Planning a trip to San Diego with kids? Here’s 25 fun things to do to fill your sunny days in this family-friendly Southern California destination.
We’ve been to San Diego a handful of times, but we’d never really seen San Diego until this latest trip!
What I mean by that is, San Diego is a such a vast and diverse city! It’s tough to get a full picture of what San Diego is all about in just a weekend (though, it certainly isn’t a bad way to start!)
We were lucky enough to spend two weeks in San Diego as a family, and let me tell you, I was determined to see it all this time! So I started my San Diego bucket list and day-by-day, we chipped away at it, exploring every new neighborhood, park, and museum we could squeeze in to our packed schedule.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed planning a trip to San Diego with kids, because there is just so much to do.
So today, I’m narrowing down the top 25 things we think every family should experience on a trip to San Diego, California. Read on for the full list!
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Where to Stay in San Diego with Kids
At first glance it might seem like San Diego is terribly spread out. In reality, it’s pretty easy to travel across all of San Diego County without too much difficulty or traffic.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly hotel for you family that’s right in the action, the downtown area will be your best bet. A few of our favorites include:
FAMILY HOTELS IN SAN DIEGO
Hampton Inn San Diego Downtown ($$) | Sandwiched between Little Italy and Waterfront Park, the Hampton Inn offers a traditional and affordable hotel experience on the edge of downtown. Updated furnishings, an outdoor pool and rooftop terrace all make it a winner.
Compare rates on: Hotels.com | Agoda | Booking.com
Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina ($$$) | A bit further south, the Marriott Marquis hotel sits on the edge of the Gaslamp Quarter, close to the New Children’s Museum and Seaport Village. Families will appreciate 3 on-site restaurants, a massive outdoor pool (plus an additional children’s pool) and free crib rentals.
Compare rates on: Hotels.com | Agoda | Booking.com
Hotel del Coronado ($$$$) | Want nothing more than to relax and enjoy the Southern California sun? Then the Hotel Del is the perfect choice. This iconic hotel on Coronado Island features 6 restaurants, beach umbrella service, and an all new outdoor pool and cabana area coming summer 2020!
Compare rates on: Hotels.com | Agoda | Booking.com
FAMILY AIRBNBS IN SAN DIEGO
And if you’re new to Airbnb, use our referral link to get up to $55 in FREE travel credit when you book your first stay!
What to Pack for San Diego with Kids
Here’s the good news about packing for San Diego: you can expect perfect, sunny skies in year-round!
Even in winter, you’ll find most days are quite warm with no sweaters necessary. Nights can get chilly though, so having a light jacket is a must. Not sure about the weather during the day? Be prepared by dressing in layers that can be easily shed as the temperature warms up.
If you plan to visit in winter, check the forecast for rain and bring a small travel umbrella if necessary.
And of course, don’t forget the swimsuits and beach towels! We love these microfiber travel towels because they take up hardly any space in our suitcases!
Getting Around San Diego with Kids
Because many of our favorite things to do in San Diego are a bit off the beaten path, I recommend renting a car during your stay. This will give you the most flexibility and allow you to explore the North County area as well. We like to book with RentalCars.com for their guaranteed low rates and flexible cancellation policies.
If you only have a day or two in the city, the Hop-On Hop-Off Old Town Trolley Tour is another great alternative for transportation. It travels to most of San Diego’s top attractions and includes unlimited trips on a one-day ticket. And unlike the public trolley, it can take you to places like Coronado Island.
Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids
Looking for the best things to do on a San Diego family getaway?
Here’s 25 of our favorite family activities in San Diego that are not to be missed!
1 | See Coronado Island by bike. This adorable resort town is well worth spending a half or full day in simply toodling around. We rented bikes from Holland’s Bicycles, making our way across the island to view the San Diego skyline from Centennial Park. From there we stopped for lunch at Coronado Brewing Company, before returning to the other side of the island, relaxing on the lawn of the famous Hotel Del Coronado.
2 | Explore the New Children’s Museum in the heart of downtown San Diego. Young kids will be busy for hours swinging from the whammock, jumping in the mattress room, or adding their own creation to the sketch aquarium.
3 | Tour the USS Midway. There’s simply nothing like it, or at least that we’ve experienced before. You’ll truly gain a new appreciation for our military touring this 1000 foot naval aircraft carrier. Skip the line and purchase tickets in advance with Viator.
4 | Experience the new Liberty Station. This area reborn out of a former naval training center has become a popular local gathering spot. Eat at the Liberty Public Market food hall, enjoy live music on Sundays, take in the outdoor art installations, or have fun at the playground!
