The 16 Best Things To Do in San Diego With Kids [2021]

Kids on the beach in San Diego Image Credit Garrett Patz via Unsplash

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When you think of good weather, Southern California comes to mind for many of us. And when you think of somewhere to visit in Southern California, you should be thinking of San Diego.

San Diego is the second-largest city in California (just after Los Angeles, which is a couple of hours north) and is known for its excellent climate, gorgeous beaches and parks, and a natural deep-water harbor full of wildlife.

Getting to San Diego is pretty easy to get to thanks to the popular San Diego International Airport (SAN), but if you can’t get a good flight to SAN you can always fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and then drive south 2 hours (just beware that traffic can be intense).

With good weather year-round, no matter when you decide to visit “America’s Finest City,” there will be plenty of things for you to do with your kids. Whether you want to go to some theme parks, hit the beach, visit museums, or just explore the natural beauty of this seaside city, San Diego has a great lineup for you and your family.

If you can’t wait to start planning your trip to San Diego, we can help you out. Let’s check out some great activities for you and your small children!

The Best Activities in San Diego With Kids

1. Visit a Theme Park

SeaWorld San Diego Octarock ride
Image Credit: SeaWorld San Diego

Southern California is full of natural beauty, but sometimes you need a little thrill and entertainment for the kids. Well, fortunately, there are plenty of options for you in this area of Southern California.

Without leaving town you can visit SeaWorld San Diego and Belmont Park, and just 30 minutes north in Carlsbad, you will find the very popular LEGOLAND California.

If you want to go for a bit of a longer drive, you can get to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm in about an hour and a half.

For theme park fans, these are all great options and guaranteed to be a success with the little ones.

Hot Tip: Going to see Mickey and Minnie? Be sure to read The Reopening of Disneyland: What to Expect & What Has Changed.

2. Explore Balboa Park

Alcazar Garden at Balboa Park in San Diego
Image Credit: Balboa Park

A trip to San Diego is incomplete without a visit to Balboa Park. This naturally breathtaking 1,200-acre urban park “where culture, science, and nature collide” is right downtown and is widely known as a cultural oasis and gem in the city.

Inside the park, you will find botanical gardens, trails, museums, art exhibits, restaurants, shops, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, and more. With so much diversity, history, and culture, Balboa Park is a great place for your kids to explore.

Since many of the attractions inside the park charge admission, if you want to save some money, consider purchasing a Balboa Park Explorer Pass.

3. Head to the Beach

Birds flying by the ocean on a San Diego beach
Image Credit: Frank McKenna via Unsplash

This is an obvious one, but a family trip to the beach when visiting San Diego is a must-do.

With dozens of beaches to choose from, your options are only limited by how far you want to travel from your hotel. Beaches like La Jolla Shores Beach and Coronado Central Beach consistently get ranked as some of the best beaches in the country for families, so you won’t be disappointed with either of those choices.

If you are looking to get a little creative and want to try something new with your kids on your visit to the beach, consider taking a private sandcastle-making class!

4. Take a San Diego Seal Tour

San Diego Seal Tour
Image Credit: San Diego Seal Tour

If your a fan of guided tours, then taking a ride on the San Diego Seal Tour is a great way to get a feel for this oceanfront city.

Hop on the amphibious vehicle and start your tour through the streets of Seaport Village and by the San Diego Bay before splashing into the water and continuing your 90-minute tour floating along the coast.

Passengers will get a fun perspective of the city while also learning about the rich military history of the city and, of course, getting an up-close and personal look at some of the local wildlife like California seals and sea lions.

5. Watch the Seals and Sea Lions

Seals on the beach in La Jolla San Diego
Seals on the beach in La Jolla: Image Credit Febiyan via Unsplash

One of San Diego’s most popular attractions is actually its famous residents, the Pacific harbor seals and California sea lions.

These adorable (and very large) mammals can be found sunbathing up and down the coastline in the famous coves and even lounging on the beach. One of the more charming (and controversial) places to see and visit the seals and sea lions is at Children’s Pool, which is a beach that was, at one point, great for families, but has since been taken over by these flippered friends.

You can even rent a kayak and explore from the ocean via the stunning La Jolla Underwater Park, an ecological reserve created to help protect the natural beauty of the area.

6. Go on a Whale Watch

San Diego Whale Watch
Image Credit: Remi Boudousquie via Unsplash

For kids, there is nothing like being out on the water and getting up close and personal with some incredible creatures like whales and dolphins. And San Diego is an excellent place to do that on a whale watch.

