Best Things to Do with Kids in San Diego

10 Best Things to Do with Kids in San Diego

Fact: San Diego is one of the world's best family destinations. Between the gorgeous beaches, year-round temperature average of 70° F, waterfront restaurants, family-friendly resorts and attractions, there truly is something for all ages to enjoy, frequently at the same time.

Though difficult to pick a top choice, the world-famous San Diego Zoo is a must-visit. A pioneer of cageless exhibits designed around a particular habitat, the zoo houses different species (some coexisting side-by-side) among native plants just as they might be found in the wild. You may want to plan your visit around special experiences such as the back stage pass experience (featuring animal encounters) or even a zoo sleepover.

Grab the sand toys and sunscreen. Prepare to spend part of your San Diego holiday on one of the world's finest beaches. Coronado Municipal Beach promises plenty of picturesque white sand and a usually calm ocean. Not staying in Coronado? Don't worry, there are plenty of other gorgeous beaches up and down the coast of San Diego county.

One way to drag the kids off the sand involves taking them to SeaWorld or LEGOLAND. Win parent of the year by including both in your holiday plans. Either park can fill up an entire day, though if short on time a half-day is doable. And, don't forget Balboa Park's museums which are perfect for a rare rainy day.

Check the San Diego Convention and Visitor's Bureau website for current discounts, such as the Go San Diego card, that can make multiple activities around town a little easier on the wallet.


For ocean-related adventure activities, this is the beach to visit. Located in front of the La Jolla Shores Hotel, La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and playground of Kellogg Park, La Jolla Shoes beach is one of the best in San Diego. A mile of flat sand and usually calm ocean make this area perfect for families. The La Jolla Shores business district on Avenida de la Playa (about a 5 minute walk from the beach) has several tour companies who will take you on a kayak tour and teach you how to surf, stand up paddle board or even scuba dive in the marine life rich underwater park beyond the waves. The beach is clearly divided so that surfers stay away from swimmers. In the summer you can swim with leopard sharks who incubate on the beach's warm waters.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: There's plenty of flat sand, waves to surf, an underwater park to explore and then some.

Katie's expert tip: Surf Diva in La Jolla Shores will teach kids ages 5 and up how to surf. Parking can get hectic during the summer so get their early to avoid.

Read more about La Jolla Shores Beach →

Known as one of the top ten beaches in the US, the seaward side of Coronado Island is exceptionally clean, with wide stretches of sand. The northern end, North Beach, is dog-friendly and popular for surfing in the summer. The main part, Central Beach, runs along Ocean Boulevard south to the famous Hotel Del Coronado. The ocean is usually calm here, making it a great spot for kids who will also love the white sand and searching for small seashells. There is ample, free street parking within a few blocks and you can easily walk to the shops and restaurants of Orange Avenue.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This beach is widely regarded as one of the best in the nation.

Katie's expert tip: The part of the beach in front of the Hotel Del Coronado can get a bit crowded, however, you can rinse off and take advantage of the hotel's casual, outdoor dining when you get hungry. Kid will love the ice cream at Moo Time Creamery.

Read more about Coronado Municipal Beach →

Built in 1925 by sugar magnate John D. Spreckles, this amusement park reopened in the late 1980s and is the only beachside amusement park in Southern California. Perhaps the biggest draw is the Giant Dipper, the original wooden roller coaster. The Plunge, the largest indoor heated pool in California, has its fans, as does the Wavehouse, a huge fitness center that shares the same building. If you're looking for family fun, head over to the Pirate's Cove, a 7000 square foot indoor playground or play mini golf. Shopping and dining options are abundant. Closing hours vary seasonally, and the park is closed mid-week during some winter months; please call for details.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The historic, beachside amusement park is a local favorite with free admission and free parking.

Katie's expert tip: It's free to walk around and park at Belmont Park. Check their website for discounts on rides and food.

Read more about Belmont Park →


If it's major league baseball time, why not grab some tickets to a Padres home game at PETCO Park, when they're in town. Not only does PETCO Park have the best sight lines in baseball, there's also great views of San Diego from some parts of the park. Innovative design features provide an a intimate environment for viewing sports and there are also state-of-the-art amenities to suit fans of any budget. It's a very kid-friendly venue with grassy areas to picnic on, a huge sandbox called The Beach, and a Kids Zone with video games. Tailgating prior to games is permitted on a limited basis. Check PETCO Park's website for details. Driving and parking at the game is relatively easy with 9000 spots designated specifically for Padres fans. There are even family restrooms throughout the park.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: If the Padres are in town, book tickets for a game. If they're not, opt for a park tour.

Katie's expert tip: Kids under 36 inches receive free entry, provided that they sit on your lap during the game. It's a very kid-friendly venue with grassy areas to picnic on, a huge sandbox called "The Beach," and a Kids Zone with video games.

