Things to Do with Kids in San Diego: 27 Fun Activities to Try

Cowabunga! With 70 miles of sparkling Pacific Ocean coastline, tons of theme park roller coasters, museums, and zoos, San Diego is a beacon of family fun. From searching tide pools for starfish and urchins to discovering the best ice cream, there is no end to the number of fun things to do in San Diego with kids.

Follow along to discover the best things to do in San Diego with kids! We have an incredible 27 San Diego kids activities to try.

Stop stressing over how to entertain your preteen or toddler. Our expert guides have taken the guesswork out of your family vacation so you never have to google ‘free activities for kids near me’ or ‘family attractions San Diego.’

Whether you’re on a strict budget or are ready to splurge, we’ve rounded up the top activities and attractions for families in San Diego.

Hang out with Big Bird at Sesame Street Bay of Play, or spot a Humpback whale executing a perfect tail slap.

From free stargazing at the Science Center to hitting the hiking trails at Torrey Pines, every vacation in America’s Finest City is destined to be unforgettable!

San Diego Hotels

Ready to conquer all of the things to do with kids in San Diego? Before you make a dent in your list of free fun places for kids take some time to select the perfect hotel. Whether you’re planning on whale watching in San Diego or hitting up the variety of amusement park options, you’ll need some A+ accommodations.

Choose from a diverse array of San Diego Hotels & Resorts and ensure your brood sleeps in style. From charming Gaslamp Quarter boutique suites to luxurious oceanfront resorts in Mission Bay, we offer lodgings for every budget. You can even customize your San Diego hotel search to include kid-friendly amenities such as children’s pools, game rooms, childcare, water slides, and more.

exterior of Kimpton Solamar Hotel at night with view of street in San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: Solamar San Diego via Facebook

Fun things to Do in San Diego with Kids

The sunscreen is packed, the hotel is booked, and you’ve stocked up on plane snacks. If you’re still wondering what things to do with kids in San Diego we’ve got you covered. Dive into millions of bricks and Dragon Coaster rides at LEGOLAND or travel back to the Jurassic age at the Natural History Museum.

Trying to stay thrifty? Stop scrolling for ‘free stuff to do with kids near me’ as we’ve rounded up the best complimentary sights and activities in San Diego too!

Explore Old Town San Diego on Trolley

Leave the driving to the experts and let your little ones delight in the nostalgic thrill of a trolley ride when you spend up to two hours touring San Diego’s sights. Old Town Trolley Tours San Diego: Hop-On Hop-Off provides the perfect way to soak in popular attractions and landmarks such as Balboa Park and San Diego Zoo.

Enjoy the stunning European-style architecture of Old Town as you make your way through the Embarcadero and Little Italy. Savor stops at the gorgeous Coronado Beach, The Old Globe Theatre, and more. Tours depart approximately every 30 minutes so you’ll never have to wait long to hop aboard!

People on an Old Town Trolley Tour Driving Down Palm Tree Lined Street - San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: Old Town Trolley Tours (San Diego) via Facebook

Whale Watching Tours

Stunning San Diego is a haven for all manner of marine life, and depending on when you plan your trip you could be blessed by Gray or humpback whale migration. Ensure you and your kiddies get a front-row seat to this majestic natural phenomenon when you book a San Diego Whale Watching Cruise by Flagship Cruises.

Relish 360-degree views, fin slaps, and fascinating animal facts as you cruise up and down the coast on your 3.5-hour journey. Sit back and relax on your 2 story yacht as you search the seas for these gentle giants. Since every Flagship cruise guarantees a sighting or your next ride is free, you’re guaranteed to return home with some whopping whale memories.

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Hello there sailor! Does your munchkin have an affinity for boats, cannons, and more? Embark on a seaworthy sojourn when your group visits the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Located in downtown San Diego, this center of education offers up exceptional exhibits, daily public tours, cultural events, educational programs, and more.

