Most people know that San Diego is packed with parks and beaches and that kids love the sea lions at La Jolla Cove. Dive a little deeper and you’ll discover that San Diego offers countless children museums, puppet shows, surf lessons, and animal farms just for kids. Whether you’re a local or a first-time visitor, we’ve scoured the city to find the best San Diego attractions for families as you enjoy your San Diego tour. Here are 25 recreational and educational destinations and kid-friendly activities in San Diego that will help your children fall in love with America’s Finest City.
Opened in May 2014, on what used to be the San Diego County Administrations buildings’ parking lot, is Waterfront Park, a great place to cool off after touring the USS Midway, Maritime Museum, or Little Italy. Along with other fun things to do in downtown San Diego, this downtown destination makes for a relaxing spot to camp out for the day and enjoy the sunset. The park includes playgrounds, a grassy knoll, and over 830 feet of interactive fountains to splash around in. Treat it like a beach— bring a blanket, towels, beach chairs, a change of clothes (most kids will want to play in the fountains), beach toys, and even a small tent for a full day of family fun.
#2 – Birch Aquarium
2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037 | More Info
Birch Aquarium is located at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. With over 5,000 fish and 60+ aquariums, it is a great way to spend the day with plenty to see. On the third Saturday of each month, the aquarium hosts SEA (Science, Exploration, Adventure) Day, where guests can meet researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and get a chance to partake in hands-on science activities and crafts!
#3 – The 25th Street Musical Bridge (FREE)
763-799 25th St, San Diego, CA 92102
Sometimes a good time is as simple as a railing on a bridge. The 25th Street Bridge isn’t a grand statement piece, nor is it an entire day of fun, but it is a great secret spot. The bridge serves as a symbolic gesture of bridging the two neighborhoods of Golden Hill and Sherman Heights. Artist Roman de Salvo created the “song rail” that serves as both functional and fun, as the railing that separates the sidewalk from the traffic, and a carillon—a series of chromatic bells that plays a tune when struck in sequence. If you’ve ever run a stick along a picket fence while walking, then you’ll get the idea.
**And just so you sound smart to your kids, the rail’s tune is called “Crab Carillion,” was written by SDSU music instructor, and plays the same tune walking in either direction.
#4 – Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater
2130 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101 | More Info
Watch a puppet show at the longest continuous running puppet theater in the United States. The performances are presented throughout the year by a variety of troupes and are sponsored by Balboa Park. The theater has a full stage, presents approximately 45 different shows a year (12-15 shows each week) and seats 200 people!
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is a “floating museum” aboard the world’s finest collection of historic vessels, including steam ferry Berkeley, steam yacht Medea, a 1914 Pilot boat, American submarine USS Dolphin, Soviet submarine B-39, Vietnam Era PCF 816 Swift Boat, Official Tall Ship of San Diego: The Californian, movie star HMS Surprise, and a newly constructed replica of Juan Cabrillo’s San Salvador. The main draw is Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship! This downtown San Diego museum is open to visitors from 8am-8pm (9pm in the Summer). Wear comfortable clothes so that you can maneuver the narrow, low corridors in the vessels.
**Don’t forget to ask about day sails, group specials, Living History program for school field trips, and Pirate/Mermaid birthday parties for kids!
#6 – San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center (FREE)
2710 Manchester Ave, Cardiff, CA 92007 | More Info
The expansive panoramic views of the San Elijo Lagoon are amazing, especially from the second-floor Observation Deck of the Ecological Reserve. The kids, however, are drawn to the fun: living animals, and the interactive museum exhibits and tours where they can learn about the plants, animals of the lagoon and artifacts from the early days of California. Ask about guided tours and camps for both kids and adults. Admission and parking are free!
**Honorable Mention and similar to the lagoon is the Tijuana Estuary located in Imperial Beach, CA.
#7 – Old Poway Park (Free) and Poway Midland Railroad
Old becomes new again at the gorgeous Old Poway Park, where you can stroll down peaceful pathways or enjoy a family picnic on the grassy knoll of this vintage park. Kids (of course) adore the train! On weekends, families can ride the antique Poway Midland Train on a full-size railroad through the park, visit the Poway Heritage Museum, take a tour of the turn-of-the-century Nelson House, participate in an education program, and (on Saturday) even shop for fresh produce at the the Poway Farmers Market, one of San Diego’s most favorite markets.
