10+ Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

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Things to do in San Diego with kids

11 Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

If you are headed to southern California, definitely think about adding a stop in San Diego or make that your main destination. It’s definitely my favorite place in southern CA & a whole different vibe to me than most of the rest of busy southern California. San Diego just spells relaxation & vacation time to me! There are just so many things to do in San Diego with kids – I love it! You’ll find a variety of culture, fun activities, beach time, and other unique outdoor adventures to make for a fun-filled family vacation that everyone will love.

San Diego makes a great addition to a Disneyland trip – spend a few days at Disney on the go & then come to San Diego for a more relaxed atmosphere to enjoy the beach & sun as well as the unique activities for families. {Make sure to check out our best tips for ways to save with Disneyland tickets on sale}

If you’re looking for cheap things to do in San Diego, time your trip during one of their big savings times! They offer San Diego Kids Free October savings, where kids can get free tickets to many attractions (including Legoland, San Diego Zoo & much more) as well as many Kids Eat Free promotions too. That adds up to some big savings when you time your trip based on a promo like that. Plus, fewer crowds. Or visit during Museum month in February when many museums & attractions offer 1/2 price admission.

We’ve put together our list of the best things to do in San Diego with kids as this is such a family-friendly town whether you have little ones or teenagers. There’s such a wide variety of activities to keep everyone entertained & enjoying vacation.

Where to Stay in San Diego:

Hyatt Regency La Jolla CA

Hyatt Regency La Jolla

We booked this trip with not much notice due to college activities, so the hotel we were hoping for in closer proximity to everything was booked. So we booked at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla. This is more of a business-focused hotel, but it was a great location in the middle of La Jolla & about 10 minutes to the La Jolla beach. {We love to use credit card points to book our hotel rooms for free – Chase cards gives us the best redemption with Hyatt hotels}

Pool & chess board at Hyatt Regency La Jolla

The rooms were plush & comfortable and we loved the outdoor hang-out area with fire pits as well as an outdoor pool and hot tub and a life-size chess game. Best of all, we love to book with our Chase points so we didn’t pay for our stay, but used points instead.

Hyatt Regency Mission Bay

Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Pool

The hotel we were hoping to visit was the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay in San Diego. This hotel really is conveniently located in San Diego & so close to the beaches, Cabrillo National Monument, SeaWorld & very close to the downtown area too. This is a beautiful hotel & has absolutely stunning views.  It is a 19 acre resort with 3 pools, 3 water slides and beach chairs positioned to sit & watch the boats coming & going from the marina. It’s like a relaxing mini-waterpark without having to leave the hotel!

view from hyatt regency mission bay

Photo Credit for these hotel photos: Redeeming Beauty Family Adventures

My friend went here a year ago, so these are her pictures she took of the beautiful view & grounds of the Hyatt.  They stayed in one of the Tower rooms which had gorgeous marina views & views into downtown San Diego, too. They also enjoyed a delicious breakfast buffet that they offer (this is not included with your stay though).  {Again, we chose Hyatt hotels in case you also use credit card points as they offer the best redemption rate typically}

Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

San Diego Zoo

Giraffe at San Diego Zoo

If you’re headed to San Diego, definitely the most popular place to visit with kids is the world-renowned San Diego Zoo.  This zoo is like no other in that they house 4,000 animals from over 650 species on 100 acres in the middle of Balboa Park in the city. It is known as one of the best zoos in the world & the most visited zoo in the US. And it really is spectacular!

Bridge at San Diego Zoo

Photo Credit for Zoo photos: My friend Kelly

The zoo offers many options to get around such as walking & taking in everything with so many animals & exhibits, using the sky tram to ride from one side of the zoo to the other and buses that take you throughout the zoo. The sky tram is a great option to get a different perspective of the zoo from above & see the magnitude of all the exhibits. There are also guided bus tours, too, if you prefer that.

We love that the San Diego Zoo has set up their exhibits with more natural habitats & easier visibility of the animals, for prime animal viewing. If your little ones need to get some wiggles out (if they’re catching a ride in the stroller), there are several play areas throughout the park for them to explore, too.

If you want to find the best savings for San Diego Zoo tickets, check out our post with the best savings for San Diego Zoo tickets. It often works best to pair with a CityPass or GoCity pass if you are planning on visiting multiple attractions while in San Diego for the best savings. You will get free parking.

