San Diego is one of the best locations in the United States for a family vacation. Whatever is on your wish list is easily doable in San Diego, a city where attractions are always within reach. Aside from gorgeous weather throughout the year, delicious food, and beaches galore, San Diego is diverse, safe, and a great place to bring the kids.
When planning out your itinerary for things to do in San Diego for families, here are the top 7 attractions to get the vacation started off right:
San Diego Zoo
Located in the awesome Balboa Park (see below) is the award-winning San Diego Zoo. Kids never say no to a zoo, especially when it has over 3,700 rare and endangered animals to visit. For those who love botanical gardens, the zoo also features 700,000 exotic plants throughout the 100 acres.
Not only is the zoo pleasant to walk around, there are great – and ever-changing exhibits – including the Skyfari tram that kids and adults both find exciting. The best part is that the zoo is open every day of the year, including holidays, so you never have to worry about fitting it into the schedule. The normal hours are 9am-5pm.
You can get there by car, bus or bike and the parking is free. You can enter via Zoo Place just off Park Boulevard, which is located in Balboa Park, close to downtown San Diego.
New Children’s Museum
When you are looking for family fun in San Diego, then you go to the New Children’s Museum. The goal of the museum is for kids of all ages to delve into the arts. Toddlers to teenagers can think, play, and create their way through a series of exhibits.
There are dozens of arts and crafts, hands-on activities, and even performing arts to enjoy. Though not huge, the museum features a tree house, inflatable bouncy tube, a sandpit with scented sand, and a large playground where everyone comes together.
The only problem will come from trying to convince your kids to leave. The museum is closed on Tuesdays. Normal hours are from 9:30am to 4pm.
San Diego Safari Park
Just a few miles north of the San Diego Zoo in Escondido is another world-class animal kingdom known as San Diego Safari Park. There are over 2600 African animals roaming around.
You can go on an actual safari using the Africa Tram tour or use the Skyline Safari zip line. In the afternoon, be sure to watch the cheetah sprint down a 330-foot long raceway. Plus, there is the educational element.
Not only does San Diego Safari Park have the largest condor breeding program, it also runs educational programs that teach about endangered animal species.
Everyone loves LEGO (except for the unlucky souls that step on one at 3AM), so it is no wonder LEGOLAND California has become a major attraction for family fun in San Diego.
You can spend an entire weekend at the LEGOLAND California Resort, which consists of the amusement park, Sea Life aquarium, and Chima water park. Though the water parks are an additional US$20, it is well worth going to all the attractions.
The park is great for ages 2-12. Be sure to pick up your discounted LEGOLAND tickets so you can budget some money for souvenirs and snack foods!
La Jolla Shores
Though San Diego has over 70 miles of beaches, some are more welcoming to families than others. The best happens to be La Jolla Shores, where surfers, swimmers, beachcombers, and sunbathers flock throughout the year. Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy the coastline either.
There are seals and sea lions that gather nearby too. In the early morning, you have visit the protected cove at the northern end of the beach to check out the sea life gathered in the tide pools before the waves roll in.
Afterwards, you can rent snorkel equipment or have a picnic at the nearby Scripps Park, or rent a kayak and take a journey out to see the La Jolla Underwater Park, where brilliantly colored fish swim by underneath you.
Balboa Park is a wonderland. If you go there and can’t find a way to spend three days solid, you’re not doing it right. There are 13 museums in Balboa Park. It’s also home to the famous San Diego Zoo.
Have a child who loves trains? The Model Railway Museum will captivate them. There are miles worth of miniature railroad track inside to explore. There’s also a science center with hands-on displays, a puppet theater, a playground, and even a carousel. Never has a child ever been heard utter the words, “I’m bored” at Balboa Park.
Old Town San Diego
If a stroll and the occasional shopping is more your speed, Old Town can give you just that. The buildings that house shops and museums in Old Town take to the architecture of the period of California’s beginnings. A
nd to keep with the tradition of laying back and taking in the scenery, it is best to set aside a day to just explore and enjoy the town. Old Town can be reached using the San Diego Trolley that are marked red or take 10 short minutes from the Gaslamp Quarter.
What used to be an area you didn’t want to be in after dark is now a safe and fun place to spend both the day and night. The Gaslamp Quarter is the result of San Diego City taking charge and saving a community from being run down. Now even the San Diego Repertory Theater calls this part of the city home.
Enjoy the place by just walking around and taking in the local color. You can even take a horse-drawn carriage or ride the San Diego Trolley. If you are in the area some time September, then you might want to check out the “Street Scene” which is a music, food and drinking festival that lasts for three days.
SeaWorld San Diego
We’re not really big supporters of attractions like SeaWorld, but it is one of the main family attractions in San Diego and we don’t want to exclude it from the list for those who do want to visit. The park has a lot of special attractions, like a behind-the-scenes tour, a roller coaster, a Sesame Street play area for the little ones.
You can take a tour through the aquarium, get up close with killer whales, join in the trainer-guided dolphin experience, and watch the various animal presentations.
Hiking in San Diego
San Diego offers a bevy of interesting hikes. For picturesque sunsets and “tasty waves”, the beach between Cardiff to Carlsbad can’t be beat.
I typically start this hike by parking just south of restaurant row in Cardiff. Restaurant row is located to the north of the lagoon between Cardiff and Solana Beach on Highway 101. Parking is located on the side of the road, which is right up against the beach.
The Cardiff to South Carlsbad hike is about 5 miles in each direction. The walk is flat and quick and suitable for older children, or for pushing an outdoor stroller.
San Diego has something for every kid and kid at heart, whether you want to spend your time downtown or lounging on the beaches. Get the family ready. It’s time for an amazing vacation in one of the most family-friendly cities in the United States!
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