San Diego is lucky enough to have a front-row seat to one of the longest migrations on earth when more than 20,000 (yes, more than 20,000!) gray whales travel from Alaska to the lagoons of Baja California between December and April.

Not only is a whale watch a great way to see these gentle giants, but it is also extremely educational thanks to the marine biologists on board sharing facts about the whales and the local ecosystem.

No matter if you are visiting in the winter and want to see gray whales or in the summer and want to see blue whales, the experience will be fun for everyone in the family year-round.

Hot Tip: Looking to save some money on your car rental? Be sure to read how to book cheap car rentals in San Diego.

The Best Museums in San Diego With Kids

7. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium San Diego entrance
Image Credit: Birch Aquarium

Hands down one of the best attractions in San Diego is the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Designated as the public outreach center for the renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Birch Aquarium has some incredible exhibits, including some fun and educational hands-on experiences.

There are over 60 habitats showcasing the sea life from the tropical waters of Mexico up to the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest.

With outdoor touch pools that have gorgeous views of the ocean, to the tanks with loggerhead sea turtles, a giant Pacific octopus, leopard sharks, and more, adding a stop to this aquarium is a must for animal lovers.

Located in the La Jolla Shores neighborhood, the Birch Aquarium is easy to get to and convenient if you are already planning on visiting this part of town.

8. New Children’s Museum

New Childrens Museum San Diego
Image Credit: New Children’s Museum

If you’re reading this, you probably have kids and know how valuable a good children’s museum can be. The New Children’s Museum in San Diego is no exception.

This new model of museum was designed to stimulate imagination, creativity, and critical thinking in children and families — something all parents can agree is important.

The interactive installations, art-making activities, and educational experiences are perfect for kids of all ages. Whether they are climbing around Wobbleland or learning about the Sketch Aquarium, your little ones are sure to have a blast and learn a lot at the same time.

And for the adults, there is a nice little cafe and garden on-site and even a quiet area if you have an infant with you.

9. Fleet Science Center

Fleet Science Center San Diego
Image Credit: Fleet Science Center

The Fleet Science Center, also known as “The Fleet,” is a science museum and planetarium located in the popular Balboa Park in San Diego.

With over 100 interactive exhibits with something for all ages, a visit to The Fleet will give your kids a better understanding of science and how it impacts the world around us.

Spend your time exploring space, electricity, water, and virtual reality, or play around in Kid City. No matter where you decide to spend your time in this expansive museum, you are sure to leave with a new perspective on science in your day-to-day life.

10. San Diego Air & Space Museum

San Diego Air and Space Museum
Image Credit: San Diego Tourism Authority

We are big fans of aircraft around here, so you know we couldn’t skip the San Diego Air & Space Museum. One of the many museums located in Balboa Park, you will probably already be nearby, so consider checking this gem out.

This Smithsonian Institution affiliate is full of historic aircraft and spacecraft from all over the world, including the actual Apollo 9 Command Module. There are even special events for kids, so be sure to look for Little Engineers: Museum Days during your trip.

For fans of flight, spending a few hours admiring these exhibits will be time well spent — and we all know that kids love planes!

11. San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo Entrance
Image Credit: San Diego Zoo

One of, if not the, most popular attractions in San Diego is the San Diego Zoo.

This world-renowned zoo is home to over 4,000 animals and a stunning botanical garden spread out over 100 acres inside of Balboa Park.

Kids and adults will love to explore this gorgeous zoo as you can get up close to some incredible animals and exhibits like the Polar Bear Plunge, Skyfari Aerial Tram, and the Australian Outback koalas.

If you want to get your little ones excited for their trip, the zoo has created some fun games to play at home.

Hot Tip: No need to break the bank on your next trip to SoCal — here are the best cheap hotels in San Diego.

The Best Sports in San Diego With Kids

12. Visit Petco Park

Petco Park MLB Baseball stadium in San Diego California
Image Credit: Megan Ellis via Unsplash

San Diego isn’t known as a major sports town, but it does have one of the most beautiful baseball parks in the country. Petco Park is known for its magnificent architectural design, innovation, sightlines, and the Park at the Park which is a 2.7-acre park inside of Petco Park.

The Park at the Park is a big grassy area where kids can run around and play if they aren’t keeping score of the game. Parents can lay down a blanket and set up a picnic with the game playing in the background.

