San Diego features some of the top tourist attractions for families in the United States. Millions of families visit this sunny city each year, and it’s really no wonder. Whether the plan is to visit San Diego for a few days or a few weeks, there’s plenty to do and see for kids of all ages.
A car is the best way to get around the city.
See the San Diego District articles for specific details on the attractions below. The information here is an overview of kid-friendly attractions.
- Belmont Park. Mission Beach. A popular seaside-amusement park with several great rides, particularly the Giant Dipper roller coaster. Also popular is The Plunge, a large indoor pool.edit
- Birch Aquarium at Scripps. La Jolla. A fantastic aquarium with some lovely displays of colorful fish, sharks, coral, and some exotic creatures (like jellyfish and octopus). There’s also a tide pool area where kids can touch tide-pool animals.
- Cabrillo National Monument. Point Loma. The lovely views of Downtown, San Diego Bay, the ocean, Coronado, and much of San Diego are a good enough reason to come here, but there’s also sights like the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which is a treat for kids who get to climb the staircase up into the tower. Also of delight for children here is a Tidepool area, on the Pacific Ocean side, where visitors can explore a living tide pool ecosystem (just be cautious of the marine life and slippery rocks).
- Children’s Museum of San Diego. Downtown. Pretty much a given for this guide, the Children’s Museum has plenty of exhibits designed for kids to enjoy.
- Children’s Pool Beach. La Jolla. It’s not a beach for children anymore, but kids still enjoy it for the sight of all the sea lions who have moved in and made the beach their home.
- Legoland. Outside of San Diego in Carlsbad, but close enough, is Legoland, the theme park based on the popular Lego toy. Younger kids, tweens, and teens will enjoy the many attractions, rides, and shows. Of course, the biggest attractions here are the elaborate Lego structures. The Legoland complex also includes an aquarium and water park; admission fees are extra.
- Maritime Museum of San Diego. Downtown. Any kid interested in boats is sure to get a kick out of this museum, where several ships, like sailing ships, a steam ferryboat, and an attack submarine, among others, are open for tours.
- Presidio Park, next door to Old Town. A large park with canyons, tall trees, flowering plants, and grassy hillsides as well as the Junipero Serra Museumand several memorials and historic landmarks. It is a lovely attraction for families, being a great place to bring a picnic, walk around, play on the lawns, and enjoy the views from the top of the hill.
- San Diego Zoo Safari Park. North San Diego. The sister park to the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park offers a great opportunity for adults and children to get up close and personal with animals. Expansive, naturalistic free-range enclosures allow visitors to see animals in just about the closest thing to the wild.
- Sea World San Diego. Mission Bay. Lots of rides, marine animals, and, of course, animal shows like the famous Shamu show. Besides the killer whales, there’s also dolphins, sharks, penguins, polar bears, and many others. There are several fun rides, including a roller coaster, a rapids ride, and the tower.
Balboa Park is chock-full of museums and sights appealing to just about any family.
- The Balboa Park Carouseland the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad, near the entrance to the San Diego Zoo, provide an entertaining diversion for kids. Each charges $2 per ride per person.
- Mingei International Museum. Balboa Park has many art museums, but this is the only one where any kid can expect to enjoy themselves. The Mingei is a folk art museum which showcases many colorful and dynamic pieces that’ll keep children entertained. Plus, out front are two colorful mosaic sculptures which kids often climb on!
- Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. A very popular science museum with lots of kid-friendly exhibits, as well as an IMAX theater.
- San Diego Air and Space Museum. This is a must-see. Dozens of full-scale replicas of historical aircraft, from the Wright Brother’s plane, to Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis, to space capsules are sure to thrill any kid (and for that matter, anyone who has even the slightest interest in things that fly).
- San Diego Automotive Museum. A nice museum with lots of antique cars on display, but only go if your children are genuinely interested in old cars (particularly old cars that never move from their spot).
- San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum. A large sports museum covering San Diego, with particular emphasis on San Diego’s baseball (the Padres) and football (the Chargers) teams.
- San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Any kid, train buff, or anyone else who enjoys watching little trains run through scale models of towns should come here. This delightful museum has some of the largest model railroad layouts in the world, and the folks who run the museum are very friendly.
