The Ultimate San Diego Family Vacation Itinerary: 9 Destinations You Can’t Miss

July 20, 2018

While all of San Diego’s attractions are worthwhile, these nine destinations are the best. Add these top places to your trip for the ultimate San Diego family vacation itinerary.

Putting together a San Diego family vacation itinerary is exciting and nerve-wracking. From the breathtaking shoreline to the expansive museums, you want your family to experience it all. But which destinations are worth your family’s time?

1. Balboa Park

For families who only have a short amount of time to spend in California, Balboa Park is the epicenter of family fun. Featuring more museums than you can count on both hands, sprawling parks, blooming gardens, and more, it’s easy to spend an entire day (or more) exploring all the park has to offer. Everyone in your family will find something to do, with top museums and attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Japanese Friendship Garden, and the San Diego Natural History Museum all in one place.

Since you’ll likely make Balboa Park a major part of your San Diego family vacation itinerary, remember to bring a picnic or stop at one of the restaurants on-site. The park is also home to several events and festivals year-round! Plan ahead and see what’s happening at Balboa Park during your trip.

fountains at balboa park in San Diego, California, USA2. San Diego Zoo

While you’re at Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo tickets are a must. After all, you can’t visit San Diego and not go to this iconic zoo. Filled with wildlife and educational activities, the San Diego Zoo is a haven for family fun.

Ride the open-air double-decker bus tours to see the majority of the zoo and animals during your visit. Along the way, you’ll also get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the exhibits and learn more about the zoo’s conservation, rehabilitation, and educational efforts. Sign up for an animal encounter or private behind-the-scenes tour, too, for a memorable vacation excursion.

Other family-friendly zoo experiences include a 4-D theater, entertaining shows, the Skyfari Aerial Tram, and interactive play areas for the little ones.

3. Fleet Science Center

Another must-see Balboa Park destination to add to your San Diego family vacation itinerary is Fleet Science Center. Great for curious kids, the museum boasts hands-on exhibits with topics ranging from electricity to building blocks. The science center is also home to a gigantic IMAX theater with films about everything from aircraft carriers to panda bears.

Whether you’re traveling with tiny tots or young teens, the Fleet Science Center is guaranteed to entertain and educate your whole family.

Mom and Child looking at an exhibit at the Fleet Science Center - San Diego, California, USA4. SeaWorld San Diego

Thinking about adding a little thrill to your family’s learning experiences while in San Diego? If so, add SeaWorld to your itinerary.

Scream at the top of your lungs on exhilarating roller coasters such as Manta® or wave hello to playful dolphins at Dolphin Point. Throughout the theme park, families will also discover more about our planet’s oceans and aquatic wildlife. Most importantly, guests learn what they can do to help protect and preserve the ocean! Remember to take your family to one of the several shows at SeaWorld San Diego, too.

If your little ones are too small to ride the major coasters and attractions, join Elmo and friends at the Sesame Street® Bay of Play®. These tiny rides are designed just for young adventurers!

Close up of three sea turtle with lots of yellow fish around them in blue water at Turtle Reef in SeaWorld in San Diego, California, USA

photo credit: SeaWorld San Diego via Facebook

5. LEGOLAND California

Families traveling with children ages 2 through 12 better have a day at LEGOLAND California on their San Diego family vacation itinerary! This family-friendly theme park boasts several LEGO-themed lands all with kid-sized rides, games, and activities, sure to entertain the whole family.

Plus, LEGO fans can take a ride on LEGOLAND’s newest attraction, LEGO® CITY: Deep Sea Adventure! Dive into the ocean for a remarkable submarine ride. Remember to be on the lookout for marine life, LEGO treasures, and hidden surprises along the way.

And, when you need a break from the LEGO-themed rides, head to the 4-D theater for awesome movies such as LEGO® NINJAGO®: Master of the 4th Dimension, playing now!