In and around Petco Park are plenty of great dining and drinking options and even the occasional post-game concert. On a warm summer night, there are few things that are enjoyable as catching a baseball game with your family.

If you are in town and there are no games, you can still explore this impressive venue on an official park tour.

Hot Tip: Kids under 3 feet (36 inches) tall get in for free when accompanied by an adult on game nights!

13. Learn To Surf

Surf Lessons by Surf Diva in San Diego
Image Credit: Surf Diva

2 things that are synonymous are Southern California and surfing. If you want to get the classic California experience for you and your kids, consider enrolling in surf school or at least a lesson or 2. After all, the classroom is going to be at some of the world’s best beaches.

Whether it’s a bucket list item for you or a cool souvenir photo for your kids, catching some waves in San Diego will be fun for the whole family and a great memory.

While there are tons of surf schools to choose from, Surf Diva is the largest on the West Coast and has been getting great reviews for over 20 years. All of the 50+ instructors are CPR, first aid, and lifesaving certified and offer private, semi-private, and group lessons.

With boards and wetsuits included, this is a great option for families who want to get out on the water for the first time.

The Best Walks in San Diego With Kids

14. Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego shop
Image Credit: Alex Lam via Unsplash

History fans will love Old Town San Diego as it is often considered to be the birthplace of modern California and was the site of the first European settlers in the area.

Nowadays, this 230-acre neighborhood is home to a dozen historic buildings, period demonstrations, free museums, shopping, and dining. The kids will love the feeling of stepping back in time (as well as the candy shops) and will love the stories of the haunted houses that you can tour.

With pedestrian-only streets and charming walks throughout, Old Town San Diego will be both educational and entertaining.

15. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve San Diego
Image Credit: San Diego Tourism Authority

With incredible ocean views and well-kept trails, the 1,750-acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a great spot to get outdoors with your family.

Dedicated to preserving the 3,000 extremely rare Torry Pine trees that are located (and only located) here, this California State Park is as stunning as it is unique.

The winding trails have varying difficulty levels, with some great options for young hikers, and some more advanced climbs for the more experienced.

Located about 20 minutes from downtown San Diego, you will need to drive to get to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, and the entrance fee costs between $10 to $25 depending on the day, but it’s worth it.

16. Waterfront Park

San Diego Waterfront Park
Image Credit: Frank McKenna via Unsplash

Just near the bay, you will find the gorgeous, and very fun, Waterfront Park.

The 12-acre park is a family favorite thanks to its slides, splash pads, and giant fountain with jets for kids to run in. With a soft floor, the little ones can run around in the water without fear of slipping and getting hurt. Parents have plenty of options of grassy areas to set up a picnic and enjoy the views of the waterfront.

If you are looking for something fun and free to do with small children in San Diego, this is an excellent choice.

Final Thoughts

Baby and mom with stroller at San Diego Zoo
My wife and daughter at the San Diego Zoo. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

They don’t call it “America’s Finest City” for nothing. San Diego has a lot going for it and is always a popular spot for travelers from around the country and the world.

With the combination of near-perfect weather year-round, plenty of outdoor activities, theme parks, great dining, excellent museums and cultural activities, and a plethora of options for kids to enjoy, a family trip to this SoCal city is sure to be a popular decision.

Easy to get to by flying into either San Diego International Airport (SAN) or Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), no matter how you get there, it will be worth the trip.

There is so much to do in San Diego… if you think we missed something let us know in the comments or join our private Facebook Group, Level UP Travel!


Frequently asked questions

What is there to do in San Diego with a baby?

There is so much to do in San Diego with your little one. From the countless parks and beaches to museums and aquariums, you will have a hard time choosing from the options listed here.

What is free for kids in San Diego?

Beaches and parks are a great (and free) option for families in San Diego. Additionally, parks and zoos like LEGOLAND and the San Diego Zoo let kids under 3 in for free with a paid adult.

Is San Diego a good family vacation?

Yes! San Diego is an ideal spot for a family vacation thanks to the wide variety of family-friendly activities. From beaches to theme parks, whatever your family enjoys, San Diego probably has it.

What is the best time to visit San Diego with kids?

Since the weather is always nice, you only need to worry about prices and school vacations.

Chris Hassan

About Chris Hassan

Chris is from Boston and is currently living in Rio de Janeiro with his wife, two kids, and their dog, Shelby. When Chris was in college, he spent a semester abroad studying hotel and business management in Switzerland. That is where he caught the travel bug and met his wife. Quite a successful trip!

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