28 BEST Things to Do in San Diego With Kids: 2024 Ultimate Guide

Need to know the top things to do in San Diego with kids? My son and I just got back from another trip to San Diego and (as usual) we had a blast. I have all the details about the different regions, best things to do, where to stay, and the logistics of getting there!

Nicknamed “America’s Finest City,” San Diego is the ultimate family destination. You can do as little or as much as you want.

You can easily go from the airport to a beach front hotel and not get in another car until you leave—which I would do pre-kids.

Or (better option) you can choose from the endless activities the city offers and pack your schedule—which is what we do whenever we visit. Either way is a blast! 

After getting a flight deal to San Diego on Southwest ($49 each way, perks of living in California!), I decided to take my older son, Albi, on a mommy-and-me getaway. We stayed for 4 days and it was the perfect amount of time. 

I try to visit San Diego at least once a year to really explore all of the regions. There’s SO much to offer! 

Best time to visit San Diego?

San Diego is known for its practically perfect climate- it stays around 70 all year long.

If you can choose when to come, September and October are prime months. It isn’t too hot and the crowds have wound down from summer.

A little about May Gray / June Gloom. In these months, the clouds lay low and keep the day cool. They usually fizzle away after lunch time, but it’s still a bummer in the morning.

I wouldn’t NOT come during these months if that’s the only time that works, but just know there’s a high probability you’ll experience it.

There is something for everybody and if you’re heading that way, read over my top 28 things to do to with kids in San Diego to get your trip planned! 

Key Takeaways

  • San Diego is full of activities for everyone in the family. Keep in mind that it is large and spread out, so you’ll have to plan your days accordingly. 
  • The best regions to visit with kids are Mission Beach, La Jolla, Downtown, and Coronado Island.
  • San Diego’s most notable attractions are Balboa Park, Mission Beach and Boardwalk, La Jolla, and theme parks like Sesame Park and LEGOLAND.
Need a spot to stay?
Look over my two favorite mid-range options in San Diego!

Mission Beach: Catamaran Hotel. We loved it here! They offer standard rooms or 1-bedroom suites with a separate living area with a kitchenette. There’s a pool, a restaurant and a coffee shop, and kids’ movie night on the beach. 
Check prices and book it here.

La Jolla: La Jolla Shores. HIGHLY recommended. Offers a variety of rooms ranging from standard rooms to suites with kitchens. There’s also a heated pool and hot tub plus on-site dining overlooking the beach. 
Check prices and book it here.  

Table of Contents

Top 28 Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

There’s SO many things to do in San Diego with kids that to organize it, I grouped all of the family activities by region—Mission Beach, La Jolla, Downtown, and Coronado.

If you want to explore all the different portions of San Diego, I recommend visiting a region for a full day and doing all of the activities there, then trying another area the next day.

I also added a section for the best theme parks in the area. Those will most likely be all day activities, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. A few of the theme parks are a bit outside of San Diego, but worth the trek.

Mission Beach: Things to Do

1. Mission Beach

Mission Beach is a great family friendly beach. There are two parts of it—Mission Beach next to Belmont Park, which is more popular and crowded, and South Mission Beach, which is quieter with a slower pace.

Mission Beach is a great gathering place for families because it’s high energy with plenty to do—swim, surf, boogie board, beach games, even bonfires. There’s even a surfing wave machine at Wave House.

South Mission Beach is super wide with plenty of opportunities to play beach sports like volleyball, softball, basketball courts, and it’s even a great place to go fishing. Both are great for whatever type of vibe you’re looking for.

one of the best things to do with kids in san diego is visit mission beach

2. Mission Beach Boardwalk

Also called Ocean Front Walk, the boardwalk goes on for two miles and is lined with restaurants, shops, and rental spots.

You’ll see bikers, joggers, skateboarders, or just people taking a casual stroll.

3. Belmont Park

Steps from the sand is San Diego’s only beachfront amusement park. I’d say it’s big enough to knock out a good amount of time, but it’s not overwhelming.

Hit up the rides, play mini golf, go rock climbing, play laser tag, or check out the new 7D interactive theater.

Many dining options, both for quick bites and for a sit-down meal at three oceanfront restaurants, plus sweet treats. Check out everything it has to offer here. 

belmont park is one of the best things to do in san diego with kids!

