Looking for the best things to do with kids in San Diego? We’ve got you covered! While there’s no shortage of great family attractions in San Diego, we’ve got the details on our top 10 favorites for families. Of course, we’ll cover the Zoo and SeaWorld, but we’ve also included some fun, interactive museums, and one pretty unique way to tour the city. Have we got your attention? Great, then let’s get started!
These first three attractions for kids are all in Balboa Park. Spanning 1,200 acres, Balboa park is home to 16 museums, along with the San Diego Zoo, Botanical Gardens, and a variety of performance art shows! If you’re in San Diego, Balboa Park is a must. And if you’re in Balboa Park, here are three attractions you won’t want to miss.
#1: The San Diego Zoo & Safari Park
Voted the #1 Zoo in the world by TripAdvisor, the San Diego Zoo offers fun for the whole family! The Zoo covers 100 acres, and is home to over 660 species of animals, including many rare and endangered animals. Walk along the paths to see animals while getting your exercise, or hop on a bus for a 35-minute guided tour of the whole park!
If you have the chance to spend the whole day at the Zoo, you’ll want to enjoy one of the many activities offered in the park. Stop by an Animal Encounter to get up close and personal with an animal ambassador, or enjoy Keeper Talks throughout the park. Kids will also love the Petting Paddock, where they can pet goats and sheep. You can even soar through the park using the Skyfari Aerial Tram to see the whole Zoo from up above!
Associated with the zoo is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The safari itself isn’t in Balboa Park, but about 35 miles northeast in Escondido. When you take a tour in the Safari Park, you’ll get to see more the homes of 2,600 animals, across 1,800 acres! Kids will have fun seeing herd animals in wide open spaces, and learning from tour guides about the animals and the importance of conservation. During your Safari trip, you and the kids can also have the experience of feeding birds nectar at Lorikeet Landing— and yes, the birds will land right on you!
#2: Fleet Science Center
For kids who love science, the Fleet Science Center is one of the top things to do in San Diego. The museum offers over 100 interactive exhibits, where your kids can explore the wonders of the world, outer space, and even the human body. Whether you’re living in San Diego or just here for the weekend, you can also enjoy the Center’s seasonal exhibits and special events!
Fleet Science Center has been a pioneer for science museums for decades, and is even the home of the world’s first IMAX dome theatre. In the IMAX theater, get a 360-degree view of barrier reefs, wildlife areas around the world, cities and more! Then, take an out-of-this-world trip to the Center’s planetarium, where you can learn all about our solar system and the stars beyond.
#3: The San Diego Natural History Museum (TheNAT)
Rivaling its NYC counterpart, the San Diego Natural History Museum (AKA TheNAT) is one of the most fun attractions for kids in San Diego. While Fleet Science Center focuses on math and science, electricity and outer space, TheNat brings things home with dozens of exhibits on the plants and animals that make our world amazing. Plus, everyone will love the intense 3D experience in TheNAT’s very own Giant-Screen Theater.
Before going to theNAT, make sure to check their website for special events and discounts on tickets! For example, kids are free this October, all month long! San Diego residents also get a special privilege; the first Tuesday of every month is Residents Free Day. Take a look that the museum’s calendar for a full list of special exhibits and events for families in San Diego.
Another top thing to do with kids in San Diego is to visit SeaWorld! Explore all the creatures of the sea, from exotic fish to sea lions to famous killer whales. Watch dolphins perform flips and tricks, while learning about conservation efforts for these magnificent animals. For families who want to do something extra special, Sea World offers opportunities to get right in the water with dolphins, and even beluga whales!
The fun starts as soon as you enter, walking through Explorer’s Reef, which features hands-on tanks of sharks and rays. Young kids will love the Ocean Explorer experience; five mild rides offer safe, kid-friendly fun, while three animal encounters let kids get up-close and personal with the deep blue sea. We recommend setting aside a whole day for your visit to Sea World, because there is just so much to see! However, it can certainly be seen and enjoyed in a half-day, if you’re short on time!
#5: LEGOLAND California
Inspired by the kids’ toys we all grew up with, LEGOLAND is a park full of adventure and fun, and one of the best things to do with kids in San Diego. Thrill rides and kid-friendly experiences join together, so every family can enjoy a fun day here, though the park’s activities are mainly aimed at kids from 2-12. Ride around in LEGO cars in FunTown. Become a crime-fighting ninja on the LEGO Ninjago ride. Build your own robot in the LEGO Mindstorm’s experience. You can even meet the characters from the hit film, The LEGO Movie, for a perfect family photo opportunity. Also, be sure to bring along some lego minifigures, so you can have fun trading with guests and park guides!
Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit to this popular family attraction in San Diego, because LEGOLAND is also home to LEGOLAND Water Park! At Imagination Station, kids can build cities, dams and bridges in the water using DUPLO bricks. If you enjoyed Disney’s Splash Mountain, you’ll love Pirate Reef, an exciting flume ride for families with older kids and teens. Plus, you’ll have a blast rocketing down water slides or riding the surf in the enormous wave pool.
