Things to Do with Your Family in San Diego

San Diego is arguably one of the best places to take the family on vacation! When is the best time to visit San Diego? Anytime is a great time to visit. Not only is there an extensive list of things to do, but there are so many experiences you can have for little or no money. From scenic beach fronts in La Jolla Shores and Coronado Island, to plenty of theme park fun at Legoland and Sea World, San Diego is one of the top family-friendly destinations. The whole month of October is dedicated to traveling with kids in San Diego with many kids free offers. So, whether you’re visiting or a resident and want to explore the area, we’ve got you covered with some of the best highlights of our fine city.

Downtown San Diego

If you’re visiting and want to start off in a central location with attractions within walking distance, Downtown San Diego is where you need to be.

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Just a short walk along the San Diego bay on N Harbor Drive, you’ll find the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Established in 1948, the centerpiece of the museum’s collection is the Star of India, a San Diego gem. Head on board to view this 1863 iron bark and learn all about the myth of sea monsters and the technology behind early sea exploration.

USS Midway Museum

Further down along the waterfront, you’ll find yourself at the USS Midway Museum. The USS Midway is a historic naval aircraft carrier that is now on display to be boarded and toured by civilians. After taking in the exhibits and flight simulations, enjoy a café style lunch off the main hangar deck. Up for a photo op? In the adjacent park, you’ll find the Unconditional Surrender, AKA “The Kissing Statue.” Standing at 25 feet tall, this landmark is a recreation of that famous moment on VE Day in Times Square between a sailor and a nurse.

Seaport Village

Keep walking down Harbor, and you’ll find yourself in Seaport Village. This quaint little area of downtown is full of restaurants, boutique shops, and novelties. Enjoy the calmness around you, watch the boats bobbing in the marina, and maybe grab yourself a margarita at one of those bay-view eateries. There’s plenty for your littles to see with the vintage carousel, toy, and ice cream shops, too!

Seaport Village

Courtesy of KPBS

Balboa Park and the Zoo

Museums at Balboa Park

Beautiful, historic Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre cultural park in the heart of San Diego. With green belts, flower gardens, theaters, museums, and even the Zoo, there’s plenty to do with the family this weekend. The Japanese Friendship Garden is great for walks and enjoying the bonsai, especially in early spring when the cherry blossoms bloom. The Fleet Science Center and the Air & Space Museum are a couple of my kid’s favorites, as well as the New Children’s Museum. If you’re a San Diego resident, check out the Resident Free Days every Tuesday to see which museums allow free admissions each week.

San Diego Zoo & San Diego Safari Park

You cannot miss out on the world-famous San Diego Zoo! With such a wide selection of animals in some of the most expertly designed enclosures, you can easily spend an entire day here and still not have experienced it all. Feet sore, or the kids need to run off some energy, and you want to take a little break? Head over to the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp for water fun and interactive play areas. Don’t forget the San Diego Safari Park, either! Known to locals as the Wild Animal Park, the Escondido extension of the San Diego Wildlife Alliance has the most amazing open, Sahara-like exhibit with various species roaming in harmony. Hop aboard the tram to get the guided, full experience.

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San Diego Beaches

La Jolla Cove

Whether you want to kayak the sea caves, check out the sea lions at the children’s pool, snorkel or swim with the leopard sharks, there’s so much to experience at La Jolla Cove. There’s plenty of space for the kids to play on the grass, on the sand, or in the water. The cove is a San Diego treasure! Boutique shops and bistros can be found within walking distance, so you can spend your entire day in the sun.

Coronado Island

Named one of the best beaches in the US by TripAdvisor, “The Crown City” is known for its long stretches of glittering-sand beaches. After a short drive over the iconic Coronado Bay Bridge, you’ll find yourself in charming Coronado. Plan a vacation at the historic Hotel del Coronado or be adventurous with the family and try a beachside camping trip on the Silver Strand. Just here for the day? Take a beach walk, check out the tidepools, or settle in with the family anywhere between Stan’s Beach to Central Coronado Beach for the best stretch of coastline on the island. Shops and eateries are within walking distance so that you can explore.

Coronado Island hotel

Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado

Southern California State Parks

Get out and enjoy the great outdoors! Southern California has picturesque views, with some of the best tucked away in our many state parks. You can visit these parks by purchasing either a day pass at each individual park or an annual pass through the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Additionally, if you’re a southern California resident, you can head on over to your local library branch to check out a California State Library Parks Pass for 14-days at a time. Add these to your list of things to do in San Diego this weekend with the family:

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Hiking Torrey Pines is one of my favorite things to do in San Diego because of the views. Paths traverse from the top of the cliffs down to the beach while the cool ocean breeze sweeps through, creating a sublime experience. If you’re not up for hiking, spend the day on the beach enjoying the ocean and viewing the strata on the cliffs. The rock formations in the Torrey Pines area are the subject of geological study and educational field trips.

Cabrillo National Monument

Between the tidepools and the lighthouse museum to the absolutely fantastic views, the Cabrillo National Monument is a can’t-miss for fun things to do with the family in San Diego. Learn about the “Age of Exploration” through films, exhibits, and ranger-led programs, or take a hike on the Bayside Trail. Then, head down to the tidepools to explore the sea life overlooked by the pelicans that call the cliffsides home. Fun fact, the new Point Loma lighthouse at the bottom of the hill was featured in the 1986 Top Gun.