San Diego Safari Park 

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located east of Escondido, about 40 minutes away from the San Diego Zoo. This park is connected to the San Diego Zoo but they are very different parks. They have everything from Wildlife Treks which are walks to see the animals to Guided Safari tours in an open-air safari truck where you can get up & close & personal with the animals as you travel thru the African Savannah field where the animals are roaming free. They also have behind the scene safari tours, ziplines above the animals & so many more cool experiences. You’ll also find scheduled animal shows such as Cheetah Run, Frequent Flyer Bird Show, Elephant Keeper talk, trainer talks & more.

The best way to save is to pair with a CityPass or GoCity pass if you’ll be checking out multiple attractions while in San Diego for the best savings.

USS Midway

Flight Deck of USS MIdway

Photo Credit: My friend Redeeming Beauty Family Adventures

Friends have visited the USS Midway & say this was their favorite activity in San Diego. This tour offers an insider’s look at military life in the navy. You’ll tour the historic USS Midway, which is the longest-serving American aircraft in the 20th century. Via a self-guided aircraft tour, you’ll see everything from the sleeping quarters on board the ship, the galley (where they ate), primary flight control room, & engine room. There is also a child guided audio tour, geared towards explaining things for kids. Kids can earn their “Junior Pilot Wings” after listening to the family audio tour and filling out an activity sheet.

Audio tours can take anywhere from 2-4 hours, depending on how long you want to stay.  There are more than 30 restored aircraft & 60 different exhibits on the tour. You can also check out flight simulators, climb in aircraft, ejection seats & cockpits, and much more. When on the flight deck, enjoy beautiful views of downtown San Diego, the US Navy ships & the water.  Look for volunteer docents in yellow hats to share more about what life was like on board ships like the Midway with their personal experiences.

Save on tickets with passes like CityPass or GoCity pass if you’ll be checking out multiple attractions in San Diego.


Legoland is located just 30 minutes north of San Diego and one hour south of Anaheim & Disney. This an interactive, hands-on theme park designed for kids ages 2 – 12. Not only will you find more than 60 rides, shows & attractions at Legoland, but there is also a Sea Life Aquarium and Legoland Water Park on site as well.

The Sea Life Aquarium has more than 5,000 creatures to visit & explore while also incorporating legos into the aquarium scene. And the Legoland waterpark is 10 acres with more than 7 slides, a wave pool, sandy beaches & a Build-A-Raft river.

If you want to stay on property, there is a Legoland hotel & Legoland castle  hotel, which have themed rooms such as pirate, adventure, kingdom, Lego Friends or Ninjago themed.

Find the best prices on Legoland tickets here!

Cabrillo National Monument

Views of Downtown San Diego from Cabrillo Monument

I’ve been to San Diego a fair number of times, but I can’t believe this was our first time visiting the Cabrillo National Monument Park on Point Loma. We only had a short time in this park, but most definitely will be back to explore more of this gorgeous park.  This park is a must-visit due to its proximity to the city, gorgeous views on almost all sides & variety of options to check out.

On the eastern side of the park, you’ll find the Visitor Center where there are stunning views of Point Loma & the submarine base, Coronado Island & the Naval Air station directly across the bay as well as the downtown San Diego skyline past Coronado Island.  It’s also a great place to watch the busy San Diego shipping channel as many boats & ships pass thru here. There are some great interpretive signs to explain all the different kinds of boats & ships you might see passing thru the channel.

The main area we spent time at was the Coastal Trail & visiting the tidepools as we arrived right as low tide was finishing, so we had a little bit of time to enjoy before the tide started coming in too far. They have park rangers + volunteer naturalists on hand to ask questions about what you find, too.

Flowers at Cabrillo National Monument Coastal Trail

Even if you don’t make it for low tide, the Coastal trail is just gorgeous with the cliffs along the water & all the different levels of rock which make it so interesting & unique. The full Coastal trail is a 1 mile round-trip which is mostly a wide, easy path, with a few areas that are steeper with steps.

