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.
When it comes to theme parks and world-famous zoos, San Diego has something for visitors of all ages. Athletic families have no shortage of activities from land to sea, and museum lovers may find it hard to decide which ones to visit. 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
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 (both kiddie rides and big roller coasters) for the whole family. Plus there are fun seasonal events year-round.
Do you have little ones? Sesame Place is bringing even more "sunny days" to south San Diego. The theme park is a great place to cool off with waterslides, a wave pool and a lazy river. The tadpoles will love meeting their Sesame Street pals, watching the parade and riding family-friendly rides.
LEGOLAND California offers plenty of rides and 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.
Zoos and Aquariums
Animal lovers have so many options! The San Diego Zoo boasts over 650 species and subspecies of animals, and it is only one of 10 zoos in the country to have koalas.
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 a behind-the-scenes tour.
Explore the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla to learn about seahorses, turtles, tidepools, little blue penguins and many more sea creatures. The aquarium opened the Beyster Family Little Blue Penguin exhibit in July 2022. The little blue penguins are the smallest in the world, standing at about 1-foot tall. These Australian seabirds are so much fun to watch! Hop tip: This is the only place on the West Coast to find these penguins.
Beach & Coastal Activities
No trip to San Diego would be complete without a visit to the beach. With more than 70 miles of coastland, there is an abundance to choose from. Thanks to its location on a gentle slope of the ocean, Coronado Beach is a family favorite. It 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. You can also 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. North San Diego (home to LEGOLAND) has some nice beaches in Carlsbad and Oceanside.
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.
For sports fans, if you hoppen to visit during baseball season, catch a San Diego Padres game at Petco Park in downtown San Diego. If you're traveling during hockey season, the San Diego Gulls play at the Pechanga Arena. San Diego is also home to the college football team, the SDSU Aztecs.
You can spend the day in Balboa Park, starting off with the San Diego Zoo, home to 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. Perhaps you'll choose to explore one of its 17 museums. 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. The Fleet Science Center is home to Kid City, an exhibit for kids 5 and under. Be sure to take a spin on the historic Balboa Park 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. You can 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.
For the history lovers out there, there's an archaeological center about five minutes up the road from the San Diego Safari Park. The small, non-profit center has artifacts from around the San Pasqual Valley. There's even a kids' area to teach them about archaeology digs and artifacts. It makes for a quick air-conditioned break (though keep in mind there's a $5 donation fee).
Miscellaneous Outdoor Activities
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 which 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. They take you past SeaWorld and Fiesta Island along the water. You can ride along the beach in Mission Beach. Make 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. You might sign your little groms (local speak for young surfers) up for some surf lessons.
Miscellaneous Indoor Activities
You can go skydiving without the risk! Try indoor sky diving in a vertical wind tunnel at iFly San Diego. You'll be floating on a cushion of air, but the floor is within reach if you need to feel your feet on the ground. It's so uplifting! You are going to want to go again, so definitely get the two-flight experience.
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 in our San Diego Planning Guide. If you want to visit multiple attractions, check out the San Diego Go Cards to save money and time.
Related: When to Visit San Diego