22 Awesome San Diego Attractions With Kids

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Looking for things to do in San Diego with kids? Look no further, we’ve got you covered.

When you visit San Diego with kids, you’ll discover this Southern California beach town has so much to offer. It’s where fish tacos reign supreme and sunsets set the tone of the evening with a vibrant display of personalities.

And if you’re thinking San Diego attractions are all about Seaworld and San Diego Zoo, then you will be surprised by how much more there is for kids to do here than explore theme parks and zoos.

We enjoyed a fun three day San Diego family vacation and found that San Diego really lived up to its reputation of housing world-class family attractions.

Below are our top kid friendly attractions in San Diego, plus tips on cool places to eat, fun adventures to have, and suggestions on the best San Diego family resorts!

If you plan on visiting several San Diego attractions, get yourself a San Diego Go Attraction Pass. You can build your own based on what you want to see and do. It will save you money!

woman and girl Bike riding along Pacific Beach promenade
Bike riding Pacific Beach with kids in San Diego

Is San Diego Good for a Family-Friendly Beach Vacation?

surfers holding baords on the sand and many peopl on Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach San Diego

We wanted our kids to see the main San Diego tourist attractions, but we also love to experience the cool local vibe and culture, and some adult stuff too.

When we travel as a family, we like to strike a balance between kid and adult activities so neither of us gets bored, which equals a happy family trip!

Our first impression of San Diego was seeing surfers race with boards under their arms to catch the breaks their friends are already cutting loose on.

We wanted to see guys and girls cruising by on bikes holding onto handlebars 5 feet high with stereo speakers.

And young friends playing beach volleyball and falling over each other giggling, then walking towards the San Diego sunset with arms draped over each other.

With 70 miles of pristine coastline along the Pacific Ocean in San Diego County, you have endless opportunities for endless family fun at the beach. And of course, the beaches offer free family activities. Who doesn’t love that?

The boardwalk stretching from Pacific Beach to Mission Beach is a mixture of brightly painted two-story homes, smaller beach shacks, and white Adobe structures with cactus gardens of all shapes and sizes.

And of course Belmont Park, the historic oceanfront amusement park is located in Mission Bay – if you like a roller coaster, it’s one of the top San Diego attractions for kids

Mixed in between Pacific and Mission Beach are taco corners, cafes, bars, and all the cool San Diego kids activities that you find on a west coast beach!

San Diego’s close proximity to Mexico gives you a colorful and unique flavor. You can guarantee the fish tacos will be full of cilantro and the local beer light and citrusy.

people sitting at tables at a beach cafe in Pacific Beach, San Diego
Cool beach cafe in Pacific Beach, San Diego

Is San Diego a good place to vacation with kids?

We took a trip to San Diego California on a campaign with Visit California to share the amazing adventures on offer in this Golden State.

We flew into San Diego from Raleigh, NC, jumped in a rental car and started our 10-day Southern California road trip in San Diego, the state’s second-largest city.

You know a family vacation in San Diego is worth sharing when you see your children quickly slip into a relaxed and joyful state.

two girls hugging on a trail at Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve,
Hiking in Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve

Both our girls kept saying how much they loved San Diego (and the other places to visit in Southern California).

Visiting San Diego reminded Kalyra so much of our former Australian beach home. She could not stop sharing her memories and started to feel homesick.

She really loved the San Diego activities we experienced and immersing herself in that beach lifestyle and energy.

They will be talking about our San Diego vacation for a long time!

What is there to do in San Diego with children? Lots. Read on.

Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

As you’ll read down below, there are a ton of cool things to do in San Diego with kids and fun places to go in San Diego. Here are our favorite kid-friendly attractions in San Diego!

1. Bike the Beach and Bay

woman and girl Bike riding in Pacific Beach,
Pacific Beach bike ride

We arrived in San Diego after a long flight day after our initial flight leaving Raleigh was delayed (it happens).

