San Diego is a popular destination for a family vacation because of its mild climate, miles of beach, and various activities.
While most people think about theme parks like the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, or LEGOLAND when they imagine a fun San Diego trip, there’s so much more to this sunny city than just amusement parks.
Let’s look at some of the other fantastic things to do in San Diego with kids for guests looking for a more authentic experience on holiday.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a recognized center for marine biology and public outreach located on picturesque bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The aquarium has 60 distinct habitats, including sea lions and jellyfish, and is home to 60 different ecosystems, including those of both the deep sea and coral reefs.
The Birch Aquarium is home to everything from tropical fish and sharks to eels, octopuses, and rays. Whether you’re a fan of aquatic life or simply interested in fascinating fish, there’s something for everyone at the aquarium.
It also contains an amazing single-paned window that offers visitors a stunning perspective of the ocean from within. In the Touch Tank, you may even get up really close with some animals!
Mission Trails Regional Park
For families seeking some outdoor fun, Mission Trails Regional Park is a fantastic location. This is the ideal spot to let them run free and discover nature while still having access to magnificent views of San Diego’s cityscape in the distance.
There’s something for everyone at this urban park, with more than 65 miles of paths and 8,000 acres of hills and canyons to discover.
Walking and cycling trails wind throughout the park’s natural areas, while playgrounds, grassy picnic areas with tables, and fishing locations provide a day in the great outdoors for the kids.
One of the greatest features about Mission Trails is that it is just a hop, skip and a jump from downtown San Diego – so getting there is simple!
Balboa Park is a popular attraction in San Diego, and for good reason. With so much to do, it’s ideal for families or anybody looking for an exciting day out.
There are 17 museum buildings, a huge garden, five playgrounds, a carousel, and even a miniaturized railway track. The famous merry-go-round was erected in 1910 and features handcrafted animals that are beautifully carved.
Balboa Park is free to enter and open 24 hours each day, seven days a week. This is the place to go if you need somewhere for the kids to let their wiggles out at any time of day. They even offer free wi-fi (but don’t tell the kids!)
Fleet Science Center
Children of all ages will enjoy learning about how things function while turning knobs and pushing buttons in the enormous interactive area within the Fleet Science Center at Balboa Park.
It’s one of the country’s biggest science museums, with more than 100 engaging exhibits. Kids will like exploring everything from technology to outer space, and parents will appreciate the educational value combined with lots of entertaining activities.
An IMAX theater on-site allows for even more immersive learning.
San Diego Natural History Museum
The San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park is a fun and educational experience for both kids and adults.
The museum has exhibits on a variety of natural sciences, from dinosaurs to plants to animals. It’s one of the city’s finest museums, and it’s huge – ideal for young explorers.
The displays are interesting and informative, so there’s always something new to discover. You may easily spend an entire day here, so make sure it appears on your list of things to do in San Diego.
San Diego Air and Space Museum
Do you like learning about the cosmos and everything that lies outside of our planet?
If so, the San Diego Air and Space Museum will take you on a tour through space from the planets and stars all the way to the edge of the known universe.
You’ll learn about everything from ancient astronomy to contemporary space exploration, as well as UFOs!
Whether you’re a seasoned space buff or just starting your journey of cosmic discovery, put on your rocket scientist hats and get ready for an out-of-this-world experience!
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is a lovely and well-known beach in the seaside town of La Jolla. The beautiful, warm water year-round, as well as the crystal-clear sea, make this one of California’s most picturesque beaches to enjoy your day at sea with family or friends.
Kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and scuba diving are popular activities for visitors. Divers will love exploring the shipwrecks and interacting with the manta rays that frequently swim underwater!
There are also many more things to do for visitors who want to stay on land, such as viewing sea lions from a distance (depending on your courage), exploring ancient cave systems near the beach, or making use of Ellen Browning Scripps Park’s grassy shade for an afternoon family picnic.
Stay for the amazing sunsets and listen to live music at several of the nearby restaurants.
