San Diego is such a fun place to visit with family and children. We have visited it several times and have had no problem finding kid-friendly things to do in San Diego every time we visit. For me, it’s the number one family friendly destination in California after Yosemite and Big Sur. We love traveling with our kids and finding kid-friendly places isn’t always easy. That’s why I put together this list of great things to do in San Diego with kids.
These are things we have done and I want to share helpful tips because I know every parent needs all the help possible when planning a trip with kids. I tried to organize this by proximity and I hope this will be helpful on your next trip to sunny Southern California.
1. Explore and Get Splashed at LegoLand
This is without a doubt one of my kids’ all-time favorites. LEGOLAND doesn’t need much introduction. It is a park full of Lego displays and rides and they are constantly updating it. However, you should expect your kids won’t be able to go on every attraction. There are different levels of rides based upon their age and height. Check them out here when planning your trip.
This is a must visit place for Lego lovers of any age, but especially for kids under 10. I am a Lego fan for sure, so we’ve visited twice. We visited during the spring and aso during the summer, and if you go during those times of year don’t miss the Water Park.
The first time I visited was with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. Then, the second time my kids were six and nine years old, and both times they absolutely enjoyed every second. Even if you are not a Lego fan, the rides are fun for any kid. Toddlers can play, explore, climb and ride the small rides until nap time.
Kids of any age can enjoy Adventure Club where you need to find clues to discover a mystery, or visit the Lego Factory Tour, and build your own creations in the test area. I loved the Factory Tour where kids learn how Legos are made. It is short and sweet, and you end at the Lego Store (strategically located).
For little kids there is the Hideaways, a big play structure where kids can play and climb and cross a hanging bridge, it also has an area to dig dinosaurs out of the sand. It was the favorite of my kids when they were little to run and explore. Also the Duplo town area is an adorable play area for littles.
My kids’ favorite when they were younger was build and play, admire the Lego exhibits, and the driving school. There are 2 different rides, one for kids 3-5 and another for kids 6-9. It is a must do. During our second visit both kids could ride together. The rides are not too fast. It can be very popular and you can find a long line but to avoid that, check the LegoLand app that tells you how long you need to take a ride!
We were so impressed with the Lego Movie display, it really blew our minds!
One unique experience is the Lego submarine adventure. On the deep Sea adventure
When I took the kids for a second time they were a bit older (ages 6 and 9 years old) their top ride was the Rollercoaster Dragon located in the LegoLand castle. For sure it is different when kids are a little bit older since they can enjoy more rides. Visiting the park took longer and we experienced several more rides. Favorite rides: again the driving school, the Bionicle blaster, and the 3D interactive Ninjago ride (I love this one too). Other great rides were the Splash zone and Pirate Reef, but you can get wet so dress properly.
Another day we visited the water park. We spent two days at LegoLand, one full day to visit the park and rides and another for the water park. Of course you can do Legoland in one day if you want just do the park.
Legoland is totally worth it for any Lego fan even if it’s just one day if you visit San Diego with kids. It is one of the best kids things to do in San Diego. If you visit in spring or summer, I wouldn’t miss the water park. However, expect crowds. The kids had so much fun there, although it was a bit stressful with kids running around in water. However the people at LegoLand do a good job taking care of everyone in and out of the water.
Location: This park is far from downtown, so if you’re staying downtown, expect a bit of a drive. It is located at 1 Legoland Drive, Carlsbad, CA 92008-4610
- The Legoland application will help you to see what the wait in line is to choose what ride to go.
- Miniature Lego trade! The people who work there have miniature legos so your kids can bring theirs from home and trade them for any special one they can find. There are also mini figures collections at many of the shops and kids can look to find one they like and trade.
- You can’t bring your own food and drinks, just snacks and little bottles of water.
- There are lockers in 3 different areas including in the water park. You pay a flat fee.