After checking into the Bahia Resort Hotel in Mission Bay, first on our list of family friendly San Diego adventures was jumping on a couple of bike rentals from Action Sport Rentals at Bahia, and cycling the bike path.

The tension released a little more with each new peddle and breath of fresh salty air.

This is ME!

woman and girl Bike riding along Pacific Beach, San Diego
Bike riding in Pacific Beach, San Diego

It’s amazing how much nature and getting active with it can change your psyche.

And it’s why we do so many outdoor activities with our kids and will choose it first over any museum or attraction.

We want them to learn that nature is their friend, their place to root and ground and rely on when life feels overwhelming and exhausting.

We followed the bike path around Mission Bay, which is the quieter area for water activities, boating, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.

The bike path wasn’t as busy and filled with joggers and walkers as the beach path.

At the top of the bay, we cut west to hit the bike path and into the San Diego energetic vibe for our first taste of the San Diego beaches, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach.

people playing Beach volleyball in San Diego
Beach volleyball in San Diego

This ride ended up being one of our most fun things to do in San Diego with kids. We enjoyed bike dodging between all the characters sharing the path with us.

It also became my morning running path – a great way to start the San Diego day!

We cycled past Lahaina Beach House in Pacific Beach, which brought back memories of our first time in San Diego in 2006 before kids having beers on the deck watching the incredible San Diego sunsets.

It’s not a place I’d recommend you stop in San Diego with kids, but if you keep cycling a little further, you’ll come to South Draft Mission on the beachfront at Mission Beach.

2. Eat Nachos and Drink Craft Brew at South Draft Mission

woman holding pint with food in front of her similing at camera with young girl at the table
Kid friendly brewery San Diego

San Diego is known to have one of the top craft brew scenes in the country.

Being gluten-free we can’t explore it too much, but we did find a gluten-free beer on the menu at Draft!

Grab a seat on the front porch at South Draft Mission, and a nice cold beer (they do plenty of local brews) and a plate of ginormous shredded beef nachos to share.

The nachos here are one to remember – full of flavor without being too heavy.

As for beer, we had the Coconut Contender from the local Duck Foot Brewery – the founder has celiac disease, so all beers are gluten-free.

We love you!!

When John Morrison started belting out Love Street as I took my first sip I couldn’t have been happier. It was my perfect California moment.

For the kids, order them a Mexican soda which is the rage in San Diego. Its soda made from pure cane sugar and nicer tasting than that other stuff.

We tried Squirt, the grapefruit flavor, which became Kalyra’s favorite California moment.

3. Stand Up Paddle Boarding and Kayaking on Mission Bay

mother and daughter Stand up paddle boarding on Mission Bay

You may know by now that one of our favorite family adventure activities is stand-up paddle boarding.

And this is one of the most popular things to do in San Diego California with older kids.

I love the stillness and serenity of just me being out there on the water with the salty breeze on my back. I slip into true Tao spirit on a SUP.

I’m balanced, strong, and focused, yet humble, relaxed, and in flow.

I love to paddle with Kalyra and watch her perform handstands, jumps, and cartwheels.

I was immensely proud of her as we were paddling around Mission Bay. She stopped and fell behind me and when I turned to see what she was doing, I saw her maneuvering her board and paddle, so she could pick up a plastic water bottle she passed floating in the water.

My heart swelled.

These are the moments that make all the challenges and sacrifices of this full-time family travel life worthwhile.

Savannah is water cautious, so she doesn’t often embrace supping. However, she loves kayaking, so we jumped in the tandem kayak together to explore the bay.

womand and daughter Kayaking in Mission Bay
Family activities in San Diego

This is one of the cool San Diego kids activities, and you can hire paddle boards and kayak rentals from Active Sport Rentals near The Bahia Resort .

They also have other locations in the Mission Bay area.

4. Get Retro and Funky at the Corvette Diner

old 50s car on display in diner
Eat at the Corvette Diner in San Diego – family things to do in San Diego

Looking for what to do in San Diego with kids at night? The Corvette Diner is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

It’s a diner that pays homage to every era time has gone by since diners were a thing.

