Things to Do with Family in San Diego: Top 21 Must-Try Activities

Spend days sunbathing and surfing in Mission Beach, or hightail it to the rocky tide pools of La Jolla to spot crabs, sea anemones, and starfish.

Take a break from hours of saltwater fun to devour an ice cream cone at Seaport Village. Or muster your courage to mount a roller coaster at The LEGOLAND theme park. The Southern California hotspot of San Diego is just ripe with family-friendly attractions and activities. Follow along to discover the 21 best things to do with family in San Diego.

A playground for intrepid families looking for fun. We could hardly contain our list to just the top 10 things to do in San Diego for families.

Reunite with Big Bird, Elmo, and the Grouch at Sesame Place and delight in their splashtastic 500,000-gallon wave pool. Or, pick up some hot dogs and cracker jacks and enjoy a Padres game at Petco Park.

Enjoy seasonal offerings such as gray and humpback whale watching cruises. Or take advantage of the many gratis offerings of Balboa Park.

Ready to dive into a kid-approved San Diego vacation? Read on…

San Diego Vacation Packages

Orca encounters at SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo Safari excursions, and loads of seafood dinners! Family fun is plentiful in San Diego but can add up quickly. Make sure you never overpay for your San Diego trip when you bundle your top activities and attractions.

Combining your lodgings and premier attractions with one of our San Diego Vacation Packages allows you savings of up to 31%. Dazzle your brood with an itinerary packed full of America’s Finest City favorites. Including adventures to LEGOLAND California, the San Diego Zoo, the USS Midway Museum, and more.

Child Swimming in Pool at LEGOLAND California - San Diego, California, USAFamily Things to Do in San Diego

Got a gaggle of budding biologists to be? Or perhaps your brood is more interested in exploring the history of Old Town San Diego and the famous Hotel del Coronado? No matter if you are yearning for thrill rides or military museum experiences, you’ll find it all in this SoCal paradise.

SeaWorld San Diego

Is the ocean calling? Heed the siren’s song of the sea with a H20-infused excursion to SeaWorld San Diego. This aquatic-themed animal amusement park merges close marine encounters with thrill rides and spectacular seasonal festivals. Live out your Flipper fantasies when you visit Dolphin Point, or dive into the secrets of the ocean’s top predators at Shark Encounter.

Watch waddling tuxedo penguins, or laugh as playful Beluga Whales chase one another. Witness a heartwarming Sea Lion & Otter spotlight presentation led by expert conservationists, or brace yourself for an avalanche of excitement with a ride on Arctic Rescue.

Don’t sleep on checking out SeaWorld’s schedule of kid-friendly events, including their ever-popular Summer Spectacular and Halloween Spooktacular.

Boy holding a dolphin at the Dolphin Encounter at SeaWorld San Diego - San Diego, California, USASan Diego Zoo

A can’t miss attraction for families of from all over, the San Diego Zoo has been entertaining and educating visitors for over 100 years. Plan to spend at least a full day exploring every inch of this 100-acre oasis of animals, exotic plants, and interactive play areas.

More than just immersive animal exhibits. Tykes can also participate in live performances or soak in an enthralling 4-D theater show. Get the lay of the land with a guided 35-minute double-decker bus tour.

Related Post: San Diego Zoo Discount – Ultimate Savings Guide

Or opt to see the scenery via the aerial tram. For some locomotive fun be sure to hop aboard the Balboa Miniature train and take in a four-minute, half-mile loop through four acres of Balboa Park. Coo over cuddly Red Pandas and fuzzy Koalas, or get a peek at the heaviest snake in the world.

Got a special affinity for felines? Try springing for the Crazy About Cats, a special experience that affords your little one an up-close look at the zoo’s jaguars, lions, tigers, and ocelots. In addition to being escorted in a deluxe cart, your tour party will be granted a 90-minute zoo tour prior to the Zoo’s opening.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Dreaming about an adventure in the Savannah? Or perhaps the plains of Africa? Escape the confines of the city and whisk your tot away on a wild ride, when you visit San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Featuring 1,800 acres of land, this massive tourist attraction contains more than 2,600 endangered animals from countries across the globe, as well as 3,500 plant species.