Pint-sized sailors will be in awe over the museum’s mammoth collection of vessels, including the world’s oldest active ship,Star of India. In addition, movie buffs will also be able to spot the H.M.S Surprise, a splendid replica of an 18th-century Royal Navy frigate featured in the award-winning film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

exterior view of the Berkeley Ferry and the USS Dolphin at the Maritime Museum in San Diego, California, USALEGOLAND California

Brick, brick, boom! Prepare yourself for an explosion of fun when you secure tickets to a day of LEGO loving at LEGOLAND California. Brick enthusiasts ages 2-12 will be over the moon as they take in over 60 rides, shows, and attractions. Hop on for a ride on the Triple Decker Flying Couch with Emmet to save the princess of the Dragon Coaster.

Meet your score LEGO movie characters in the flesh, or experience an avalanche of rainbow colors on Unikitty’s Disco Drop. Sharpen your martial arts skills at NINJAGO world, or put the pedal to the metal when you obtain a Driver’s License in Fun Town.

Visiting during the summer? Don’t forget to cool down with a refreshing float down the not-so-lazy river or make some spashtastic family memories at the Wipeout Lagoon.

Kids walking with LEGOLAND characters at a meet-and-greet in San Diego, California, USASan Diego Ice Cream

Vacations are all about the splurge, so splash out with a hefty dose of sugar when you and your gang get brain freeze at any of the city’s best ice cream eateries:

  • Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream – diversity is the spice of life, and Hammond’s agrees! Ice cream lovers will be overjoyed by the vast selection of over 100 flavors on rotation throughout their two San Diego shops. Slurp down a thick milkshake, or opt to sample even more creative concoctions with an order of their famous ice cream flight.
  • Niederfrank’s Ice Cream – located in National City, this old-school parlor delivers a hefty helping of charm. For over 70 years they have scooped up luscious flavors ranging from Apple Strudel to Avocado Pistachio.
  • Sadie’s Handcrafted Mexican Ice Cream – Ole! Inject your craving for something cool and sweet with some south-of-the-border flair at Sadies. Specializing in hand-crafted ice cream with mouth-watering Mexican flavors, you must try their Chocolate Abuelita or Beso de Angel. For an even more tempting treat opt for their donut ice cream sandwich.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Let’s get wild! Venture into the exotic Savannahs and plains of Africa when you immerse yourself in the nearly 2,000 acres of nature at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Witness a herd of African elephants foraging for food, or pause to see the Kings (and Queens) of the Jungle lazily lounging. Whisk yourself away to the ‘Down Under’ and take a gander at cuddly kangaroos or make your toddler’s dreams come true with a trip to the petting zoo.

From rhinos wallowing in waterholes to seeing the stunning stripes of the rare Sumatran tigers up close, there are hours of exotic excitement to be had at the park. For an even more in-depth adventure be sure to book a premium safari experience such as the Cart Safari, Cheetah Safari, Behind-the-Scenes Safari, or Flightline Safari.

family of three holding food for giraffe standing outside and smiling at San Diego Zoo Safari Park in San Diego, California, USAThings to Do in San Diego with Toddler

San Diego Natural History Museum

Take a break from the slithering serpents and reptiles of the Zoo to dig into some even more impressive natural history. Little learners of all ages will be in awe over the unique natural history displayed at this Balboa landmark. The San Diego Natural History Museum offers up a slew of mind-boggling exhibits, displays, and lessons.

There are four floors to explore, containing treasures ranging from prehistoric fossils to sparkling gems to flesh-eating beetles and a Foucault pendulum. Brush up on the desert ecosystems of Baja California, or uncover evidence of whale’s evolution. Take in over 200 mammal skulls, or cuddle up for a showing in their giant screen theater. Snap a selfie with the giant Megalodon, or get a behind-the-scenes look at the museum’s electric storage.