From a brightly colored 50s retro diner with a milk bar and vintage care behind the hostess to the train room with a black and white film showing above each booth, to a modern red room dedicated to corvette car lovers.

A radio DJ booth pumps out Frank Sinatra, New York, New York, and other classic tunes like Wild Thing, which matches the 70s groove room we dined in.

The black walls are painted with Fluro signs reminding us to Make Love Not War; appreciate Peace, Love, and Music; and embrace Woodstock as our therapy.

Look up and you’ll continue the messaging with psychedelic posters on the ceiling. How did they know this was my vibe?

people eating at the Corvette Diner in San Diego -
Family friendly places to eat San Diego

Waitstaff wear rainbow-colored scrunchies and black dresses with Fluro trim.

Loretta, our energetic waitress stops to decorate the girls’ hair with multi-colored popsicle sticks and gives the girls flashlights to draw on the table with.

They soon break into a Mashed Potato pom-pom dance and gather around those having a birthday to sing to them.

The Corvette Diner is like a nightclub for families. I promise you before the night is through, you’ll be singing at the top of your lungs with the DJ – “Let’s hear it for the boys!”

When the kids are done with their hair, a bit of table art, and their dinner, they can head out to the arcade out back for some good old-fashioned games – more fun things to do with kids in San Diego!

Be sure to high-five a few of the greats along the wall when you do.

Hello Elvis, you fine thing you!

5. Watch Sunset at Pacific Beach Pier

people walking along the beach at Sunset in San Diego
Sunset San Diego free family attractions

Sunset in San Diego can’t be missed!

You can enjoy the sunset from any of the beaches in San Diego.

No matter where you stand you’ll see a giant orange orb dip below the ocean’s horizon. And because summer rarely sees rain in California, you’ve got great odds for a terrific nightly show.

Our girls were happy cartwheeling and playing on the sand on Pacific Beach next to the pier while we watched the sun go down.

The sunsets are one of the most beautiful things to see in San Diego, and there’s only one thing to do after such a pretty close out to the day…celebrate with ice cream!

6. Grab an Ice Cream from Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream

two girls eating Hammond's Ice Cream
Family Fun in San Diego – ice cream!

Craving ice cream in San Diego? Head to Garnet Road, the main street leading to the pier at Pacific Beach.

Tucked in between a lot of great restaurants and casual cafes is local ice cream favorite, Hammond’s Gourmet ice cream.

Not sure which flavor to buy? You can taste test. Or try one of their waffle cone flights.

Ice cream is always a highlight for our girls! 

They had a mint choc chip and Craig had his usual favorite, butter pecan.

Whilst we didn’t get it anywhere else, it would be hard to beat as the best ice cream in San Diego.

7. Experience Culture at Balboa Park

two girls looking at view of pind and historica building in Balboa Park, San Diego, California
What to do in San Diego with Kids – Balboa Park

Looking for more San Diego family attractions? Welcome to the cultural playground for children and adults.

Balboa Park, San Diego is known as one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids and has everything to suit all ages and your family’s preferences:

  • art galleries
  • historic buildings
  • New Children’s Museum San Diego
  • science centers
  • performing arts centers
  • Museum of man
  • San Diego Botanic Garden
  • and even one of America’s best zoos, the San Diego Zoo!

Even just wandering around and appreciating the stunning Spanish Renaissance and Southwest architecture and beautiful gardens is enjoyable.

Balboa Park is America’s largest urban cultural park, is ranked as one of the best parks in the world, and is one of the best things to do in Southern California – you could spend a full day here!

We only managed to spend a few hours at Balboa Park, and out of the 17 Balboa Park museums and endless lush and landscaped gardens, here is what we experienced.

8. Spanish Village Art Center

woman and girl standing on colored tiles at Spanish Village Art Center, Balboa Park
Spanish Village Art Center, – fun San Diego kids activities

Pop into the Spanish Village Art Center so your kids can get a look at a working artist’s studio in a charming Spanish town square.

