Entertainment for all ages, beautiful beaches, sunny weather, and excellent accommodations – San Diego has it all. It's one of my favorite places to recommend for families because there is a wonderful balance of relaxing activities – think pools and beaches – and fun family activities like the zoo, amusement parks like Legoland, museums, and outdoor sports opportunities. From toddlers to teens, the activities here appeal to everyone. In addition, the ideal weather – consistently ranging from 65-75 degrees – is perfect almost all year long. That said, try to avoid visiting in June, when there is often a layer of fog (“June Gloom”) that covers the beach for the first half of the day.
Favorite family activities in San Diego:
San Diego Zoo
This world famous zoo is not to be missed. From ages 2 to 72, everyone loves the zoo! Large natural-looking enclosures with huge glass viewing areas allow amazing proximity to the animals. Be sure to see the polar bears and the hippos swimming. If you want to cover the whole property, I recommend the hop-on hop-off bus. For a unique experience, consider the fantastic special excursions where you can get a behind the scenes tour of the zoo or even sleep over. The zoo’s sister property located in the northeast section of the county is the Wild Animal Park where there are trams that run through expansive safari-like enclosures.
Tip: Be sure to wear your sneakers and bring or rent a stroller. The zoo is located on a steep hillside and requires a good amount of walking. Also, the Wild Animal Park is very hot during summer months.
The combination of marine education and amusement park is terrific for kids ages 3 and up. There are great dolphin and whale shows, but also my kids love the Pets Rule show, where a variety of animals do funny tricks. There is a “fun zone” with fantastic climbing structures, a water play zone, and even a roller coaster.
Tip: You’ll want to bring hats to avoid roasting while sitting in the bleachers at the shows. Also, if your kid love getting soaked (thoroughly soaked!) bring a change of clothes.
Birch Aquarium, hang-gliders, and Children’s Cove – La Jolla is a beautiful seaside community that offers beaches, restaurants, art galleries, and quaint shops. Start your day off with breakfast at the very charming Brockton Villa overlooking La Jolla Cove. Then stroll along La Jolla Cove over to the Children’s Cove. There, you’re sure to see seals sunbathing on the beach or frolicking in the waves. Afterwards, drive over to the Birch Aquarium.
Sea World is huge, but Birch Aquarium holds its own as a small, fabulous venue to experience marine life. Located on the campus of the world-renowned Scripps Institute of Oceanography, this aquarium is well designed and perfect for an easy 45-minute stop. When you are finished exploring the inside of the aquarium, take in the beautiful sweeping view of the ocean from the back deck.
Favorite lunch venues in this area include the ultra-casual El Pescador for fresh grilled fish sandwiches, Rimel’s for rotisserie, and the upscale Ocean Terrace at George’s at the Cove for an insane view.
Menehune Surf Camp
San Diego surf camp for kids is an exercise in persistence and resilience. Kids fall and get up probably 100 times each day and all while having fun – what great lessons! The adorable and helpful counselors infuse play throughout the day. We do this in Del Mar, my favorite coastal town, at Powerhouse Park. The playground offers my little one something to do and I can stroll over to Starbucks for a coffee while the kids are surfing.
Tip: This activity is best for ages 5 and up.
If everyone is hungry after camp, visit Jake’s or The Poseidon for seaside dining or head to Roberto’s or Rubio’s for tacos just up the street.
Belmont Park is located in Mission Beach, a quintessential beach area packed with surfers, skateboarders, college kids, and a little of everything else. Belmont Park offers an amusement park experience without having to trek to an actual amusement park. The old-fashioned wood rollercoaster is thrilling enough, but there are additional rides and a few places to eat. This is a great place with school-age kids and up. Rent rollerblades or bikes and cruise the boardwalk.
Visit Ciao Bambino's San Diego with kids landing page for links to San Diego family hotels and related articles on the site's family travel blog.
Nancy Solomon is an avid traveler who lives outside Boston with her husband and four children under 10. She writes for Ciao Bambino.com, a family travel guide with tips and advice around all things related to traveling with kids, as well as reviews of the best kid-friendly hotels.