*On the hunt for free things for toddlers to do near me? If you already happen to be in Balboa Park, take advantage of the free San Diego Natural Museum entry for visitors 2 and under.

glass display cases filled with various skulls at San Diego Natural History Museum in San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: San Diego Natural History Museum via Facebook

Belmont Park

San Diego’s most historic amusement park manages to strike the perfect balance between nostalgia and new attractions. Earn rapturous acclaim from your kiddies when you kick off your family getaway at Belmont Park. Founded in 1925, this San Diego staple is chock full of classic rides, attractions, and games.

Toddlers will relish cruisy rides on the Liberty Carousel or take to the seas on the Wave Jumper. For a sparkling interactive activity, you can sift through dirt and grit to find precious jewels and fossils at Jungle Gems. After hours of boardwalk shenanigans tempt your tot’s tastebuds with a frozen banana or ice cream cone on a freshly made waffle from the Sweet Shoppe.

San Diego Zoo

Who knew that Southern California was home to Anacondas, Bonobos, and Dung Beetles? Jump head first into our Earth’s staggering biodiversity when you plan a trip to the beloved San Diego Zoo. A 100-acre wildlife park, this center of flora and fauna is filled with countless wildlife experiences. In addition to representing more than 650 species and subspecies the Zoo contains numerous exhibits and play areas just for tots.

Swing on by the all-new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp to explore dusty desert caves, or play among splashing jets in the Wild Woods. For even deeper animal knowledge, schedule a wildlife care specialist talk or special presentation to get the 411 on how your favorite critters eat, play, and sleep.

Tiger laying in water at The San Diego Zoo - San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: San Diego Zoo via Facebook

Sesame Place San Diego

Can’t wait to be reunited with Elmo, Cookie Monster, and the Grouch? Prime your ears for some toddler screams of happiness when you bring your baby to Sesame Place San Diego. A paradise for both parents and kids, this joyous theme park features 16 kid-friendly rides, 9 family-friendly water rides, 3 live Sesame Street® shows, and more.

Meet Grover, snap a selfie with Rosita, or get ready to groove at a Furry Friends Dance Party. Mini adrenaline junkies will be tickled by Sesame’s selection of rides which include Elmo’s Rockin’ Rockets and Abby’s Flight.

Need a way to wind down? Curl up for a heartwarming tale at Storytime with Big Bird or take a breather at the Sesame Street Bay of Play. Visiting during the summer? Stay tuned for some extra refreshing thrills when two new attractions premiere this year. Take a dunk in the Count’s Splash Castle or munch away on a fantastic dining adventure at the Sunny Day Cafe.

Close up of Elmo and the Cookie Monster walking with kids on Sesame Street plus Big Bird and Zoey in the background with more kids and families at Sesame Place San Diego in San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: Sesame Place San Diego via Facebook

Free Kid-Friendly Things to Do in San Diego*

Hotel rooms, dinners out, and loads of souvenirs can take a toll on any family vacation. Seeking out free things to do in San Diego with kids is an amazing way to keep spending under control. Make thrifty choices and conserve those precious dollars when you take advantage of the avalanche of free things to do in San Diego for families:

San Diego Free Kid Activities

Concert Series

The ideal accompaniment to a sweet summer San Diego night? A free concert! Entertain your entire brood without whipping out your wallet when you attend any number of the city’s free concert series. Pack up some lawn chairs, a picnic, and a blanket, and hightail it to Balboa Park for some groovy tunes. Showcasing everything from folk to honky tonk to blues, the Twilight in the Park Concert series has been going strong for almost 40 years.

Performances are scheduled to return this summer every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. Got more music on your mind? Complimentary entertainment can also be found at the Coronado Summer Concert Series.

Balboa Park Fountains at Dusk - San Diego, California, USABonfire at the Beach

San Diego is synonymous with beaches, but that doesn’t mean the sandy, salty fun needs to end when the sun goes down. Stick around for a spectacular sunset and then send the kiddies off to collect driftwood. Make unforgettable family memories when you create your own crackling bonfire at the beach.