Small adobe studios painted with blue walls and yellow trims host a variety of artists and even offer art classes, glass-blowing lessons, and even more to explore your creative side.

From the studios to the flowers, this place bursts with color and reflective energy. Kids will love hopscotching and cartwheeling over the rainbow chalky colored stone tiles.

9. Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

The Science Center is an interactive educational playground for the kids. These are the kind of places we look for to check off a few of our homeschooling boxes.

The girls learned more about the water cycle, energy and motion, and different knots.

We had a blast in the special exhibit (extra fee), Mythbusters. We didn’t even know it was a TV show until going inside the Science Center.

We had fun trying out the different myth-busting experiments like getting changed into a superhero costume in a phone booth as fast as you can and testing how wet we’d get walking and then running under a rain shower!

There are over 100 hands-on exhibits in the Fleet Science Center at Balboa Park.

Admission also includes an IMAX film. Unfortunately, we just missed the Panda film and didn’t have time to stay for the next showing.

10. The Botanical Building

woman and girls looking at the botanical gardens and buildings Balboa Park
Balboa Park San Diego attractions for kids

The Botanical Building houses more than 2,000 tropical plants. Capturing the wood structure with the lily pond in front is one of the most photographed sections of Balboa Park.

11. Japanese Friendship Garden

There is an extra fee to enter the Japanese Friendship Garden, which is an expression of friendship between San Diego and its sister city, Yokohama.

There’s an upper and lower strolling path where you can see koi pond, landscaped gardens and a Zen garden viewing deck.

It’s a very tranquil space. There’s also a tea pavilion overlooking the gardens.

Some other museums and Balboa Park attractions that came highly recommended were:

  • the Natural History Museum Center
  • San Diego Air and Space Museum
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park and riding the Skyfari Aerial Tram
  • and The San Diego Museum of Art

This park is one of the best allround places to visit in San Diego, with something for everyone! 

11. Explore Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

girl standing in front of sign that says Old Town San Diego State Historic Park on a white wall
San Diego family attraction: Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Looking for historic places to visit in San Diego with kids? Old Town is one of the top San Diego points of interest.

San Diego County is not just about the amazing beaches and delicious food. There is deep history here to experience.

And one of the best places to do that is exploring Old Town San Diego which was the first downtown San Diego and represents San Diego’s Hispanic heritage from 1821 to 1872.

There are plenty of beautiful old buildings to look at such as the one-room Mason Street School, the San Diego Courthouse, and the Colorado Hotel which features the original stagecoach.

There are plenty of museums you can look at to help tell the story.

Many other buildings surround the La Plaza de Las Armas which was the place of religious processions, political activities, horse races, and bullfights.

You can also interact with interpretive merchants who dress in period attire and chat about the activities in the pueblo.

The park is free, although some of the museums may have a small entry fee.

woman and girls walking down the road past old buildings at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Old Town is fun for kids

Of course, we had to stop in to visit the most haunted home in America, or so they say.

Whaley House Museum, whose haunted reputation dates back to the 1850s, is one of the top things to do in San Diego Old Town and was built on the land where Yankee Jim, a boat thief was hanged!

Savannah clung to my left leg the entire time, which made it hard for me to run from any ghostly figures. Unfortunately, they did not want to come out to greet us.

I did enjoy looking at the theater upstairs and imagining how 150 people once fit in the small room for village entertainment.

We enjoyed walking around the market area of Festa de Reyes. There are restaurants here as well as wine and chocolate tasting rooms.

It inflamed our kid’s curiosity for Mexico and now wish to visit. I love how places like this can broaden their horizons. I hope they take me with them.

If you’re looking for a place to eat in Old Town, Casa Guadalajara in Old Town has award-winning Mexican food.

12. Don’t Miss Ocean Beach, San Diego

view of Ocean beach
Ocean Beach San Diego – great beach for kids

Come as you are and do your thing in Ocean Beach, or OB as the locals call it.

All visitors are welcome in this beach town just over the San Diego river estuary from Mission Beach.

