The Top 5 Don’t-Miss Things to do in San Diego with Kids

Looking for fun things to do in San Diego with kids? There’s so much to enjoy in this beautiful California city, from stunning outdoor activities, to famous tourist spots, to gorgeous beaches just off the beaten path.

Things to do in San Diego  with kids -  San Diego Bay and Downtown View from SDG&E Park

What to do in San Diego

Here are our top picks for family things to do in San Diego. First here’s a little history on the city.

About San Diego

San Diego was founded in 1769, making it the oldest city in California. There’s a lot to love about San Diego, including its virtually perfect weather throughout the year. It also has more than its fair share of attractive tourist spots, including 31 lovely ocean beaches along 25 miles of shoreline from Sunset Cliffs to La Jolla, and a whopping 340 parks. The city is also culturally rich, with almost too many museums, galleries, and art studios to list in one place.

If your kids are up for it, Old Town San Diego Street Historic Park is a great place for a stroll and unique shopping. Kids will love learning about the natural world and varied wildlife in the expansive San Diego Zoo.

Feeling peckish? San Diego has a thriving food scene, with plenty of options for kids. Be sure to try San Diego’s own Cali-Baja cuisine, and the adults can try some of the hundreds of craft beer options.

Planning a relocation to San Diego? Thanks to it’s great locale near the Baja Peninsula and it’s fantastic weather, the city has been continuously growing for over 200 years.

San Diego, though it’s only a few hours south of LA, has a much chiller vibe than it’s famous neighbor and unsurprisingly hosts some of the best tourist spots in California. People from all around the world have had the time of their life here and in this article we’ve picked 5 of those places that you can visit on your next trip to San Diego.

The San Diego Zoo

flamingo at the San Diego Zoo

Situated north of downtown San Diego in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is one of the largest and most famous zoos in the United States and is known the world over for it’s inhabitants. It’s a non-profit wildlife sanctuary that houses more than 3,500 animals, which represent more than 650 species and subspecies. If your kids are plant lovers, there’s also a botanical collection with more than 700,000 exotic plants.

This enormous zoo and safari park is home to rare, endangered, and vulnerable animals. Some of the most famous animals residing in the zoo currently are the giant pandas, which, thanks in part to the San Diego Zoo team, is now listed as vulnerable (rather than endangered).

Other kid-pleasing animals in the zoo include kangaroos, koalas, rhinos, leopards, polar bears, sloths, and bonobos. You can even sign up for a behind-the-scenes tour to get a closer view of the day to day responsibilities of the caretakers as well as have up close animal experiences.

The Zoo also has fun activities for it’s visitors, like the Kangaroo Express Bus and the Skyfari Aerial Tram, along with plenty of free-roaming animals that make the experience all the more real.

USS Midway Museum

USS Midway San Diego California

Permanently docked at Navy Pier, the retired aircraft carrier USS Midway is open to visitors. During it’s heyday, It was one of the largest ships in the US Military.

Along with the USS Midway, the museum also has 30 restored Navy aircraft to see, plus incredible views of San Diego Bay. Kids will keep plenty busy with over 60 exhibits, including hangar, flight deck, and below deck exhibits. If you have time, there’s an incredibly popular audio tour that brings the history of the ship to light (bring your own headphones, if you can).

Balboa Park

Botanical Building and Lily Pond Balboa Park San Diego USA

San Balboa Park is much more than a green space. It’s home to 17 museums, theaters, as well as the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Balboa Park is an open space urban cultural park, with enough to keep the kids (and adults) busy for days. There are dance classes, gardens, performing arts, museums, shopping, tours, and plenty to eat and drink.

Looking more closely, there are a dizzying number of attractions here, including the Balboa Park Carousel and miniature train, the Cabrillo Bridge, California Tower, El Cid stature, Escape The Nat escape room, the impressively large Moreton Bay fig tree, the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, the Photographic Arts Building, the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society, Sefton Plaza, the Spanish Village Art Center, and of course the San Diego Zoo.

The Casa del Prado, often just called del Prado, is made of several reconstructed buildings first built for the Panama–California Exposition in San Diego’s Balboa Park. It’s a working site, and often home to weddings, events and activities.

The Casa del Balboa is a single building in Balboa Park. It was originally called the Commerce and Industries Building, and later called the Canadian Building, the Palace of Better Housing, and the Electric Building. Today, Casa del Balboa houses the Balboa Art Conservation Center, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the Museum of Photographic Arts, and the San Diego History Center.

Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter San Diego

Built-in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Gaslamp Quarter takes up 16 and a half blocks in San Diego’s downtown. It’s a recognized historic district, with plenty of character and charm. It’s also known for being one of the most visited places in the city.

The Gaslamp Quarter is probably best known for city nightlife, and it’s the place to go to catch the latest theatre, comedy or jazz performance, see the trendiest clothes and people or eat the best cuisine. That said, there’s plenty for kids to do here.

The Gaslamp Quarter is easily walkable, but the kids may enjoy taking a bike taxi. It’s likely the most kid friendly during the day.

The Beaches of San Diego

coronado beach by the hotel coronado PXBY

San Diego is easily the city of the beaches, so visiting the beach is an absolute must when you visit. Some of our favorite San Diego beaches for kids are Coronado Beach, Del Mar City Beach, Moonlight Beach, Mission Bay, Cardiff State Beach, South Ponto Beach, La Jolla Shores, and Silver Strand State Beach.

Mission Beach is a great choice for families that want to relax, with great spots to sunbathe, and a buzzing beachfront Boardwalk, with a sea view café. It’s also a great spot for adventurous families that want to surf. Ocean Beach is a chic and relaxed vibe, while dog lovers will adore – you guessed it – Dog Beach.

Coronado Beach is great for beach volleyball, but it’s also home to a unique experience – ice skating! You can skate at Hotel del Coronado, with stunning view of the beach.

Looking for some more California and west coast fun and sun? Check out these great reads:

Do you have any other ideas for the best attractions in San Diego as a family? Let us know!