Best Things To Do In San Diego With The Kids
Where do we start? San Diego is full of exciting and fun things to do for both the little ones and the ‘big kids’ (that includes adults!). Florida has tended to be a destination when considering the kids, but San Diego has so much to offer, and to a certain extent, the climate matches if not excels over Florida in terms of less humidity for sure.
There are plenty of ‘free’ things to do in the outdoors, obviously starting with the great beaches but also plenty of play parks and barbecue areas with child-friendly entertainment.
In terms of the best things to do in San Diego, attractions abound both indoor and outdoor. Sporting facilities are excellent, with skate parks, public swimming pools and just the great fresh air for cycling, watersports and total discovery.
If and when the weather turns from its usual bright and sunny days with the ocean breeze to cool you down, indoors has a wealth of excitement and interactive pursuits to keep the kids amused. Of course, we cannot forget the theme parks, animal parks and zoos along with the sea life exhibits.
A two-week holiday in San Diego could be exhausting, and you still won’t visit every attraction on offer! Remember to check out the various San Diego passes that are available – you can save bunches of money by combining a day, three day or weekly pass to fit in as many attractions as you can.
Costs for individual entrance to these fun places can be expensive, so grouping them together is a must to not punish your wallet or your purse.
Some of the best things to do in San Diego are:
San Diego Zoo (Balboa Park)
Rated to be one of the best zoos in the world, you will see over 4,000 animals in an urban paradise fit for all age groups. The residents are grouped in as close as possible areas akin to their natural habitats, and all kinds of species live hand in hand at this amazing zoo.
There are many unusual species, some that you may never have heard of! You can see 5 types of bear from the cute and cuddly to the Giant Pandas and from the ‘whiskered’ binturongs to the bonobo monkeys and their crazy antics.
There are fishing cats, dwarf mongoose and of course, all the large African animals such as rhinoceros, giraffe and antelope, all of which are graceful or playful! The leaping lemurs are a surefire favorite to amuse the smaller ones with the speed that they move.
As we all know, kids love to interact, and there are plenty of games and computer games as well as zookeepers who will tell them all about the animals they look after. With a great choice of eateries, there is no need to leave the park and you can easily spend a day there – the children will be exhausted at the end of it!
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Safari Park is included with the zoo – it isn’t, it’s in Escondido, about 40 miles to the north of the city center. However, it is well worth the trip, as like all safari parks, the animals wander freely, but there are quite a lot of hilly areas, which may not be suitable for the smaller children on foot.
The easiest way around the park is to take the tram tour, and the park is divided into zones, such as the Asian Savannah, African Plains, the Lion Camp, Elephant Valley and Gorilla Forest and more.
You can also view the park from a tethered balloon which is 400ft high above the park and gives a great view of all the various enclosures.
For the adults there are also some amazing botanical gardens with a variety of plants and flowers from all over the world. For the little ones, other than taking the tram, try the Conservation Carousel which is a fun ride for everyone.
As usual, there are places to eat and drink, so buy some animal coloring books from the shop and rest your feet from this exciting but tiring venue!
Whilst the sea creatures are the prime attraction, this really is a fun destination for children, as it includes jaw-dropping shows, hand on attractions and exciting rides, such as the Manta rollercoaster or the Shipwreck Rapids (be prepared to get wet!).
Unfortunately, it is now not possible to get so close to the killer whales but you can still pet the sea lions, laugh at the antics of the dolphins or view the amazing array of underwater life and tropical fish from below ground.
There are plenty of great deals to be had at Seaworld, including an ‘all-day dining pass’ which allows you to eat at any of the restaurants as much as every hour (if you can manage that amount of food!), with a good selection of eateries to choose from. You can even eat ‘waterside’ but as previously mentioned, the whale activity is viewed from a longer distance, although you can still see them coming out of the water and possibly still get a soaking! It’s a good idea however, to try Elmo’s Flying Fish’ or ‘Abby’s Sea Star Spin’ or other breath-taking rides before you eat!
Famed throughout the world, Lego is one of the kid’s favorite building toys from a young age and the constructions and rides here do not disappoint. There is Miniland USA (reconstruction of 7 areas of the US) where over 20 million bricks have been used to create the images.
There are 50 themed rides which are fun for all, but obviously very child-friendly. With mini water flumes and a gentle ascent on the Kid Power Tower, you will hear squeals of delight from the younger ones.
More of an amusement park than an attraction as such, this park is located beachfront and packed with rides and fun things to do.
There are bumper cars for the big and the small amongst you, miniature golf, scary adrenalin-rush rides such as the ‘Control Freak’, and a large indoor activity area should it rain in sunny San Diego. Sheer-face rock climbing is for the more energetic, or try your hand at Lazerquest.