Ocean Beach reminds me so much of Byron Bay in Australia before it became yuppified.

There are a few tidy waves out front to the right of the Ocean Beach Pier and then further around are beach volleyball courts.

road with palm trees on either side
We love Ocean Beach for families in San Diego

When we stayed in Ocean Beach in 2004, we loved spending our days playing beach volleyball and enjoying relaxed beach living.

There’s a grassy strip out the front which is full of adults who haven’t lost the joy of unencumbered play with friends and strangers.

Groups of men and women support each other’s AcroYoga poses, another group encourages balance mastery on the slack lines, hula hoop wannabees wiggle those hips (my girls included) and others let their spirits free in drumming circles with bongo drums, acoustic guitars, and voices.

It’s an experience.

Looking for what to do in San Diego with kids for free? Hang out here and let your kids join in. But be sure to throw a couple of dollars in the tip bucket for the use of the hoops.

kids hula hooping on grass
Free Family friendly attractions in San Diego – hoops in San Diego

OB style is pure grit. You know what they say, we should all eat a little more dirt!

A must-do in San Diego for beach lovers, and is one of the coolest places to see in San Diego with kids.

13. Eat Lunch with Amazing Views at Wonderland Ocean Pub

people looking at the beach out of a window
Great family place to eat in Ocean Beach

Looking for places in San Diego to eat with a view. Go here!

Wonderland Ocean Pub in Ocean Beach is kid-friendly and the best spot to eat for ocean views and tasty food – think poke, surfer bowls, fresh spring rolls, and tacos, take your pick.

Grab a high table or window bench seat and enjoy watching the surfers and the carnival atmosphere of the grassy strip below.

I grabbed guacamole for lunch, and it was delicious.

It’s not your normal guacamole, this has the California twist to it. It’s topped with sun-dried tomatoes, jalapeno relish, crushed macadamia nuts, cilantro, and cotija cheese.

And of course, we enjoyed our fish tacos!

Yummy fish tacos on a plate at Wonderland Ocean Pub in Ocean Beach, San Diego
Delicious fish tacos

14. Visit Ocean Beach Farmers Market

view of people walking through the Ocean Beach Farmers Market
Ocean Beach Farmers Market, San Diego, California

Looking for kids activities San Diego that won’t break the bank?

We love visiting a good local farmers market with our kids and the Ocean Beach Farmers Market did not disappoint.

How could you not be happy with live music, fresh produce, delicious local food, alternative stores, and clothes, and jewelry?

They close off the main street on Wednesdays between 4 and 8pm for it.

We wandered up one side, then stopped at Belching Beaver Brewery for a quick local craft IPA brew, and the kids enjoyed a game of Jenga, before wandering down the other side.

family walking through the market
Family friendly things to do in San Diego

That was the side where we discovered an entire stall devoted to gluten-free, dairy-free desserts. Of course, we grabbed several things to try – we rarely get spoiled like that.

We also found Mystech where we spent some time learning about the natural healing energy of 7.83HZ and mother nature (duh) and bought a bracelet for all of us to counteract all the computer time we have and exposure to harmful EMFs.

We then listened to some live music, which had the street jammed and pumping, and then grabbed a healthy quinoa bowl from Fresh of the Bowls Street Food for dinner.

Then, we took dinner with us to Sunset Cliffs for another one of those incredible Southern California sunsets.

15. Sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

aerial view of Sunset Cliffs with road winding along and homes
Best free things to do with kids in San Diego – Sunset Cliffs

Many people recommended we take in one of the famous San Diego sunsets from Sunset Cliffs, which is just a couple of miles south of the Ocean Beach pier.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a 68-acre City of San Diego regional park which extends 1½ miles along the Point Loma peninsula’s western shoreline.

You get expansive ocean views, dramatic cliff formations and caves, an intertidal area, and in some spaces plenty of space and rocks for the kids to run over way back from the edge.

kids playing on the Sunset Cliffs
San Diego family fun at Sunset Cliffs

Look out for the mermaid atop Ross Rock that juts out from the cliff face.