- To get tickets on sale, the best prices are either Costco or San Diego passes – and don’t forget Groupon – that’s where I found the best prices for my family visits.
2. Learn to Surf at La Jolla
There are many fun beaches in San Diego but definitely La Jolla is at the top of our list for surfing. My kids had a blast surfing at La Jolla. Surfing in warm water and a sandy bottom beach is nice and refreshing.
If you are new to surfing, La Jolla is a great place to learn for kids and adults. It is better than other surf spots and enjoyable for swimmers too. The break in La Jolla is consistent and predictable for beginners, with plenty of waves, and the sandy bottom makes it safer. You can rent a surfboard for $8 per hour in the surf shops that are close by and then hit the water. There are also surf lessons. If you are not up to surfing you can always refresh yourself by just splashing around in the water.
It has plenty of parking spots and restrooms. I just laid down on the sand and spent a bit in water. Don’t miss the good food in one of the many restaurants around La Jolla.
Location: La Jolla Shores Beach, La Jolla, CA 92037
Some interesting facts:
- Removing things form this beach is prohibited
- There are lifeguards all year around
- There are scuba diving classes held here
Other kid things to do in San Diego near La Jolla:
La Jolla Cove is a small beach where you can scuba dive and snorkel
3. Explore Old Town San Diego
Did you know San Diego is one the oldest towns in California? Besides finding delicious food you can find history here. Old town was founded in 1769 by the famous Catholic priest Junipero Serra, and sure represents the Spanish/Mexican style of the era.
One of the great kids things to do when we go to new places it is to show the kiddos the history of the places we visit if we can. Here in Old Town San Diego you can get a glimpse of what California was like in the 19th century when California was part of Mexico. This town is perfect because it is fun and vibrant. It is known as the birthplace of California because Spanish soldiers established the first permanent European settlement in California. Can you imagine another more historical spot to visit in California?
You can find parking on the street and walk to the plaza where there are many colorful shops, art and restaurants. Kids get a chance to experience the style and explore the historic park because there is plenty of room for kids to run around without worrying that cars will be there because It is an enclosed area around the plaza.
One of the interesting things you can find here is the oldest smoke shop that is still in business, I haven’t seen something like this before. This town is great for all the senses; expect to find colors, aromas and delicious food. There is a visitor center in the Robuson-Rose House and you can get a guided walking tour of the park.
Also, Old Town San Diego has lot of history and La Casa De Aguirre is one of the oldest houses in old Town San Diego. It was reconstructed and is a free museum with artifacts from an on-site archeological dig.
Another thing is that the architecture is like an old western movie set. A good example is the Cosmopolitan Hotel built out of adobe bricks the old style of construction by Spanish and Mexicans.
In addition, La Casa Machado y Silva was the first school and it has been reconstructed. Also, there is the Junipero Serra Museum at the Presidio Hill where you can get a spectacular view of Mission Valley. And don’t forget to check out the Wells Fargo History Museum. In Old Town San Diego you can even find a haunted house! The Whaley House is built on top of a graveyard where public hangings took place…. There are even tours to go there. Check here if it something your family might be interested in doing. We haven’t done it yet, we’re too scared 😉 .
Besides that, you can find fun any type of shop. My kids love rocks so their favorite shop was Miner and Minerals shop. A fun little store in adobe style and full of gems and all types of rock, fossil and minerals. My oldest son got an onyx arrow to add to his collection. Another fun thing to do with kids here is mineral panning for just $6 and you keep the gems you find.
On top of that at Old Town San Diego, there are several restaurants. The restaurant Fiesta de Reyes is good and popular for its fun Mexican environment, and it has live performances and music on stage every weekend. It is super close to the plaza and surrounded by adorable souvenir, art and jewelry stores. Even if you don’t dine there it worth exploring the surroundings to embrace the style and vibes.