4. Maruta Gardner Playground

Right across the street from Belmont Park—you can’t miss it, it’s bright pink! You can walk or just drive over on your way out of the area.

Parking lot is huge (and free). Not only is there an enormous playground, but there’s also a sand area to play in as well.

one of the best things to do with kids in san diego is visit a playground, like gardner playground in mission beach

5. Go on a Whale Watching Tour

Venture out into the ocean for a 3-hour whale-watching tour. You’ll be able to see whales, dolphins, and other marine life while the captain gives you a tour of the area.

The best time to go whale watching in San Diego is between December—April. That’s when gray whales migrate from Alaska to Mexico, so you’ll have a much higher chance of seeing multiple whales during your tour.

But don’t worry if you’re not visiting then because there are other types of whales, like humpback, minke, and fin, that can be seen all throughout the year—and blue whale season is between May and August.

Check out the a highly reviewed whale watching tour that earned a Badge of Excellence here.  

La Jolla: Things to Do

6. La Jolla Beaches

The best beach for a beach day is La Jolla Shores Beach.

It’s huge, so you’ll have plenty of room to settle in, there are lifeguards and bathrooms, plus you can do many water activities like kayaking, paddle boarding, and even scuba diving.

Bonus, there’s also a little park at this beach, Kellogg Park.

Going south down the coast from La Jolla Shores (these beaches are all within walking distance from each other):

Shell Beach is great for tide pooling.

Children’s Pool to check out the seals and sea lions and gorgeous views. It’s actually KNOWN for the sea lions.

South Casa Beach is fun for chasing waves.

visiting la jolla shores beaches is one of the best things to do in san diego with kids

7. Ellen Browning Scripps Park

Right past Shell Beach down the Coastal Walk is a seaside park, Scripps Park.
It’s a huge open grassy area perfect for frisbee, soccer, or just running around.
There are also picnic tables and benches, and restrooms and showers. 

8. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

The Birch Aquarium is one of San Diego’s hottest attractions—not only because it’s an amazing aquarium, but also because it teams with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to showcase their research and findings.

It has interactive exhibits, tide pools, and all kinds of exciting animals.

Check it out and buy tickets here.

9. Village of La Jolla

The Village is the downtown area of La Jolla, perfect for a slow stroll after a fun day in the sun.

It’s packed with restaurants (including The Cottage and Herringbone, two of the most popular dining spots in San Diego), shops, art galleries, and a movie theater. 

Downtown: Things to Do

10. New Children’s Museum

One of the best children’s museums we’ve been to! It’s three stories of interactive play split into flexible areas.

The activities range from a rainbow bounce house at the entrance, to soft play with food sculptures for the little ones, a house full of hidden ropes and nooks to explore, painting an old truck, and a humongous blob made of braided nylon to climb into (picture below because I have no idea how to actually describe this thing in words!).

My kid cried when we had to leave, so it’s one of those type of places. Check it out here. 

new childrens museum

11. Balboa Park

In the middle of downtown is a 1,200 acre urban cultural park (think the Central Park of San Diego—but Balboa Park is actually bigger.)

It has museums, gardens, restaurants, shopping, and countless San Diego activities for kids—the world-famous zoo, a carousel, a miniature train, and playgrounds, to name a few. Check out everything they have here.

There’s an added bonus during the summer—the park hosts a summer concert series. Twilight in the Park is every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from June 21 – August 24. Check the lineup here.

#12 – 16 are all in Balboa Park!

12. San Diego Zoo

The zoo is probably one of the most famous activities in San Diego, especially for families. Over 4,000 animals live there representing 650 different species!

You’ll be able to view the innovative exhibits, sign up for special experiences or a tour, watch animal shows, and even feed some of the animals!

Check out more and buy tickets here.

san diego zoo in balboa park

13. Fleet Science Center

The Fleet is San Diego’s science center. It’s a science museum and a planetarium with over 100 interactive and hands-on exhibits for all different ages.

The Fleet’s exhibits are different from other museums—kids can design video games, go on a virtual reality simulator, or go visit Kid City’s Little Learners Lab—among many other activities. Seriously, it’s awesome! Read more and buy tickets here.

14. San Diego Natural History Museum

The Nat is a great place for kids to learn about the natural world. The museum is geared towards kids and has five floors of exhibits.