#6: Birch Aquarium
Didn’t get enough sea-life at SeaWorld? Birch Aquarium offers another kid-friendly activity in San Diego that everyone is sure to enjoy. The aquarium is home to more than 5,000 fish in over 60 habitats each with something special to show your family. Learn all about seahorses at “There’s Something About Seahorses,” an exhibit featuring more than a dozen seahorse species. View exotic and tropical fish, while learning about the importance of coral reefs, and what we can do to protect them. Plus, learn about the amazing adaptations fish have made to survive in the depths of the sea by walking through Oddities: Hidden Heroes of the Scripps Collections.
Before you head to the aquarium, check their schedule of daily events online! Events can vary day-to-day, but include kelp forest dives, shark and sea turtle feedings and more. For a special end to the day, head out to Tide Pool Plaza, where you can see all the creatures that live in tide pools, while enjoying an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean.
#7: New Children’s Museum
The last museum on our list of top things to do with kids in San Diego, the New Children’s Museum is located in the heart of San Diego, and is the perfect place for kids to explore their artistic side! The Museum’s mission is to “stimulate imagination, creativity and critical thinking in children and families through inventive and engaging experiences with contemporary art.”
At the New Children’s Museum, kids can join in daily art events. Art studios run seasonal programs, but are also open daily for kids who want to learn about crafting, building, sketching and painting. The community garden helps kids understand how to growth healthy food, and get involved with their community. There’s even a studio just for tots under 4, where they can enjoy sensory experiences!
In addition to the studios, the museum also features a variety of interactive art exhibits that are perfect for kids and families. The Nature Matching System shows kids Pantone colors, along with the fruits and veggies that show that color. The Wonder Sound offers kids of all ages free reign to climb, hide and explore using ropes and ladders. Toddlers will also love Wobbleland, an interactive playground made with food sculptures. For young kids who want to express themselves, there’s no better place to visit than the New Children’s Museum.
#8: Belmont Park
If you have older kids and teens, you’ll definitely want to spend a day at Belmont Park. As San Diego’s resident amusement park, Belmont is one of the best things to do in the city with kids who love adventure. Thrill seekers will want to ride the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster again and again, or take the plunge after plunge from the Zipline Tower. Meanwhile, bumper cars, a Tilt-a-Whirl and a carousel give the park a carnival feel, along with tons of where you can win prizes (and lots and lots of carnival-style food!).
If you’re not into carnival rides, there’s still plenty for the whole family to do! Tiki Town mini-golf is a great opportunity to try and get a hole-in-one, while laser tag lets you build a team and fight your way to victory! And when you’re tired from all that, you can stroll along the boardwalk, take in the views, and maybe grab some dinner at one of three in-park restaurants.
#9: Seal tours
If you’ve ever been on a Duck Tour on the East Coast, welcome to their West Coast cousin! Seal Tours are guided tours of San Diego that take place in an amphibious vehicle. Riding on the “boat with wheels,” you’ll see all of San Diego’s biggest attractions and tourist spots, from Lindbergh Field to the Maritime Museum. Your family will get to learn all about the city and its people, while riding in style.
Then, prepare to take a dip! Your bus will launch from land to sea for a water adventure in Mission Bay. Get great views of the city and beaches and enjoy the sea air, without having to get wet. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a few other San Diego natives: sea lions and dolphins! Seal Tours are available most every day, and take about 90 minutes (60 minutes on land and 30 in the water.) But be aware, you will need a reservation for these unique tours!
#10: Kid Friendly Beaches
One of the best FREE things to do with kids in San Diego is visit the beach! Plus, in San Diego, you aren’t limited to one beach, full of tourists and surfers and crowded to the gills. With 7 miles of coastline, this city has plenty of room for everyone. Some of the beaches are more focused on water activities, or have an active adult nightlife vibe. So here are three great, kid-friendly beaches in San Diego:
- Mission Bay: A popular tourist destination, this is the largest man-made aquatic park in America! Parks and playgrounds provide kids with easy activities, plus there’s plenty of space for a picnic on a sunny day!
- Moonlight Beach: Beloved by the locals, this beach has been recently renovated and looks fantastic! The playground offers an ideal spot for kids to get rid of excess energy, while a gradual slope on the beach provides perfect swimming water for younger kids and beginners.
- Coronado Beach: Like Moonlight beach, Coronado Beach has a gradual slope that helps keep rough waves away, so younger swimmers (and their parents) can safely enjoy the water. Plus, it’s a popular spot for building sandcastles, so you’ll see everything from kids’ attempts to amazing structures built by sandcastle pros.
Whether you’re looking for something to do in San Diego this weekend, or next summer, there are always plenty of options in and around the city. From Zoos and Aquariums to museums of every sort, San Diego is a great place for kids to play, learn and grow.