- San Diego Museum of Man. A fascinating anthropological museum with some incredible and stunning exhibits on ancient human cultures. Some of the exhibits, particularly those with mummies and very realistic recreations of early humans, may be a bit much for the little ones (unless you’re sure your kids are cool with that, in which case go for it!)
- San Diego Natural History Museum. Who doesn’t like dinosaurs? Here you’ll find plenty of them, along with lots of exhibits on the history of the planet. And dinosaurs. And exhibits on how the Earth works and stuff. Did I mention there’s dinosaurs?
- San Diego Zoo. The world-famous San Diego Zoo had thousands of animals, dozens of elaborate and extensive exhibit areas, gardens, and animal-themed events. Families should be prepared to set aside several hours, if not an entire day, to do the zoo justice. Every kid has their favorite animals, so every exhibit is a popular one for kids, but the Children’s Zoo is more popular for kids than most, with a petting zoo, animal feedings, naked mole-rats, spider monkeys, and other exciting animals. Exploring the zoo on foot can be exciting, but with all of the steep hills and walking, it can also be tiring. For those who would rather zip through the zoo without getting winded, double-decker guided tour buses are available, and kids will enjoy the views from the top of the buses. Another fun way for kids to explore the zoo is via the Skyfari Arial Tram, which takes you from one end of the zoo clear out to the other, offering excellent views of the zoo.
Mission Bay Playground, East Mission Bay Drive on Mission Bay. It’s a huge playground, with several elaborate play structures (one is built to resemble a pirate ship) and lots of elements for kids to explore. It is set on the edge of Mission Bay and surrounded by expansive lawns perfect for kite-flying and playing sports.
- San Diego Padres. Downtown. PETCO Park, home of San Diego Major League Baseball team, has plenty of sights for children in addition to the ball game. Families will probably want to sit in the “Park at the Park”, a grassy hill located beyond the outfield wall where tickets are only $5 per person and families can bring a picnic blanket and relax or play on the lawn. There’s also a playground, a small baseball diamond, and a “beach” (basically a large sand box) right next to the outfield wall where kids can play and watch the game.
- Ride the Coaster up the Coast. A train line between San Diego and Oceanside, Some of the most breathtaking views of the ocean can only be had from this commuter train which travels between downtown San Diego and Oceanside. The most scenic part of the ride is between Sorrento Valley and Encinitas (remember to sit on the ocean side!).
There are plenty of beaches up and down the coast, and most of them cater to families very well. Some of the best ones for families are, from south to north:
- Central Beach, Coronado. A beautiful white sand and very family-oriented beach – most of the crowd here are families.
- Ocean Beach. A large sandy beach that’s much more laid-back than the more crowded Mission Beachand Pacific Beach just to the north.
- La Jolla Shores. La Jolla. One of the largest and most gentle of any San Diego beach; very family friendly.
- Torrey Pines State Beach, La Jolla. North of La Jolla as part of Torrey Pines State Park, this lovely beach is set against gorgeous cliffs (don’t worry, they’re set back away from the waves), is quite large and pretty uncrowded (so families don’t have to search hard to find a quiet spot), and is just a great beach for kids to explore.
- Moonlight Beach, Encinitas. About 20 miles up the coast north of San Diego in the beach community of Encinitas. This family-friendly beach has lifeguards, a playground, picnic tables, sand volleyball courts, a snack shack, and firepits for cool evenings.
- Ruby’s Diner, Oceanside Pier, Oceanside. Kids will love walking and running down the long wooden pier, watching families fishing off the sides and kites flying in the breeze. Ruby’s sits at the end of the pier and serves kid-friendly fare of burgers and shakes and a wide assortment of other entrees as well. As the restaurant sits directly over the water, you can feel the gentle sway of the ocean while you eat.
(Please include only those hotels that you think a family with kids may have a special reason to stay at (a playroom, babysitting services, listening services, special rate for kids, etc.)
- 1The New Children’s Museum, 200 W Island Ave, ☏ +1 619-233-8792, ✉ [email protected]. 9:30AM–4PM; Sun 11AM–4PM. This museum offers week-long summer camps for children age 4 to 12, as well as childcare programs on selected days when school is not in session. It is within walking distance of the convention center. daily admission, $14; one-week camp, $300.