San Diego for Families: 5 Top Things to Do with Kids

Millions of families plan a trip to San Diego each year, drawn by its abundance of kid-friendly tourist attractions. There’s plenty to do and see here regardless of whether you plan to devote just a few hours or an entire week to the city. Start with San Diego’s world-famous theme parks and zoo, but also consider making room on your travel itinerary for some of the city’s kid-friendly museums and sprawling nature reserves.

1. SeaWorld San Diego

The Power of Shamu by Nathan Rupert (CC)

SeaWorld San Diego boasts 26 different animal habitats and dozens of interactive exhibits designed to depict sea life in its many forms. Explore the theme park’s underwater tunnels for an up-close look at the world of giant sea turtles and great white sharks. SeaWorld is spread over an astounding 77 hectares (190 acres). You can spend an entire day here, going from aquatic-themed rides to educational and entertaining live shows featuring trained dolphins, sea lions, and killer whales.

2. San Diego Zoo

Panda Cub Xiao Liwu “Little Gift” at the San Diego Zoo
by Ricky Brigante (CC)

Home to nearly 4,000 of some of the rarest animals in the world, the famed San Diego Zoo shelters pandas, gorillas, antelopes, koalas, and orangutans, to name just a few of the park’s best-known residents. Renowned for pioneering the concept of cage-free exhibits to recreate natural animal habitats, the zoo covers a total area of almost 40 hectares (100 acres). To see as many different species as possible in a single day, take a guided tour on a bus, or hop on the zoo’s overhead gondola, which offers a bird’s-eye view of the animal kingdom. Get the most out of your family’s day at the park by starting at the visitor center, where you can arrange for guided tours and pick up free maps.

3. San Diego Air & Space Museum

San Diego Air & Space Museum by tataquax (CC)

The world-famous San Diego Air & Space Museum, one of the many kid-friendly museums in Balboa Park, houses a collection of both original and reconstructed aircraft and spacecraft. Add the museum to your San Diego itinerary to discover dozens of exhibits featuring memorabilia from legendary aviators like John Glenn and Charles Lindbergh. Start with the displays of space capsules, one of the most exciting features of the museum and a favorite with kids of all ages. From there you can head to the museum’s renowned education center, known for hosting regular family-oriented activities.

4. Legoland California

California by Michael Li (CC)

To build your own Lego experience, add Legoland California in nearby Carlsbad to your San Diego trip planner. Opened in 1999 and modeled on the original Lego-based park in Denmark, this venue was the first of its kind outside Europe. The park features several themed sections constructed entirely out of the Lego brand’s popular building blocks, as well as about 60 rides and other attractions designed primarily with kids under 12 in mind. Young visitors and their parents can spend hours immersed in the Lego fantasy by taking roller coaster and boat rides through models of medieval castles and islands inhabited by giant dinosaur toys.

5. Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines Reserve In Early Morning Light – Explored
by Bill Gracey (CC)

The sprawling Torrey Pines State Reserve represents one of the largest and wildest stretches of southern California coastline with over 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of land. The park features eight trails that offer varying length, difficulty, and scenery, so you can easily choose something that best suits your family’s interests. Animal lovers come here to spy bobcats, rabbits, foxes, and even whales, while picnickers head to a scenic beach set against high cliffs–the only place within the park where visitors can bring their own food. Large and uncrowded, the beach provides plenty of nooks and crannies for kids to explore, while you can enjoy sea views offered by this tranquil setting in the upscale La Jolla community.

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