#8 – San Diego Model Railroad Museum
1649 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101 (in Balboa Park) | More Info
At 28,000 square feet, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is the world’s largest operating model railroad museum. The museum contains four enormous scale and model layouts, which depict railroads of Southern California. In addition, the museum features a toy train gallery with an interactive Lionel layout for children, and state-of-the-art theater lighting.
**Even many locals don’t know this: the museum recently added a hidden model scale replica of the entire Balboa Park. Ask one of the docents to show you where it is.
#9 – Pachi’s Art Studio for Kids
2820 Roosevelt Rd #102, San Diego, CA 92106 (at Liberty Station) | More Info
Pachis Art Studio for Kids offers art classes based on an original curriculum designed by its founder Juliana Flores. Kids love this studio because they get to use and explore their creativity, and parent’s love the studio because of its values. Pachis is founded on the belief that children are born inherently creative and prides itself on being an honest and open environment in which the child artist can feel safe to think outside of the “art box,” and build their self esteem. They even offer Art Camps on school breaks and birthday parties!
#10 – The New Children’s Museum
200 W Island Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 (Marina District) | More Info
Think, Play, Create at the new Children’s Museum. Every room looks like something out of a child’s imagination, and all of the exhibits are age specific, each one a collaboration of child development specialists. There are art studios, an innovators lab, sandbox, karaoke, a garden, indoor playgrounds and climbing activities, all within an educational hands-on environment. From here you can take a short walk and explore some of the flavors of the Gaslamp quarter, but you might plan to spend an entire day at the museum; the kids won’t want to go home!
#11 – San Diego Paintball Park
8268 Industrial Park Driveway, San Diego, CA 92111 | More Info
Switch up the routine a little and take the kids to San Diego Paintball Park. In this low-impact paintball area, up to 20 players can enjoy competing in a game that challenges wit and hand-eye coordination, and allows kids to experience a full range of movements like running, climbing, ducking, crawling, diving, sprinting, and dodging.
#12 – Pigtails and Crewcuts
2865 Sims Rd #100, San Diego, CA 92106 (at Liberty Station) | More Info
No tears here! For both function and fun, get your kid’s hair cut at Pigtails & Crewcuts: Haircuts for Kids. Located at Liberty Station, this salon allows kids to pick their favorite vehicle chair, pick out a video to watch, and settle in as the very friendly staff cuts or trims their hair. In addition, Pigtails & Crewcuts has a party room where you can customize a makeover celebration with your kid and his or her friends! Walk-ins are also welcome.
#13 – Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
1875 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101 (in Balboa Park) | More Info
This interactive, hands-on science museum is hands-down one of the best in the country. At Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, kids can run around and experiment in the giant exploration area, play and explore everything science in the science rooms, and try the interactive exhibits. They even have an IMAX theater which shows educational films that kids can watch in a dome-shaped room, on a dome-shaped screen. You’re likely to see a few street performers and even live music if you’re heading to the center from across Balboa Park. This museum is great fun for the entire family, and both adults and kids can learn and enjoy themselves here.
#14 – If I Was A Bird Yoga
(Del Mar) 2670 Via De La Valle #A-125, Del Mar, CA 92104
(Point Loma) 2590 Truxtun Rd (building 176) San Diego, CA 92106 *building 176 | More Info
If I Was A Bird Yoga expresses that their “yoga is real, the people are just a little smaller.” The studio has a weekly program that consists of a 75 minute art and yoga class and a healthy snack, and specializes in Kids Yoga, Baby & Me Yoga, Toddler Yoga, Family Yoga, Teen and Tween Yoga, Prenatal Yoga, Yoga for Special needs, and Private lessons. There are even camps, workshops and birthday parties available.
**Check out the website for yoga programs in Del Mar, North County, South San Diego County, Point Loma, Ocean Beach, and surrounding areas.
#15 – I Love A Clean San Diego (FREE)
2508 Historic Decatur Rd #150, San Diego, CA 92106 | More Info
Each year, I Love A Clean San Diego Volunteers remove a half a million pounds of debris from San Diego’s neighborhoods, creeks, canyons, and coastlines. Teach your kids early to love the planet they live on by signing up with one of their numerous programs, from beach adoptions, to giant semi-annual beach cleanup days. ILACSD leads and inspires families to actively conserve and enhance the environment through example outreach, and local involvement. In other words, kids notice when grownups are happy to help out, and they are happy to help out too!
