takes you on a journey through time, showcasing the region’s biodiversity. The park also houses the San Diego Zoo, a world-famous attraction in its own right. With art studios, puppet theaters, and carousel rides, there’s something for every family member to enjoy.

Explore Balboa Park, an urban oasis with gardens, museums, and theaters appealing to nature and culture enthusiasts alike.
Explore Balboa Park, an urban oasis with gardens, museums, and theaters appealing to nature and culture enthusiasts alike.

5. Get Your Fill of Nautical History at San Diego’s Maritime Museum

For families seeking unique activities in San Diego, the Maritime Museum offers a voyage into the city’s rich nautical history. Located along the picturesque waterfront, this museum is not confined to a building but spans several historic ships, each with its own tale to tell.

Step aboard the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship, and feel the weight of history beneath your feet. Its creaking decks and billowing sails transport visitors back to the 19th century. This allows a glimpse into the life of sailors from a bygone era.

The museum’s collection also includes submarines, steam-powered boats, and even a replica of the San Salvador. This ship is the one that explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed when he discovered San Diego in 1542. Each vessel offers interactive exhibits, ensuring an immersive experience for visitors of all ages.

For families searching for the coolest activities in San Diego for families, the museum frequently hosts special events, from pirate-themed days to sea chantey festivals. These events, combined with the museum’s regular exhibits, ensure that every visit is a new adventure. Whether you’re a history buff, a maritime enthusiast, or simply looking for a unique experience, the Maritime Museum promises a journey like no other. Is this one of the best family things to do in San Diego? You bet!

Embark on a maritime journey at the Maritime Museum—a collection of historic ships along the waterfront.
Embark on a maritime journey at the Maritime Museum—a collection of historic ships along the waterfront.

6. Unleash Your Inner Scientist at the Fleet Science Center

Among the best places in San Diego for budding scientists and curious minds, the Fleet Science Center stands out. Located in the heart of Balboa Park, this interactive science museum offers a plethora of exhibits that make learning fun and engaging. It’s one of the top things to do in San Diego with kids, and it’s easy to see why.

Dive into the world of science and discover fun places in San Diego for families to learn and play. The center’s hands-on exhibits cover a range of topics, from the mysteries of the human body to the wonders of outer space. Whether you’re building a rocket, exploring the principles of physics, or delving into the world of cells, every exhibit is designed to spark curiosity.

The Fleet Science Center also boasts the world’s first IMAX Dome Theater. This is where visitors can immerse themselves in breathtaking films that transport them from the depths of the ocean to the far reaches of the cosmos. And for younger kids, the Kid City exhibit offers a playful space to learn about the world around them. Beyond the exhibits, the center frequently hosts workshops, camps, and special events, ensuring there’s always something new to explore!

Exploring Fleet Science Center is one of the best things to do for families in San Diego.
Fleet Science Center is a haven for curious minds. It offers interactive exhibits that make learning engaging and fun.

7. Relive Amusement Park Classics at Belmont Park

One of the fun places in San Diego to visit, Belmont Park is a historic oceanfront amusement park that has been delighting families for over a century. Located in Mission Beach, this iconic park combines the charm of classic rides with modern attractions. This ensures a perfect blend of nostalgia and excitement.

From the vintage Giant Dipper roller coaster, which has been thrilling riders since 1925, to the adrenaline-pumping Beach Blaster, there’s a ride for every thrill level. Kids can test their skills at the various arcade games, win prizes, and even try their hand at mini-golf.

The park’s beachfront location means you’re never far from the ocean. After a few rides, families can relax on the sandy shores. They can indulge in some beach volleyball or simply watch the waves crash against the pier. It’s this blend of amusement and natural beauty that makes Belmont Park a unique destination.

For those wondering about the best things to do for families in San Diego, Belmont Park offers a comprehensive experience. With its range of rides, games, dining options, and beach activities, it promises a day filled with fun, laughter, and cherished memories.

Belmont Park is a historic oceanfront amusement park that seamlessly merges classic rides with modern attractions.
Belmont Park is a historic oceanfront amusement park that seamlessly merges classic rides with modern attractions.

