San Diego Activities: Things to Do with Your Kids! - My Family Travels

From Sea World to surfing to a world-class zoo, here are our favorite ideas on where to go when visiting sunny San Diego with kids. By the way, southern California is a participant in the CityPass Program, which includes the 3-Day Disneyland Resort Park Hopper ticket (back-and-forth admission to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park), one-day admission to LEGOLAND California, and one-day admission to SeaWorld San Diego, at a substantial savings off individual tickets for every member of the family. For general information on San Diego, call 619/232-3101 or San Diego Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Feeding a rhinoceros during a San Diego Zoo Animal Interactions program.

While San Diego is great for families every month of the year, note that October is “Kid Free San Diego.”  It’s when over 100 partners participate and open their doors free of charge or offer discounts to ages 12 and younger.

GREAT FUN FOR THE KIDS: Toddler to Age 8

1. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Photo by

Address: 1649 El Prado (in Balboa Park), San Diego, California 92101
Phone Number: 619/696-0199

Located a short drive from the zoo in Balboa Park, this museum so intrigues kids with one of the largest collections of mini-gauge railroads in the world, that they never want to leave. Exhibits include the Pacific Desert Lines, with miniature trains 1/160 their actual size, and the Toy Train Gallery, which includes interactive models for children.

The Pacific Desert Line is an N-scale model detailing the equivalent of ten miles of track in the desert.  Opened in 2015 to celebrate the museum’s 100th anniversary is the Centennial Railway Garden. This museum offers a rare experience for kids, small and large

2. Rubin H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center

Address: 1875 El Prado (in Balboa Park), San Diego, California 92101
Phone Number: 619/238-1233

This museum has the world’s first IMAX Dome theater, where they show various educational movies and light shows about the world. Your kids will also find permanent exhibits and constantly changing ones, to be hands-on and delightful. Favorites include So Watt!, which explores energy, and Kid City (fun for ages five and under).

3. LEGOLAND California

Address: 1 LEGOLAND Drive, Carlsbad, California 92008
Phone Number: 760/918-5346 or 877/LEGOLAND

Legoland California is fashioned after its European namesake and the first in the U.S. The 128-acre complex was built using over 130 million Lego blocks and features over 60 rides and eight themed areas. In reality, the park activities will interest kids 2-12 years, but visitors of all ages will enjoy the fantastic Lego constructions that adorn the park and the artistry of their builders. 

Star Wars Miniland presents seven scenes from the epic saga constructed with 1.5 million Lego bricks. Life-sized models of Star Wars characters have interactive buttons to animate the models. The Legoland Water Park features a 45-foot tower, 20 Lego models, a sandy beach wading area, and splashing and spraying Lego friends. 

The newer Lego Legends of CHIMA Water Park is based on the popular Cartoon Network Series, and the SEALIFE Aquarium is another popular stop.  Your family can even sleep among the bricks at the onsite Legoland Hotel.

4. Children’s Museum

Address: 200 West Island Avenue, San Diego, California 92101
Phone Number: 619/233-8792

This is an ambitious, please touch museum where kids and parents alike are invited to create their own art, experience virtual reality simulations and learn with both hands-on and “minds-on” activities. There are artists studios in a variety of media staffed by working artists, opportunities to make art with re-cycled materials, and big galleries for hands-on experimentation, a 250-seat-theater, and the Bean Sprouts Cafe. Parents will appreciate the one-acre Museum Park, located across the street where The Garden Project is for playing and learning. At this museum, kids are encourage to create and participate.

Great Fun for the Teens: (Up to Age 18)

San Diego’s Mission and Pacific Beaches provide great opportunities for beginners to acquire surfing skills. You can ask your hotel concierge where to find surfboard or sailboard rentals and lessons, or check out these top surfing schools:

6. Surf Diva

A premier surf school for women, Surf Diva is located on La Jolla Shores. Open year round, they offer lessons for men, women, children and teens. La Jolla Shores provide an excellent landscape for beginners.

7. Ocean Experience

This program takes place at Ocean Beach and offers 3-hour lessons year round for all ages. Covering all areas of surfing from water safety and balance training, to paddling progression and catching waves this school is great for beginners. Ocean Beach has a welcoming atmosphere, and is known as a great beach to bring your dogs to. (They also teach Skateboarding and StandUp Paddleboarding.)