We parked on Sunset Cliffs Blvd, then walked a bit to the large open nature cliffs area.

Watch your children walking along Sunset Cliffs Blvd to get to the nature cliffs area. There are steep drop offs from the cliff.

There are pathways to get down to the beaches below for the adventurous and popular for surfers and those in their twenties.

Although we had a cloudy sunset, we still enjoyed the experience – add it to your list of family things to do in San Diego!

16. Head North to La Jolla Shore, San Diego

rocky shoreline of La Jolla Cove, San Diego
Family friendly La Jolla Cove, San Diego

Just up from the main Pacific Beach area of San Diego, is the small beachside community of La Jolla.

You’ll need at least half a day to explore here the La Jolla shores Beach area.

When we visited in 2006 we spent the day bumming on the beach while our new mate went surfing. La Jolla quickly became one of our favorite places to visit in San Diego County with kids.

We didn’t have as much time in La Jolla with the kids this time around (and you know beach bumming is a thing of the past once you become a parent).

Here’s what we managed to experience.

17. See The Seals at La Jolla Cove

mother and baby Seals at La Jolla Cove,
Seals at La Jolla Cove, San Diego, California

The Cove is a tiny beach tucked between sandstone cliffs and one of La Jolla’s best-known spots.

La Jolla Cove is apparently a good spot for diving and snorkeling when surf conditions are calm.

Follow the smell to reach the resident sea lions playing and sleeping on the rocks.

There were plenty of pups around when we visited. We had a great giggle at the baby seal that sounded like a lamb as he waddled over to get some milk from Mum.

He could be a contender for the America’s Got Talent crown.

This would be one of the fun things to do in San Diego with toddlers!

Seals at La Jolla Cove, San Diego, California
San Diego free attraction for kids

There are more seals near the Children’s Pool at Casa Beach. All ages love the La Jolla seals and sea lions at Children’s Pool Beach and La Jolla Cove.

Around from the Cove are the La Jolla Caves.

You can pay to go down into one of the caves or just stand on the point to admire the views, including the many kayakers in front of you looking back to the cave ridden coastline.

girl looking at kayakers
La Jolla Caves – family fun in San Diego

La Jolla’s Shores is a mile-long beach and great for families.

The region is also well known for its seal life and sea creatures in the tide pools during low tide and the town is great for eating and shopping.

Thinking of visiting La Jolla? Here are some tours you should check out.

18. Take a Coastal Hike at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

two girls looking at view of beach
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, San Diego, California

One of my favorite cheap things to do in San Diego with kids is to visit Torrey Pines State National Reserve.

It’s a couple of miles north of La Jolla and 2,000 acres of coastal state park, and one of the most beautiful places to visit in California. 

It has a collection of coastal hiking trails with ocean vistas and native vegetation, including the rare Torrey Pine, which is only found in Torrey Pines State Reserve and Santa Rosa Island.

The Torrey Pines hiking trails are of various levels for all ages and run along the cliff faces or switch back down to the shores below.

We hiked the Guy Fleming trail, which is an easy 2/3-mile loop walk and one of the most popular Torrey Pines hikes.

It offers a little diversity through shady pines, rugged orange cliffs, purple and white wildflowers and cactus with broad spiky leaves.

Observing the Torrey Pines near the cliff face and further back gave the girls a great lesson on erosion.

Thank you, life learning!

woman and two girls hugging looking at view of beach
San Diego free activities for kids

The walk quickly turned my girls from whining to giggling and feeling relaxed and grounded. Nature knows best.

I wish we had more time to do the Razor Point Trail as you pass by beautiful red sandstone cliffs and get to climb the Red Butte which we gazed at from afar.

Hiking in Torrey Pines State Park is one of the best San Diego activities for getting out in nature. We will be back

Admission Fee:

There is a $15 access fee to drive up to the parking lots on the bluff.