5 | Explore the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. The Hamilton Children’s Garden is an especially fun and interactive spot for kids to build a fort, learn about birds and butterflies, or make music in the natural garden.
6 | Stroll through Old Town San Diego, the birthplace of California and historic heart of the city. The colonial old west neighborhood is the site of the first settlement in California and is now a State Historic Park. It’s the perfect place to listen to live music, eat Mexican food, and enjoy the beautiful nooks and crannies of the markets and buildings.
7 | Visit the world famous San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, or the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in nearby Escondido. With over 650 different species of animals, both are among San Diego’s top attractions for families for good reason!
8 | Get up close and personal with sea life. Being close to the ocean has it’s perks, and in San Diego there are lots of places to learn about the sea. Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla or the SEA LIFE Aquarium at Legoland are two classic favorites, while The Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista offers a smaller, more intimate feel that’s off the beaten path.
9 | Take in a Museum in Balboa Park. There are so many to choose from, but at the top of our list to intrigue kids are the Fleet Science Center, the Natural History Museum or the San Diego Museum of Man.
10 | Hit the Trails. San Diego’s largest park, Mission Trails Regional Park, offers 60 miles of trails, from hiking to the top of the 5 peaks, to simpler kid-friendly trails near the visitors center. For a smaller local gem, try exploring Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve or Annie’s Canyon Trail.
11 | See Queen Califia’s Magic Circle in Escondido. You’ll have to time your visit just right, since this wild and wacky art installation in Kit Carson Park is only open on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month (and closed if there’s rain or puddled water). It’s not too far from the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, though, so you can combine the two in one trip.
13 | Taste new flavors on Convoy. One of San Diego’s many foodie centers, Convoy Street in the Kearny Mesa neighborhood is a mecca for tasty Asian dishes like ramen, dumplings, sushi, Boba tea, and Korean BBQ. After dinner, I highly recommend stopping at Somi Somi for some fun ice cream treats!
14 | Take in the Coastal Views of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla. Several trails offer dramatic coastal overlooks of this ridiculously gorgeous piece of San Diego County.
15 | Admire the Botanical Building in Balboa Park. It’s free to explore the inside, while the lily pond in front makes for a relaxing place to sit and people watch.
16 | Shop local at the Little Italy Mercato Farmers Market. The market’s open Wednesday and Saturday, rain or shine, and offers a mix of fruit & veggies, flowers, gourmet eats, and even eco-friendly home products. While you’re in the area, stop by Filippi’s Pizza Grotto for some old school Italian food.
17 | Chill out at the beach. An obvious choice while in sunny San Diego with kids, you’ll have your pick of places to relax in the sun, from laid-back Ocean Beach or Pacific Beach, the beautiful coastline of La Jolla, or local favorite Moonlight Beach in nearby Encinitas.
18 | Play at Waterfront Park, one of downtown San Diego’s largest outdoor spaces with interactive fountains and an inclusive playground. With the city backdrop on one side and the harbor on the other, it also makes for an ideal spot for a mid-day picnic.
19 | Take in the Sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. The orange sunset glow over the dramatic natural cliffs is truly something you must see with your own eyes! Pro tip: Instead of trying to find parking in one of the small, busy lots along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, park along Adair Street and walk over to the cliffs.
20 | Eat and Drink in South Park, San Diego’s super cool neighborhood just east of Balboa Park. We only discovered South Park on our last night in town eating dinner at Buona Forchetta (10/10 would recommend, by the way), and were smitten with its charm! There are plenty of coffee outposts, cafes, and shops to enjoy in-between strolling the tree-lined streets.
22 | Go Mural Hunting, either in North Park or La Jolla. Both neighborhoods offer their own collection of street art gems. In La Jolla Village, use this map to find them all for yourself. Likewise in North Park, you’ll find murals on nearly every corner. Need a little help? San Diego Family Travelers have located quite a few of them for you!
23 | Eat and Play in Barrio Logan, the center of San Diego’s Chicano culture. Restaurants like Salud! and Barrio Dogg are not only tasty, but kid-friendly, and adults will appreciate the murals of Chicano Park while the kids hit the playground.
24 | Head to the Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of Point Loma for some epic views of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. You can also check out nearby Old Point Loma Lighthouse, a well-preserved lighthouse that was taken out of commission just 36 years after it was built.
25 | Watch the harbor seals frolick at Children’s Pool Beach, in the heart of the La Jolla. The best time for seal watching is from January to May (seal pupping season), but you’ll find at least a few seals on the beach (which was originally designed for children, as the name implies, but overtaken by seals in the 1990s) any time of year. Just be sure to be respectful and keep your distance from the seals.
Got a question about San Diego? Let me know in the comments!