25 Family Adventures in San Diego, California
San Diego has a kind weather climate pretty much year round so families can enjoy plenty of outdoor activities regardless of the season. From the natural beauty of the area's pristine beaches to the fun of Legoland, San Diego offers the whole family a world of fun!
Mission Beach begins at the Mission Bay Channel entrance and ends at the North end of Pacific Beach. With two miles of pristine coastline, it offers something for everyone. You can stroll walk or bike the boardwalk and shop along the Strand or ride the giant roller coaster.
Coronado was named one of the Top Beaches for Families in 2014 by Family Vacation Critic. The gentle waves are perfect for young swimmers, and families appreciate convenient parking, restrooms, showers, and lifeguards, who regularly patrol the area. The best part, however, is that the beach never feels crowded.
The beach is cozy and comfortable, with a playground and grassy picnic areas at the adjacent Kellogg Park. It is consistently ranked as one of the best family beaches in the United States. This area is a mile-long stretch of soft sandy beach enjoyed by active beachgoers of all interests. Enjoy walking and fishing on the Scripps Institute of Oceanography pier. At night families can enjoy toasting s’mores over glowing beach fires!
At the northernmost point of La Jolla is Torrey Pines State Beach. The reserve is home to the rare twisty Torrey Pine tree and this seaside state park is excellent for leisurely hiking (even for kids) with spectacular ocean views. It’s possible to see whales from here during seasonal migrations. Then, spend the rest of the day at the beach below. This is one of the best spots to experience San Diego’s natural beauty.
La Jolla Cove is a small deep water bay, flanked by sea caves accessible to adventurers in kayaks and on foot, depending on the tides. The beach itself is small, but it’s gentle waters are popular with families, swimmers and snorkelers. There is more space at nearby Scripps Park, with spacious grassy picnic areas, picnic tables, bathrooms, showers, a paved pedestrian walkway and several public gazebos.
Located close to downtown La Jolla and walking distance from La Jolla Cove, is a small cove protected by a concrete breakwater wall. It was originally built as a safe swimming area for children but was claimed long ago by seals and sea lions who beach themselves on the sand with their young. Although now closed for swimming, the Children’s Pool offers a crowd-pleasing and often amusing view of these loveable marine inhabitants.
This seasonal spring event paints a Carlsbad hillside called the Flower Fields with brightly-colored ranunculus flowers. The 50 acres of fields are open to the public and include tractor rides and other special events. It’s pretty spectacular so a must-see if visiting San Diego during the season. Older kids can participate in a nature challenge filling up paper passports with stamps at stations set up throughout the Flower Fields.
Free Flight is an exotic bird sanctuary providing a home and nurturing unwanted parrots. Families can see the birds up close and even interact with several of them. Free Flight offers field trips for schools groups, homeschoolers and scout troops year round. For $7, personal tours of the facility are offered and the opportunity to feed the birds and fish (they have a koi pond too).
9. Balboa Park
San Diego is home to the nation’s largest urban cultural park. 1200 lush acres containing 15 major museums ranging from art and photography to science and space, renowned performing arts venues, beautiful gardens and the San Diego Zoo. These lovely park grounds are free to wander and explore.
Legoland was the first LEGO® theme park in North America, and it offers far more than classic building blocks. The Resort, which is geared toward families with children ages 2 through 12, has more than 60 rides, shows and attractions including favorites like the Dragon Coaster, LEGO TECHNIC® Coaster and Land of Adventure.
Ten million gallons of fun with a LEGO-themed tower, slides to ride and rafts to build. The 5.5-acre Water Park opened at LEGOLAND California in 2010, and is equipped with colorful LEGO-themed attractions. Loads of water attractions for the older kids but also there's plenty for kids under that 42" mark, too. DUPLO Splash Safari offers little slides that spill into a play pool just two-feet deep. A toddler-friendly Kid Creek is a sort of mini lazy river.
The Sea Life Aquarium is your child's first interactive guide to the life of the sea, combining active hands-on learning with fascinating educational talks and up close encounters with sea creatures including sharks, octopi and rays!
SeaWorld San Diego is a 189-acre premier marine park packed with thrilling attractions that excite kids to no end! Children can pet dolphins and feed stingrays and enjoy close encounters with polar bears, beluga whales, walruses and more. And don't overlook the rides. One of the fastest is a simulated 400-mph jet helicopter thrill. Many rides require kids to be 42 to 48 inches tall and/or ride with a supervising companion.
