Visiting San Diego with kids? You’ll head to the world famous zoo in Balboa Park. But then what? Whether you’ve got a day, a weekend or longer, there are so many fun things to do in and around San Diego. Here are a local’s top 40, from the ocean beaches to the area theme parks and downtown too to help you plan your itinerary.
Downtown San Diego
Downtown San Diego offers families a bustling and vibrant city experience with many activities just within walking distance. Find interactive fun for kids at the New Children’s Museum, a three-story building that houses hands-on exhibits and installations for young children.
Gaslamp Quarter is an upbeat and walkable area for dining and boutique shopping. For meals, kids love both The Old Spaghetti Factory and Sugar Factory.
Seaport Village is a 14-acre venue of outdoor shopping and dining. For little ones, the historic 1895 carousel is a highlight of this bayside locale.
Nearby, the Embarcadero Marina Park North offers a flat walking/biking path and grassy areas to play or fly a kite.
The Maritime Museum, Star of India and USS Midway museum are located along N. Embarcadero. With upper elementary aged kids, plan to spend the most time at the Midway, with 60+ exhibits onboard this retired aircraft carrier.
The Little Italy Mercato Farmer’s Market operates each Saturday from 8 a.m to 2 p.m. and every Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. This outdoor collection of local farmers offers fresh fruits, veggies and more.
Love pizza? Stop in at one of the many Italian restaurants to capture the true flavors of this vibrant downtown destination. The casual Filippi’s Pizza Grotto is our family favorite.
Waterfront Park offers expansive grassy lawns, a large playground and spray fountains – all free of charge!
SheBuysTravel Tip: The best way to get around downtown San Diego is via the San Diego Transit Trolley. The trolley stops at many locations throughout the downtown area and beyond.
Families will enjoy the upscale elegance of a visit to Coronado Island. The Flagship Cruise is the ideal transport to get from downtown to Coronado. This ferry boat offers both indoor and outdoor seating and guests may bring a bike aboard. Riders will be deposited at the Coronado Ferry Landing just north of the Coronado Bay Bridge.
Take a walk or bike cruise along the Bayshore Bikeway. Coronado Tidelands Park is a small sandy beach area about a mile away, with a kids’ playground and restrooms.
For an awesome view of the Coronado Bay Bridge, play at Glorietta Bay in Coronado. There’s a small beach area with bathrooms and a play structure.
Guests of the famous Hotel Del Coronado can reserve a bonfire pit on the sand for a sunset s’mores roast they won’t soon forget!
Explore Balboa Park
Balboa Park, which spans 1200 acres, is one of the best spots to find free family fun in San Diego. The park offers performing arts, museums, trails, gardens, dining, shopping and tours. There is so much to see and do. Check their website for their seasonal offerings as well!
The San Diego Zoo is a Southern California must-do! See all the animals from koalas to okapi, as well as the vast aviaries and gardens throughout this beautiful zoo. Purchase discount San Diego Zoo tickets through Get Away Today.
Two amusement park rides are located near the zoo entrance, within Balboa Park. The 1910 Balboa Park Carousel is a classic that kids love. The Balboa Park Miniature Railroad runs a four-minute loop across a half mile of garden setting.
Families love the many museums throughout Balboa Park. Check out the Fleet Science Center, Model Railroad Museum and San Diego Natural History Museum – favorites of locals and tourists alike.
Read More: 21 Free Things for Families in Balboa Park
Discover What’s New in Old Town San Diego
Old Town is an open-air historical location, with buildings dating back to the 1800s. Includes free-entry museums and outdoor areas for kids to explore. Start at the Robinson-Rose House for visitor information. The Hilton Garden Inn is located in the heart of Old Town and walkable to the trolley station.
Mexican food is a must while in SoCal. No better place to grab tacos and a margarita than in Old Town. Consider Casa Guadalajara, which offers an extensive menu, patio dining and live mariachi music.
Considered the “Most Haunted House in America,” a tour of the Whaley House is ideal for older tweens and teens.
The Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma offers families a great view from the southernmost tip of San Diego. When the tide is out, get up close to marine life at one of the best tide pools in San Diego.
