San Diego in a Weekend: Fun 2-Day Itinerary for Families

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With beaches, history, marine life and delicious food, it might seem impossible to see the best of San Diego in just two days. Plus, each San Diego neighborhood and beach area has its own distinct personality. From Old Town, La Jolla,  Mission Bay, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach to Coronado, Point Loma, and Gaslamp quarter there’s a lot of ground to cover. On our last family vacation in San Diego, our family of four managed to squeeze in everything we wanted to see. So let us help you narrow down things to do with your family in San Diego when you have just a couple of days to explore.

Sunset at the beach in La Jolla Shores, one of the things to enjoy on a 2-day weekend in San Diego
Sunset at La Jolla Shores. Photo credit: Liana Moore

Start Your 2-Day San Diego Itinerary in La Jolla

Beach Time in La Jolla

You have chosen to enjoy a San Diego weekend with your family. It will be important to slide your feet into a sandy beach and splash in the water. We suggest starting your visit in La Jolla. La Jolla Shores beach is a beautiful sandy beach with a beachfront park for the kids. Kayakers and surfers hit the water from here. Your family may not have time for surfing and kayaking this weekend, but you can watch others enjoying water sports. It is also a short 5-minute drive to La Jolla Coves, where you can check out the sea lions at the Children’s Beach.

Start your San Diego weekend by checking into your hotel in La Jolla and heading out to the beach. If you go at low tide, be sure to head towards the southern end of La Jolla Shores to explore the tide pools.

Then head to dinner. This would be the time to take advantage of a beachfront restaurant like La Jolla Shores Restaurant. You can either take in a sunset during dinner or eat and then step down to the beach for a sunset stroll.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Have more than a weekend? Check out these 12 things to do in La Jolla with kids!

Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium is the perfect place to learn a little more about sea life and kelp forests. All ages will enjoy this colorful and interactive aquarium, but especially toddlers and preschoolers. Here they can dip their fingers in the water and watch divers feed a huge black sea bass at the Kelp Forest Show. Plan on one to two hours to explore the aquarium and to take in the views of the Pacific Ocean from the deck with outdoor interactive exhibits. The Birch Aquarium is one of the attractions included in the Go San Diego Pass which saves you 55% on visiting many of the popular destinations.

Optional Substitution: Coronado is another beautiful California beach. You could visit Coronado instead of La Jolla and splurge on the historic Hotel del Coronado.

Learn about sea life and orcas at Sea World San Diego
Learn about sea life and orcas at Sea World San Diego. Photo: Liana Moore

Morning #1 of 2-Day San Diego Itinerary

Rise early and sneak in another visit to the beach. Grab a quick and hearty breakfast and head out to Sea World to arrive just before opening.

Sea World San Diego

Sea World really is a must-see on a San Diego weekend visit. Ocean and sea animal education is such an important cause for this coastal city. And Sea World really has made strides in its conservation efforts.

Splurge on the close-in or VIP parking to get in and start with the more popular rides such as Shipwreck Rapids, Manta or Journey to Atlantis before the lines get long.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Sneak out of the Orca, Dolphin or other shows a couple of minutes early to beat the crowds to your next ride. Stop to cool off at the Wild Arctic exhibit. Wait until you are departing to put your hands in the water at Explorer’s Reef to let fish tickle your fingers.

While it would be easy to spend a couple of days here and still be entertained, we’d recommend bringing snacks to tide you over and leaving in time to get a late lunch off site, perhaps in Balboa Park. After all, there’s still much more to see and do!

Optional Substitution: Not into Sea World, or have already been? Replace Sea World with a visit to the San Diego Zoo. The San Diego Zoo is the most visited zoo in the United States. It houses 3,500 animals on 100 acres.

Balboa Park, San Diego

If your family still has energy after Sea World and lunch, there are plenty of museums to discover in Balboa Park. Spend a little time here. Balboa Park is home to the Natural History Museum, Fleet Science Center and even a Model Railroad Museum that is ideal for toddlers and preschoolers. The 100-year-old Spanish architecture is stunning!

