12 Things To Do With Family In Chula Vista, California

Last Updated on February 17, 2024 by Emily Johnson


Nestled along San Diego Bay just south of the city of San Diego, Chula Vista offers visitors plenty of fun activities for the whole family. From scenic nature parks and trails to kid-friendly museums, world-famous theme parks and much more, there is truly something for everyone.

Whether you’re traveling with tiny toddlers in tow or have teens looking for a bit more adventure, the list below highlights 12 not-to-miss attractions and things to do with family in Chula Vista and the surrounding area.

Aquatica San Diego Waterpark


For a splashing good time, take the kids to Aquatica San Diego Waterpark. Just a short drive from downtown Chula Vista, this highly-rated waterpark is owned and managed by SeaWorld parks and entertainment. Rated as one of the top ten waterparks in the country by USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards, Aquatica has over 42 exciting water slides and attractions spread out across its lushly landscaped 20 acres.

Families with smaller children will love the lazy river, wave pools and a play area just for tiny tots. For the thrill-seekers in your group, there are four distinct slide areas including some all-time favorites like the Walhalla Wave, Woohoo Falls and the AquaRacer, where guests can race side-by-side on mats through twists and turns to the finish line.

With its Australian theme, beautiful beach-like surroundings and some of the industry’s best animal rescue and educational programs, plan to spend at least a full day here checking out all there is to see and do above and below the water.

Wildlife Experience in the Chula Vista Bayfront


No trip to Chula Vista would be complete without a visit to the beautiful San Diego Bay, home to a wide array of wildlife and natural habitats. The jewel of the bayfront area is the Chula Vista Nature Center, a hands-on educational facility highlighting the plants and animals that call this region home. Here you can get up close with native reptiles like western pond turtles, tortoises and non-venomous snakes in the Reptile Discovery Room. Friendly naturalists are always on hand to answer questions, provide fun facts and allow gentle petting and interaction with the creatures.

Or check out the Shark & Ray Experience, where you can touch and feed brown and white-tip reef sharks, massive rays and tiny leopard sharks in the open-air pool. Just outside, meander through the Shores Park Habitat trail featuring stunning saltwater marsh views and signs detailing all of the birds, fish and other wildlife visible from the boardwalks on the bayside. To catch a glimpse of dozens of exotic bird species from five different continents, head over to the Lorikeet Landing aviary where you can hand-feed the rainbow-hued parrots for a truly memorable up close encounter.

Before leaving, make time to walk along the scenic mile-long Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge trail. At the peak of high tide when the sand flats fill with several inches of water, it becomes a shorebird watcher’s paradise. Your family may even spot endangered California least terns fishing and feeding chicks at the nearby nesting grounds. With telescopes on loan and guided bird walks available, the Chula Vista Nature Center and its surrounding natural habitats offer an amazing wildlife adventure for nature lovers of all ages.

Go Karts and Mini Golf at Boomers Chula Vista


At Boomers Chula Vista family entertainment center located conveniently off I-805, your crew can channel your inner speed racer behind the wheel of a go kart that can reach exhilarating speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. With two challenging multi-level tracks complete with hairpin turns, S-curves and straightaways, kids ages 7 and up (and guts adults too) are sure to have a blast racing wheel-to-wheel on the streets or the competition-style speedway.

When you need a break from the action, try your hand at a round of mini golf on Boomers’ creative 18-hole course instead. Designed with some whimsical surprises in mind, holes have fun themes like spooky forests, old western ghost towns and tropical jungles. The family that plays together stays together, so be sure to team up for a friendly putting competition to see who ultimately comes out on top.

And if anyone works up an appetite, fear not! With plenty of delicious meal options at on-site eatery serving everything from thirst-quenching slushies to hot sandwiches and snacks, no one will go home hungry when the checkered flag finally falls at this awesome Chula Vista attraction.