The old US Navy Training Station has been given new life as Liberty Station. This shopping and dining locale also features a waterfront park and movie theater.
Visit Shoreline Park, a mile-long promenade that stretches along the bay side located in Shelter Island. Enjoy the beautiful San Diego skyline views and public fishing pier. Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn hosts summer concerts at their sprawling island-themed hotel.
With two miles of boardwalk, sand, surf and lots of free parking, Mission Beach is one of the best beaches for families with kids. For kids who prefer tamer waves, Mission Bay is ideal. Plenty of grassy areas for a picnic, up-close parking and restrooms.
Belmont Park is a small amusement park located beachfront and features the Giant Dipper roller coaster and other midway rides and games. Grab a monster ice cream cone at Sweet Shoppe!
Get an unparalleled view of Mission Bay aboard the Bahia Belle night cruise boat. The Bahia Resort Hotel has an excellent location between Mission Beach and SeaWorld.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Parking at Mission Beach is free. To get a premium spot in the closest lot, plan to arrive early.
The Jewel of San Diego – La Jolla
Often considered one of the best beaches in San Diego, La Jolla offers families grassy areas for picnics and sunset watching, sandy beaches, hiking trails and shallow water for snorkeling. Not to mention the picturesque 300-foot sea cliffs!
The “Children’s Pool” has been taken over by seals, so it’s not available for swimming. But families can walk the jetty and spy sunbathing seals on the sand. Consider renting equipment, like snorkeling gear or a kayak, to explore La Jolla coves.
For those looking for the educational side of marine life, explore the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla. Aquarium exhibits and an outdoor touch pool get kids close to the creatures.
More Ways to Explore Marine Life
SeaWorld San Diego
For kids looking to learn more about ocean life, SeaWorld San Diego offers hands-on entertainment. Plenty of all-day fun including theme park rides, live shows and touch pools. Purchase your discounted SeaWorld San Diego tickets from our travel partner Get Away Today.
Whale watching expeditions in San Diego gives travelers a peek at gray whale migration, dolphins, humpback and the occasional blue whale.
Sealife Aquarium, at the LEGOLAND California resort, is a whimsical way to experience undersea creatures. Best for very young kids and as an addition to this theme park location.
This coastal city has a lot to offer including miles of gorgeous beaches and a variety of both casual and upscale dining options. A favorite place to stay in Carlsbad is the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa, with a private guest entrance to the LEGOLAND theme park.
Kids will love the unique theming of LEGOLAND California, an amusement park that revolves around all things LEGO! This theme park includes the newly opened LEGO Movie World, based on the popular film series.
Book extra days at LEGOLAND California through our travel partner Get Away Today to see and do it all, including the excellent LEGOLAND Hotel and LEGOLAND water park.
Capture those Instagram-worthy shots in the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. This seasonal event returns each spring and includes nearly 50 acres of blooming flower gardens and specific days with kids’ activities.
Read More: Best Kid-Friendly Restaurants in San Diego
More Outdoor Fun for Kids in San Diego
Looking for more outdoor things to do with kids in San Diego? Hit one of the many San Diego beach locations along the Pacific Ocean as an ideal way to experience San Diego’s vast ocean life.
Outdoor lovers will appreciate the 8 miles of hiking trails in the Torrey Pines State natural reserve. Take in the amazing views including the gray whale migrations in the Pacific Ocean below.
Spot all the wild animals at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido. If visiting during the summer, be sure to prepare for the extreme heat. Our travel partner Get Away Today offers discounted tickets for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Julian, a quaint area in the mountains of San Diego, is a country respite from the bustling city. Kids will enjoy exploring the village shops and candy store or mining for gold. The best time for a visit to Julian is during the fall in San Diego for apple pie season.
Farm animals, exhibits, fair food and rides. The county fair is a summertime classic! Kids love all the activities happening at the San Diego County Fair, held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Aquatic Water Park, located in Chula Vista, offers family water slides, wave pools and a lazy river for all ages. Consider renting a cabana for the day to escape from the sun!
Take in a major league Padres baseball game at the beautiful Petco Park, located in downtown.
Read More: San Diego Downtown Itinerary for Families