14. San Diego Zoo
There are nearly 4,000 animals living at the San Diego zoo! Families looking for a unique zoo experience can obtain a Backstage Pass which guarantees a private tour and reserved seating at shows. Families with smaller children may not enjoy the several miles of walking necessary to see all the exhibits but there is a 40-minute guided tour bus that lets you see most of the park while seated. If you are not afraid of heights the San Diego Zoo also has an overhead gondola lift called the Skyfari.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park offers a real African safari adventure a short drive from downtown San Diego. Safari Park covers 1800-plus acres of exotic animals and botanical gardens where families can choose their own safari! For the little ones, there is the Petting Kraal, where kids can pet and feed goats, deer and other small animals such as the pack of amusing resident meerkats. For the kids of all ages, there is also the Savanna Cool Zone, an oasis of palm trees where you can cool off after a hot day of viewing wildlife.
16. San Diego Bay
San Diego Bay has 34 miles of scenic waterfront shared with restaurants, shops, attractions, parks and marinas. The area's beauty is accented by a growing collection of public art, scenic parks and miles of paths for walking, jogging and cycling. Families can end their day with a scenic cruise around the bay on a comfortable cruise ship featuring snack bars, indoor and outdoor seating and bathrooms. Kids enjoy looking for sea lions and seals perched on the buoys as well as colorful sail boats on the water.
Perfect family day out. There are over 10,000 plant species growing here, and the majority are perfectly suited to the local climate and terrain. There are gourmet food tastings, live music events, and the opportunity to register for short courses on creating your own wreaths, holiday decorations, or even a miniature fairy garden. Tour the Wild Bird Sanctuary, Butterfly Gardens and historic Fallbrook Barn, home to a few lucky farm animals who still call this barn home.
Off the coast of La Jolla Shores is a marine life-rich underwater park lined by seven sea caves. La Jolla sea caves can only be visited by kayak or boat. While you are out on the sea kayak look for sea lions, Garibaldi (California’s State Fish), Leopard sharks and maybe even a dolphin. An expert guide will be with you on a variety of tours to ensure your safety while you kayak by the caves (and sometimes inside!)
Palomar Mountain Observatory is home to four revolutionary telescopes that have discovered new and exciting stars that comprise our Milky Way Galaxy galaxies, and other galaxies beyond our own, as well as asteroids, comets, and quasars, which take billions of light years to reach Palomar Observatory. Families can star search through these remarkable telescopes that are still used on every clear night of the year and are open to the public of viewing and learning on a regular basis.
Kids will love exploring the tide pools where colorful sea stars can be found at low tide! The Visitors Center is a good place to start your day and where you can learn the history of the area and what activities are available for children. A short walk leads to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. This picturesque structure is restored to its 1880s appearance and presents life as it was for the lightkeepers and their families.
21. Whale Watching
A number of tour companies offer whale watching tours during seasonal migrations of the grey and blue whales. It used to be that we only saw grey whales in San Diego during fall and winter but blue whales are now migrating closer to shore during summer and fall.
22. Carlsbad Coaster
In Carlsbad, Calif., The Coaster commuter train provides breathtaking views of the coast as it runs north and south through San Diego County. The Coaster provides inexpensive transportation (and free Wi-Fi) to and from San Diego (Old Town and Santa Fe Depot), with stops in Carlsbad Village, Carlsbad Pointsettia, Encinitas, Solana Beach and Sorrento Valley. If for nothing else, take a ride to enjoy the glorious views of Southern California.
Hang ten dude! Dedicated to archiving and displaying surfboards, surf art, memorabilia, surfing equipment, photographs, magazines, videos, and more, The California Surf Museum's permanent time line of surfboards includes wooden boards from the early 1900s to today's modern boards. The Museum features a display of many unique pieces of surfing memorabilia, including a display dedicated to Bethany Hamiliton who lost her arm in a shark attack off the coast of Hawaii. Admission is free and artifacts are rotated regularly.
Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the aquarium is a stunning La Jolla landmark and part of the of the world-renowned Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Here visitors can explore the wonders of the ocean featuring more than 60 habitats including three outdoor living tide pools. The aquarium is full of amazing coral reefs, thrilling sharks and many other weird and strange creatures of the deep. Children are especially attracted to the "touch and learn" exhibit of starfish and other sea creatures. Kids can see a variety of exotic, colorful fish, learn about coral reefs, hear the signature sounds of whales and more.
Parents and kids will love the New Children’s Museum. Since reopening in 2008, the focus is on immersing children in the world of art. Located downtown, The Museum highlights include an art studio and climbing wall. ($10 for adults and kids ages 1 and up, free for babies)
San Diego offers so many adventures for families year round. Check out our southern California family-friendly vacation rental home here – perfect for families traveling with babies, toddlers and kids!