12 Things To Do With Family In San Diego, California

Last Updated on February 15, 2024 by Emily Johnson

San Diego is one of California’s top family destinations, offering beautiful beaches, world-class attractions, kid-friendly museums and parks, and delicious food. With near-perfect weather year-round, it’s easy to plan a memorable San Diego family vacation filled with fun adventures.

Fromtheme parks like LEGOLAND California and the famous San Diego Zoo to all the family-friendly beaches, there are so many amazing things to see and do. No matter your family’s interests – whether you love animals, the outdoors, history, sports, or hands-on museums – San Diego has something for everyone.

To help you make the most of your next San Diego family trip, here is an overview of 12 top things to do with kids of all ages in one of California’s best cities.

Explore the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

No family trip to San Diego is complete without a visit to one of the world’s most famous zoos and safari parks. Part of the immense Balboa Park, the 100-acre San Diego Zoo is home to more than 3,500 rare and endangered animals living in bioclimatic habitats.

Stroll through lush jungle trails to see gorillas, orangutans, elephants, tigers, polar bears, giraffes, pandas, and koalas from around the globe. Make sure to ride the guided bus tour and aerial tram for unique vantage points. The San Diego Zoo is very spread out so plan to spend a full day exploring.

Nearby, the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido offers another incredible wildlife experience. Get up close from safari vehicles to see rhinos, giraffes, antelope, lions, tigers and more roaming large enclosures to view animal behaviors you just can’t see in traditional zoo exhibits. Check the safari park schedule for unique wildlife shows and hands-on encounters too. Both zoos also host seasonal events and activities perfect for families like summer concerts and opportunities to observe nursery habitats with baby animals.

Tickets can be pricey, so look for combo and discounted family packages. Arrive early since both zoos get crowded, especially on weekends. The zoo and safari park are about 35 minutes apart, so plan to visit them on separate days.

Make a Splash at Mission Beach

For classic SoCal beach fun, head to Mission Beach, located just northwest of downtown San Diego. Stretching for over 2 miles, this wide sandy beach has volleyball courts for friendly family competitions, playgrounds right on the sand, and the iconic Belmont Park amusement park and gigantic wave pool on the boardwalk.

Build epic sandcastles, go boogie boarding in the small waves, play beach tennis or football, and end the day watching a Pacific sunset. Stop for tacos or ice cream along the bustling boardwalk lined with shops, cafes, and watersports rentals for every age and skill level. The beach and lively boardwalk have a casual, festive vibe where kids can happily play for hours while parents relax oceanside.

Board One of San Diego’s Famous Cruises

View San Diego’s impressive skyline, scenic bays, wildlife, and naval ships from the unique vantage point of a cruise. Hornblower Cruises offers brunch, lunch, and dinner cruises with live music and kids’ menus, plus whale watching tours in season. Get up close views of the harbor seals and sea lions that lounge on buoys and beaches during a scenic San Diego Seal Tour on replica US Navy amphibious boats. Or take a high-speed thrill ride out into the ocean to look for dolphins, whales and other marine life with Adventure Rib Rides.

Many cruises depart from Downtown’s Embarcadero area filled with an aquarium, museums, historic ships, parks, and other family attractions, as well as numerous waterfront restaurants. Cruising San Diego Bay makes for a relaxing yet engaging family outing.

Make a Splash on Fun Water Rides

In addition to playing at Mission Beach, kids will have a blast cooling off on wet and wild water rides around town. At LEGOLAND California Resort’s Water Park, little thrill-seekers can barrel down creative slides like the Lion Temple Wave Pool and Orange Rush slide. Get drenched together on family raft rides or let kids play freely in the colorful Joker Soaker zone. Knott’s Soak City Chula Vista also packs waves, raft rides, plunging slides and more into one guest favorite water park that makes summer days unforgettable.

Downtown, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel hosts a family-friendly pool deck overlooking the bay with multiple pools, three big slides that twist and loop, plus a sandy beach great for building sand castles and relaxing. The nearby Coronado Beach and Tidelands Park offer another beautiful bayfront setting for kids to swim and parents to relax on shore.

No matter which water park or pool you choose, pack sunscreen, water shoes and goggles to make the most of San Diego’s aqua adventures.

New Experiences Await at Balboa Park

Far more than the home of the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park comprises 1,200 beautiful acres jam-packed with world-class museums, immersive exhibits, gorgeous gardens, and performing arts venues ideal for family fun. At the Fleet Science Center, budding scientists can explore hands-on exhibits on space, aviation, physics, geology and more, while budding artists will adore the San Diego Museum of Art’s interactive Art Alive Family Room. The NAT features an awesome three-story climbing structure within an eye-popping outdoor sculpture garden – perfect for burning off steam.

Balboa Park also hosts unique events like EarthFair, an environmental fair with music, art, food and crafts to enjoy. Free park benefits include scenic walking trails, gardens blooming year-round, outdoor plays in the Old Globe complex, and street performers. Pack a picnic or dine al fresco in the park before capping off this do-it-all day with a ride on the charmingly historic Balboa Park Carousel.