Hiking at Otay Valley Regional Park


Otay Valley Regional Park encompasses over 8,900 acres of undeveloped land in the southern portion of San Diego County, providing excellent recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. With its trails winding through coastal sage scrub, sycamore and oak riparian woodlands and even a historic dam drained by floods, the natural park just minutes from downtown Chula Vista has a hidden beauty all its own.

Families can embark on one of the simpler, relatively flat trail loops perfect for casual hikes, mountain biking and horseback riding like the 1.8-mile Discovery Lake Trail which forms a loop around the serene namesake lake near the north entrance. Or challenge yourselves with the Oak Canyon Trail or Eastern Terminus Trail whose uphill climbs through rocky terrain are rewarded with panoramic vistas from high lookout points.

Kids are sure to get a kick out of exploring the abandoned Otay Dam constructed in 1898 which still remains as a testament to a bygone era today. Pack a nutritious trail mix or picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the park’s shaded tables and benches along the route, remembering to carry out any waste to preserve the unspoiled habitat. Offering over 50-miles of multi-use dirt trails suitable for all ability levels winding past scenic reservoirs, waterfalls and native landscapes in a tranquil natural setting, you’re sure to make some magical memories hiking as a family in this Chula Vista jewel.

USS Midway Museum


Docked in downtown San Diego just a short drive from Chula Vista, the USS Midway Museum is one of the most fascinating and interactive naval ship museums around. Touring the expansive retired aircraft carrier, you and your kids can imagine what life was like for over 200,000 service members stationed onboard during this venerable vessel’s impressive 47 years of military service spanning World War II to Operation Desert Storm.

Climb inside aircrafts on the 4-acre flight deck. Gaze down helicopter hangars and machine shops deep within the hull on self-guided audio tours narrated by actual Midway sailors. Have tiny aviators dress up in flight suits and try out simulators firsthand. From the cramped sleeping quarters to Captain’s Command Center to the massive steam-powered engine room, walking around this floating city at sea gives you an upfront appreciation for military life that you simply can’t find anywhere else.

Time your visit to catch the patriotic morning flag ceremony or come around holidays like Veteran’s Day for special war remembrances complete with color guards. With rare access and sights into this incredible aircraft carrier that was longer than three football fields, the Midway is an interactive naval museum the whole family is sure to love.

Tide Pools at Cabrillo National Monument


Perched dramatically on the western edge of San Diego Bay overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Cabrillo National Monument makes for an excellent eco-friendly attraction to experience with kids of any age. At the Tidepool Area on the rocky north shore, families can catch glimpses at some of the 300 species of coastal marine creatures who emerge at low tides to feed in the nutrient-rich pools left behind.

Equipped with free Explorer Tidepool Kits and guided by helpful staff or volunteers at the site, see if you can spot and identify sea anemones that come in a rainbow of colors from green to purple to orange. Tiny striped shore crabs skitter near hidden octopi tucked securely into crevices, while fleets of fish like the spotted kelpfish with its leopard-like spots stake claim to larger pools as the tides recede each day.

The historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse at the southern end of the park also makes for stunning photo opportunities with panoramic sea views. Bring your own binoculars or borrow some for free to try and spot migrating gray whales and dolphins frolicking in the ocean from various lookout points as well.

With entry to the National Monument completely free of cost and ranger or volunteer-led programs happening most weekends and holidays, enjoying an exciting yet inexpensive eco-adventure with the family becomes an easy choice. After exploring the fascinating tide pools up close and learning about the park’s tribute to Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, be sure to linger along the Mondrian-esque coastline to soak up a colorful San Diego sunset before the closing each evening too.

Hike and Bike at Otay Ranch Preserve


Just minutes from downtown, Chula Vista’s own Otay Ranch Preserve offers 5,600 acres of rolling hills, canyons and grasslands criss-crossed by multi-use trails perfect for enjoying the great outdoors with family of any age or physical ability in tow. One of the most scenic trails at this stunning natural park managed by the City of Chula Vista is the Meridian Trail loop spanning just over 2 miles in length with gradual elevation gains through coastal sage scrub dotted with oak trees and panoramic valley views.