You can check out the dinosaur gallery, a live animal exhibit, hidden gems, a shark replica, and have some fun at the children’s play area called The Backyard. See everything it offers and buy tickets here.

15. San Diego Model Railroad Museum

For all train lovers! The Railroad Museum features over 300 model trains on 16 different layouts that depict scenes from all over the world. It’s actually the largest railroad museum in North America!

The museum also has a collection of historic railroad cars, locomotives, and artifacts that can teach kids about the history of trains. Check it out and buy tickets here.

16. San Diego Air and Space Museum

If you have kids that love planes and space even a little, this place is a must see.
The museum has over 150 aircraft and spacecraft, including the Space Shuttle Discovery, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the Spirit of St. Louis. You can even touch some of them!

There are also a variety of interactive exhibits, flight simulators, story time sessions, and a 4D theater experience. Learn more and buy tickets here.

17. Little Italy

When it’s time to eat, there’s no better spot downtown than lively, pedestrian-friendly Little Italy.

There are over 70 dining options, shops, and a weekly Farmer’s Market. It’s an adorable spot to get lunch and gelato, and just walk around.

little italy in san diego

18. Waterfront Park

Walk off your meal by heading over to Waterfront Park—it features a playground, fountains, with beautiful views of downtown buildings on one side and the Bay on the other.

The Maritime Museum and the USS Midway Museum are in this area too, both right on the water. The Maritime Museum houses a collection of 14 historic ships and has a variety of interactive exhibits of maritime travel.

USS Midway Museum has 30+ restored aircraft plus a variety of exhibits that explore the history of aviation. 

waterfrontpark

19. Seaport Village

Seaport Village is a charming waterfront complex with a variety of family-friendly activities. There are plenty of shops, galleries, and restaurants to explore. For the kids, there’s a carousel, fountains, and open space to burn off some energy.

There’s plenty of entertainment as well. There’s also live music at the food court daily and at the East Plaza Gazebo every Sunday from 1—4pm. 

See everything it has to offer here.

20. Take a San Diego Seal Tour

If you want a unique way to get a tour around town, the Seal Tour is it. You’ll get to experience to San Diego by sea and land…. In a hybrid bus and boat!

It’s 100 minutes and departs from downtown. The tour starts off on land where you’ll see the famous attractions in downtown then you’ll get into the water and enjoy a leisurely cruise around the bay. Get your tickets here. 

Coronado Island: Things to Do

Unwind and enjoy a quintessential California day by heading to Coronado Island.

21. Coronado Central Beach

Start off by biking around town and then head over to Coronado Beach.

(Coronado Beach has been voted #1 beach in America by Dr. Beach!)

It’s over a mile long, flat, and very wide so you’ll have plenty of space. Lifeguards, restrooms, and showers are available too. 

coronado beach in san diego

22. Downtown Coronado

Check out the downtown area of the island, Orange Avenue. It’s about a mile long and runs from the bay to the beach.

It’s filled with restaurants, shops, and rental shops. Take a leisurely stroll down to really enjoy the atmosphere and beautiful architecture and homes.

23. Hop on the Old Town Trolley Tour

The trolley tour is a 2-hour, narrated, historic tour in an awesome old timey trolley.
It goes for 25 miles, has 11 stops, and covers 100 different points of interest.

Similar to a hop-on, hop-off tour, you can get on and off at a couple of different stops. You can hop on in Coronado and go all through downtown San Diego. 

Check the stops and buy tickets here.

24. Coronado Promenade Summer Concert Series

Every Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day there’s an outdoor concert right in the middle of town in Spreckles Park on Orange Ave.

It’s a popular event and you’ll see both locals and tourists. The concerts usually last a couple of hours and it’s a great way to unwind on a Sunday night. Check the lineup here. 

Theme Parks Around San Diego

25. SeaWorld

Spend a day watching animal shows, enjoying interactive exhibits, taking an animal tour, and going on rides.

For the little ones, head over to Sesame Street Bay of Play for toddler rides and play areas like a splash pad, bouncy house, and a toddler mat.

There are also seasonal events like food festivals and weekend firework shows. Read all about SeaWorld here.