8. Navigate the Tides at Cabrillo Tide Pools

A round-up of the best things to do in San Diego with kids wouldn’t be complete without a visit here.

Nestled within the Cabrillo National Monument, the Cabrillo Tide Pools offer a window into the vibrant marine life of San Diego’s coastline. These naturally formed pools, carved out by the ebb and flow of the ocean, are teeming with a variety of sea creatures, from colorful starfish and anemones to elusive octopuses.

As the tide recedes, it reveals a fascinating underwater world waiting to be explored. Families can wander among the pools, gently touching the marine life and observing their behaviors in their natural habitat. It’s a hands-on, educational experience that captivates both kids and adults.

For those on the hunt for the coolest San Diego things to do for families, the Cabrillo Tide Pools stand out as a unique and enriching destination. The location offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, the San Diego skyline, and even distant mountains on clear days.

To enhance the experience, the nearby Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center provides insightful information about the tide pools, the history of the area, and the significance of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s exploration.

Cabrillo Tide Pool provides a glimpse of the coastal marine life, featuring naturally carved pools teeming with diverse sea creatures.
Cabrillo Tide Pool provides a glimpse of the coastal marine life, featuring naturally carved pools teeming with diverse sea creatures.

9. Delight in the Flavors of Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream

In the sunny climes of San Diego, there’s nothing quite like the refreshing taste of ice cream to beat the heat. And when it comes to artisanal, handcrafted flavors, Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream is in a league of its own. Located in the vibrant neighborhoods of North Park, Pacific Beach, and Point Loma, Hammond’s is a sweet haven for dessert lovers.

For those seeking unique places in San Diego for families, Hammond’s offers an ice cream tasting adventure unlike any other. With over 300 rotating flavors, every visit promises a new taste sensation. From tropical delights like passion fruit and lychee to classic favorites such as cookies and cream, the choices are endless. And for the adventurous, flavors like lavender and balsamic vinegar beckon.

The experience of savoring these delights in a quaint, retro-inspired parlor adds to the charm. Its cheerful decor and friendly staff further enhance the ambiance. Pair your ice cream with their freshly baked waffle cones, and you have a recipe for pure bliss. It’s a sweet journey that families will cherish. This makes Hammond’s a must-visit on any San Diego itinerary.

Discover Hammond's Gourmet Ice Cream, offering artisanal and handcrafted flavors.
Discover Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream, offering artisanal and handcrafted flavors.

10. Learn About the Stars and Beyond at Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

One of the best places in San Diego for families with a passion for science and discovery, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center offers a universe of exploration right in the heart of Balboa Park. This interactive science museum is a hub of innovation, with exhibits that both educate and entertain.

From the mysteries of the human body to the vastness of outer space, the center’s exhibits cover a wide range of scientific topics. The Tinkering Studio allows visitors to get hands-on, building and experimenting with various materials, while the Kid City is perfect for younger children. This offers a playful space to learn about the world around them.

The center’s IMAX Dome Theater is a highlight. This showcases breathtaking films that transport viewers from the depths of the ocean to distant galaxies. With its state-of-the-art projection system and immersive sound, it’s an experience that captivates all senses.

For families visiting the city, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center stands out as one of the best things to do with kids in San Diego. More than just a museum, it’s a place where curiosity is ignited, questions are encouraged, and the wonders of science come to life.

Discover a universe of exploration at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, where science and entertainment collide. | Source: Source: https://www.spitzinc.com/
Discover a universe of exploration at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, where science and entertainment collide. | Source: Source: https://www.spitzinc.com/

11. Discover Mysterious Artifacts at the San Diego Museum of Man

Situated within the iconic California Tower in Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Man invites visitors on a journey through time, exploring the diverse cultures and histories of humankind.

A treasure trove for history enthusiasts, the museum offers a range of exhibits that highlight cool destinations in San Diego for families. From ancient Egyptian artifacts, including real mummies, to the intricate designs of Mayan civilization, every exhibit tells a story of our shared human heritage. The museum also delves into topics like the evolution of humans, the history of beer brewing, and the significance of race in contemporary society.