Read more about PETCO Park →

This park encompasses over 4200 acres, with 27 miles of shoreline of which 19 are sandy beach. Facilities include marinas, a horseshoe court, sand volleyball courts, fire rings, picnic areas, children's play areas, and paths for biking, rollerskating and jogging. The park includes several wildlife preserves, making it a favorite with birdwatchers. It's one of the best places in San Diego to fly a kite and you can even camp here. If you'd like to try your hand at water skiing or wake boarding, tour companies can take you out for a ride. SeaWorld borders Mission Bay, as well. There is no fee to enter the park.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Mission Bay not only offers a host of water-based activities, it's a great place to fly kites, picnic and enjoy the outdoors.

Katie's expert tip: There are plenty of hotels around Mission Bay park to consider, should SeaWorld and the beach be the primary focus of your vacation.

Read more about Mission Bay Park →

San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona

Get nose-to-nose with a lion, feed a giraffe, see rhinos tending their young, view an elephant herd splashing in a pond, and marvel at the fact that you can have a mini Safari experience right here in the USA. A tram takes you through the heart of the park, which shelters over 3,200 animals on more than 1,800 carefully-designed, African-themed acres. The park recently added a flight line (zip line) for a soaring view over the park at 160 ft. As an alternative, take the tethered Balloon Safari for a bird's-eye view of the entire park. And, don't forget to see a show, which is included in the park admission and the afternoon Cheetah run.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The park hosts a number of wild and endangered animals including species from the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia.

Katie's expert tip: Going late in the day makes hot days bearable and the animals are more active than you might think at dinner time! If your budget allows, book a safari for a narrated tour of the park. Otherwise, it can be a lot of walking for young kids.

Read more about San Diego Zoo Safari Park →

LEGOLAND California
Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona

This is the place for kids and the kid in you. LEGOLAND California is perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Carlsbad, a 40-minute drive north from Downtown San Diego. Everything looks like it was built with LEGOs (likely because it is). Miniland USA, with its miniature models of famous cities and landmarks, is one of the most popular exhibits. The SEA LIFE Aquarium next door offers educational and hands on exhibits and a walk-through tunnel where you can view sting-rays and other sea creatures swimming right in front of your eyes. Two new interactive water parks is a great experience offer another option during warmer months. Guests of the LEGOLAND Hotel also get to enter the park 30 minutes before it opens.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: LEGOLAND is a must-see for kids under the age of 12.

Katie's expert tip: LEGOLAND is best for kids ages 12 and under and completely fine for a half-day visit if you are short on time. SEA LIFE Aquarium has an average visit time of under an hour as well.

Read more about LEGOLAND California →

Balboa Park

With over 85 cultural and recreational facilities, Balboa Park is a must-see. It's probably best to start at the Visitor's Center for a map and events calendar, and to purchase a Balboa Park Passport, which provides entrance to most of park's attractions for one fee. The Zoo is a big attraction, but there are also 15 museums, cultural centers, lawn bowling, a carousel, and a miniature railroad ride. Wander through multiple gardens or the Botanical Building (with over 2000 plant species), take in an outdoor organ concert, or enjoy a presentation at one of several theaters. Getting around the massive complex is easy, thanks to the free tram. Entrance to the park is free; attractions within the park are priced individually.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The nation's largest urban cultural park has 15 museums to browse and a number of stunning gardens.

Katie's expert tip: Download the Balboa Park iPhone App which will tell you everything you need to know about visiting this historic area. Don't forget to duck into the gift shops for unique gifts all ages will enjoy.

Read more about Balboa Park →

SeaWorld San Diego
Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona

Pet a dolphin, watch the antics of barking seals and walruses, enjoy polar bears taking an icy plunge, view penguins in their icy habitat, come eye-to-eye with a shark, see cats and dogs (and even pigs) doing amazing tricks, and more. SeaWorld also offers exciting rides such as Wild Arctic Encounter, Shipwreck Rapids, Manta roller coaster and Journey to Atlantis to get the adrenalin rushing. Ride the Sky Tower for an unforgettable 360 degree view of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. The park also offers a variety of behind-the-scenes tours (an extra fee applies) for an up-close and personal interaction with a variety of sea creatures. Young kids will love the rides and other activities in Elmo's World.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: SeaWorld San Diego is a major reason why many people visit the city and known for its conservation efforts around town.

Katie's expert tip: If you can, visit on a weekday morning. Check to see if any ticket promotions are running prior to your visit.

Read more about SeaWorld San Diego →

San Diego Zoo
Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona

A trip to San Diego isn't complete without a visit to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Located in Balboa Park on 100 acres, the Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals representing 800 species, many of them rare or endangered. The lush landscaping of over 700,000 exotic plants makes for a picturesque walk with plenty of photo opportunities. Most of the exhibits are designed to mimic the animals' natural habitats. Malaysian tiger families can be seen roaming their grassy canyons in Tiger River, playful polar bears live in Polar Bear Plunge, while giant pandas sleep (and occasionally move around) in the Panda Trek exhibit. All ages will appreciate a trip to the Zoo and feel good about the conservation programs supported by doing so.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: It is by far one of the best zoos in the entire world for conservation efforts and enjoyment during visits.

Katie's expert tip: The best time to visit the Zoo is in the morning. The gorgeous vegetation shades many of the walking paths and the animals are typically active and sometimes enjoying breakfast.

Read more about San Diego Zoo →


Meet Katie Dillon

Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as...  More About Katie