26. Sesame Place

Opened in March of 2022—we just missed the opening day by two weeks!
They have rides (plus some with water), shows and parades, and the full Sesame Street Neighborhood with interactive play, story time, and character photo opps!

There’s also dining options and shopping for souvenirs. Read more about the new Sesame Place here.

27. Safari Park

Get up close and personal with animals on a guided safari tour through African Plains and Asian Savanna fields… where animals roam free!

There are animal shows throughout the day, a carousel, play areas, an obstacle course, animal encounters, ballooning, even ziplining.

Note that the Safari Park is about 45 minutes north of San Diego in Escondido, so be sure to factor that extra time into your schedule. Read more about the Safari Park here.

safari park in san diego

28. LEGOLAND

One of the biggest draws to the area, larger than life LEGOLAND is a must see for your LEGO lovers.

First, there’s the theme park with rides, LEGOLAND WORLD, shopping, shows, activities, and dining options. Then, there’s the water park.

Then, there’s the SEA LIFE aquarium. They even have a hotel on site.

The age range is from 2-12 and there are all types of rides and activities for all.

Note that LEGOLAND is actually in Carlsbad, about 45 minutes north of San Diego. Buy your tickets here. 

Best Places to Stay in San Diego with Kids

There are several different neighborhoods that make up San Diego. Each has their own charm.

The three I would recommend for families are: 

Mission Beach: If you want to stay in the action

Mission Beach is a laid-back seaside neighborhood that is an ideal spot for families. There’s almost two miles of an oceanfront boardwalk with shops, restaurants, and an amusement park.

There are parks and playgrounds sprinkled all around the area. This area is also more central if you’re going to be exploring the rest of San Diego. It’s a lot of action and reasonably priced. It does get very popular though, so don’t expect much quiet.

Two hotels in this area I recommend:

I’ve stayed here twice! It’s in a great location, on Mission Bay with a private beach and a short walk from Mission Beach. Offers standard rooms with 1 king or 2 queen beds, or 1-bedroom suites with a separate living area and sofa bed with a kitchenette.

The amenities include a pool, a restaurant and a coffee shop, and kids’ movie night on the beach.

Book it here. 

Check prices and book your stay at the Catamaran Resort by clicking here! 

Also on Mission Bay, the Bahia has its own beach and is walking distance to Mission Beach and Belmont Park. Offers standard rooms with 1 king or 2 queen beds, or 1-bedroom suites with a separate living area and sofa bed and some with kitchenettes. 

There’s also a pool and whirlpool, multiple dining options, and even a playground!

Check prices and book your stay at the Bahia Resort Hotel by clicking here!

La Jolla: If you want a quieter stay

La Jolla is a quiet, upscale seaside town known for its rugged coastline and gorgeous views. It’s known as “The Jewel” of San Diego.

You can take surf lessons, SUP, kayak, snorkel, or bike around town. The Village is the downtown area full of shops and restaurants. You can easily walk everywhere. So many picture-perfect beaches and even one that has seals and sealions laying out!

A little out of the way from everything else and pricey but worth it.

A hotel in this area that I recommend: 

This is a HIGHLY recommended hotel. Located right on the beach, La Jolla Shores is in the middle of everything in town.

Every room has a balcony and beach access and there are many types of room combinations to choose from— standard rooms or 1-bedroom suites with the option of 1 king or 2 queens, kitchenettes, full kitchens, or no kitchen, and beach or garden views. 

There’s also a heated pool and hot tub plus on-site dining overlooking the beach.

➡️ Check prices and book your stay at La Jolla Shores by clicking here!

Coronado Island: If you want to feel luxurious

Coronado Island is a ritzy and quaint beach town with a completely different feel (kind of Mediterranean?) than the other parts of San Diego.

The water is gentle, the beach is huge with soft white sand, and the downtown area is adorable. This is perfect for the family that wants to enjoy a beach vacation and minimally wants to venture out.

The iconic Hotel Del Coronado (from the movie Some Like It Hot) is here!

Coronado is a peaceful paradise but is also much more expensive.

Two hotels in this area that I recommend:

The Del is one of the most famous hotels in San Diego. (My friend even got married here!) It’s full service, right on the beach, and walking distance to downtown.

There are multiple buildings with different room options ranging from standard rooms with 1 king or 2 queens to cottages and villas with 1-3 bedrooms and a kitchen.