Bring along a thermos of hot cocoa, marshmallows, and a fire starter and you’ve got a recipe for a wonderful evening. Luckily, the City in Motion is home to a number of bonfire-friendly spaces including Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, and Pacific Beach. Just be sure to clean up when you’re done and check in with local officials to be aware of any no-fire regulations.

A group of friends having a bonfire and barbecue on the beach at sunset with the ocean in the background
photo credit: Ball Park Brand via Unsplash

Free Admission October

October is the month of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins, so it’s only fair that this spooky time of year brings around some scary good deals. Families fortunate enough to be traveling to America’s Finest City in October will be blessed with free admission to many of San Diego’s top tourist attractions.

From the San Diego Zoo to LEGOLAND, SeaWorld, and more your kids can splash and play without ever paying a cent.* Dozens of hotels, activities, attractions, restaurants and more are included in Free Kids San Diego, so no matter if you’re planning on hitting up the aquarium or the museum you are sure to encounter an excellent deal.

*Restrictions apply, please check with the specific retailer for your October deal options.

Balboa Park

Miles of trails, lush gardens, and home to some of the city’s most iconic landmarks Balboa Park is a treasure trove of history and botanical wonder. While you could easily spend a day wandering through the park’s 1,200 acres there is far more to be uncovered here.

In addition to Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and sprawling green spaces, there are numerous museums, cultural artifacts, seasonal festivals, and more. Best of all, these attractions won’t require you to break into that piggy bank:

  • Spreckels Organ Society – Get a gander at the largest outdoor musical instrument in the world when you attend a free organic concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion every Sunday at 2 pm
    Stop and smell the roses at the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, or encounter some more prickly plants and succulents with a visit to the Desert Garden.
  • Mingei International Museum – start cultural appreciation early when you and your rugrats savor free admission to this folk art, craft, and design museum. Uncover exquisitely woven baskets to brightly hued tapestries
  • House of Pacific Relations International Cottages – ready to be whisked away? Travel to exotic countries such as Argentina, Austria, and China when you tour the park’s intricate collection of 1935 Exposition cottages.
  • San Diego Model Railroad Museum – All aboard! Entrance to this explosion of railway fun, facts, and history is free for visitors under 12. Check out the Toy Train Gallery, loads of model trains, plus seasonal exhibits.
  • And more!

External view of lily pond at Casa de Balboa in San Diego, California, USAReuben H Fleet Science Center

Get a dazzling look at galaxies far far away when you take part in any number of stargazing events. The San Diego Astronomy Association hosts plenty of free public sky viewings that allow amateur astronomers of all ages to glimpse at constellations, planets, and more. After dusk, on the first Wednesday of each month, following the monthly “Sky Tonight” planetarium show in the Reuben Fleet Science Center Space Theater, you can join members by the fountain in Balboa Park for a free public sky viewing.

Looking for even more science in your life? Lucky San Diego residents can also score free entry to the center on the first Tuesday of each month.. Toddlers can sharpen their hand-eye coordination with play in Kid City, or track the journey of San Diego’s water supply from source to tap.

Free Places to Take the Kids San Diego

La Jolla Shores and Cove

Gentle waves, scuba, and stunning sandstone cliffs come together to create beachy perfection at La Jolla Cove. An ideal escape for families of swimmers, this picturesque San Diego spot is well known for both its snorkeling and scuba opportunities.

Tiny toddlers will love searching for tide pool critters, while bigger minnows can try boogie boarding or surfing. Don’t sleep on the Children’s Pool which has now become a hangout for herds of barking seals and their pups.

Close up photo of the beach facing Dike Rock La Jolla in San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: Dick Norris via Facebook

San Diego Central Library

Don’t let an errant cloudy day dampen your San Diego spirits. Trying to avoid the rain? or just need a break from slathering on all that SPF? Head to the San Diego Central Library. This oasis of paperbacks, hardcovers, and more is located near Petco Park. Voracious readers will feel all warm and fuzzy the second they step foot into the Denny Sanford Children’s Library.

