Things to do in San Diego with kids
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With world class museums, delicious restaurants, beautiful beaches, fun theme parks, and tourist attractions galore, there is plenty to keep families occupied for a few days or several weeks in San Diego. We spent a week there when our kids were ages 7 and 9, and we had an absolute blast. We didn’t do all of the things on this list, but we were able to hit most of these attractions in the time we had. With so many fun things to do in San Diego with kids, we definitely left wanting to come back again!

Visit the beach! Things to do in San Diego CA
Time for some fun in the sun!

Read on to find out what adventures await in this family-friendly city.

Things to know before you visit San Diego with kids

There are two things before we get to the list that we highly recommend if you are going to visit San Diego and the surrounding area. First, have a car, whether it is your own or a rental. No matter where you stay in the area, you’ll want to be able to easily get to all of these destinations, and some of them can be a bit of a drive.

Second, equip yourself with a Go San Diego card or a Southern California CityPass to save yourself some time and money. Most of the attractions in this post we did at a discount with our Go San Diego Card. They really are a great deal!

Now, on to a list of some of the most fun things you can do with kids in San Diego.

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Things to do with kids in San Diego

The San Diego Zoo

Unique things to do in San Diego - visit the San Diego ZooIf you are a fan of zoos, the San Diego Zoo is a must. It’s simply one of the top things to do in San Diego.

Things to do in San Diego for kids - visit the babies at the zoo.
A baby giraffe just a few days old.

Our kids both absolutely loved our experience there. Since we visited in early June, we were lucky enough to see some of the new babies that had recently been born, like a baby giraffe and a baby koala. Cuteness overload!Things to do in San Diego for kids - Koala's at the San Diego Zoo

Things you have to do in San Diego - visit the zoo.
Hangin’ out at the San Diego Zoo.

Be prepared to spend a full day there (we spent 9 hours), and wear comfortable shoes. The San Diego Zoo is HUGE! And, there’s a lot of walking. Some of the highlights of the zoo for us were the pandas and the koalas, along with many other species you won’t find in your average zoo. Don’t miss the apes…or the polar bears…or the elephants…or, you know, just see it all.Visit the San Diego Zoo - cool things to do in San Diego.

The San Diego Zoo can be an overwhelming place to visit, so definitely stop by their website before you plan your trip. There you can find information on special VIP experiences, and they can help you plan your day.

Balboa Park

So, it turns out that Balboa Park is THE place to be in San Diego and one of the top things to do with kids in San Diego. The zoo is located there, as well as gardens, activity centers, restaurants, a carousel and miniature railroad, an awesome outdoor pipe organ, and about a dozen or more amazing museums. This easily makes Balboa Park one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids.

For the sporty types, there are hiking and biking trails, as well as a golf course. You’d have enough to do in Balboa Park alone for weeks. Be sure to check out their website before your visit to see if there are any special performances or exhibits happening during your stay.

Old Town San Diego

Fun things to do in San Diego CA - Old Town
Old Town San Diego

We thought we’d just grab a bite of some amazing Mexican food in Old Town, but little did we know that there is so much more to this district than homemade tortillas and margaritas. If you really want to explore San Diego with kids, head to Old Town.

First, we enjoyed an excellent meal at Cafe Coyote. We loved the food and the atmosphere, but like so many things in San Diego, the kids are never forgotten. For completing their coloring pages and games on the kids’ menu, they received a free piece of candy at the shop next door. I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t love a store that has literally BARRELS of candy.

Not only are there plenty of places to eat, but as we wandered after lunch, we discovered shops, art, local artists and artisans, music, and more in this historic district. In fact, as California’s first settlement, this historic state park dates back to 1769. Don’t miss this amazing place on your next visit to San Diego!

Sea World

We opted to skip Sea World on our week long trip to San Diego, but Sea World is always one of the most popular attractions in San Diego for families. We have been to Sea World San Antonio several times, which made it less of a priority for us on this trip, but if you’ve never been, we encourage you to check this one out.

We have always found Sea World to be an educational and entertaining experience for the whole family. We have done a dolphin encounter on a previous visit, and the kids loved it. Definitely check their website for more information on behind-the-scenes and VIP experiences.

If you’re family loves being IN the water also, check out Aquatica San Diego – Sea World’s water park. It’s a great way to cool off!