Kids are sure to love spotting tiny lizards and quick jackrabbits darting through the brush, while parents can point out native plants like the purple-flowering sage and yellow monkey flower blooming seasonally along the path. Mountain bikers and equestrians visiting the park also have dozens of miles of dedicated trails allowing thrilling canyon descents or more casual terrain to explore at their own pace.

When you work up an appetite, choose from several covered picnic areas with BBQ grills set amidst meadows of wild flowers and butterflies or claim a beachfront table at Cross Roads II county park located conveniently across the preserve. Offering outdoor adventures galore with hiking, biking, horseback riding and even seasonal stargazing events, Otay Ranch Preserve makes for an ideal natural playground where the whole family can make happy memories together just steps from home.

Lego-Themed Amusement Park at Legoland California


Combining brightly colored block creations, thrilling rides and entertainment galore, Legoland California theme park in nearby Carlsbad truly fosters fun for families with kids ages 2-12 in mind. Here your tiny master builders can live out their ultimate Lego fantasy by steering their own battery-powered Lego car on the kid-size driving school course.

Race side-by-side down three stories on Project X rollercoaster cars themed liked the popular Lego X-treme brand. Save a princess at the Royal Joust medieval-style ride inspired by Lego Castle sets. From Ninjago-themed training camps to DUPLO play areas perfect for toddlers, even grown-ups are sure to geek out over the park’s amazing Miniland USA section meticulously crafted using over 30 million Lego bricks into cities, national monuments like the Washington D.C. National Mall and iconic locations from popular movies including an army of storm troopers marching down the Yellow Brick Road.

Be sure to stay for the evening too when millions of LEDs transform the park into a magical winter wonderland set to holiday music and dancing lights. Just 35 minutes north of Chula Vista, a trip to Legoland California makes for the ultimate family vacation blending amusement rides, entertainment and those iconic little building blocks in creative new ways for visitors of any age to let imagination run wild.

Hike Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve


From sandy beaches to scenic hiking trails with unbeatable ocean vistas, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve situated just north of downtown San Diego delivers one-of-a-kind outdoor fun for active families seeking to explore nature together.

Here you can traverse eight miles of moderate coastal trails winding past rare Torrey pine trees and sentinel-like yuccas blooming seasonally with massive polka-dotted stalks amidst salt spray and sandstone cliffs. For an easier jaunt suitable for tiny trekkers, consider the Guy Fleming loop trail spanning just under one mile in length but still delivering the same picturesque ocean overlooks.

Pack a pre-hike snack to enjoy at the crest of Razor Point near the glider port launch before descending 300 feet along the way towards the beach. Or for more of an uphill cardiovascular challenge, take on the 2,000-step Beach Trail staircase leading from the parking lot directly to Torrey Pines State Beach and the promise of some well-deserved playtime in the sand afterward.

Just remember to keep a respectful distance from the reserve’s namesake pine trees and stay on marked paths to prevent damage to the rare species calling this incredibly scenic natural area home. Offering family-friendly ranger walks on Saturdays and Sundays, Torrey Pines makes for an amazing kid approved hiking escape just minutes from downtown yet feels like a relaxing world away.

Belmont Park Beachfront Amusements


No family trip to San Diego’s Mission Beach area would be complete without a visit to historic Belmont Park, providing old-fashioned seaside fun along the boardwalk for over 100 years. In addition to enjoying a day splashing in the ocean waves, families can ride the iconic Giant Dipper Rollercoaster originally constructed in 1925 featuring thrill-inducing drops giving stunning views of the waterfront along the way.

Try your hand at one of the challenging hole-in-ones at the mini golf course too or team up to battle pirates, monsters and more at the expansive laser tag arena. When you work up an appetite, grab a iconic burger or shake from local legend Hodad’s Restaurant right on property or let the kids burn off steam in the expansive indoor playground.

