Thanks to its year-round pleasant temperatures, its laid-back, family-friendly vibe and its location on the coast, San Diego offers so much hoppin' fun. Water-loving families like us frogs will have no shortage of options with miles and miles of beaches. There is also plenty to do and see in San Diego for families who love nature, the outdoors and animals. Here's a look at our favorite, family friendly activities in what's called "America's finest city."
Our Family-Friendly Guide to What to Do and See in San Diego
Animal lovers have so many options! The San Diego Zoo boasts over 650 species and subspecies of animals, and it is only one of four zoos in the country to house the giant panda. Visitors looking for an “off-the-beaten-path” experience can visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in nearby Escondido and explore the 1,800-acre park housing more than 2,600 animals, many in open-range enclosures, by caravan, tram, cart , jungle ropes, balloon, zip line or behind-the-scenes tour.
Marine and water animals of all types make their home at SeaWorld San Diego, which features a number of animal shows, aquariums, exhibits and theme park rides for the whole family.
LEGOLAND California offers plenty of hands-on attractions for children under 12, although children of all ages will delight in the amazing LEGO display areas of the United States, including Las Vegas, New York, New Orleans and San Francisco, in Miniland USA. LEGOLAND has an aquarium on-site and a water park.
No trip to San Diego would be complete without a visit to the beach, and with more than 70 miles of coastland, there are an abundance to choose from. Thanks to its location on a gentle slope of the ocean, Coronado Beach is a family favorite that is frequently voted one of the best beaches in the U.S. You can reach Coronado, located on a peninsula, by car via the Coronado Bay Bridge or you can take a ferry from downtown San Diego. La Jolla Shores is known for having the gentlest waves of any of the beaches. You can explore La Jolla sea life and sea caves via kayak tours (usually best for ages 6 and up) and snorkel trips. Other family favorites include Cardiff Reef Beach, Moonlight Beach and Del Mar City Beach.
Whale watching is another favorite family activity, with views of the majestic mammals best between December and March, when more than 20,000 gray whales migrate from the coastal waters of Alaska to Baja. As a bonus, you are likely to catch up with a pod of playful dolphins or spot some seals while on your tour.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find an abundance of opportunities to get close to nature in San Diego and the surrounding areas. The Torrey Pines Natural Reserve offers hiking enthusiasts 2,000 acres of undeveloped coastline, Torrey pines and a lagoon to stretch your legs on. On the southern tip of the Point Loma peninsula lies Cabrillo National Monument that offers spectacular views of San Diego’s harbor, skyline and beyond. Head to Ocean Beach Pier at low tide to explore tide pools and spot sea creatures.
Athletic families can find plenty of exciting ways to play together in San Diego. You can rent bicycles and explore San Diego by bike path. Mission Bay has 12 miles of flat, family-friendly pathways that take you past Sea World and Fiesta Island along the water. You can ride along the beach in Mission Beach, making sure to stop at the beachfront Belmont Park amusement park for a ride on the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. If you want to explore hilly La Jolla by bike, we recommend electric bikes to assist you on the steep climbs. And of course, San Diego is home to great surfing, so you might sign your little groms (local speak for young surfers) up for some surf lessons.
You can spend the day in Balboa Park, starting off with the San Diego Zoo, home to the pandas and koalas that are rare on this continent. After you've had your fill of the animals, stroll around the lush park grounds of Balboa Park and perhaps choose to explore one of its 17 museums. While parents will enjoy the San Diego Museum of Art and a stroll through the park's numerous gardens, kids will delight in the hands-on exhibits of the Natural History Museum and Fleet Science Center (home to Kid City, an exhibit for kids five and under) or a spin on the historic Balboa Island carousel.
There are some other great family museums on the water. Lovers of history and planes will flip for a tour of the USS Midway, a WWII decommissioned aircraft carrier. Hop in a flight simulator to see if you have what it takes to take flight, combat an enemy, roll and spin and then safely land the plane. The Maritime Museum of San Diego gives boat lovers a hands-on look at historic vessels, from submarines to sailing ships. You can even set sail on a tall ship if you want to get out on the water.
We hope you've found this overview of what to do and see in San Diego helpful in planning a visit. You'll find more resources and tips inside our San Diego Planning Guide.
Related: When to Visit San Diego