Observe a lounging pride of lions or watch as antelopes and giraffes forage for food on the grasslands. Snap away as you document African elephants frolicking with their young or witness rhinos slurping down fresh water. With a multitude of safari experiences to choose from, your gang of wildlife enthusiasts can watch cheetahs and cranes from a Safari Cart, open-air truck, or zipline.

Zoo employees standing with a large green sign with orange lettering saying "San Diego Zoo Safari Park" with a rhino on top of it on a sunny day in San Diego, California
photo credit: San Diego Safari Park Zoo via Facebook

LEGOLAND California

Brick, brick, boom! On the hunt for a plastic-filled paradise designed to delight children ages 2 through 12? Unlock your little ones’ creativity, when you introduce them to a universe of bricks and building areas at LEGOLAND California. Located in Carlsbad, CA this 128-acre theme park is overflowing with more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions.

Watch in awe as BMX riders and skateboarders complete adrenaline-filled feats of skill at the GO Xtreme! Show, or break out those groovy hip twists for Benny’s Dance Party. Rule the road at the LEGO driving school, or kick things up a notch with a ride on the prehistoric Coastersaurus.

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Feeling flushed? Cool off from too much LEGO fun with a refreshing dip in Wipeout Lagoon or lazily float down the Build-a-Raft River.

Sesame Place San Diego Tickets

Want to make your toddler giggle with glee? Surprise them with a pair of Sesame Place San Diego tickets. This wonderland of learning, exploration, and interactive play is home to 16 kid-friendly rides and 3 live Sesame Street Shows.

Snuggle up for storytime with Big Bird, or groove along to original tunes and fantastic floats when you soak in a famous Sesame Street Parade. Check out the iconic 123 Stoop, snap a photo with Elmo, or go for a ride on Super Grover’s Box Car Derby.

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Feeling that California heat? Be sure to cool off at their seasonal 500,000-gallon wave pool, or get ready to play in the all-new Count’s Splash Castle. This multi-level water-play attraction features 111 play elements, including two giant tipping buckets, water slides, soakers, flow pipes, hose jets, and spray jets.

The mother and her son were riding a cookie climb sesame.
photo credit: Sesame Place San Diego via Facebook

Old Town Trolley Tours San Diego: Hop-On Hop-Off

Traveling with older kids in tow? Make the most of the fascinating history and culture of America’s Finest City with a  Hop-On Hop-Off San Diego Trolley tour. Thanks to the expert narration and experienced guides of Historic Tours of America, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed when exploring Old Town San Diego.

You can stay put on your charming trolley for the entire two-hour loop or opt to disembark and further explore popular attractions like Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, and the Old Globe Theatre. Appreciate sweeping views of the Big Bay from atop the Coronado Bridge while snapping a few obligatory selfies.

Your jam-packed tour will also take you through the cobblestone streets of the Gaslamp Quarter, Old Town, the Embarcadero, and Little Italy. Don’t forget to bring along sunscreen, as you’ll also be paying visits to the pristine Coronado Beach and her famous Victorian-style hotel.

Belmont Park

Can you smell the sweet aroma of cotton candy and saltwater? Inject your San Diego vacation with a hint of old-school nostalgia, when you enjoy the roller coasters, arcade games, and boardwalk eats of this timeless SoCal amusement park. Since 1925, Belmont Park has offered year-round fun for guests of all ages.

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Take a plunge in the beachfront pool or feel free to browse the many apparel and gift shops for souvenirs. Hold on tight on the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, or work out that road rage on the bumper car arena. From rock walls to ziplining to mini golf, there are tons of ways to burn off that excess energy.

Before you call it a Belmont day, be sure to chow down on some classic theme park cuisine including their hot dog on a stick and a double scoop topped with sprinkles from the Sweet Shoppe.

