18 Fun Things to Do With Kids in San Diego

Young Beachgoers at La Jolla Shores

Betsy Malloy Photography

With an average of 266 days of sunshine a year, San Diego feels like a destination custom-made for families, offering pleasant year-round weather, dozens of public parks, 70 miles of beaches, and a myriad of family-friendly museums. Whether your kids enjoy splashing the day away by the water, seeing animals at one of the nation's preeminent zoos, or taking a day trip to a creep old gold mine, this Southern California destination by the sea has plenty of activities guaranteed to amuse children of all ages.

01 of 18

Visit the Children's Gardens at San Diego Botanic Garden

San Diego Botanic Garden's Children's Garden

Rachel Cobb / San Diego Botanic Garden

Quail Gardens Drive and, Ecke Ranch Rd, Encinitas, CA 92024, USA
Phone +1 760-436-3036

While San Diego Botanic Garden is a wonderful place to visit regardless of age, kids will want to check out three sections in particular: the Hamilton Children’s Garden, where they can climb a treehouse set in a jungle canopy; the Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden, designed to entertain and educate little ones with a dinosaur garden and playhouse; and the Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, where you can view unusual tropical plants and other rare botanic finds. 

If you happen to be visiting in December, don’t miss the annual Botanic Wonderland event, where you can stroll the grounds at night and be treated to performances by carolers, photos with Santa, holiday lights displays, and other holiday festivities.

02 of 18

Geek Out at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Michael Wood / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

1492 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101-3309, USA
Phone +1 619-234-9153

Travel through time and hit the high seas at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, where wannabe pirates and landlubbers alike can enjoy tours of four historic sailing ships—the world’s oldest, Star of India; a replica of the Navy frigate HMS Surprise, which parents might recognize from the film “Master and Commander;” San Salvador, the first ship to reach the West Coast from Europe; and the state’s oldest tall ship, the Californian. 

You’ll also be able to check out submarines (a 555 USS Dolphin and a Soviet B–39), steam-powered ships (the 1898 steam ferry Berkeley and the steam yacht Medea), and tour a PCF 816 swift boat and a San Diego Harbor pilot boat. The museum features interesting exhibits about model ships, vintage maritime postcards, photography on the high seas, maritime navigation, and what life was like aboard British fighting Man-Of-War ships, among other topics.

03 of 18

Discover the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch near San Diego

meltonmedia / Getty Images

5704 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad, CA 92008, USA
Phone +1 760-431-0352

Should your travels bring you to the San Diego area in springtime, make time to visit The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, which are typically in bloom between mid-March and mid-May; the best time to view them is usually in April. With thousands of colorful ranunculus flowers in bloom across 50 acres, it’s quite a sight to behold. Tour the fields, explore the artist gardens and bird aviaries, take in the scenery from an open-air tractor ride, or pick up some freshly picked flowers and bouquets.

Just a 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego, the Flower Fields are close to Legoland California, so you could always squeeze in a quick springtime photoshoot before or after a day at the theme park.

04 of 18

Take the Kids to Legoland

Pirate Picnic at Legoland

Betsy Malloy Photography

One Legoland Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008, USA
Phone +1 888-690-5346

Whether or not you're trekking 30 minutes up the coast to Carlsbad to see the Flower Fields, Legoland California, located right next door, features lots of things made of the ever-popular Lego blocks and is a fun (and quiet) option for smaller children, with lots of rides designed with little ones in mind. Adults, meanwhile, get to enjoy all the Lego creations. Older children may be bored, especially if they're the type who prefer roller coasters and thrill rides. Park hopper tickets can be purchased to include trips to the Legoland Waterpark and onsite Sea Life Carlsbad Aquarium if you'd like to spend more time in the area.

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05 of 18

Find a Family Friendly Beach

Surfers On the beach

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon

Coronado Beach, Coronado, CA 92118, USA

San Diego is home to dozens of beaches and at some of them, you can rent boogie boards, surfboards, or even a bike. Coronado Beach is an excellent choice for families if you're staying in that part of town, while La Jolla Shores has wide, gently sloping sands and fewer waves because it's protected in a cove. Nearby, La Jolla Cove is known for its great tide pools.

06 of 18

Admire Marine Life at Birch Aquarium and SeaWorld San Diego

Visitors at the Birch Aquarium
David Madison / Getty Images
2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
Phone +1 858-534-3474

Budding oceanographers and kids of all ages who adore animals will love the Birch Aquarium at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, where they can see a marine laboratory, learn about products made from things in the sea, and watch seahorses and leafy sea dragons float in the water. The Aquarium is large enough to have lots of interesting exhibits for older kids, yet small enough that younger children won't get too tired or lose interest.

Nearby, SeaWorld San Diego is home to orca whales as well as dozens of other acts and exhibits starring marine animals. You’ll find lots of educational shows, a few rides and attractions, and some fun touch pools. If you or your kids have seen the film "Blackfish," you may have already decided that SeaWorld isn't for you. Nevertheless, it remains a popular attraction for both locals and tourists year after year.

07 of 18

Stop by the San Diego Zoo and its Fascinating Safari Park

A tropical bird

TripSavvy / Kathleen Messmer

2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Phone +1 619-231-1515

The world-famous San Diego Zoo actually runs two parks in the San Diego area: the traditional-style zoo located in Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, located about 40 minutes north of town. Allow a full day to see each one if you can, as the Safari Park offers a completely different experience, with fewer cages and a chance to see some of the animals living together like they might in the wild. Be aware that during the busiest times of the year, typically during the summer months, both parks can be very hot and very crowded during the day.