Although many people can be seen walking up the road to the cliffs from the free parking down below outside the reserve!

19. Eat Fish Tacos at a Local Fave!

tray filled with fish tacos at Oscars Mexican Seafood
Fish tacos the kids will love

We asked our waiter at South Draft in Mission Beach, where is the best Mexican food in San Diego?

He immediately recommended Oscars Mexican Seafood as a great local, hole-in-the-wall place to grab fish tacos in San Diego.

He warned us there may be lines, and we avoided them by visiting the shack near La Jolla at lunchtime.

I can’t decide whether I liked the smoked fish taco or the spicy grilled shrimp tacos better. Get one of both and let me know!

Grab a squirt and a space on the stool in front of the graffiti wall and dig in. Not only tasty but one of the cheap places to eat in San Diego.

 woman andn two girls sitting at countertop in front of a mural of taco truck
Family friendly Oscars Mexican Seafood

20. Splash Around at the Waterfront Park

fountains in a park
Fountain in waterfront city park near San Diego county civic center in downtown, California government authority, USA. Pacific ocean harbour, embarcadero in Gaslamp Quarter. Palms and grass near pier.

Perhaps one of the best free things to do in San Diego with kids is splash around in the Waterfront Park in Little Italy. The park features fountains and a small paddling area, which toddlers will love running around in.

There’s also a grassy area to sit on and enjoy the sunshine. There’s also a walkway with picnic tables and benches, as well as lots of climbing frames and play equipment for the kids to play on.

21. Spend a Day Exploring San Diego’s Museums

navy ship docked at bay

San Diego has some fantastic museums, so it would be a shame to visit without exploring a few of them. The USS Midway Museum is located across from the Waterfront Park so it’s easy to combine these two attractions.

It’s a former naval aircraft carrier that’s been turned into a Navy museum. Located on Navy Pier, the museum houses an extensive collection of aircraft, naval memorabilia, and objects, and is one of the few places where you get an inside glimpse into what it is like onboard a navy ship.

Next to the USS Midway is the Maritime Museum of San Diego, which features one of the largest collections of historic sea vessels in the U.S. The highlight of the museum is the Star of India, an 1863 iron bark ship.

The San Diego Natural History Museum is also worth checking out. It’s located in Balboa Park and has been open since 1874, making it the second oldest scientific institution west of the Mississippi (and the oldest in Southern California). Kids will love gazing at the life-size dinosaur models that look freakishly lifelike!

22. Go Whale Watching

whale swimming in ocean

If you’re visiting San Diego from December until April, you have come at the prime time to see whales! It is estimated that up to 20,000 gray whales migrate off the coast of San Diego during these winter months.

If you want to see whales in their natural habitat, then you can opt for one of the boat tours to take you off the shores to see them from a close (but not too close) distance.

San Diego Go City Attraction Pass

This discounted San Diego Go City pass offers flexible admission to over 55 attractions and can save up to 60% on gate admission prices.

Further Recommendations for San Diego Attractions with Kids

As you can see, there are so many attractions in San Diego for families to choose from. But if you have a lot of time to spend in San Diego and need some more recommendations, then the following places and attractions come highly recommended as top things to do in San Diego with kids.

We ran out of time for them, but our community says there are worth a visit:

  • Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. If you also like learning about marine life, then you might also like to visit the Living Coast Discovery Center.
  • Cabrillo National Monument – San Diego’s only national park and a popular location for tide pooling. It was named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the leader of the first European expedition to the West Coast of the US in 1542. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a highlight.
  • SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo (we personally don’t visit zoos)
  • Legoland California in nearby Carlsbad (You can read about Legoland in Florida)
  • Coronado Island
  • The Donut Bar for innovative & locally sourced donuts. The menu changes daily & includes vegan choices. Next time girls. Next time!
  • Belmont Park – the seaside amusement park on Mission Beach. The park has so much for kids to do, such as ride the historic roller coaster, play games in an arcade, ride carnival rides, whizz on a zip line, play laser tag or miniature golf, and ride around on go-kart track. 
  • The Old Town trolley tour travels throughout San Diego and over the iconic San Diego-Coronado Bridge to Coronado on a continuous 25-mile loop visiting 12 neighborhoods with 12 destination stops. Get tickets here.
  • Seaport Village – for families who love to shop, head over to this waterfront shopping and dining complex.