Tour USS Midway Museum

Climb aboard the retired USS Midway aircraft carrier docked in San Diego Harbor for a fascinating look at life in the U.S Navy through decades of conflicts and missions around the world. From the cramped sleeping quarters to the cavernous engine room, galley, gun turrets and bridge, this floating city at sea immerses visitors in Navy culture.

Kids can try out flight simulators on the hanger deck, peer through periscopes and portholes, and walk right onto historic aircraft displayed on the 4-acre floating museum. Time a visit with one of Midway’s family events like Movie Nights Under the Stars or even sleepovers aboard this iconic naval vessel.

Catch a Baseball Game

As the home of Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres, America’s Finest City offers exciting professional baseball at downtown’s Petco Park from April into October. The family-friendly ballpark features fun interactive zones like the Padres Park at the Park playground with a mini baseball field, splash fountains to cool off in, and special kid seating sections.

Catching a Padres game is a quintessential San Diego experience with supporter traditions like tailgating, cheering for the home team, and watching fireworks light up the sky after select Friday night games. Enjoy ballpark classics like hot dogs and Peanuts while making family memories. Baseball makes for an active, affordable outing for sports loving families.

Ride a Historic Train or Trolley

All aboard for scenic coastal views! Train loving families shouldn’t miss a ride on the Pacific Surfliner route from San Diego to Oceanside, or historic streetcars along downtown’s Silver Line. The Coaster train ride heading north along the coast treats you to sweeping Pacific views as you clickety-clack over trestle bridges and through Encinitas and Carlsbad.

Along the downtown trolley line, hop off to explore habitats at SeaWorld or the bustling Little Italy neighborhood filled with kid-pleasing pizzerias and gelato. Adding rail transportation adds variety and new scenery to a family San Diego itinerary.

Get Hands-On at New Children’s Museum

If kids start to tire of passive museum exhibits, revive their curiosity at the New Children’s Museum downtown. Far from a typical gallery experience, this ultra-hands-on children’s museum was designed by artists specifically for kids with multi-story climbable sculptures, interactive art installations to touch and move through, a special toddler area for ages 2 and under, and unique family programs every day.

Children are encouraged to sink their hands into sand, construct buildings with oversize toys, make music and art in the studio, dress up and perform on stage, or get creative in the sensory PlayScape. This artsy indoor playground will spark every kid’s imagination no matter the weather outside.

Tour by Amphibious Vehicle

For a truly memorable family outing, tour San Diego by land and sea in a vintage amphibious vehicle known as a Duck. Offering 75 minutes of unique sightseeing around Coronado, downtown and into the bay, these revamped WW2 vehicles drive along city streets before splashing right into the harbor for a cool boat tour.

Kids of all ages giggle joyfully at the surprise sensation of the Duck plunging into the water, then calmly floating along past Naval ships, waterside parks and wildlife. Live narration and music make this tour both entertaining and informative about America’s Finest City from the one-of-a-kind vantage point of both wheels and hull on the water.

Be a Lego Brickmaster

No family trip to San Diego is complete without a day devoted to LEGOLAND California Resort. Just north of downtown in Carlsbad, this world-class theme park brings kids’ imaginations alive through LEGO sculptures, shows, rides and building activities suited for ages 2-12. Tour LEGO cities, castles and worlds before buckling into kid thrill rides like Coastersaurus wooden rollercoaster with a 12 foot plunge that families can experience side-by-side. Cool down afterward in summer at LEGOLAND Water Park or Sea Life Aquarium.

Hands-on building activities span LEGO NINJAGO-themed training camps to controlling LEGO cars that kids construct themselves. Got a little brickmaster-in-training? LEGOLAND California was made for them (and you)! Round out a day of bricktastic fun together by staying at the festive LEGOLAND Castle Hotel right inside the park.

Play with Baby Animals at Petting Zoos

For animal encounters San Diego-style, visit one of several petting zoos and hands-on animal centers tailored for families around town. At Hidden Valley Heritage Park, children can feed and brush farm animals like ponies, goats, sheep and chickens in a small petting zoo. Meanwhile Tierra Del Sol Alpaca Farm lets guests get up close and personal with their cute herd of friendly alpacas native to South America. Choose from farm tours, alpaca walks and close encounters where your family bonds with these wooly animals.

For more exotic creatures, head to Zoofari Wildlife Center to hold sloths, coatis, snakes, tiny deer and other rescue critters. Sign up for the hands-on educational programs to learn about wildlife habitats while safely touching unique animals like kinkajous. With numerous opportunities to pet and feed furry friends around the area, San Diego animal adventures cater to curious little critters just like yours.

Conclusion


From expansive parks and beaches to one-of-a-kind attractions, family-style cruises and petting zoos, San Diego overflows with amazing activities for traveling clans. Iconic thrills likeLEGOLAND, the San Diego Zoo and USS Midway combine with under-the-radar joys like historic streetcars, amphibious city tours and alpaca encounters.

With the Pacific as a backdrop, room for every generation to explore their own interests, and that famous endless sunshine,Family vacations here promise fun-filled memories to last a lifetime.Whether you seek animals, outdoor adventure, marine encounters or kid-centric museums, San Diego offers an extraordinary Californian getaway with room enough for everyone to play.

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