The amazing amenities for kids include pools with water toys and games, dining options, a Kid’s Club, an ice cream shop, and daily beach bonfires.

➡️ Check prices and book your stay at the Hotel Del Coronado by clicking here!

An adorable boutique hotel walking distance to Coronado Beach and Orange Ave. Offers standard rooms with 1 king or 2 queen beds, or 1-bedroom suites with a separate living area and sofa bed with a kitchenette or full kitchen. 

There’s a heated pool and hot tub, free breakfast and afternoon snacks, and free beach chairs, toys, towels, and chairs.

➡️ Check prices and book your stay at the Glorietta Bay Inn by clicking here!

How to Get to San Diego

SAN (San Diego International Airport) is in downtown San Diego. It’s the only major airport in the area.

It’s about 6 miles or 15 minutes away from Mission Beach, 14 miles or 20 minutes away from La Jolla, and 9 miles or 20 minutes away from Coronado Island. It’s a medium sized airport that is easy to get in and out of and has plenty of direct flights from major cities.

SNA (John Wayne Airport) is in Santa Ana and it’s the next closest airport at about 90 miles and roughly an hour and a half away from San Diego.

It’s a smaller airport and very simple to get in and out of, but it doesn’t as many direct flights as bigger airports.

⚠️ First time flying with the kids?
Read over my tips on how to fly with kids here. 

How to Get Around San Diego with Kids

Walk / bike: If you want to kick back and relax and stay in one area your whole trip, you can easily get by with walking and biking.

Many of the hotels offer complimentary bikes, or there are plenty of bike rental shops all around San Diego. Uber and Lyfts are also available around the area for short trips.

Car: But if you want to really explore neighboring cities (and I recommend this!) a car is a must because San Diego is really spread out.

➡️ I always use rentalcars.com to book rental cars!
It scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.

FAQs: Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

What activities are there for families in San Diego?

San Diego is full of family-friendly activities. A few of the most popular ones that are fun for all ages are the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and many family-friendly beaches like Mission Beach, La Jolla Beach, or Coronado Beach.

What area to stay in San Diego?

There are several different neighborhoods that make up San Diego. Each has their own charm. The three I would recommend for families staying in San Diego are Mission Beach, La Jolla, or Coronado Island. You won’t be disappointed in any of these areas!

What is the cheapest time of year to stay in San Diego?

The cheapest time to visit San Diego is in December—February (excluding holidays). That’s when hotels and flights are the least expensive. While you won’t be able to hit the beach, there are still plenty of things to do in San Diego with kids in the winter months to fill up your days!

What is a good family-friendly beach in San Diego?

Three of the most family-friendly beaches in San Diego are Mission Beach, Coronado Beach, and La Jolla Beach. They are each geared towards families and have many kid-friendly amenities. 

Wrapping Up: Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

San Diego is a great city for a family friendly vacation.

There are so many things to do with kids in San Diego, from lounging on fun beaches and visiting parks to exploring the city’s world-famous attractions and getting hands-on learning at one of the many museums.

So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip today!  

besa at beaches and babies
MEET BESA

Your Go-To Girl for Beach Travel

Hi! I’m Besa. I’ve always been a travel-loving beach bum… and then I had kids. Two boys, born 19 months apart. But I didn’t let that stop me. I still travel, even with a couple little boys in tow – and I want to help other parents like you do the same!

I’ll be sharing all my travel tips, beach hacks, and guides for some of my favorite family vacation beach spots.

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Why Trust Beaches and Babies?

Besa has been a frequent traveler for almost 20 years, and the last five years of her travels have included her two toddler boys, 19 months apart.
Years of flying and beach bumming with her kids has given her plenty of hard-earned experience in the travel world.

Need Help Booking Your Trip?
Use My Favorite Resources!

FLIGHTS
Kayak searches hundreds of travel sites for the lowest prices plus the flexible calendar tells you which days are the cheapest to fly.

LODGING
booking.com is easy to use and gives options for all types of lodging. When I know I want a big rental house, I use VRBO.

RENTAL CARS
rentalcars.com scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.

ACTIVITIES
Viator lets you search for a specific activity at your destination or scroll all available.

Read over my full list of the best sites to book with on my Resources page.