More Beach & Pool Time

Use the afternoon to relax and again enjoy the beach. There are actually hotels close to downtown San Diego and most area attractions on the waterfront. We found one on Shelter Island San Diego, Koa Kai Resort, that was a hit with our family. Here we were able to enjoy another afternoon on the beach and in the pool.

Again, dine with water views. Shelter Island has a couple of fun options. One is Fathom Bistro Bait & Tackle. Here you can enjoy a casual meal while watching pelicans and seagulls trying to score their own. Or sit on the patio at Vessel Restaurant at Kona Kai Resort. The patio overlooks the marina, pool and beach and has an excellent happy hour. Then roast s’mores on the beach to finish a day of San Diego fun.

Optional substitution: San Diego boasts a variety of authentic Japanese, Italian and Mexican foods. If you still have the energy, venture out into one of these districts like Little Italy, where you are sure to find food to please the whole family.

Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument, one of the things to see during 2 days in San Diego
Stark landscape of the lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument with spectacular ocean views behind it. Photo credit: Liana Moore

Morning #2 of 2-Day San Diego Itinerary

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument is on Point Loma and has an old lighthouse, as well as interesting tide pools. It opens at 9 a.m. Arrive at opening and spend one to two hours here. It is a spectacular vantage point. Cabrillo National Monument is open year-round. In the winter you may be able to spot whales. One to two hours should cover a brief visit to the Visitors Center, the lighthouse and then down to the tide pools.

Next head over to the USS Midway.

Planes parked on the deck of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego.
Planes parked on the deck of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. Photo credit: Liana Moore

USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum is a really fun and important piece of American history. The museum is housed aboard this famous and permanently docked aircraft carrier that was the longest serving of the 20th century. It is really eye opening to see how the sailors, pilots and officers lived aboard the ship from 1945 to 1992.

Be sure to make time for the tour of the bridge to see where the carrier is steered and how the captain oversees flight operations. It was here that we learned about the new nuclear powered aircraft carriers that only have to refuel after 20 years. On the way out, it is worth the splurge to let the kids experience the virtual reality flight simulator. 

This itinerary wraps up a busy and perfect weekend for families in San Diego. Wondering where to stay in San Diego? Read on!

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San Diego Hotels

Looking for family-friendly hotels in San Diego? Here are two that we really enjoyed!

La Jolla Shores Hotel

La Jolla Shores Hotel is situated directly on the beach. The kid-friendly beachfront patio restaurant, spacious rooms (some with kitchenettes) and neighboring park make this the ultimate family friendly San Diego hotel. It also has old Spanish charm along with ping pong tables and other fun family activities scattered throughout the property. The village area surrounding it has delightful restaurants and an authentic non-touristy beachfront charm.

The beach and marina at Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island, San DIego.
The beach and marina at Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island. Photo credit: Liana Moore

Kona Kai Resort

Kona Kai is an unexpectedly family-friendly resort. Trendy, yet still family friendly, this resort welcomes kids with their own check-in desk and prize for completing their registration. Yet it was the in-room binoculars to watch the ships go by and the lemon tree by the pool that delighted our kids the most. However, in summer months, there are also movies by the pool and a kids club. While we visited just before summer kicked in, we were offered sand toys, cruiser bikes and many other amenities to keep the entire family occupied.

Did we miss any of your favorite family-friendly San Diego activities? Tell us in the comments below!

Liana Moore lived overseas growing up, attending British public school for kindergarten in London. She then moved to Stavanger, Norway for nine years until age 15, growing up with friends of different cultures. Summers involved camps in Switzerland and Wales, plus USA time in East Texas and Minnesota. Liana sees things from others’ viewpoints, believing those experiences shaped the woman she is today. She’s instilling that empathy in her children, having fun along the way. Currently based in the mountains of Colorado, much of her time is spent exploring the Rocky Mountains. When she’s not marketing a resort property professionally, or traveling and writing, find her trying out new sports with her kids, like BMX biking, or debating with her teenager (and occasionally winning). Follow Liana’s adventures at Insider Families.
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