San Diego fun things to do - Sea World San Diego

LEGOLAND California

LEGOLAND CA - things to do near San DiegoOne of the best things to do with kids in San Diego is spend the day at LEGOLAND in nearby Carlsbad. In fact, it was really our main reason for visiting the area on this trip.

Fun things to do near San Diego - LEGOLAND CA in Carlsbad.At ages 7 & 9, both kids were getting into Legos, and Andrew especially loved them. The kids thought LEGOLAND was awesome, but I think if we had waited a year or two longer, they might have been too old. There are quite a few rides for little ones at LEGOLAND , but there are plenty of bigger (but not too big) rides to keep a 9 year old happy.

San Diego family trips to LEGOLAND CAI thought the coolest part was the city models, like New York and Las Vegas. They are so accurately detailed, and we were all just amazed by them. This part of the park has its fair share of Lego Star Wars items too, which of course, made the boys happy.

LEGOLAND - fun things in San DiegoNow, if we’re being totally honest here, from my adult perspective, I just don’t think there’s any comparison between LEGOLAND and Disneyland. If I had to choose only one to visit, I would choose Disneyland. BUT, we enjoyed our day at LEGOLAND and definitely recommend it for families with young kids.

Family activities in San Diego at LEGOLAND

San Diego kid activities - LEGOLAND CA
Dad can’t even…
Meet new friends at LEGOLAND CA - things to do for fun in San Diego
Making cool new friends at LEGOLAND

Like a lot of big theme parks these days, they offer incentives for staying on property. (The LEGOLAND California Resort Hotel looks awesome). They also have special VIP programs. Similar to the pin trading at Disney, LEGOLAND offers mini figure trading, which is really cool. This park can definitely be done in one day, but if you have more time, you might want to take a look at the Sea Life Aquarium and the water park as well.

Miniature Golf

San Diego things to do for kids - Mini Golf at BoomersIf you’ve read our post on Branson, you’ll know that our family cannot resist a round of mini golf, and after passing by Boomers several times, we just had to pay them a visit. This family entertainment center has all the things you’d expect, like games and go karts, but we only have eyes for the mini golf.

We enjoyed 18 holes on the Storybook course that had enough challenges to keep the adults happy, but wasn’t too difficult for the kids. Plus, the images from classic stories and fairy tales were fun to talk about. For kid friendly places in San Diego, Boomers is an easy recommendation.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Places to go in San Diego - San Diego Zoo Safari ParkLocated in Escondido, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is one of the unique, kid friendly things to do in San Diego.

Things to do in San Diego area - San Diego Zoo Safari ParkThis was actually one of my favorite parts of the trip. What we loved about the Safari Park was their philosophy on conservation and protecting endangered species. They are also known for their California condor breeding program and their free range enclosures.

San Diego family activities at the San Diego Zoo Safari ParkThere are many different experiences you can have in the Safari Park. The one that is included with your price of admission is the Africa Tram Safari. This gives you a guided tour of most areas of the park.

Fun kid activities in San Diego - San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Afterwards, there are walking trails and animals to see, including an amazing tiger encounter and Condor Ridge, which offers some wonderful views of the valley.

Things to do with kids in southern California - San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Oh hey there. Aren’t I a pretty bird?

If you crave some wilder things to do in San Diego California, there are many other safaris that you can purchase including a balloon safari. Be sure to take a look at their website for more information.

Belmont Park

Belmont Park is billed as San Diego’s beachfront amusement park. We kept seeing this amusement park on our drives up the coast to various other things, and from a distance thought it looked like lots of fun. Even though we didn’t have time to visit on this trip, Belmont Park will definitely be on our radar for next time. They have some great rides, and an arcade, plus shopping, dining, and beach activities. Check out their website for details on ride tickets, beach rentals, and other amenities.

The Best San Diego Museums

USS Midway Museum

San Diego for kids - visiting the USS MIdway Museum
USS Midway

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that this was not high on MY list of things to do in San Diego.

Warships, planes, ugh. Boring.

Turns out, this was one of my favorite things we did, and it was one of Andrew’s (our 9 year old) as well.

The USS Midway Museum is such a cool experience and one of the best things to do in San Diego for kids. You get to tour the aircraft carrier, plus there are so many cool old airplanes there for the kids to touch and explore. It is an interactive experience for the whole family.