8. Pacific Surf School

Private, semi-private, and group lesson workshops at this school are provided by surfing veterans and take place on the calmer waves of Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and Ocean Beach. There are Day and Overnight Surf Camps for ages 6-17.  With year-round surfing, Mission Beach is a great spot, especially for beginning surfers.

9. San Diego Surfing Academy

Oceanside, California, is home to the San Diego Surfing Academy, which boasts expert instructors teaching students how to paddle, ride their boards, and select the right wave. This beach is great for beginner and intermediate-level surfers because of its soft sand bottom.

On rainy or low tide days, check out Wave House on the Mission Boardwalk, which offers FlowRider and FlowBarrel simulated surf platforms that allow expert surfers to improve their skills with non-stop waves.

10. Mission Bay Park

Address: Follow 1-8 to Mission Bay Dr. or Ingraham St., or 1-5 to Mission Bay exits., San Diego, California
Phone Number: 619/276-8200

Unsatisfied by miles of beautiful natural coastline, the city transformed a swamp into a 4,235-acre outdoor aquatic sports center open year-round. Here, the family can swim, sail, windsurf, kayak, waterski, and fish, mostly in areas designated for one sport only.

On land, picnic areas, fire rings, playgrounds, and plenty of open spaces, and boats and equipment are available for rent at several marinas. Check the website for a schedule of free programs; services are reduced during the November to March winter season, but it’s still a great day out.

11. Timken Museum of Art

Address: 1500 El Prado (in Balboa Park), San Diego, California 92101
Phone Number: 619/239-5548

This privately owned museum is located in a great park and is free of charge — what better reason to expose the kids to some wonderful American, Russian, and Western European art? Free tours led by docents are designed for ages 6+ and are given daily except Monday when the museum is closed. Also, the Putnam Foundation Collection features San Diego’s only painting by Rembrandt.

12. SeaWorld

Address: 500 SeaWorld Drive, San Diego, California 92109
Phone Number: 619/222-4SEA

Embark on a marine life adventure at SeaWorld San Diego. Get ready for jaw-dropping animal encounters, heart-pounding rides, and adorable animal shows. Nestled on nearly 200 acres in Mission Bay, this amusement park is a haven for all animal lovers, offering the chance to soar through the air on the Manta roller coaster and witness dolphins in their playful Dolphin Adventures show.

Note that toddlers can enjoy a new thrill-ride zone called the Rescue Jr. kids play area. A separate, brand-new Sesame Place San Diego is set to open near SeaWorld by 2024.

13. Embarcadero Marina Park North

Address: End of Kettner Boulevard, beyond Seaport Village, San Diego, California

This cement boardwalk has sweeping views of the harbor and is a great place to rollerblade, fly kites, or just relax and breathe the fresh air. Small islets offshore have grass for picnics. Stroll through Seaport Village, an eclectic small mall to purchase picnic fare, art, or other souvenirs.

14. Aerospace Museum

Address: 2001 Pan American Plaza (Balboa Park), San Diego, California 92101
Phone Number: 619/234-8291

The history of aviation, famous aviators, and restored engines and aircraft (such as one from U.S. Army Air Corps Boeing P-26) are on display. The exhibits trace the history of flight from the Wright Flyer to World Wars I & II to the Jet Age. Also, great for kids, there is a 2 Seat Interactive Simulator Ride that allows riders to sit in the cockpit of the FS2000.

15. The Old Globe

Address: 1363 Old Globe Way (in Balboa Park), San Diego, California 92101
Phone Number: 619/234-5623

This theater offers both indoor and outdoor performances and stages an outdoor summer Shakespeare festival that’s a great opportunity for introducing the kids to the great playwright. 

More contemporary plays performed here have included Double Indemnity and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which also has a special “Autism-Friendly Grinch” performance over the holidays.

Fun for the Whole Family

16. Balboa Park

Address: Visitors Center at 1549 El Prado, San Diego, California 92101
Phone Number: 619/239-0512

This very large public park is a top choice for any family visiting San Diego. Besides the San Diego Zoo and 17 museums and cultural institutions, the 1,400-acre park includes 10 performance spaces, three playgrounds, well-maintained gardens, and acres of open grass for playing and picnicking. El Prado, the main thoroughfare, is lined with Moorish-style museums and theaters, some dating as far back as 1915.