08 of 18

Explore Balboa Park

The Botanical Building at Balboa Park in San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

San Diego, CA, USA
Phone +1 619-239-0512

Balboa Park is home to a lot more than just the San Diego Zoo. Lots of families overlook the rest of the park thinking the museums might be boring or that kids wouldn't like them. Besides all the museums—the San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Natural History Museum, World Beat Museum, Museum of Us, and San Diego Museum of Art, among several others—there are lots of open, shady spaces where little ones can run and play.

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09 of 18

Play at Mission Bay

Mission Beach Bay, San Diego, CA

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon

Mission Bay, San Diego, CA 92109, USA

The best skating spot for the younger crowd is along Mission Bay, which also has several playgrounds and acres of grass for kite flying. Teens will like the skating action along the Mission Beach Boardwalk and Ocean Front Walk, a busy skating and biking thoroughfare. Mission Bay is one of San Diego's most beautiful public parks, with lots of shoreline and things to do for kids who enjoy playing in the water. It can be very crowded on weekends though.

10 of 18

Ride the Rides at Belmont Park

Belmont Park, San Diego, CA

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109, USA
Phone +1 858-488-1549

Belmont Park’s Mission Beach Boardwalk is home to two restored landmarks: the Plunge, Southern California's largest indoor swimming pool when it opened in 1925, and the Giant Dipper, a restored wooden roller coaster with more than 2,600 feet of tracks and 13 hills.​ While the Plunge was closed briefly from 2016 to 2019, it later reopened with new features like updated showers and facilities. The Giant Dipper continues to impress kids of all ages, while other rides attract teens and nostalgic adults seeking that rush you can only get from old-school amusement park rides.

11 of 18

Pay a Visit to Old Town

Old Town San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

Old Town, San Diego, CA, USA

Old Town is home to many of San Diego's first buildings, including Presidio Park, declared in 1774, and many small houses built in the early 19th century. Adults and older children will find the architecture and historic buildings fascinating, whereas younger children may enjoy the many authentic Mexican restaurants or various celebrations held here throughout the year. Las Posadas, an annual holiday festival, includes a traditional nativity procession with a piñata at the end for the children.

12 of 18

Check Out the New Children's Museum

New Children's Museum in San Diego, CA

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

200 W Island Ave, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Phone +1 619-233-8792

The New Children's Museum is located downtown near the Convention Center and includes a vast selection of rotating, interactive art installations little ones will love. Past exhibitions include "Food Truckin'," where kids could design and "drive" their own miniature food trucks, and "No Rules... Except," a room filled with 40 mattresses and 165 handmade, scattered tire cushions, encouraging active play.

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13 of 18

Tour Petco Park

Petco Park in San Diego, CA

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

100 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Phone +1 619-795-5025

Sports-loving kids in San Diego may enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of the San Diego Padres' home turf. Petco Park's guided tours include a sneak peek at the press box and the team's dugout, and provide some background info about the Western Metal Supply Co. If you're visiting from April through September, you can pair your game-day ticket with an "early bird" tour.

14 of 18

Celebrate Science at the Palomar Observatory

Mount Palomar Observatory

Roger Ressmeyer / Corbis / VCG

35899 Canfield Rd, Palomar Mountain, CA 92060-0200, USA
Phone +1 760-742-2119

Science-minded kids will enjoy a visit to the Palomar Observatory, home to three working telescopes, including a 200-inch Hale Telescope. The observatory is open to the public daily and offers hour-long tours for those over the age of five. There's also a visitor center where you’ll find many exciting exhibits celebrating all things galactic.

15 of 18

Learn to Surf

Surfing lesson

 Hero Images

4121 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109, USA
Phone +1 858-488-2685

Kids as young as five can give surfing a try—and there's no better place for them to hit the waves beginner-style than San Diego. While there are accredited schools on nearly every beach, Pacific Surf School, located along Pacific Beach, is among the best, offering private and group lessons as well as longer-term surfing camps.

16 of 18

Go on a Whale Watching Adventure

Whale tail

 Per Breiehagen / Getty Images

San Diego, CA, USA

If you happen to be in San Diego from December through April, take the time to go on a whale-watching cruise from downtown. During this part of the year, more than 20,000 whales—orcas, fin whales, gray whales, and minke whales, among others—begin their annual journey from Alaska down to Mexico. For a real treat, plan your trip to be between June and September so you can seek out blue whales, the largest animals on earth.

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17 of 18

Learn About Anthropological History at the Museum of Us

Museum of Us in San Diego, CA

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon

1350 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Phone +1 619-239-2001

The unique Museum of Us is an anthropology museum—with a twist. Exhibits are most appropriate for older kids but include everything from Egyptian mummies to an in-depth presentation about the legends, myths, and lore behind monsters. 

18 of 18

Get Hands-On with Science at the Fleet Science Center

Fleet Science Center in San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

1875 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101-1625, USA
Phone +1 619-238-1233

Located in Balboa Park, the Fleet Science Center is home to the world's first IMAX Dome theater—officially named the Eugene Heikoff and Marilyn Jacobs Heikoff Dome Theatre at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center—as well as a 76-foot planetarium. Permanent exhibits focus on all things science, ranging from a unique exploration into San Diego's water sources to "So Watt!," a clever display on energy.

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18 Fun Things to Do With Kids in San Diego