Lastly, do not miss the Old Town Mexican Cafe where you find the best homemade Mexican tortillas. Technically, is right across the the street from the entrance of Old Town, but it is literally a stone’s throw so I think it’s fair to mention it here.
Location: 4002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110
4. Visit the San Diego Zoo
This is one of the best zoos in the country (if not the world) and that is why we made the effort to take the kids there (again). If you want to take advantage of this zoo at a better price, keep in mind that in the month of October kids, go to the zoo for free. Check here for more info.
The San Diego Zoo makes an effort to have a natural setting for the animals that live there. We have visited this zoo twice and each time we had a great time. Kids always has loved animals but now they are at the age that they know so much about them, they enjoy seeing them even more.
They also have giraffes, tigers, bears, koalas, condors, sea lions, red panda bears, and so much more.
The San Diego Zoo had beautiful African elephants and elephants Odysseus. They live in an area where they have enough room to roam around and you feel a bit like they are in their natural habitat. You can pay for a private tour and have the whole experience.
They even have a Botanical Zoo and you could spend easily all day going through the different animal exhibit, so dress properly and don’t forget the sunscreen.
We started with the animals the kids wanted to see the most: the koalas and elephants. Be prepared for a lot of walking! When we visited last time the tourist trolley bus wasn’t open, so we walked around very open and sunny spaces. We enjoyed the Skyfari Aerial Tram to appreciate all the 100 acres with 4,000 animals and 800 species. It is not for people with fear of heights!
Make sure to see the condors and California sea lions. The kids also enjoyed the exhibition of the Tasmanian Devil.
Location: The San Diego zoo is located at Balboa Park at 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, United States
Some information to keep in mind:
- The entrance ticket includes a guided bus tour when they are available, Kangaroo Express and the Skyfari Aerial Tram. When you purchase a 2 day San Diego pass it gives you access to the San Diego Safari Zoo.
- Also, consider the botanical garden for its great variety of plants, so don’t miss this area if you appreciate that kind of thing.
- There are different tours inside the zoo that you can take for an extra price offering guided views where the zoo provide useful information about how they take care of wildlife and animals in action, giving you the opportunity to get to see animals close-up and interact with them. Also, the zoo offers experiences like the morning Cheeta feed and discovery car tour giving you a feline-focused adventure
- The zoo is always up to offer you a customized VIP experience.
5. Explore San Diego Safari Zoo
The main difference between the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Zoo is that the latter is a wide-open area where animals roam around more freely and it offers different experiences to visitors. It focuses on animals from mostly arid environments, like Africa and Asian Savannas. You can get a private tour of wildlife safari and get a close-up view of many animals in a truck with a guide.
Another option they offer is “night vision safari.” They have also cabanas available to rent for overnights, making you feel like you are on a Safari! This is so cool if you have the budget. Check the different options here.
Also, there are cheetah shows or they also offer a behind-the-scenes safari with elephants and rhinos and friends. So much to choose from – for an extra price, of course.
Location: 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA 92112
The Safari Park is located in Escondido, about a 40-60 minute drive from downtown San Diego so plan accordingly.
6. Get amazed by street performance at Balboa Park
Balboa Park is one of my favorite places in San Diego and I visit every time I go because there is always something new to see. Balboa Park is another historic place located a bit further from downtown. It was created in 1868 ago as a city park with 1,400 acres. You should expect to find culture, nature, and science all within its borders.
This is the kind of place where you can find kids things to do in San Diego without spending a penny if you don’t want to. Here are just few things you can do for free with kids:
- Watch the street performances. There are so many talented people showing their art. We got to see an amazing group of kids performing a string recital. They were amazing! I’m sure they belong to the San Diego Youth Company that is at Balboa Park. Once we spent almost an hour by the Fleet Science Center making bubbles. They provided buckets and bubble solution for kids to play for free. Littles and adults got entertained by it. Just enjoy the walk on the trails and enjoy the many street artists and musicians.