Interactive displays ensure that kids remain engaged, allowing them to touch, play, and learn. The museum’s dedication to education is evident in its range of workshops, guided tours, and special events that cater to visitors of all ages.

For those seeking a combination of history, culture, and interactive learning, the San Diego Museum of Man stands out. It’s a place where the past meets the present. Paying a visit to this knowledge-packed place is one of the most unique things to do in San Diego.

Explore a blend of history, culture, and interactive learning at the San Diego Museum of Man, a captivating journey where the past and present intertwine.
Explore a blend of history, culture, and interactive learning at the San Diego Museum of Man, a captivating journey where the past and present intertwine.

12. Marvel at Fantastic Flora at the San Diego Botanic Garden

Tucked away in Encinitas, the San Diego Botanic Garden is a lush oasis that showcases the beauty and diversity of plant life from around the world. Spanning 37 acres, the garden is a living canvas of vibrant colors, unique textures, and aromatic scents.

For those pondering the best places to go in San Diego for families, the Botanic Garden offers an enchanting escape. With over 29 themed gardens, families can wander through tropical rainforests, admire the splendor of desert blooms, or relax by serene lily ponds. Each garden is meticulously designed, providing a sensory experience that captivates both young and old.

Among the best things to do for families in San Diego, the garden hosts a range of educational programs and workshops. The Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden and the Hamilton Children’s Garden are specially designed for kids. This offers interactive play areas, art activities, and even a treehouse. Throughout the year, the garden also organizes special events, from butterfly releases to plant sales. This ensures there’s always something new to discover.

Is this one of the things to do with kids in San Diego that will bring fun for the whole family? You bet!

Explore San Diego Botanic Garden is one of the best things to do for families in San Diego.
Explore San Diego Botanic Garden, a lush oasis that exhibits the beauty and diversity of global plant life through vibrant colors, textures, and scents.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Things to Do for Families in San Diego

Looking for more content on the top things to do in San Diego for families? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to San Diego:

What should I do with kids in San Diego?

San Diego is a family-friendly destination with a myriad of activities for kids. Here are some top recommendations for things to do with kids in San Diego:

  1. San Diego Zoo & Safari Park: Recognized as one of the world’s best zoos, the San Diego Zoo offers a chance to see a diverse array of animals, including pandas, elephants, and more. The Safari Park is a separate facility where you can experience a more open and naturalistic setting.
  2. LEGOLAND California Resort: Located in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego, this theme park is perfect for younger children with interactive Lego-themed rides and attractions.
  3. SeaWorld San Diego: Kids can enjoy thrilling rides, shows, and up-close encounters with marine animals like orcas, dolphins, and sea lions.
  4. Beaches: San Diego boasts beautiful beaches. La Jolla Shores, Coronado Beach, and Mission Beach are popular choices. Consider tide pooling, building sandcastles, or simply enjoying the ocean waves.
  5. Balboa Park: This expansive park offers gardens, playgrounds, and several family-friendly museums like the San Diego Natural History Museum and Fleet Science Center.
  6. USS Midway Museum: Explore the retired aircraft carrier and learn about naval history. Kids can tour the ship, check out the aircraft on the deck, and participate in interactive exhibits.
  7. Belmont Park: This beachfront amusement park in Mission Beach offers classic rides like the Giant Dipper roller coaster, arcade games, and fun food options.
  8. Birch Aquarium: Located in La Jolla, this aquarium offers interactive exhibits, touch pools, and a chance to see seahorses, sharks, and other marine life.

What are the top attractions for families in San Diego?

San Diego boasts a plethora of family-friendly attractions, including the San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND California Resort, Belmont Park, and the Maritime Museum. Each offers a unique experience, making San Diego a favorite destination for families.

Are there any free activities for families in the city?

Yes, San Diego has several free attractions. Families can enjoy the beautiful beaches. They can also visit the scenic La Jolla Cove to spot seals and sea lions. Alternatively, they can take a stroll in Balboa Park. This park offers free access to its gardens and some of its attractions on select days.