Belmont Park even has a supervised Kidz Camp facility so parents can slip off for a relaxing couples’ massage at the on-site spa while the children create masterpieces in art classes tailored for their age. And once the little ones grow sleepy as the sunset fades, gather the family to watch free movie screenings on the huge beachfront screen during select summer nights.

Offering oceanside nostalgia blending carnival-style boardwalk fun with modern amenities for parents too, it’s easy to see why Belmont Park remains San Diego’s ultimate beachfront destination for making lifelong family memories together.

Hiking and Horses at Otay Valley Regional Park


Nestled in a valley surrounded by scenic mountains and rolling hills just minutes from downtown Chula Vista lies Otay Valley Regional Park, encompassing nearly 9,000 acres of unspoiled natural habitats. Featuring over 50 miles of multi-use dirt trails winding past native coastal sage scrub, oak woodlands and even a historic dam site accessible only by foot, Otay makes an ideal destination for families who love the great outdoors.

Tiny trekkers who may tire out easily can enjoy short and scenic trails loops like the 1.8-mile Discovery Lake Trail encircling its peaceful namesake lake accented with water lilies. Families seeking more challenging terrain can summit peaks via the Telegraph Canyon Trail for panoramic valley views or traverse the hilly 6-mile Cruiser Loop across meadows dotted with spring wildflowers if tackling distance is more your style.

But one of Otay’s biggest claims to fame is the fact that nearly half its extensive trail system has been set aside for equestrian use, making it a haven for horseback riding enthusiasts too. So families interested can book guided trail rides from the on-site stables tailored for riders ages seven and up lasting from one to two hours in length.

Meandering through canyons or ambling up hills while seeing nature from horseback makes memories to last long beyond when you finally say goodbye to your trusty steed and remove a boot from stirrup. Whether tackling adventures on foot or hoof, Otay Valley Regional Park offers plenty of kid-approved fun.

Kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding on San Diego Bay

What better way to admire San Diego’s glittering skyline views and famous Coronado Bridge spanning across the bay than from the deck of a kayak or stand up paddle board? Luckily several outfitters like OEX Sunset Cliffs offer rentals and lessons for first-timers of all ages wanting to take to the gentle bay waters just footsteps from downtown Chula Vista.

Glide peacefully past sprawling yacht marinas and the USS Midway Museum aboard wider, more stable kayaks perfect for tiny paddlers. Or try standing up and balancing with a great core workout on a paddle board for older kids and teens seeking more of a challenge. Many tour guides will even lead you to hidden spots where sea lions lounge along channel markers or elaborate mansions line the bay shores to ogle at along the way.

Pack a small cooler with snacks and non-alcoholic drinks to enjoy a relaxing picnic lunch atop the waters too. With calmer waves and windstected conditions ideal for beginners than the open ocean just beyond, San Diego Bay makes for the ultimate aquatic playground for families to bond while taking in one-of-a-kind views of America’s Finest City from an entirely new awe-inspiring vantage point.

Conclusion


From thrilling amusement parks to fascinating museums and breathtaking nature escapes nearby, families visiting Chula Vista will enjoy an amazing array of attractions and things to see and do together. Marvel at sea creatures at the Chula Vista Nature Center or race go karts at Boomers entertainment venue perfect for ages seven and up. Explore an aircraft carrier at the interactive USS Midway Museum and soak up coastal views from historic Cabrillo National Monument both just a short drive away.

Go off-road or off-track at Otay Ranch Preserve’s hiking and biking trails and fashion your own brick buildings come to life at Legoland’s themed areas and rides. Take in endangered wildlife sightings while meandering scenic trails with stunning vistas at Torrey Pines State Reserve or saddle up for a horseback ride through Otay Valley Regional Park instead.

And when you’re ready for boardwalk fun, historic Belmont Park delivers seaside amusement alongside Hodad’s legendary burgers. With amazing attractions ranging from nature excursions to museums and thrilling theme parks, Chula Vista serves as the ultimate home base for experiencing the best of San Diego with the entire family by your side.

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