People scattered all over a sunny board walk with palm trees in the distance and building with a red white and blue awning at Belmont Park in San Diego, California
photo credit: Belmont Park via Facebook

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Anchors away! Entertain your favorite first mate with historic ships, sea-worthy history, and exceptional exhibits at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. An ideal interlude for any curious sailor-to-be, this Maritime Museum of San Diego is home to the world’s finest collections of historic ships, including the world’s oldest active ship the Star of India.

Guests can enjoy a number of exhibits that document maritime history, commerce, and exploration. Become an expert on the Navy’s long-standing presence in America’s Finest City. Or go back in time to uncover the transformative power of the steam engine.

The museum’s impressive collection includes the 1898 steam ferry Berkeley. As well as the 1904 steam yacht Medea, the 1914 Pilot, and the state’s official tall ship Californian.

Whale Watching in San Diego

Nothing quite compares to seeing one of our planet’s largest mammals in the wild. The rush of a real-life whale sighting is reason enough to make the pilgrimage to San Diego. Ensure your tiny ones have unforgettable family vacation memories when you plan a San Diego whale-watching tour.

While Humpback, Minke, and Fin whales can be seen off the coast of San Diego year-round, the best month to plan for a whale excursion is winter when 20,000 Gray whales make their migration along the coastline.

Whale tale in ocean with crowd of people on cruise boat watching in San Diego, California, USAWhale and Dolphin Watching Tour

Make a detour to Dana Point for two hours of whale and dolphin watching. Since 1971 Dana Wharf Whale Watching has provided visitors with a bespoke underwater marine viewing experience. Prime yourself for a morning or afternoon of scenic ocean vistas and close-up whale sightings when you book your Whale and Dolphin Watching Tour.

Depending on when you book, you could be treated to sightings of Gray whales, Blue whales, bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, birds, and even sharks. Dana Wharf Whale Watching is the premier year-round whale-watching facility in Southern California.

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Sit back and relax, as you speed through waves and your expert marine naturalist captain provides informative commentary and narration. Best of all, marine mammal sightings are guaranteed, so if you don’t spot a whale or dolphin you will be granted a voucher* for a free tip.

*Please note that this voucher does not expire.

San Diego Whale Watching Cruise by Flagship Cruises

Pull on that windbreaker and ensure your camera is fully charged, as you’ll be dying to document every fin slap and breach on your San Diego Whale Watching Cruise. Hosted by the gold standard of San Diego cruises, Flagship has over 100 years of experience servicing the San Diego area. Let your whole family enjoy a luxurious whale-watching journey as you stake out a spot from their 2 story yacht.

Listen up as your onboard guide details the migration and lifestyle habits of these gentle giants, and savor the sweeping 360-degree views afforded by your vessel. Depending on what time of year you book, you can expect to catch Gray Whales on their migration, frolicking bottlenose dolphins, and barking sea lions.

Be sure to dress in layers, as it can be quite chilly on the water and you’ll want to take advantage of their comfortable outdoor seating.

Close up photo of a Bryde's whale under the water in Los Angeles, California
photo credit: Newport Landing Whale Watching via Facebook

USS Midway Museum

Aye, aye captain! Make military history come alive for your little one when you ship off for a day of the USS Midway Museum fun. Find your way to downtown San Diego to witness the history of the longest-serving U.S. Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th century.

The USS Midway Museum contains over 60 exhibits and more than 30 restored aircraft and helicopters. Discover a day in the life of a Midway soldier, experience the exhilaration of a flight simulator. Or see real WWII aircraft, such as the TBM Avenger.

San Diego Natural History Museum

Think you can fit 70 million years of science and history into one afternoon? Time travel from the prehistoric era to present-day Southern California at the San Diego Natural History Museum. From towering dino skeletons to their famous replica of an extinct Megalodon shark.