- Have a picnic
- Stroll to see the Spreckles Organ Pavilion that offers concerts Sundays at 2 p.m. rain or shine and on Mondays nights. You can find the schedule here. Visit the gardens, botanical building, and Timken Art Museum, which are free and during the month of October (kids are free in San Diego in museums and recreational areas that month).
- Strolling in Balboa Park with my kids by the Botanical Building is my best memory. We enjoyed looking at the big gold fishes and frogs that live there.
This place represents the vibe of san Diego, it has churches, museums, botanical garden, city squares, restaurants and great grounds for those that would enjoy a picnic during a break exploring.
One of the things Balboa Park has are different gardens (Japanese Frienship garden and botanical building) and Museums (among others San Diego Museum of Air and Space the actual Apollo 9 Command Module spacecraft, Timken Museum of Arts , San Diego Natural History Museum, Model rail Museum, automative museum – a total of 17 museums!). On top of that it has Balboa Archery Range. Yes, for actual archery! We haven’t had the chance to visit this one yet.
In addition, Balboa Park has a carrousel that we visited when our kids were younger. If you have a toddler check it out. It is close to the miniature railroad operated by the San Diego Zoo and is also fun for younger kids and adults.
Furthermore, the San Diego zoo is actually in Balboa Park, but the san Diego Zoo needs its own visit.
Another fun area there is the Spanish Village Art center. Is colorful and breaths diversity where you can check out historic studios and enjoy the beautiful and fun courtyard. We had visited in the past and enjoy strolling and admiring the art.
Also, don’t forget Balboa Park has several hiking trails but honestly, we haven’t had enough time to visit them all even though we have visited a few times. Don’t forget there are trails to bike as well as areas to play tennis and even GOLF! Yes, Balboa Park besides all that I told you already has a golf course! That can give you an feeling of how big this park is.
Visiting Balboa Park can take you a few hours (or even a few days) because seriously there is so much to see and it is quite big. However, don’t miss the Botanical building and fountain, the street musician sand artists by the visitor Center. Don’t forget to stroll around Casa del Prado and Casa de Balboa to appreciate the baroques architecture of the historical buildings.
In addition, Balboa Park has a program called Explorer that provides access to multiple museums. Including an annual family explorer pass that is worth it if you visit several times during the year.
Location: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101-1660
There is plenty of free parking but arrive early on weekends since it can be pack
7. San Diego Midway Museum
We had an incredible visit to this amazing museum. It is a historical naval aircraft carrier and perfect for airplane lover and people who appreciate history. We do and enjoyed our visit. It is very informative and fascinating.
One fun fact is that this carrier had the longest service in the 20th century. We learned how Navy sailors lived, ate, and worked. It is a small place at times and can feel claustrophobic so it is amazing to think about how soldiers could live there for so long. Also, expect to see LOTS of types of airplanes on this aircraft carrier. Someone said that this aircraft carried 50 airplanes at once.
In case you don’t know yet in October kids are free in San Diego, and this applies to this museum. They provide a device to do your own guided tour and we learned many fun facts about the Midway and its history. Also, there are presentations around the ship with movies and guides that explain in vivid detail what happened and how the Midway was involved in those events. The staff is very helpful and passionate about what they do.
We toured the command operation, cabins and Capitan’s cabin, the meeting saloon and the anchor room which is pretty impressive, and we could observe how big this is. We spent 4 hours exploring, but if you need a break you can get your hand stamped and come back later.
- There are contactless bathrooms with drier and soap dispenser.
- There is a small souvenir store where you can get some snacks.
- Kids under 6 and active duty military (reservists, law enforcement, and firefighters) with valid ID get in free.
- There are security lockers
LOCATION: CLOSE to downtown 910 Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101-5811
8. Ride a bike or scooter by the Harbor and Seaport Village
The harbor is in Downtown. You can either stroll around this beautiful harbor by foot, scooter or bike and check all the little stores and/or have a meal at the restaurants. They have many restaurants with ocean views!
