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9 Family-Friendly Things To Do in San Diego

From sprawling beaches and adventure theme parks to one of the largest zoos in the world, San Diego is a perfect getaway for family travelers.
Hi, I'm Aimee!

Aimee is a writer, editor, and brand consultant based in San Diego. Her work focuses on travel, food, and adventuring with kids. When she’s not behind her laptop, she’s busy planning her next trip, testing out a new recipe, or hiking with her pup. You can read more of her work here.

San Diego delights family travelers with its pleasant weather, sandy beaches, and an array of theme parks. The California city’s laid-back vibe and casual, never-fussy attitude make everyone feel at home. From the best spots to find animal encounters to the city’s historic museums, here are nine experiences to make your San Diego itinerary adventurous, kid-friendly, and memorable.


legoland california entrance sign
LEGOLAND is fun for the young and the young at heart.Photo Credit: Hayk_Shalunts / Shutterstock

A San Diego theme park little kids will love.

Built for the LEGO®-obsessed family, LEGOLAND® has a number of attractions that everyone can enjoy together. To avoid long lines and keep kids entertained, start in the back of the park and visit some of the area’s less popular but just as enjoyable spots to start with, including the Adventurers’ Club, Police and Fire Academy, or DUPLO® Playtown.

Then, head over to the park’s latest attraction, the Ferrari Build and Race interactive exhibit, to give your little Formula 1 fan a chance to be in the driver’s seat. Or, explore MINILAND, where kids encounter world-famous cities and attractions scaled to just about their height.

Insider tip: Download the LEGOLAND app before you go to explore their interactive map, get ride wait times, and a height guide for rides. And don’t forget to buy tickets ahead to avoid waiting in line.

2. Explore the San Diego Zoo

entrance to san diego zoo
The Sumatran tigers are a must-see.Photo Credit: Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock

Keep up with your favorite furry friends.

No trip to San Diego with kids is complete without a visit to the famous San Diego Zoo. The 100-acre (40.5-hectare) park features more than 12,000 rare and endangered animals from around the world, including koalas, polar bears, tortoises, tigers, and more. Don’t miss the endangered Sumatran tiger cubs at the zoo. The two young siblings, just born, are two of only 400–600 Sumatran tigers left on earth.

Here, enjoy interactive shows, animal encounters, and the iconic Skyfari Aerial Tram. The newly opened Wildlife Explorers Basecamp hosts four habitat areas where kids can play right next to each animal species. Tickets include a complimentary bus tour, which is helpful for families because the terrain around the zoo is hilly.

Insider tip: If you want even more access to animals and want to see them in their natural habitat, check out the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

3. Climb aboard historic maritime museums

uss midway ship
The USS Midway is a decommissioned aircraft carrier that's been transformed into a museum.Photo Credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock

Play explorer and sail the high seas for a day.

Give your kids a history lesson on what life was like living in a floating city with a visit to the USS Midway Museum—the largest aircraft carrier in the world that you can tour. Explore the ship’s galley, engine room, jail, flight simulators, and more. Plus, chat with museum volunteers who bring the flight deck to life, recounting stories of life on the high seas.

Or, climb aboard one of several historic sailing vessels at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. The San Salvador, the 92-foot (28-meter) galleon, is a historically accurate reconstruction of the ship that entered San Diego harbor in 1542 under the helm of Spanish explorer Juan Rodríquez Cabrillo. You can even catch a 90-minute performance of A New Pirate Adventure staged aboard the San Salvador.

4. Discover Balboa Park

ornate salmon colored buildings in front of pond
Be sure to stroll by the Casa de Balboa while you're in Balboa Park—it's an architectural gem.Photo Credit: Dancestrokes / Shutterstock

Enjoy this enormous urban cultural park, one of the best in San Diego.

Home to 17 museums—plus carousels, trains, and scavenger hunts—Balboa Park is a must-stop on your family vacation to San Diego. From the city’s most well-known museums like The San Diego Natural History Museum (The Nat) to the under-the-radar spots like the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, there’s something for every age and interest.