Cabrillo National Monument Beach

The key for visiting Cabrillo National Monument is timing. This park can get very busy – we were there in mid February on a Sunday & the low tide lot was full, although we waited for a few minutes & did find parking eventually. But on better weather days, this park can get very busy due to its proximity to the city. So, if possible, visit on a weekday or in the morning or later afternoon hours for fewer crowds. I bet the San Diego sunset is stunning along this coastal route too.

You’ll need an entrance pass for $20 for single vehicles (good for 7 days) for the park or if you have an America the Beautiful park pass, this will work here as it’s a National Monument. (or get in free on a Free National Park Day) My husband is a Veteran so he has a free national park pass so we didn’t pay any fees to visit or if you have a 4th grader, you can get in for free as well.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park San Diego

Balboa Park is a 1,200 acre urban park in the middle of San Diego with 18 museums, beautiful gardens, walks & grounds as well as the world-famous San Diego Zoo. It’s a beautiful park just to walk around & explore all the trails & see the beautiful buildings & museums.

You could surely spend multiple days at this park checking out the zoo & all the different museums & if you plan to spend multiple days or visit multiple museums, you should check out the San Diego Explorer Pass for discounted admission for the museums. Or if you plan to do other San Diego attractions as well, check out the Go City passes which includes many Balboa Park museums as well as San Diego Zoo, USS Midway, Birch Aquarium at Scripps, SeaWorld & Legoland (if you buy the All-Inclusive pass) & much more.

{During February, it’s half-price museum month in San Diego – you’ll get 50% off admission to more than 60 museums around San Diego. Our girls visited the ComicCon museum which does offer 50% off, but only on select days. Unfortunately we hit it on a weekend when it was not 1/2 off}

ComicCon Museum at Balboa Park

Some of the different museums & attractions you’ll find at Balboa Park:

    • San Diego Zoo
    • Comic Con Museum
    • Fleet Science Center
    • San Diego Air & Space Museum
    • San Diego Natural History Museum
    • The San Diego Museum of Art
    • San Diego Junior Theater
    • and so much more….

Beware that the park can get very crowded on weekends and there is quite limited parking. We visited on a Sunday in February and spent over 30 minutes looking for parking with no luck. So next time we will head to the shuttle parking lot & take the free shuttle to get to the museums instead of spending so much time looking for parking or stuck in traffic.

Find info on the free shuttle here – it’s located at the Inspiration Point lot (this is difficult info to find on their website for some reason, but it is listed here on this parking page)

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve 

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Park

We love a mix of outdoor adventures & exploring the beautiful area around San Diego, mixed in with some of the attractions & museums. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is almost 2,000 acres of coastal state park located within the city limits of San Diego. Even though it is within the city area and an urban environment, it is a beautiful, wild stretch of coastline to visit.

You’ll find high jagged cliffs along the coastline and sandstone canyons within the park. There are a variety of trails to enjoy along the ocean. You’ll find beautiful wildflowers in the spring & California quail gather there in the early mornings of fall & winter.  There are gorgeous sweeping ocean views from this park. You’ll also find the Torrey Pines State Beach within this reserve, too.

Park admission is $10 – $25 (demand-based pricing) & it is one of the busiest parks around San Diego year-round, so be prepared. The busiest hours are between 11am – 1pm, so plan to come early in the morning or later in the afternoon for less crowds.

Little Italy San Diego

Little Italy San Diego

If you’re looking for things to do in downtown San Diego and great food for the family, head to Little Italy which is filled with numerous Italian restaurants, both classic & trendy. We headed to Little Italy for our 2nd dinner in San Diego & we loved the fun atmosphere with so many restaurants & shops open up & down the streets. They also had some fun photo opps around the sidewalks as well.

Filippis Pizza Grotto Little Italy San Diego Restaurant

Thanks to a reader tip, we checked out Filippi’s Pizza Grotto in Little Italy for an authentic Italian cafe. The front is an Italian market & then the back & side are the restaurant. We did have to wait about 45 minutes on a holiday weekend, but the food was delicious. We all got pizza & it was full of cheesy goodness! They also offered great pasta specialties with large portions.

Want more things to do in Little Italy in San Diego? We love the little gelato shops, shopping at all the little shops & the pedestrian friendly zones too with lots of outdoor dining. The only issue we had with Little Italy was very limited parking. We ended up paying over $20 for parking for less than 2 hours since there was so few parking lots open without being more than a 15 minute walk.  Little Italy is definitely a great place to head if you’re looking for things to do in San Diego at night !