Adopt a pet (or just play with them) at the San Diego Humane Society, a non-profit animal welfare organization committed to ending animal homelessness. Pets at the SDHS do not put a time limit on how long animals remain in their care. A pet stays available for adoption for as long as needed to find a loving home, and wildlife as long as needed to heal. At the Pet Pals program, a workshop teaches kids about all things animal, and kids can also sign up for Junior Trainers Intro to dog training where they learn about dog body language, handling, tricks, and basic obedience.
#17 – Skateworld San Diego
6907 Linda Vista Rd, San Diego, CA 92111 | More Info
Roller skates are the chosen mode of transportation at San Diego Skateworld! This retro roller skating rink specializes in birthday parties, public sessions, skating lessons, private events, and even ever-so-fun roller derbies. There’s also a pro-skate shop if you or the kids need some brand new roller skates (or a brand new key).
#18 – The San Diego Natural History Museum (aka The Nat)
1788 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101 (in Balboa Park) | More Info
The San Diego Natural History Museum is hours of a good time. There are dinosaur rooms, rocks and minerals, animal rooms, marine life rooms, and more. It doesn’t matter how many times you visit, you’ll always leave knowing more than you know going in. Kids love the hands-on activities, interactive exhibits, and even the gift store is a fun experience!
#19 – Legoland® California (Park, Waterpark, and Hotel Resort)
With themed hotel rooms, free breakfast buffet, legos literally everywhere, and an entrance to the park, even the hotel is fun at Legoland® California. The “land” consists of a park, a miniature park, waterpark, and an aquarium. All of the parks are fun, colorful, inspirational, and focuses on child creativity and, of course, rides! There are over 60 rides, shows, and attractions here and is a great place for the entire family to spend (at very least) the day.
From Imperial Beach to Pacific beach, La Jolla to Encinitas, Del Mar to Oceanside, San Diego is rife with beautiful beaches. Drive up or down the Pacific Coast, stop at any of the many sandy areas this city is known for, and enjoy a fun-filled FREE day with your family! Who can beat that? Just don’t forget to bring the sunscreen!
Choose your own adventure at the World Famous San Diego Zoo (downtown) and Zoo Safari Park (Escondido). The zoo houses over 3,700 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies, so you can be sure no one will be bored. At Safari Park, there are herds and herds of animals roaming field habitats, making for a unique San Diego adventure. As if all of that weren’t enough, there are dozens of shows, restaurants, shops, vendors, and exhibits at both parks.
#22 – Pacific Surf School
4121 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 | More Info
Pacific Surf School San Diego guarantees that you will learn to surf. Pretty big words for adults, and as we all know, kids are even quicker at hands-on learning. The school has been open since 1997, and for the last 20 years, they’ve developed a range of services and lessons targeting all types of surfers. The staff is there to make sure your kids enjoy the ocean and lessons as much as they do.
#23 – Belmont Park (FREE-ish)
3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 | More Info
Located on the shore of Mission Beach, Belmont Park is San Diego’s only beachfront amusement and entertainment center. The park, the beach, and parking is all free, but there are lots for kids to do: games, rides, arcades, and more. If you’re here for awhile, we recommend buying an unlimited year pass. With approximately 300 days of perfect weather a year in San Diego, you can definitely get your money’s worth!
Show your kids how folks used to live at Old Town San Diego, the site of the first Spanish settlement on the West coast. Created in 1769, this “birthplace of California” began with just a mission and a fort. Now, families can wander the colorful shops, lush gardens, theatres, mariachi and folklore stages, and indulge in authentic Mexican food, and take a tour of the museums and the haunted Whaley House. Visit Rust General Store for a delicious giant pickle on a stick, and Jerky and Root Beer for an extensive selection of jerky, root beer, ginger beer, and other specialty sodas.
#25 – Aquatica® San Diego
2052 Entertainment Cir, Chula Vista, CA 91911 | More Info
Aquatica San Diego, Sea World’s less controversial park, is a whimsical water playground where you can ride some of California’s most extreme water slides, relax along the shores of the wave pools, and chill with Flamingos. Kids like Walkabout Waters, a giant jungle gym of nets to climb, waterslides to slide down, and hoses to spray and play in. Whenever the bell rings, a gigantic barrel pours 500 gallons of water onto splashers. We daresay it’s everyone’s favorite part of the park, especially on a hot day.