Kids walk towards the new Emmet's Super Suite apartment attraction in LEGOLAND California on a sunny day in Carlsbad, CA, USA6. San Diego SEAL Tour

As a family, you might not want to go on a long walking tour of San Diego. Instead, opt to explore the city by land and sea on a San Diego SEAL Tour. Families love driving through San Diego’s vibrant streets before entering the harbor with a splash! Along the way, you’ll see notable sites such as Point Loma, Shelter Island, and of course, the San Diego sea lions.

This 90-minute tour is a fantastic addition to every San Diego family vacation itinerary. Each tour combines entertaining education with an abundance of sightseeing and photo opportunities.

7. La Jolla Beaches

After spending time at San Diego’s many family attractions, you’ll want to kick back and relax. To do so, take time to visit the beaches in La Jolla. Grab your swimsuits, towels, sunscreen, and flip-flops, and get ready for a rejuvenating beach day. If you time your visit just right, you’ll also have the opportunity to see San Diego’s wildlife in action, from barking sea lions to intriguing tidepools.

Discover the many beaches around La Jolla, including:

  • Children’s Pool
  • La Jolla Shores
  • Mission Beach
  • La Jolla Cove
  • Pacific Beach

Aerial view looking down at Pacific Beach - San Diego, California, USA8. Old Town San Diego

Known as the birthplace of San Diego, Old Town San Diego is teeming with culture, history, and mouth-watering cuisine. When you add Old Town to your San Diego family vacation itinerary, you’ll be treated to festive events and numerous historic sites. If you dare, visit the Whaley House, known as one of the most haunted homes in America.

After you’ve explored the town, grab a bite to eat at Cafe Coyote y Cantina or Fiesta de Reyes in the Old Town State Historic Park for authentic Mexican cuisine.

9. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Get out and explore San Diego’s wild side at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Here your family will have the opportunity to traverse several trails while observing the wildlife and plants along the way. Since the area is a natural reserve, you will need to follow several rules to maintain the integrity and health of the park. For instance, food and beverages are strictly prohibited and dogs are also not allowed.

If you have time after your hike, check out the Torrey Pines Gliderport. If your family is daring, go on a tandem paragliding flight!

Razor Point Trail at Torrey Pines State Reserve - San Diego, California, USA

photo credit: Millie Wong via Facebook

Tips for Planning the Ultimate San Diego Family Vacation Itinerary

Organizing a San Diego family vacation itinerary is hard work. Between selecting the right attractions to arranging transportation, it can be a tricky process. But to alleviate the stresses of vacation planning, keep these tips in mind:

Consider the Season

Due to school breaks and holidays, certain seasons are busier than others. If possible, try to visit during San Diego’s off-season for minimal crowds and lower rates on hotels and transportation.

Plus, if you come to San Diego in October, you’ll be able to take advantage of 100+ “Kids Go Free” opportunities! Almost all major San Diego theme parks, attractions, and museums allow kids to gain entry for free. If you’re trying to stick to a strict vacation budget, October is the best time to bring the family to San Diego.

Plan Activities Around Location

With so much to do and see in San Diego, it can be tempting to bounce around from destination to destination. However, this can be taxing on the whole family, especially the little ones. Instead, plan your daily activities around one location.

For instance, if you choose to visit Balboa Park, you’ll have several attractions within close proximity to one another. Organizing your San Diego family vacation itinerary in this manner will maximize your time in the city and allow you to experience as much of the area as possible in a short amount of time.

Buy Tickets in Advance

To ensure you take advantage of your time at San Diego’s attractions, forgo standing in line and buy your attraction tickets in advance. On top skipping the lines, you’ll also reap the rewards of major online discounts!

Bundle Your Attraction Tickets and Hotel

Make the most of your San Diego vacation budget by bundling your attraction tickets with a hotel. Receive great discounts on your entire trip by building your own vacation package to accommodate your family’s itinerary. Who doesn’t love to save money and travel at the same time?

Create Your Ultimate San Diego Family Vacation Itinerary

With these destinations and our tips in mind, you’re ready to organize your family’s ideal vacation. Enjoy San Diego, CA!

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