Every square foot of The Nat is brimming with awesome oddities from the natural world. Spy flesh-eating beetles, rattlesnakes, and a Foucault pendulum. Or, decide to take in a flick in their stadium-style, giant-screen theater.

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Learn to appreciate the stark desert beauty of California with the museum’s Expedition Baja exhibit. Here tykes can see dioramas featuring succulents and native species. Including the newly rediscovered San Quintin kangaroo rat and the extinct Guadalupe caracara.

There is food in the area besides the dog inside the box 
photo credit: San Diego Natural History Museum via Facebook

See a Game at Petco Park

Take me out to the ballgame! Delight in America’s favorite pastime in America’s Finest City. A family trip to Petco Park is the perfect way to revel in some old-fashioned stadium fun and spellbinding city views. Watch the San Diego Padres do their thing, as you appreciate the stadium’s innovative design and state-of-the-art fan amenities.

Don’t forget to order up a mess of concession fare to share. From a Randy Jones Grill hotdog and Mister Softee ice cream.

Free Things to Do in San Diego for Families

Balboa Park

With miles of trails, lush gardens, and some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, Balboa Park is a treasure trove of history and botanical wonder. You could easily spend your entire trip wandering through the park’s 1,200 acres.

However, in the essence of time and staying thrifty, we’ve narrowed down Balboa Park’s hotspots to the best free attractions:

  • 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.

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

Get a dazzling look at far-off solar systems and stars 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.

You can follow the monthly “Sky Tonight” planetarium show in the Reuben Fleet Science Center Theater. And 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.


Trying to channel your inner Moana? Become one with the sea, when you spend a day savoring the saltwater attractions and slow pace of life in Mission Bay. This popular beachside community offers up the ideal respite from busy city life.

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Grab some SPF and a beach blanket, and camp out at South Mission Beach. Or, hit the waves for boogie boarding, kiteboarding, and surfing. More in the mood to get hands-on with some marine life? Take a drive over to La Jolla or Sunset Cliffs Natural Park to see a variety of tide pool critters in their natural habitat.

Aerial view looking down at Pacific Beach - San Diego, California, USASeaport Village

Boatloads of nautical charm and searing views of both The Big Bay and the Coronado Bridge come together at Seaport Village. A true treat for both adults and kids. This serene seaside oasis boasts over 50 shops, 17 unique eateries, and four restaurants.

Traipse through four miles of meandering cobblestones pathways as you debate whether to sample fresh fish tacos or dreamy homemade fudge. On the weekends you can linger over the sounds of live music. Or feel free to pay a visit to the 895 Looff Carousel, which features over 30 beautifully hand-carved animals.

San Diego Hotels

Can’t wait to tackle your list of things to do in San Diego this weekend with family? Before we dig into the nitty-gritty of what to do, it’s time to procure some lodgings. Ensure you and your family can relax in style when you reserve any of our San Diego Hotels & Resorts.

Whether you are angling for Bayfront lodgings. Or would prefer to stay just minutes from the San Diego Zoo or LEGOLAND? We offer hotels for every style and budget. Let little ones splish-splash down water slides while adults take advantage of on-site spas or tennis court facilities.

From Mission Bay to downtown San Diego, make a booking with ease, knowing you are always guaranteed our lowest rates online.

aerial view of san diego skyline during daytimeLos Angeles may garner all the attention as an adult-only playground. But head South, and you’ll encounter a family-friendly nirvana of museums, amusements, and wildlife in San Diego.

Blessed by near-perfect weather and a bounty of both indoor and outdoor attractions. Families of all shapes and sizes will feel like true VIPs in America’s Finest City.

Watch Killer Whales do their thing at SeaWorld, or scream as you conquer the high-speed turns of the Tidal Twister.

Get up close and personal with a Gila monster, arachnids, and a scorpion at the Natural History Museum. Or go the locomotive route with a trip to Balboa Park’s San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

Can’t Wait to Take San Diego by Storm With Your Family?

Don’t wait, book that San Diego family getaway today!

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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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