17. San Diego Zoo

Address: Zoo Drive (in Balboa Park), San Diego, California 92101
Phone Number: 619/231-1515

This world-class zoo is a simple must-see, especially in Elephant Odyssey and the Polar Bear Plunge habitats. A leader in its field, the Zoo focuses on conservation and animal behavior while allowing guests to interact with its amazingly diverse collection. 

The Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, a 3.2-acre state-of-the-art, multi-ecosystem experience designed to provide guests of all ages with high-tech interactive opportunities to engage with nature and conservation, opened in March 2022. 

The zoo is so large that many families will want to take the tram tour; however, allow enough time to return for closer inspection since it’s hard to see shy animals over the crowds. Special interactive shows (at extra cost) include “Animals in Action,” where a trainer introduces the audience to several animals. Our family enjoyed the show and learned a lot of odd facts about the African porcupine, rhinoceros, Arctic wolf, ground cuscus, and other trained animals. Feeding a rhino is pretty cool.

18. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Address: 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, CA 92027-7017
Phone Number: 760/747-8702

For a surprisingly different experience, spend the day at this wildlife preserve dedicated to protecting endangered species. The San Diego Zoo runs it, and once you get beyond the zoo-style exhibits near the entrance, you can appreciate what it’s all about. 

Fun activities for preschoolers include “Lorikeet Landing,” where kids can feed colorful birds, and the Africa Tram that runs through certain animal areas. There are animal encounters, shows, play areas, and a selection of “Safaris” – for an additional fee. 

The Flightline Safari is truly an adventure as while harnessed, you soar for 2/3 of a mile at 130 feet above the ground and get a bird’s eye view of the animals and park.

19. Hotel Del Coronado

Address: 1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado, California 92118
Phone Number: 800/468-3533

You and your family can tour this ca. 1888 seaside hotel (a National Historic Landmark) a few days a week with docents from the Coronado Visitor Center, then go for a beach walk. Tastefully decorated, this grand gingerbread Victorian is enchanting and as worthy of a quick look as a week-long stay. 

It’s very crowded over the winter holidays when a skating rink is set up out back, but fans of films like “Some Like It Hot” (yes, Marilyn Monroe stayed there) will enjoy seeing it any time of year.

20. Old Town State Historic Park

Address: North of downtown at Juan St., near intersections 1-5 and 1-8, San Diego, California
Phone Number: 619/220-5422

View many restored historical structures, such as colonial homes and early mansions. This area was California’s first European settlement and has retained that magnificent old-world charm.

Numerous Mexican restaurants and an open-air crafts and art market are in a large plaza, making it ideal for strolling with little ones. We enjoyed our meal at Casa Guadalajara, one of Old Town’s most historic places.

21. The Gaslamp Quarter

Address: Bounded by 4th Avenue, 6th Avenue, L Street and Broadway, San Diego, California
Phone Number: 619/233-5227

This is the “happening” area in downtown San Diego, popular with convention-goers and families touring the harborfront.  A wide variety of shops, over 200 quality restaurants (including Cafe 222, famous for its breakfasts), bars, nightclubs, lounges, and renovated Victorian-era architecture await visitors within this 16½-block historic district. 

A great locale for an evening stroll, there is great live entertainment at various pubs and eateries.

22. Old Town Trolley Tours

Address: San Diego, California
Phone Number: 888/910-8687

Tourists to San Diego have been hopping on and off these bright red trolleys since 1989.  Offering several routes and stops at major attractions is a great way to experience the city.

Conclusion: Exploring San Diego with Kids

San Diego’s diverse attractions cater to families with kids of all ages. Whether you’re discovering the world of mini-gauge railroads or catching waves on the Pacific, San Diego promises unforgettable adventures for the whole family. Plan your San Diego adventure today!

Please note that some attractions may have specific age or height restrictions, so it’s a good idea to check their websites or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information and to make reservations if needed. Enjoy your family trip to San Diego!

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1 Reply to “San Diego Activities: Things to Do with Your Kids!”

  • wild

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

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