Also, along the pier you can find many artists and live entertainment from street performances. We enjoyed visiting Seaport Village when we stayed at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. The Seaport Village is located between San Diego’s Convention Center and the USS Midway.
Location: Seaport Village 849 West Harbor Drive San Diego, CA 92101
Another fun thing you could do is to take a seal tour. What is this, you ask? Would you ever dream of riding a car that changes into a boat? This is such a unique experience and great for the whole family. You could see San Diego’s coastal attractions by land and water in one tour.
They drive through Seaport Village and along the Embarcadero then this bus transforms into a boat and goes on a cruise around San Diego Bay. A guide shares stories of the bay’s early sailors and settlers and also you get a view of landmarks such as SeaWorld, Vacation Isle, Quivira Basin, and other coastal attractions.
During the tour you can see sea lions, seals and different birds. It is definitely a kid-friendly thing to do in San Diego.
Location: Downtown San Diego’s Seaport Village at the Embarcadero.
9. Dine at the Gaslamp Quarter
This is a fun and historical area of San Diego. I think of it as a kid thing to do in San Diego because there is so much to see. We enjoyed touring the old town architecture – it is a historical neighborhood that gets its name come from the gas lamps that used to line the San Diego streets.
This neighborhood has so much to offer! It is close to downtown San Diego and has art galleries, restaurants and stores. It is full of life and great for strolling and dining with 16 blocks full of Victorian style. We found a fun art exhibition on sale but it was out of our budget.
Since we were staying down the street it was very convenient to walk around there starting at the gate with the big sign. It is very close to Petco Park and great for people watching if you enjoy that.
Remember, you will find really great restaurants; I found a Peruvian restaurant and the food was good. There is literally something for everyone to eat in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Location: Fourth Avenue between Broadway and Market Fourth Ave & Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101 Just about 4 miles from old town san Diego
More kid things to do in San Diego:
- Kayak at the Jolla Cove. During our visit to La Jolla, we saw kayak rentals and people having a blast coming back from kayak ride during sunset from the sea caves.
- Watch the sunset. Watching the sunset at any of the San Diego beaches is worth it!
- Whale watching! You have to check the season but it is usually during wintertime when you get a better sight of them.
- San Diego Air Museum, located in Balboa Park
10. Have a beach day at Coronado beach
One of the things that we love is spending time at the beach and San Diego is well known for its nice weather. One of the best free things to do in such a sunny town is a beach day.
We love Coronado main beach. It is the beach closest to the Hotel del Coronado – very well known as a historic beach resort and landmark. This hotel has hosted many celebrities in its 130 years of operation.
You can scroll down the beach and also see the hotel and admire its beautiful architecture that fits perfectly with San Diego natural beauty.
Coronado City has many beautiful beaches. Coronado Central beach is our favorite gorgeous beach, with clear sand and warm water. This may be the best part of San Diego.
At Coronado beach, there are plenty of water activities to do: swimming, water skiing, scuba diving, and surfing among others. There are even fishing spots right by the Hotel del Coronado. My kids love surfing and it is a good sport however the break in Coronado beach is a bit far from shore.
The beach has plenty of restrooms and shower facilities as well as lifeguards on duty year-round. If you don’t swim you can get enjoy great sunbathing, build a sandcastle or read the book you love by the sea breeze. My kids always find ways to entertain each other at the beach.
Location: To find it, come over bridge, turn left on Orange Avenue, right on Isabella to Ocean Blvd.
- Glass is not allowed at the beach.
- You can do a bonfire in the fire rings that are available on a first-come, first-served basis but not allowed after 11pm. If you want to do a bonfire you need to with real clean wood
- Dogs are not allowed at the main beach but there is a good dog beach.
- Beach accessible wheelchairs
I hope all this information is helpful and help you to make your best of your next visit to San Diego