Best things to do in San Diego California - visit the USS Midway MuseumWe took a tour with a veteran, and he told us all about the ship and what it takes to live and work there. It was all so fascinating, but what really impressed me was how good these guys were with little kids. They were so excited to share their knowledge and their love of this aircraft carrier with the next generation. The Midway really was one of the best San Diego museums we visited.Driving the USS Midway - amazing things to do in San Diego

The San Diego Air & Space Museum

What to do with kids in San Diego - San Diego Air and Space MuseumThe Air & Space Museum was something we decided to visit because it was included on our Go San Diego cards. Located in Balboa Park, this museum is full of items from the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart, as well as space pioneers like Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

This place is definitely worth a visit and will spark your kids’ imaginations. One of the highlights of our visit was when one of the employees who was dressed in World War I regalia talked about the planes and uniforms IN CHARACTER. Talk about making history come to life for kids! It was a great San Diego museum!

The San Diego Natural History Museum

San Diego Natural History Museum - activities for kids in San Diego
Visiting the Nat in San Diego

Affectionately known as the Nat, the San Diego Natural History Museum was another place our kids voted to see based on our Go San Diego cards. Located in Balboa Park, the Natural History Museum is a beautiful and fascinating place for families to visit. Have you ever seen a giant sloth? Or a woolly mammoth? You’ll see their fossils and much more at the Nat. Be sure to check their website for information about special traveling exhibits and programs for kids.

Other things to do with kids in San Diego

Coronado Island

Coronado is a fun little side trip from downtown, and we went just explore and drive across the amazing bridge that takes you there. There is plenty to do like lots of history, art, and culture along with boutique shopping, candy shops, and the incredible Hotel Del Coronado.

If you’re looking for places to go in San Diego with kids, make the short drive over to Coronado Island. Learn to surf, do some stand-up paddleboarding, or just wander around the tide pools. Whatever you decicde, Coronado is perfect for some San Diego family fun.

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument is San Diego’s only National Park and celebrates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States in 1542.

Things to do with kids near San Diego

While you’re visiting beautiful Southern California, take a drive up the coast for some other family-friendly adventures. Here are some of the best things to do near San Diego that aren’t’ very far away.

La Jolla

La Jolla Cove - family things to do in San Diego
Visit the Sea Lions at La Jolla Cove

One of the first things we did upon landing in San Diego and renting our car was to take a drive north of town to the city of La Jolla. This gorgeous city on the coast is home to a colony of sea lions that can be seen (and heard!) from various viewpoints at La Jolla Cove.La Jolla Cove - must do things in San Diego

We spent some time exploring the coast, checking out the tidepools, and watching the sea lions. Afterwards, we strolled along the beach, explored, and found a bite of lunch before heading back to our hotel in San Diego. It is well worth the short drive to experience what La Jolla has to offer.

If you have plans to visit LEGOLAND during your trip, consider staying in La Jolla. The drive from La Jolla to LEGOLAND is less than an hour.
Visit the Sea Lions - San Diego best things to do

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

The Birch Aquarium - San Diego family attractionsLocated in La Jolla, the Birch Aquarium is part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. We chose to visit this aquarium because it was part of the Go San Diego card, and we were so happy we did. This is one of the most research-based aquariums we have ever visited, plus it includes fabulous ocean views.

They focus on sea life that can be found in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast at the Birch Aquarium, and they have several touch pools for the kids to enjoy.

La Jolla California things to do - The Birch AquariumThey also have feedings, shows, and hands-on activities for kids. We were really impressed with the employees and how they interacted with and taught our kids about the animals in their care. Check out their website for details on special experiences and new exhibits at the aquarium. It turned out to be one the best things for kids in San Diego we did.

Newport Beach

California travel with kids - Newport Beach
Newport Beach Pier

Newport Beach is another great beach to explore on a lazy afternoon. Rent some bikes and cruise the boardwalk, or get out into the water for some surfing.

We like to take a walk out on the pier and enjoy the views, and it’s a great place to watch a sunset.

After a day at the beach (and if you’re lucky enough to visit on a Sunday), you can get some delicious brunch at the Rusty Pelican. (Take some decent clothes along if you’re making this a “beach day” because the Rusty Pelican is a bit more upscale than it appears from the street…the valet parking was our first clue that we’d all need to change out of our beach attire before we sat down for brunch!)

Explore San Diego with kids - Newport Beach
Fresh seafood at the Rusty Pelican

Our family had a great time exploring Newport Beach. If you’re looking for places to visit in San Diego for kids, Newport is a fun one!