This historic park located at Mission Beach has an eclectic mix of old and new style attractions for everyone.
Fleet Science Center
For the budding scientists, astronauts or just plain inquisitive, the Fleet Science Center is another opportunity if the weather isn’t clement, to enjoy yourselves. This complex is full of interactive pursuits and hands-on opportunities for the children and you to enjoy the world of science.
Microscopes introduce you to close up biological exhibits, whilst you are surrounded by images take from the Hubble Telescope.
There are over 100 interactive pursuits, plus a special area for the Under 5’s called ‘Kid’s City’, so they don’t miss out on the fun. The ‘Tinkering Studio’ give anyone the opportunity to invent and create your own scientific exhibit.
Located right near Balboa Square, this central attraction can be combined with others if purchasing a pass.
New Children’s Museum
Image Credit: milu92
Another indoor activity area for those infrequent rainy days is this museum, featuring galleries and studios with exhibits and hands on interactive pursuits to encourage creativity.
Children can make videos or soundtracks in 3D in the Design Studio, or use their tiny hands and fingers to make clay items or paint to their hearts content.
There are more active things to do in the shape of the Wonder Sound, a pure labyrinth of climbing, ropes, nooks and crannies to work your way around accompanied by a soundtrack to immerse yourself in, a pretty unique experience taking you to places you have never been.
Credit: Kenneth Hagemeyer
The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a way to introduce your children to many of the underwater creatures that exist, up close through huge glass windows and aquaria.
Sea horses float by right in front of their faces and they may also be a little startled at the interactive displays which make you feel you are actually under the ocean with the sharks and other sea life.
There are more than 5,000 examples of undersea life and their habitats to view. Adults may be more interested in the oceanography aspect (Scripps Institute) but this attraction has something for everyone, including spectacular ocean views and a super café.
There is a good message here for preservation. Located close to La Jolla Beach, you can even get to see the resident sea lions in their natural habitat.
USS Midway Museum
You and any of your children interested in military history will be sure to enjoy this attraction.
One of the most visited attractions in San Diego, there are 60 or more different areas to explore on the USS Midway aircraft carrier, which was built in 1945 after the Second World War and saw 225,000 US Navy personnel walk the boards whilst serving.
This really interesting piece of history has 29 aircraft on board, and areas such as the ships’ gaol can also be visited! You can climb aboard flight decks, or visit the ‘bridge’ to see how the captain must have felt as aircraft landed and departed.
The tour is a self-guided audio one which you can take reasonably at leisure, but for more fun, try the flight simulators to see what it may have been like in control of the aircraft!
Catch a game..
For the sports lovers, you are able to see a football or baseball game, depending on season.From August to December, go and see the San Diego Chargers play football at the Qualcomm Stadium – a trolley or tram takes you straight to the door and is pretty inexpensive.
Baseball fans can see the San Diego Padres play at PETCO Park, known as ‘The World’s Best Ball Park’. Tours of the stadium are also available if you don’t feel like watching a whole game, that you may not understand!
Just enjoy the outdoor life
The outdoor life in San Diego is nothing short of amazing. Waterparks can be found at Seaworld Aquatica, Lego Waterpark or Wave Waterpark, where you can ride the flumes, slide down the uncountable number of slides and just enjoy everything ‘wet’.
Of course the beaches offer a whole different water attraction with kayaking, snorkeling and boating available at nearly everyone. On top of the water, rather than in it, the boat tours around the harbor and vicinity offer the opportunity of whale watching and seeing playful sea lions and dolphins frolicking in the waves to entertain the crowd.
Depending what time of the year you visit San Diego, there are always new and seasonal activities to experience, such as ice skating by the beach on the specially created ice rink, or going to Balboa Park for the Christmas markets.
Whatever time of the year, you will be sure to find fun in San Diego for all the family.
Travelling with children can be tiring, so plan as much as you can ahead of time.
When planning your trip to San Diego, check out what unique events are happening some months before you go on vacation. There are festivals, fairs, displays and exhibitions every week of the year to give you a truly unique experience, as well as the usual tourist attractions.
The summer months often see more ‘sand and sea activity’ – you can see the Festival of Sail with a display of tall ships in San Diego harbour, or the sandcastle exhibition with entrants all over the world at Imperial Beach. The San Diego Country Fair is held in June, with rides and attractions, entertainment for the children and plenty of food stalls on hand.
In the fall, a special trip to Julian in the mountains for apple-picking, gold panning and a visit down the mines is great fun and the town itself is full of quirky shops and horse-drawn carriage rides – there is an apple pie bake-off – you can smell it everywhere!
So much to do – have you got the time?