At first, visiting a bunch of museums in one day doesn't sound like a child's dream. However, with some proper planning, you can navigate the family through Balboa Park with ease. It's one of San Diego's best attractions and the nation's largest urban cultural park, so don't miss it just because the kids are in tow. This is a packed itinerary, so you may need to dial it down for younger kids.
Most of the museums open at 10:00 am, so arrive 15-30 minutes early to score parking near the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Wander the gorgeous grounds and get the lay of the land. Kids love the giant fountain in front of the Fleet and the lily pond area that is just a few minutes walk down El Prado, the main street.
Tinkering Studio — Photo courtesy of Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
At 10:00 am, visit the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center where cool hands-on exhibits teach both kids and adults about science. Check the schedule prior to arrival in case there's a suitable movie playing in the world's first IMAX dome theater. The movies are short--just 45 minutes, usually.
Though there are cafes within museums, if you can wrangle the kids free, walk to The Prado for a relaxing lunch. It's a sit-down restaurant offering a full cocktail menu, diverse cuisine options and a nice outdoor patio. Kick your feet up and recharge.
The patio at The Prado — Photo courtesy of Justin Galloway photography
Several museums are within a few steps of The Prado. If your group has different interests, think about splitting up after lunch for a little bit. Kids are free with paid adult admission to the Museum of Photographic Arts, which houses an extensive array of still photos, videos and films. The Mingei International Museum houses folk art and a gift shop worth popping into. Or, see what kid-friendly exhibits are featured at the Museum of Man.
Start heading back to the car, but if you have a railroad enthusiast, check out the trains and tracks in the 27,000-square-foot San Diego Model Railroad Museum which features small scales of four major railroads and an interactive gallery.
A dinosaur fossil at the San Diego Natural History Museum — Photo courtesy of Katie Dillon
Last but not least, visit the San Diego Natural History Museum for dinosaur bones and other fossil fun. If the kids are running low on energy, grab a quick snack at the Dino Cafe inside. Whew, that's a full, but fun day.
Depending on which museums are of interest, you may be better off purchasing tickets a la carte as some automatically include free admission for a child with the purchase of an adult ticket. However, museum passes are available in either one or seven-day admissions and can include admission to the zoo, too. Download the Balboa Park Family Activity Guide before you go as it has facts and activities for kids to do while exploring the various museums. There is a Balboa Park iPad app, as well.
With the world-famous San Diego Zoo also in Balboa Park, it might be tempting to hit that and the museums in the same day. If you can, consider breaking up the visits as both are a lot of walking for little legs. Also, it is free to enter any museum gift shop, should you need a clever souvenir.