Get us in your inbox

Courtesy of Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Photograph: Courtesy Birch Aquarium at Scripps

The best things to do in San Diego with kids

From amusement parks to family-friendly museums, these are the best things to do with kids in San Diego

Written by
Kai Oliver-Kurtin
Garrick Ramirez

With more than 70 miles of coastline, San Diego makes it pretty easy to keep the kids entertained. From beaches to aquariums to tidepools, the city has plenty of outdoor activities to excite the little ones. And while you may be tempted to spend all your time on the sand, there are museums, parks and events that are definitely worth exploring. 

Here we've rounded up the best things to do with kids in San Diego, including a world-renowned zoo, kid-friendly museums, oceanfront amusement and theme parks, waterfront parks for aquatic sports and splash fountains, the world's largest comic book convention, and of course a stop to get ice cream. But don't worry—all these activities are fun for the entire family, which means adults won't be sacrificing a good time for the kiddos. As an added bonus, many of these spots also have kid-friendly restaurants where it doesn't matter if you leave a small mess. 

If you're planning a family trip to Southern California, you'll have plenty to explore using our tried-and-true list of the best things to do in San Diego with kids. 

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in San Diego

Best things to do with kids in San Diego

This 107-year-old crowd pleaser is world-renowned with more than 14,000 animals and a botanical garden setting. With 100 acres of diverse habitats, the zoo might feel like its own continent. Start with a narrated, double-decker bus tour to get a quick overview of major attractions. Highlights include cuddly koalas of Australian Outback, celebrity pandas of Asian Passage, and adorable penguins of Africa Rocks. When tykes get restless waiting for the koalas to wake, hop aboard the SkyFari Aerial Tram that soars high above treetops to another kid fave, Village Playground.

Outsizing New York City’s Central Park, this sprawling urban oasis is filled with kid-friendly museums, striking architecture, and dazzling gardens. Whirl around a historic carousel, catch a free amphitheater concert, and sniff fragrant plants in the breathtaking Botanical Building. An Explorer Pass offers discounted admission to all 17 museums including the new Comic-Con Museum. Cool your heels at the al fresco restaurant Panama 66 with Nutella & banana sammies for kids and local draft beer for parents.


This historic seaside amusement park is abuzz with thrill rides, midway games, and beachfront eats. The recently restored 1925 attraction exudes timeless charm with none of the grit. Hurl balls to topple clowns, putt candy-colored golf balls through a tiki island, and squeal in delight aboard the historic Giant Dipper roller coaster. Quick bites come deep-fried, glazed, or frozen, but you’ll find more substantial options at waterfront restaurants such as Beach House, Cannonball, or Draft. 

Head to La Jolla and explore Birch Aquarium at Scripps, where your little ones will be thrilled to see fish, turtles, eels, jellyfish, octopus, seahorses, anda crowd favoritethe world's smallest penguins. They offer behind-the-scenes tours, hands-on tidepool experiences, and family-friendly happy hours. Don't be surprised if you have to wrestle a toy out of your kiddos' hands once they discover the gift shop. Advanced reservations are recommended. 


Everything is awesome at this vibrant Lego-constructed world that’s a worthwhile drive to Carlsbad. Geared toward the 12-and-under set, the park’s themed landscape and painstaking, large-scale models put that Lego aisle at Target to shame. Ooh and ahh at mini reproductions of San Diego, San Francisco, and Las Vegas; go on a mission inside a pharaoh's tomb at the Lost Kingdom Adventure; and ride a Dragon coaster that zips through a castle of animated Lego figures. The resort features a separately-ticketed aquarium and water park, plus two Lego-themed hotels to rest your weary bricks.

Trust us: your little ones will have a whale of a time at SeaWorld. Here, they can get up close with orcas, walruses, penguins, sharks, flamingos, seals, dolphins, otters, sea lions, and more. There are rides and roller coasters of course, plus interactive animal activities and presentations. Special events are held throughout the year, including Halloween and Christmas-themed celebrations and even a craft beer festival. Don't miss the Bayside Skyride gondolas that offer prime views of Mission Bay from above.  


Keep the kids entertained for hours by letting them explore tide pools and look for creatures within the rocky shores of Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma. For the best chance at seeing critters, head to Cabrillo during fall or winter when low tide falls during park hours. If you're lucky, you may spot starfish, octopus, sea urchins, spiny lobster and more. 

This sheltered bay and its surrounding beaches make up a 4,000-acre outdoor, aquatic playground teeming with water sports—strap on the life-jackets and choose your vessel. Numerous vendors rent every watercraft imaginable (from sleek pedal boats to jet skis and family pontoon boats) to explore the bay’s many coves and waterways. Alternatively, you can also rent bikes and cruise the park’s 27 miles of shoreline.


Modern play structures, splash fountains, and picnic spots lure families to this 12-acre kids zone overlooking San Diego Bay. Let the little ones run loose while you rest and enjoy views of the coast. On warm days, barefoot kids splash around a large fountain. Waterfront Park fronts the touristed Embarcadero promenade, making it an easy detour after visits to the historic Star of India, Maritime Museum, and Carnitas' Snack Shack (a locals’ fave).

Superheroes and super-fans turn San Diego into a virtual Justice League during the city’s largest event of the year. Kids 12 and under get free admission to the four-day comic convention, but consider Sunday for the smallest crowds and special kids activities such as drawing workshops and cartoon premieres. There’s also plenty of fun to be had outside the convention center including free events—the Nintendo Gaming Lounge is a biggie—and marveling at an endless parade of Wookies and Wonder Women.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by San Diego (@visitsandiego)

San Diego’s sunny beach culture is on full display along this bustling waterfront promenade. Linking the spirited Pacific Beach and Mission Beach hoods, the three-and-a-half-mile beachfront path teems with inspiring ocean vistas and fun diversions that make for a pleasant, inexpensive afternoon. Stroll out to Crystal Pier to watch surfers, stop for ice cream at one of the many stands, or plop down on the beach and bury your toes in the soft sand.

With two central locations in San Diego (North Park & Point Loma), Hammond's is a favorite among both kids and adults. It won't take a hot summer day to draw in crowds here–Hammond's has more than 30 flavors of Tropical Dreams "super-premium" Hawaiian ice cream and sorbet that delivers an extra rich and creamy texture. Can't decide on a flavor? Order an ice cream flight with mini cones containing between 6 and 32 flavors.

    You may also like
    You may also like