A haven for harried families, you and your tot can get comfortable. Take time to sit in brightly colored chairs and admire a 16-foot mural of classic Dr. Seuss characters. Once you’ve had your fill of storytime, you can also seek out the Library’s ongoing cultural and art exhibition. Don’t miss their impressive collection of baseball memorabilia and artifacts.

Cabrillo National Monument

San Diego’s fascinating history is just begging to be uncovered at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula. Get a headstart on their next history lesson when you explore the wonders of the Cabrillo National Monument.

From the iconic Lighthouse to witnessing the majestic migration of Grey Whales, you can encounter it all. The Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. Tour the many lighthouses of Point Loma. While you’re there, take in the collection of artifacts in the Assistant Keepers Quarters.

Pack some galoshes and investigate the many Tide Pool zones filled with limpets, chitons, crabs, mussels, and more. For those who can’t quite stomach a seaworthy sojourn, you can achieve A+ whale-watching viewing from many spots in the park.

Guests frequenting the park during the winter months will be treated to the awe-inspiring sight of Pacific gray whales passing by the western overlooks of Cabrillo National Monument. These magnificent mammals can reach lengths of up to 50 feet and weigh up to 40 tons.

Close up view of the Cabrillo National Monument with the skyline in the background in San Diego, California, USAOld Town San Diego State Historic Park

Thinking about forcibly removing your kid’s cell phone from their hand? Ditch the technology for a day and travel back to simpler times. The Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is the perfect antidote to an overdose of TikTok. Introduce your little ones to the pleasures of the past. Meanwhile, learning about life in the Mexican and early American periods of 1821 to 1872.

See firsthand how San Diego grew from a humble Mexican pueblo to a bustling American settlement. Make your way through restored historic buildings, museums, shops, and more. Pay special attention to the five original adobe buildings that are part of the historic park. Keep the fun of olden times alive with stops to see a real blacksmith at work. Or to touch one of the park’s cuddly burros.

Torrey Pines Nature Preserve Park

Lace-up those boots, because it’s time to hit those hiking trails. Already soaked in your fair share of sun and waves at the nearby State Beach? Then enjoy the nation’s rarest species of pine tree, Pinus torreyana at this spellbinding nature park. Containing over 2,000 acres of untamed coastal park and salt marsh refuges, Torrey Pines Nature Reserve Park remains one of the wildest stretches of the Southern California coast.

Opt for the easy-going Guy Fleming Trail, or challenge those legs with the steeply scenic Beach Trail. Have your phone or camera charged! You’ll want to document the sublime views of ravines, badlands, and the ocean.

view of beach from Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve & State Beach via Facebook

Seaport Village

Waltz into a world of seaside charm when you spend a weekend (or day) window shopping at Seaport Village. While Bayview dining may cost you, you can revel in the coastal atmosphere and quaint retail offerings for free. Riding on the carousel is relatively inexpensive. Plus, each month the Village puts on a number of seasonal events and live music concerts.

For centuries Southern California has remained a beacon of good weather, good times, and tall tales. Today this spirit of adventure and breadth of natural beauty is alive and well in San Diego.

Close up photo of a little girl in a pink shirt driving a blue LEGO car with LEGO people in the background at driving school LEGOLAND in San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: LEGOLAND California via Facebook

An Eden for families looking for fun things to do with kids in San Diego, this City loves to entertain.

Scream your head off as you master mini roller coasters in LEGOLAND. Or reconnect with nature as you scan the tide pools for creatures at the Cabrillo National Monument.

Sample a drool-worthy ice cream flight at Hammond’s. Or let out your competitive side when you compete over Midway games at Belmont Park.

From maritime museums to model trains in Balboa Park, every kid will find something to discover in San Diego.

Tell us, What Are Your Top Things to Do in San Diego With Kids?

Did we miss any of the best fun things to do in San Diego with kids?

Leave a comment below!

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

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