Hop on the Balboa Park Mini Train, located next to the historic carousel, for a brief ride through a man-made jungle. Afterward, walk south from the museums along Park Boulevard to Pepper Grove Playground. There are two separate play structure areas, one for the toddler set and one geared toward older children.

Related: Visiting San Diego for the First Time? Here's What To See and Do

5. Visit the ballpark

aerial view of baseball stadium
Petco Park has an impressive lineup of food options to keep non-baseball fans entertained.Photo Credit: randy andy / Shutterstock

Root for the Padres at Petco Park.

Take the family to Petco Park, where you’ll find breathtaking views of the city and one of the best craft beer experiences. The San Diego Padres offer an extra special kid-friendly perk on Sundays: Kidsfest. This is when gates open early (two hours before the first pitch) so families can enjoy bounce houses, face painters, balloon artists, and more. A behind-the-scenes tour of the waterfront park is an excellent choice for sports-loving families.

Don’t miss: Check out Gallagher Square, a grassy area with a mini little league infield diamond, trees, and plenty of space to picnic and play. It’s located inside the park, so you need a ticket.

6. Explore sea caves in La Jolla

interior of a sea cave looking out to sea
It's not a trip to Southern California if you don't make it to the ocean.Photo Credit: Jason Finn / Shutterstock

The best spot to see California Sea Lions.

La Jolla, the posh coastal village located about 13 miles (20 kilometers) north of downtown, is home to Birch Aquarium; La Jolla Shores Beach (one of the best beaches in San Diego for families); and Sunny Jim Sea Cave, the only cave you can access by land on the California coastline. There are 144 stairs involved, so be prepared to both descend and climb. Choose from other active adventures like kayaking or paddleboarding, or just kick back and watch the dolphins, sea lions, and even orcas that inhabit the area.

Insider tip: Don't forget to pay a visit to Children’s Pool Beach (also known as Casa Beach) to catch a glimpse of sea lions and seals. (Then quiz your kids on the difference between the two—hint: sea lions have external ear flaps.)

7. Experience San Diego Harbor

overwater building at sunset
The harbor is an essential part of San Diego.Photo Credit: Boycez / Shutterstock

For land and water exploration in San Diego.

From Waterfront Park to Seaport Village, discovering San Diego Harbor with your family is a great way to spend the day. Enjoy views on land and then from the harbor on a Seal Tour. Step aboard the amphibious vehicle and cruise past SeaWorld and Vacation Isle, experiencing the best of maritime San Diego. When there, indulge in some throwback candy at The Something Sweet Shop in Seaport Village.

8. Take a day trip to Coronado Island

causeway at sunset
Coronado Island is just a short drive away, but it has an entirely different feel than the rest of San Diego.Photo Credit: Sean Xu / Shutterstock

Visit on foot or by bike.

Coronado Island is across the bay from downtown San Diego—to get technical, it’s a tied island connected by a sandy isthmus called Silver Strand. Whether you drive across the Coronado Bridge, take a ferry or water taxi across The Big Bay, or drive across the 7-mile (11-kilometer) peninsula, your trip to the charming spot is part of the adventure.

And once you arrive, there’s plenty for the whole family to do along the famous Orange Avenue, but the entire town is only 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) wide, so plan to bike or walk during your visit.

Insider tip: Make sure to walk along the beach and check out The Sandcastle Man. His building skills can inspire your next sandy masterpiece.

9. Discover Moonlight Beach

surfers on the beach
Despite its name, Moonlight Beach is beautiful by day, too.Photo Credit: Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock

Savor the surf, sand, and sun.

San Diego has some seriously gorgeous beaches, so spending time with your feet in the sand tops the list of things to do on your family vacation. Moonlight Beach in Encinitas is an ideal spot for kids of all ages and a local favorite. Stop by the grassy area, which includes a fun playground at the beach entrance.

The Moonlight Beach Concession Stand is stocked with food for hungry beach-goers, and you’re close enough to walk to local ice cream shops. For an extra adventure, take a guided bike tour to get an insider's feel for the beaches throughout North County. As the day comes to an end, watch the sunset at Moonlight Beach—a majestic experience.

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