Old Town San Diego

If you like to learn about the history of California sprinkled with the colorful culture of Mexico, head to Old Town, San Diego.  Kids can run around the Plaza de las Armas, check out the first schoolhouse and its rules and repercussions for naughty students, learn what life was like for the first settlers in California at the many free museums, and enjoy bottomless chips and salsa at one of the many restaurants in the area.  You’re sure to find unique gifts at one of the many shops, hear live music at Fiesta de Reyes, and hear ghost stories at America’s Most Haunted House – the San Diego Whaley House.  If your family is into guided tours, take our Tequila, Tacos, and Tombstones tour in Old Town, which is suitable for kids when we substitute tequila drinks for virgin ones.

Tour Top Gun Attractions

Speaking of Top Gun, as it was filmed in America’s Finest City, you can take a day and travel the scenes throughout San Diego. Head up to Oceanside to visit the HIGH-Pie shop at the Mission Pacific Hotel. This Victorian cottage was moved down the street from its original location but was used in the movie as Charlie’s home. Next, drive out to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, which was used as the backdrop of the Top Gun flight training school, and watch the jets take off. When you’re done there, direct yourself southwest towards Mission Beach and cool off at The Plunge at Belmont Park. This pool facility was in the locker room scene shared by rivals Maverick and Iceman. After you’ve explored the boardwalk at Belmont Park, Liberty Station is your next stop. Formerly the historic Naval Training Center, or NTC, several training scenes from the film were shot here, and memorials are placed around the installation. Now home to shops, restaurants, and various other businesses, Liberty Station is a cultural hub that connects the past to the present. The next stop on your list is a visit to the corner of West Laurel at Union Street in Bankers Hill. This particular intersection is the scene of the pivot moment between Maverick and Charlie, but I’m not providing any spoilers. Finally, and probably my favorite, Kansas City BBQ! Recreate your favorite “Great Balls of Fire” scene and enjoy some great BBQ while you’re at it.

Attractions and Events

Birch Aquarium

Perched upon a hillside at Scripps, the Birch Aquarium is an oceanographic museum featuring research discoveries by the scientists of the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. Between the science and the interactive elements, the Birch Aquarium is a must on the list of things to do with the family in San Diego. Make sure to stop by Tide Pool Plaza, visit the Little Blue Penguins, or the phenomenal two-story, 70,000-gallon Giant Kelp Exhibit to fully immerse yourself in the experience.

SeaWorld San Diego

Combining sea life conservation with amusement park excitement, SeaWorld San Diego is always fun to do with the family. Where else can you find California’s tallest, fastest and longest dive coaster, along with kid-friendly Sesame Street Bay of Play and marine life presentations? With various events happening seasonally, make sure to check out their event and fireworks schedules online before planning your next trip.  

LEGOLAND California

San Diego’s very own LEGOLAND California brings building blocks to life! There’s so much to do this weekend with the family, with rides and attractions, shows and activities, and even a waterpark. Head to Carlsbad and rediscover your excitement with everything LEGO, and make sure to check their events calendar for seasonal offerings. While you’re in Carlsbad, don’t forget to check out the Carlsbad Flower Fields in the spring. The complementary bold colors are stunning and great for photos!

Petco Park

Springtime is when we all start singing, “Take me out to the ball game.” The Padres play at Petco Park between the spring and fall every year, and Gallagher Square inside the Park is the best place to take the family on game day. The open green space is perfect for picnic-like seating and to give the kids space to run around or run the bases on the mini little league infield diamond. Formerly Park in the Park, Gallagher Square is easy to get to, close to the vendors and some of the most affordable tickets in the park.

Child in Petco Park looking at fish

Courtesy of Birch Aquarium

To get the best bang for your buck, check out the Go San Diego Pass. This pass is all-inclusive and allows you to access almost every attraction in San Diego. 

The next time you’re in town, make sure to add these destinations to your San Diego itinerary. It’s for more than just a couple of days so that you can fully immerse yourself in everything that San Diego has to offer. With our moderate climate and city full of attractions, there are plenty of fun and exciting activities to do with the family in San Diego all year round!

Aleezah Davenport is a native San Diegan, and a second-generation PLNU alumna.  She enjoys exploring the city, and taking her girls out for dinner on the cliffs at Sunset Cliffs.  Writing about San Diego provides her the opportunity to learn more about the local scene, and share her newfound knowledge about her hometown – two of the things she loves most.  She enjoys sharing her passions with readers and is excited to be writing for a platform that provides fun information to a large audience.

Book a tour today!

Written by:

Aleezah DavenportThis blog was written by Aleezah Davenport. Aleezah is a native San Diegan, and a second-generation PLNU alumna.  She enjoys exploring the city and taking her girls out for dinner on the cliffs at Sunset Cliffs.  Writing about San Diego provides her the opportunity to learn more about the local scene, and share her newfound knowledge about her hometown – two of the things she loves most.  She enjoys sharing her passions with readers, and is excited to be writing for a platform that provides fun information to a large audience.