Witness the enchanting transformation of La Jolla Cove at sunset, where the golden hues of the sun meet the tranquil expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
Witness the enchanting transformation of La Jolla Cove at sunset. It’s where the golden hues of the sun meet the tranquil expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

What part of San Diego is good for families?

San Diego offers several neighborhoods and areas that are particularly family-friendly, each offering its unique charm and amenities. Here are some top choices for families:

  1. Carmel Valley: Located in the northern part of the city, Carmel Valley is known for its excellent schools, parks, and family-friendly community events. It’s also relatively close to the beaches of Del Mar.
  2. Scripps Ranch: A tranquil residential community with tree-lined streets, Scripps Ranch is known for its tight-knit community feel, parks, and top-rated schools.
  3. Poway: Often referred to as “The City in the Country”, Poway has a mix of suburban and more rural areas. It boasts excellent schools, parks, and recreational opportunities, including Lake Poway.
  4. Rancho Bernardo: A master-planned community that offers numerous amenities, from parks to shopping centers, and is recognized for its family-oriented environment and schools.
  5. La Jolla: While it’s on the pricier side, La Jolla offers a picturesque coastal setting, good schools, parks, and family-friendly beaches like La Jolla Shores.
  6. Coronado: Located on a peninsula, Coronado has a small-town feel with beautiful beaches, parks, and a top-rated school system. The community is close-knit, with many family events held throughout the year.

Is San Diego safe for family vacations?

San Diego is generally considered safe for tourists, including families. As with any major city, it’s essential to stay aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas. It’s important to follow general safety precautions.

What’s the best time of year to visit San Diego with kids?

San Diego has a pleasant climate year-round. However, the months between March and May and between September and November are particularly favorable. The weather is mild, and attractions are less crowded compared to the peak summer months.

Why is San Diego a top choice for family vacations?

San Diego offers a mix of natural beauty, cultural attractions, and fun-filled activities. Its diverse range of attractions, from beaches to museums, makes it one of the best things to do for families in San Diego. The city’s family-friendly vibe ensures a memorable vacation for visitors of all ages.

Where can I take my kids for free in San Diego?

San Diego is a city that offers numerous free attractions and activities for families. Here are some top spots and activities where you can take your kids for free:

  1. Beaches: San Diego has miles of beautiful coastline. Popular family-friendly beaches include La Jolla Shores, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and Coronado Beach.
  2. Balboa Park: While some of the museums have an admission fee, the park itself, with its gardens, playgrounds, and architecture, is free to explore. The park often hosts free events and performances, especially on Sundays.
  3. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park: Step back in time and explore California’s history. There are free museums, historic buildings, and often, live performances.
  4. La Jolla Cove: Apart from the beach, you can often see seals and sea lions lounging on the rocks.
  5. Seaport Village: Walk around, enjoy the atmosphere, and watch the street performers. The views of the bay are fantastic.
  6. San Diego Public Libraries: Many branches have scheduled story times and other free children’s programming.
  7. Summer Movies in the Park: During the summer, many local parks host free outdoor movie nights. Just bring a blanket and some snacks!
  8. Fly a Kite at Tecolote Shores North Park: This open area in Mission Bay is a perfect spot for kite flying.

Final Thoughts for Families Exploring San Diego

San Diego, with its sun-kissed beaches, vibrant cultural scene, and a plethora of family-friendly attractions, truly stands out as a premier destination for family vacations. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature at the San Diego Botanic Garden, delve into the city’s rich maritime history, or simply relax on its pristine beaches, there’s something for every family member to enjoy.

The city’s commitment to education, conservation, and entertainment ensures that every visit is both fun and enlightening. As you plan your next family getaway, consider the diverse range of experiences that San Diego offers. From its iconic zoo to its interactive science centers, the best things to do for families in San Diego are not hard to find. Pack your bags, gather your loved ones, and embark on a memorable adventure in this Southern Californian gem.

The top things to do for families in San Diego for all types of travelers
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