Things to Do in San Diego With Kids

Bringing your family to San Diego this Spring? Good call. You couldn’t ask for a better town for your vacation. San Diego is called the Jewel of the Pacific for a reason: warm sun, sparkling ocean, perfect temperatures… and far enough from L.A. that you don’t even know it’s there.  Win!

Trust me, there’s plenty to do here without even looking North towards L.A. I’ve lived here for 20 years, and my 11-year-old daughter and I still enjoy playing tourist on the weekends. Here’s how we roll in America’s Finest City –join us, won’t you?

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  • The World Famous San Diego Zoo 1 of 9
    The World Famous San Diego Zoo
    A lush, sprawling sanctuary on a hillside in the middle of town, the San Diego Zoo has earned its reputation as the best on the West Coast, possibly the nation. Last time my daughter and I went, we spent half our time in the awesome polar bear habitat, and the other half ogling pandas. Pandas, y'all. Go for the pandas. Locals Only tip: a lot of people poop out by the time they get to the west side of the park, because it's at the bottom of the big hill, and they choose to take the skyride across the park to get to the exit. If you toughen up and hoof it back up that hill, you'll discover the new elephant habitat, designed to give the zoo's family of pachyderms plenty of room to roam around and be seen. Totally worth it. http://www.sandiegozoo.org
  • Sea World 2 of 9
    Sea World
    If you only choose one theme park to visit while in SD… you should probably go to the zoo. BUT: Sea World is pretty darn great. More expensive than the zoo, but it's an San Diego institution. Over the years, the park has tried to stay awesome by adding rides (an Atlantis-themed roller coaster, a flight simulator that sends visitors soaring over Antarctica), but when we go, we spend our time bounding from show to show. Shamu (or at least, one of original Shamu's many grandchildren) still puts on a great performance guaranteed to soak the first ten rows. Locals Only tip: don't skip the Seal/Sea Otter show. It's dorky and adorable, especially when the animals ignore their human trainers and improv their way through the performance. http://seaworldparks.com/seaworld-sandiego
  • Beaches, Beaches Everywhere 3 of 9
    Beaches, Beaches Everywhere
    Save yourself at least one beach day while you're in town. We have plenty to choose from, from the funky Surf Dog vibe of Ocean Beach to the more family-friendly shores in Mission Beach (featuring a boardwalk, carousel, and our beloved Belmont roller coaster). If you've got kids ranging in age, I recommend going to La Jolla Shores: playground for toddlers, gentle cove for the younger set, and plenty of boogie boarding for the older ones. Locals Only tip: If you're up for a family field trip while you're there, rent some kayaks and explore the La Jolla caves (totally safe you go with a larger group and an experienced guide). You're almost guaranteed to see seals up close. http://www.lajollakayak.com
  • Balboa Park 4 of 9
    Balboa Park
    Balboa Park is probably one of my favorite parts of town. In the middle of San Diego, within walking distance from the zoo, the park is all about lush lawns, classic Spanish architecture, and 11 different museums, ranging from art, to history, to science. My daughter and I are regulars at the Natural History Museum and Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (the latter is a great place for kids to run around and spaz out while parents take a load off), and often find ourselves sprawled on the grassy slope outside the arboreteum with sandwiches and a frisbee. Families can easily take a whole day to enjoy everything the park has to offer. Locals Only tip: Every Tuesday, one of the museums offers free admission. Go online and check. And don't forget to wander through the Spanish Village on your way out, where local artists rent studio space and sell their wares every day. http://www.balboapark.org
  • The New Children’s Museum 5 of 9
    The New Children's Museum
    Located downtown just across the street from the Convention Center (home of the world famous San Diego Comic-Con), the newly revamped Children's Museum has been entertaining and teaching kids since 2008. Four floors of exploration (plus outdoor play space) offer fun ranging from costume play and messy art tables to an awesome climbing wall and a giant indoor Trojan horse. Exhibits change every few months, and my daughter and I can easily while away several hours there without checking the time once, no matter how often we go. Locals Only tip: Top floor. Balcony. Giant table full of bubble blowing apparatus. Every kid under 10 goes crazy for it. http://www.thinkplaycreate.org
  • Legoland 6 of 9
    Legoland
    The great thing about Legoland is that it's fun for kids of all ages, particularly munchkins between 3 and 8. The whole place is rendered in colorful Lego bricks. The rides are pretty tame (even the roller coaster), but still fun. The individual fantasy lands (Pirate Shores, Castle Hill, Fun Town) are perfect for the younger set. You can feel like you've done the whole park in a half a day, depending on crowds. Locals Only tip: What do kids love the most? Walking through Miniland: tiny Lego reproductions of famous cities. What do dads like me love the most? The mini Star Wars world. Do not miss. http://california.legoland.com
  • Birch Aquarium at Scripps 7 of 9
    Birch Aquarium at Scripps
    As much as I do love Sea World, I have to say that this is actually my favorite aquarium in the city. Smaller and off the beaten path, this gem of a spot is great for kids. Because its part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD, Birch's focus is on teaching kids, not milkng money from the parents. Locals Only tip: your kids will be happy to spend all day gazing into the outdoor tidal pools before even looking at what's inside the building. http://aquarium.ucsd.edu
  • Coronado Ferry 8 of 9
    Coronado Ferry
    There are several harbor tours for folks who want to get an offshore look at San Diego. The ferry from downtown to Coronado Island is my personal favorite. The ride itself is only 15 minutes, an easy voyage even for squeamish family members. The view of both the island and the San Diego skyline is breathtaking, any time of day. The boat drops folks off at the island's Ferry Landing Marketplace, where there are shops, restaurants, and even a little beach. Locals Only tip: This is probably the tamest boat ride available, but bring a jacket. We have gusty winds out on yonder harbor, even on warm days. http://www.sdhe.com/san-diego-bay-ferry.html
  • Petco Park 9 of 9
    Petco Park
    Even if you're not a baseball fan (Go Padres!), you really should visit Petco. Not the most creative stadium name ever, but the park itself is a whole experience. Local's Only tip: you don't have to actually sit in the stands to enjoy Petco. Past center field is both a park/play area, and a sandy "beach," complete with palm trees where you can enjoy the ambience -- and give kids room to run around. http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com/sd/ballpark/index.jsp

 

 

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