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San Diego with Kids: The 12 Best Family Attractions

SmarterTravel

Sun and sand aren’t the only compelling reasons to visit San Diego with kids. From one of the world’s greatest zoos to a theme park devoted to LEGOs, there are countless San Diego family attractions.

San Diego with Kids: The Best Family Attractions

Read on to get to know kid-friendly San Diego and plan your next family vacation.

Balboa Park

For San Diego’s “museum central,” head to Balboa Park, which has enough attractions to keep kids entertained for days—including a carousel, a children’s garden, and a puppet theater. And that’s not even counting kid-friendly museums like the Air & Space Museum, the Fleet Science Center, and the Natural History Museum with its dinosaur fossils and giant-screen theater. A free tram runs daily throughout the park.

San Diego Zoo

Visiting San Diego with kids who love animals? You can’t miss the world-famous San Diego Zoo, featuring more than 3,500 critters of some 650 species. Fun areas include the Outback, Elephant Odyssey, and the children’s petting zoo.

Seaport Village

Seaport Village is filled with fun shops and boutiques in a Cape Cod-esque seaport setting. Travelers visiting San Diego with kids should head straight for the historic carousel, which dates back to 1895.

New Children’s Museum

The New Children’s Museum offers creative kids the chance to contribute to art installations within the museum, such as the colorful Sketch Aquarium. Other hands-on activities include playing dress-up in the Costume Cave and creating your own sculpture in the Clay Studio.

Beaches

You can’t come to San Diego without hitting the beach! You’ll love hanging out on the Mission Beach and Pacific Beach boardwalks (inline skates, surfboards, and bicycles are available for rent). Other good beaches for families include La Jolla Shores, with its gentle waves, and Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, which has a playground right near the sand.

Belmont Park

At Belmont Park, a beachfront amusement park located a mile south of Pacific Beach, rides include the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in the 1920s and still in operation. Kids can also go zip-lining, climb a rock wall, play mini-golf, and more.

Petco Park

Baseball fans will love Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, located in the heart of downtown adjacent to the Gaslamp Quarter. Those arriving in season can take public transportation right to the ballpark from almost anywhere in the city, and enjoy the Boys of Summer at both day and night games when they are playing at home.

LEGOLAND California

At LEGOLAND California, about a 30-minute drive from downtown, the 128-acre theme park is centered on—what else?—LEGOs! Geared toward children ages 2 – 12, the park offers interactive attractions and kid-powered rides.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a 1,800-acre preserve where some 2,600 animals roam as if they were in their native habitats. There are a variety of safari experiences available, from a Balloon Safari (a 10- to 12-minute ride in a hot-air balloon) to a Caravan Safari, in which you travel by truck through a couple of field enclosures.

Whale Watching

Numerous whale-watching services offer cruises and aerial tours, particularly during the winter months (December through April). Try Hornblower Cruises & Events, Flagship Cruises & Events, or Adventure R.I.B. Rides.

Surfing

The North County beach cities (about 25 – 30 miles north of San Diego) of Solana Beach, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Encinitas, and Leucadia are paradise for surfer dudes and dudettes. You can rent boards and take lessons or just go to any one of these beaches with a picnic and watch the semi-pros catch the waves. Leucadia Surf School offers lessons for kids, teens, and adults.

Coronado

For a lovely, pastoral excursion after wandering around the city, why not take a ferry onto the little island of Coronado, located in San Diego Bay? Among the numerous San Diego family attractions here are sailboat rides, ice cream shops, trolley tours, parks, and beaches.

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Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

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