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A photo of the historic Casa Del Prado structure surrounded by palm trees in San Diego's Balboa Park, San Diego.
Photograph: Courtesy of Unsplash/Leslie Yu

The 10 best things to do with kids in San Diego

Whether you're seeking theme parks, cool museums or beach days, here are the best things to do with kids in San Diego

Written by
Kai Oliver-Kurtin
Contributor
Garrick Ramirez
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Figuring out the best things to do with kids in San Diego is pretty easy—the city has about 70 miles of coastline, and its beaches are hard to resist. And while it's completely fine to spend your entire time in parked on the sand, you may find yourself wanting a little variety. Beyond the sunny shores are attractions like some of the best amusement parks in California and the world’s largest comic book convention, which means there’s no such thing as bored children in sunny San Diego.

Among the most kid-friendly experiences in San Diego are activities like mingling with exotic animals, splashing through waterfront fountains, walking or riding along the beach boardwalk, and marveling at towering Lego sculptures. Plus, like a good Pixar flick, these activities tend to be great for the whole family and won't leave adults gaping at their phones or counting the hours until nap-time—an ice cream shop means parents can enjoy a double scoop, and a destination park features al fresco libations to wind down the day. Some of the best restaurants in San Diego are kid-friendly, too, and many cater specifically to young audiences (like Corvette Diner) with fun play areas or dancing waitstaff. 

So if you're planning to bring the whole family to SoCal, plan to stay busy with our list of the best things to do with kids in San Diego.

RECOMMENDED: our full guide of the best things to do in San Diego

Best things to do with kids in San Diego

This 106-year-old crowd pleaser is world-renowned with over 4,000 animals and an exotic 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 African Rocks. When tykes get restless waiting for koalas to wake, hop aboard the SkyFari Aerial Tram that soars above treetops to another kid fave, Discovery Playground.

Outsizing New York City’s Central Park, this sprawling urban oasis is like a mini European town 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 discount admission to all 17 museums including the popular Model Railroad Museum. Cool your heels at the al fresco restaurant Panama 66 with Nutella & banana sammies for kids and local draft beer for parents.

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This spiffy seaside amusement park is abuzz with thrill rides, midway games, and beachfront eats. The recently restored 1925 amusement center 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. 


Everything is awesome at this vibrant Lego-constructed world that’s a worthwhile drive from San Diego. 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 Francisco, Las Vegas, and the Star Wars galaxy, 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.

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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.  

This sheltered bay and its surrounding beaches make up a 4,300-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 coastline.

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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 conference center including free events—the Nintendo Lounge is a biggie—and marveling at an endless parade of Wookies and Wonder Women.

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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. 

Now with two locations in San Diego, 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 300 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.

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