Free Things to Do in San Diego

La Jolla Cove / Children’s pool

Mama Seal & Baby at La Jolla Childrens Pool

One of our all-time favorite things to do in San Diego is to see the seals & sea lions along the La Jolla shoreline near the Cove & Children’s Pool area. The best time to see them is in the winter/spring as you may have the opportunity to see the harbor seals give birth to their pups during this time at the Children’s Pool beach area.  They say that the time period between December 15th & May 15th is the harbor seal pupping season and when we visited in February, it was definitely at its peak of the season. We saw SO many harbor seal pups with their moms,  many still had their umbilical cords attached & bright pink (meaning they are less than 4-5 days old).

La Jolla Childrens Pool & Beach

You can see seals & sea lions from the La Jolla Cove area along the walkway to the Children’s Pool, and that whole walk along the water is absolutely gorgeous & so interesting with all the birds & marine life but the Children’s Pool (also called La Jolla Casa Beach) is where the mamas head to birth their pups. This is because this beach is so protected by a seawall (this seawall was originally built to provide a beach for children, but now there are different “children” that use the beach. :)

The La Jolla Children’s Pool beach is a great place to visit as there are lifeguards on site and there are bathrooms & it’s accessible for anyone to visit from above or you can walk down the steps & get a little closer from the viewing areas above the beach. Kids of all ages will absolutely love this experience.

La Jolla Children's Pool Seals & Babies

The beach itself is protected & roped off, so no one disturbs these animals. You used to be able to walk along the seawall when we visited a few years ago, but it looks like it’s in some disrepair, so it was blocked off. We got there early (before 9am) & it was so quiet & peaceful & we easily found parking all along the walkway. So we started at the La Jolla cove & parked nearby. Then my girls & I walked to the Children’s Pool while my husband drove & parked there to save the walking back & forth.

Hotel Del Coronado

One of the most iconic places to visit when you are in San Diego is the Hotel Del Coronado located on Coronado Island. This hotel & location just epitomizes southern California to me. This is a must-visit anytime we visit San Diego –  I just love this gorgeous hotel so much. Plus, it’s my favorite place for sunset in San Diego along the beach in front of the hotel.

The Hotel Del Coronado began in 1888 and it’s now a California National Historic Landmark. If you go inside the lobby & walk around and check out some of the shops, you’ll see photos & information about the number of celebrities, presidents & other dignitaries have visited this hotel. This includes Presidents Harrison, Taft & FDR, as well as Marilyn Monroe are some of the people who have visited the hotel.

Sunset at Hotel Del Coronado Beach

During your visit, you could eat dinner at one of several ocean-front restaurants, grab an ice cream & walk along the beach or just enjoy the views as you walk around the hotel & the beach. We parked in a paid lot across the street from the hotel, but there is also street parking you could look for as well

Old Town San Diego 

Old Town San Diego Fountain

If you’re looking for things to do in Old Town San Diego, we love that it’s right in the heart of the city and it’s the location of the first European settlement in California. It’s a fun place to visit as there are over 30 historical landmarks, a variety of shops & over 30 restaurants in Old Town with different cuisines (with the primary cuisine being Mexican food). You can learn so much about the earlier history by visiting all of these different landmarks.

Old Town San Diego Outdoor Dining

We love to visit in the evening and wander the shops before eating. Two of the most popular restaurants are Casa Guadalajara and Casa de Reyes. We ate at Casa de Reyes this last visit & we love that it’s all outdoor dining (plenty of heat lamps so you don’t get cool in the winter). It’s such a fun, energetic atmosphere as there is an outdoor stage in the center with daily entertainment such as traditional folklorico dancing & mariachi bands. You can enjoy dinner or just sit & enjoy the entertainment around fire pits. It’s just a lively place with great music & so pretty at night with all the outdoor lighting.

Make sure to check out our Disneyland savings page if you are also headed to Disneyland! We have tons of tips for ways to save, what to expect at Disneyland, & so much more!

And if you’re making it a road trip down to California, check out more tips for California destinations!

Have you been to San Diego? What was your favorite thing to do there?



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