Balboa Island

Balboa Island was such a good find for us during our trip to San Diego, and we ended up planning a trip there because of my late night reading habits. When we plan big trips, we have a general itinerary of the big things we know we want to do, and then we fill in with cool, random things we read about or see on TV.

I happened to read an article in Food Network Magazine during our planning stages about these crazy concoctions called Balboa Bars. Basically, these are chocolate dipped ice cream bars that are covered in sprinkles. I was intrigued, and I knew when I mentioned it to the ice cream fanatics in this family, it would go straight to the top of the “must do” list.

So, in between zoos and theme parks, we took a drive up the coast to Newport Beach and Balboa Island.

Balboa Island - San Diego family fun

First, Balboa Island is such a neat little place off of Newport Beach. You’ll find all kinds of mom and pop stores, candy shops, souvenirs, and the like. But the main attractions are the Balboa Bars, and there is a bit of healthy competition between the two places that make them.

Each claims to be the first, and each claims to be the best. Both Sugar N’ Spice and Dad’s serve up the treats, offering their guests slight variations. We decided that to be fair, we should sample some from each establishment, choosing the same sprinkle toppings.

Balboa Bars! What to do when visiting San Diego

Our verdict – everyone’s a winner in this competition, especially the eaters. And, honestly, it’s no skin off our noses who made them first.

Take a drive up the coast on the Pacific Coast Highway (PH1)

Finding a beach might just be one the top things to do in San Diego with kids, and Southern California has some fantastic ones!

San Diego beaches for kidsThere are plenty of beaches and cool towns up and down the coast of California, and driving about an hour or two north of San Diego will allow you to see a lot of them. Stop by one of the public beaches like Huntington Beach for great views of the Pacific Ocean.

If you have time, stick around for sunset. Chances are, you’ll be glad you did.
Things to do in LA with family - Huntington Beach Pier at Sunset

Don’t forget plenty of sunscreen!

Sun Bum is our favorite. It works great, has a nice scent, and is hypoallergenic and paraben free. Most importantly, it’s made with reef-safe ingredients which is now more important that ever – especially if you’re going to be snorkeling around coral.

Other things to do with kids in Southern California

Knott’s Berry Farm

Knotts Berry Farm - things to do around San Diego CAWe had heard great things about Knott’s Berry Farm before our trip to San Diego, but we made the decision to skip it until the kids were a little older for one reason…there were not enough roller coasters suitable for the under 48″ crowd. As many parents will understand, it can be difficult to do theme parks when both kiddos love roller coasters, but only one meets the height requirements for those particular coasters.

In 2018, we made it back to Southern California and we finally got to visit Knott’s.

It was awesome!

You can read more about visiting Knott’s Berry Farm here.

Knotts Berry Farm - things to do in California with kids
We came. We saw. We conquered!

Knott’s Berry Farm is located in Buena Park, CA (also very fun!), so its proximity to Disneyland would make it a great addition to any Southern California family adventure. This park is also included as part of the Go San Diego Card giving your family a decent discount on admission if you choose to go that route.

Get your GoCity San Diego Card here.

For things to do around San Diego, Knott’s Berry Farm is a lot of fun for families and a great choice.

Disneyland Resort

Disneyland - things to do near San Diego
Disneyland is just a short drive from San Diego

A lot of people include Disneyland in their San Diego trip because Anaheim is less than 2 hours away. We felt that Disneyland should be its own trip for our family, just because of the amount of other things we wanted to do in San Diego. We did that trip at Thanksgiving and absolutely loved it. Disneyland is a must for any Disney lover.

You’ll still get the same thrills you would at Disney World, just on a smaller scale. Plus, you get that perfect California weather. Consider staying on property to enhance your experience. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is incredible and, or course, perfect for families.

Related: For more great Disneyland hotel options, read our guide here.

  • Like Theme Parks?

    If theme parks are your thing, definitely consider a SoCal CityPASS! The SoCal CityPASS includes discounted admission to Disneyland and California Adventure, Sea World San Diego, and LEGOLAND California with an option to add on the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park. Check out this deal here.

So, there you have it…20 fun-filled San Diego adventures for families. We know that this is not a complete list of all there is to do in San Diego with kids, but we hope that we have given you a place to start.

What have we missed? Leave us a comment and tell us about your favorite things to do in San Diego.

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