Where to Stay in San Diego With Kids

aerial view Bahia Resort Hotel and marina in Mission Bay
Bahia Resort Hotel, Mission Bay,

Bahia Resort Hotel is one of the best San Diego family resorts. It’s set back from the beach on Mission Bay.

It sure is hard to beat beach views from a hotel, but I liked how Bahia was a couple of blocks back.

The boardwalk running along Mission Beach to Pacific Beach can get very lively. It might not be the ideal place to stay in San Diego, especially with younger kids.

In fact, you won’t find a lot of hotels in San Diego along the boardwalk; it’s mostly beach rentals, and the odd backpacker or hotel threw in between.

With the Bahia Hotel, you are a 3-minute walk to the beach but have complete serenity.

And you get views anyway –  Mission Bay views from your own private beach!

girl sitting on beach lounge in front of Bahia Resort Hotel, Mission Bay
We loved this San Diego family resort!

I loved walking out my cabin door directly onto the sand to sit on the beach chair and meditate in the morning … and enjoy it with a glass of chardonnay in the evening.

Yep. This is Me.

The girls loved the trees outside our cabin, which were spectacular and great for climbing.

When you first arrive at the Bahia, you’ll think it doesn’t look much like a resort, yet once you explore San Diego, you realize it’s completely in keeping with the San Diego style.

We loved its laid-back look and having a cabin right on the beachfront was awesome.

The resort has different events like movie nights for families and offers bike rental, as well as kayaks and paddle boards.

There is a pool and tennis courts and a fitness center. And the food was also terrific.

We don’t usually like hotel buffet breakfasts, but this one was one to rave about. Espresso coffees were included (with almond milk) and the food choices were fresh, diverse, and tasty.

If you’re looking for Mission Bay San Diego hotels, consider staying at Bahia.

Read more reviews and book your stay at Bahia Resort with our affiliate partner, Booking.com.

Café Bahia

family smiling at camera while eating dinner
Fantastic place to eat with kids in San Diego

We also had dinner one night at Café Bahia, the Bahia hotel’s signature restaurant, which was one of our favorite meals of the trip.

You do not have to be staying at the resort to eat here.

I highly recommend you add it to your San Diego itinerary.

The tequila lime shrimp had a delicious sauce which was an exciting blend of kiwi salsa and mango puree.

shrmip with salsa on top
Café Bahia Restaurant, San Diego – relaxed family restaurant with style

We were lucky enough to try the sea scallop specialty that was only coming out on the menu the week after we left. It was sea scallops with grilled corn diced chorizo and chili oil on a bed of herb ricotta.

How do people even know how to put these flavors together? It was truly innovative and delicious.

And the kids were kept full and happy with items like burgers and chicken tenders!

The service here is also friendly and exceptional.

Before You Go

So there you have it, those are the best things to do in San Diego with kids. As you can see, there’s a lot to see and do here besides visiting the theme parks and zoos.

Before you go, make sure you get yourself a vehicle. San Diego’s public transport system isn’t as well connected as other cities and the tram and bus routes don’t venture far out of the city center.

If you don’t have your own vehicle, you can check out car hires from RentalCar.com, a car hire comparison website.

Many thanks to Visit California and San Diego Tourism Authority for helping us experience amazing destinations to share with you. Click here to learn more about the California Adventures on offer in San Diego, Southern California and other places to visit in California.

More California Travel Tips

Looking for more tips on the best things to do in California? Start with these posts:

More Road Trip Ideas

Are you adding San Diego onto your California road trip? Here are some other resources to help you plan your trip.

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Are you planning to visit California? Still have questions about what to see in San Diego with kids or where to go in San Diego? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

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