Cabrillo National Monument
Bring the kids to the Cabrillo National Monument for a real-life history lesson in San Diego. There are a variety of activities for kids of all ages, so the whole family will have a great time exploring together.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse museum gives a nice visual of what life was like in the 1800s by displaying period furniture and lighting equipment.
A stroll down Bayside Trail may be the highlight of your holiday in San Diego. The sweeping view from the trail is magnificent and offers a great vantage point for viewing the city below.
In January or February, you might spot migrating whales here. Make sure to check out the tide pools while you’re there; they’re always popular with children!
The New Children’s Museum
Do you have young kids who love to explore and learn? If so, the new Children’s Museum is the perfect place for them.
With exhibits and activities created especially for kids 10 and under, this hands-on museum is jam-packed with displays and activities that will keep your youngster occupied for hours.
There’s always something new to discover at this museum, from its interactive exhibits to its changing art programs.
Not only that, but the location is excellent – right in the middle of town, so you’ll be able to see and do plenty around San Diego. Keep in mind that the museum is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a fantastic option for tourists looking to discover natural beauty in Southern California and its native flora.
The reserve, which has miles of hiking trails, beautiful beaches, and breathtaking vistas, is a must-see for nature enthusiasts of all ages. You’ll be able to see the rare twisty Torrey pine and the prickling pear cactus, and other native species.
The Guy Fleming Trail is a top pick for families. This 2/3-mile loop has the greatest variety of wildflowers, ferns, and cacti. The trail also offers two scenic overlooks with panoramic views that make for a great day trip or just something different from your average hike.
Make sure to stop by the visitor center to learn more about the reserve and pick up a map before hitting the trails. You won’t be disappointed!
San Diego Botanic Garden
The San Diego Botanic Garden is a wonderful day out with the family. With more than 37 acres of gardens, flora, and nature walks to discover, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
A Japanese garden, rose garden, succulent garden, along with several gardens designed especially for children are among the themed gardens available.
The Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden focuses on young children. It features a dinosaur-themed garden, playhouse, and topiary as well! During most months it also hosts weekly activities in partnership with SAPLinGS – Science Art & Play In Ground Space Saves (a program that promotes creative learning).
The Hamilton Children’s Garden provides a wealth of learning opportunities for kids. Here, children will have fun exploring the Butterfly Bed and Breakfast, playing giant tic-tac-toe, wandering through an elaborate slatted labyrinth, learning about sundials, or climbing an elaborate treehouse.
The San Diego Botanic Garden also has a host of intriguing flora and fauna, so be sure to look around! The botanical garden hosts a number of events throughout the year, so check their website before you go.
Maritime Museum of San Diego
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is a renowned floating museum that features maritime history and culture.
The museum’s fleet includes eight ships, including the USS Midway Museum, which is the world’s largest open-to-the public naval vessel and provides an intriguing view into life aboard a US aircraft carrier.
There’s plenty to keep kids occupied, from interactive exhibits to flight simulators that provide historical and military context from knowledgeable guides.
You can also tour the Star of India, the oldest active sailing ship, and even stay aboard during special family overnight adventures in the summer.
Carlsbad Flower Fields
The Carlsbad Flower Fields are a must-see popular destination in San Diego County. Every spring, 50 acres of flowers burst into vibrant hues as Mother Nature paints the landscape with colors that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
Locals and visitors alike flock to the Carlsbad Ranch to see the Giant Tecolote Ranunculus, tiptoe through the maze of sweet peas, fill out passport papers at stamp stations, and learn about recycling and composting.
The best time to see the fields is usually mid-March through early May, but check the website for updated information on blooming times.
Belmont Park is the closest thing to a theme park on our list, and it’s a historical treasure with lots of rides and games for children as well as some excellent food choices.
It’s not only affordable, but it also has plenty to do with your whole family! From the Giant Dipper (a vintage wooden roller coaster from 1925), which will leave you screaming at speeds of over 45 mph, to the brand new rock wall – there are 22 rides and attractions to enjoy while being surrounded by stunning views and breathtaking oceanfront vistas.