I visited San Diego, California for the first time with our young son in 2009, again in 2011, and then in 2015. I cannot say enough about how beautiful San Diego is and how much there is to do. There is a reason they call it Paradise.
It is pretty difficult to narrow down my favorite places and I know I am leaving many out, and that is on purpose. Everyone talks about how great the San Diego Zoo is, that is a given. It IS the BEST zoo I have ever gone to. As far as zoos are concerned, I am now completely biased and every other zoo pales in comparison. The only other zoo I would think might possibly rival it would be the Columbus Zoo, but since I’ve never been there, I have no idea! And it’s not the perfect temperature of 72 degrees most days. Some of the places I have shared with you are FREE, some are not. But if you are smart and plan your trip, you can save on most anything around!
My Top 10 Awesome Things to Do with Kids in San Diego
1. San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Located north of San Diego in Escondido at 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, this park is a must do! You can either take the tour via the caravan or you can do a self tour. We decided to opt for the self tour and just take our time walking. The animals roam freely in their habitats which definitely lends itself to the feeling of being with the animals. This park is sister to the main San Diego Zoo and you can grab great deals on sites such as Living Social.
2. Cabrillo National Monument
Located at 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive in Point Loma. Spend time learning about Cabrillo, the man who discovered San Diego in the 1500’s. While there, take in the breathtaking views of downtown San Diego and the bay. This site is not very crowded and you can take your time exploring.
3. Birch Aquarium
Located at 300 Expedition Way in La Jolla. Not only is the view from this aquarium amazing, but this is one of the most kid-friendly aquariums I have ever been in! The exhibits are absolutely stunning and there are so many chances for children to experience marine life, hands-on. One of the best activities for my children was the outdoor water table where they learned about the flow of water and speed at which is moves. The aquarium is also very conservation-aware and there are many learning opportunities. As far as marine life was concerned, the seahorses definitely kept my attention. I never saw so many!
The Coaster is the train that runs along, you guessed it, the coast! We like to take this inexpensive and beautiful train ride from the Old Town station up to Carlsbad. Once we get to Carlsbad, we simply walk a few blocks into town, grab lunch and head to the beach for a walk. The Coaster is one of our favorite activities because it is fun and the kids love the fact it is a double-decker train.
5. Sea World
Located on Sea World Drive in San Diego between Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. Now I don’t want to get into whether or not Sea World is a good or bad place in terms of the whole discussion about it lately, but I will just say, my family loves it. We love going to see all of the marine life and even some of the non-marine animals like the kangaroos they frequently teach about. Yes, we saw the shows with Shamu and it was a favorite of my son and we saw the dolphin show which my daughter loved. We also spent a lot of time on the various rides and were able to pet the dolphins. One of our favorite memories was when a dolphin wasn’t too happy with me. We assumed that was the case, as we couldn’t read his mind. All I know is that he spit at me. My sister and my children thought it was the most hysterical thing they had ever seen.
6. USS Midway
Located at 910 N. Harbor Drive in beautiful Downtown San Diego, the USS Midway serves as a place to preserve, inspire, educate, and entertain those who pay her a visit. The USS Midway served from 1945 until 1992 and is the longest-serving American aircraft carrier of the 20th century. With 1.4 million visitors annually, it is the most visited historic naval museum in the world. Frequently ranked as the # 1 major attraction in San Diego on Trip Advisor and other travel sites. Your family will love the climb aboard aircraft, flight simulators, watching a movie in the Battle of Midway theater, and I didn’t mention the VIEWS!
7. Carlsbad State Beach
Located on Carlsbad Boulevard and Hwy 101 in Carlsbad. First of all, Carlsbad is my favorite town along the coast. It is such a quaint and friendly town, located right on the Pacific Ocean. It has a main boulevard that has my all-time favorite pizza, Knockout, and is home to one of my favorite beaches. Carlsbad Beach is stunning and offers 5 miles of gorgeous white sand. Forgot your sand toys? There is a little shop right by the entrance to the beach that sells all sorts of buckets and shovels! Love, love, love this beach!
8. Balboa Park
Located at 1549 El Prado in San Diego. Wow! That is one word to describe Balboa Park. Whether you are an adult or a child, Balboa Park is THE place to be. What makes it so special? Balboa Park is not just an ordinary park. It is home to numerous museums such as the Air & Space Museum, Reuben Fleet Science Center, Model Railroad Museum (A BIG FAVORITE), and the Natural History Museum. If you plan on going to Balboa Park, plan on spending the day. Even if you do, you will not be able to do everything in the park. This place is AMAZING!
9. Seagrove Park
Located at 1601 Coast Boulevard in Del Mar. This is our favorite playground because it overlooks the beach. What a gorgeous backdrop to this playground! Not only does it have the coolest trees…which I do not know what they are yet, but it also has the Coaster track that runs beside it. What is cooler to a young child than a playground with the beach on one side and a train track on the other?
10. Mission Beach
Located on Mission Boulevard at Garnet Avenue in Mission Beach. Mission Beach is one of my favorite beaches because it’s not just about the beach. It’s about the beach culture too. There is a boardwalk that runs along the beach which makes for really nice walks, as well as stores and restaurants along the way. Currently, I live in South Carolina and it seems that every beach I visit, I have to pay to get in. Not in California. I was shocked when we just pulled into the parking lot and no one asked for $8! I didn’t understand it, but I loved it. Our first stop is always the Waves store located right next to the beach and parking lot. It’s one of those tourist-y t-shirt shops that also sells all kinds of beach toys. Nothing says California and San Diego more than a beach on a sunny day!
If you are planning a trip to San Diego, I highly suggest getting a Smart Destinations San Diego Go Card. We bought them for both trips and it saved us alot of money and we were able to experience so many different attractions. The pass offers you the opportunity to see 44 attractions. In our one trip, this is what we were able to do with our card: San Diego Safari Park, Sea World (2x), Model Railroad Museum, San Diego Air & Space Museum, Belmont Park, and the Harbor Tour. We could have done alot more, but we ran out of time! 🙂
Have you ever been to San Diego? If you have, I would love to hear what your favorite places are! Please share them with me on here or over on my Facebook page.