But this is my family’s list of our favorite things to do in San Diego with kids.
- Old Town San Diego – This state historical park is one of the gems of San Diego. You can enjoy a free visit there visiting historical buildings such as the first school, the livery, the first newspaper building and more. The Mormon Battalion Historic Site is a free and entertaining way to learn more about the history of San Diego. The grounds are beautiful and is easy and fun to stroll through town, in and out of these great historical buildings. Old Town also has unique shops to visit such as a gem shop, specialty clothing, candles and salts, and more. One of our favorite stops is the Old Town House of Jerky & Root Beer. Over 75 flavors of bottled soda are sold here and it is a treat to stop in and pick out a new flavor to try. The Whaley Museum is a paid historical site hosting the town’s first theater, the first courthouse and supposedly the town ghosts. Across the street from the Whaley House be sure to pick up some freshly-made chocolate, strawberry or cinnamon tortillas, just two for $1! A great snack for the kids.
- Birch Aquarium – Located right on an overlook of the Pacific Ocean, this aquarium is the public exploration center for the Scripps Instituion of Oceanography, UC San Diego. It is a great combination of education and entertainment. Your kids can view over 3,000 types of fish in 60 different exhibits. From sea horses to coral reefs and kelp forests, kids can learn about the amazing sea life in our oceans. In February, get the Macy’s pass to get 50% entrance to the Birch Aquarium (and other great San Diego museums as well!)
- New Children’s Museum – With a theme of “think, play, create”, the children’s museum is set up to allow kids to explore and learn while they play. The museum has many hands on activities such as painting, pottery, and bubble-making. The current themed exhibit is Feast: the Art of Playing With Your Food. Kids can drive trucks around “transporting food” or jump in the vegetable jump house. The museum’s chickens come out to visit at specific times in the day. And the museum has great scheduled workshops through the day to give kids time to create their own art (and all the supplies are provided by the museum and all the mess cleaned up them too! I love that as a mom!)
- San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park – The world-famous zoo is one of our favorite spots in San Diego. The beautiful zoo has so much greenery, the grounds are beautiful. The variety of animals and their habitats is excellent. From the pandas to the lions, the reptile house to the koala bears, there is so much to see and experience. The Safari Park is a unique park that complements the zoo seeing many animals in wide-open spaces. The Africa Tram is a must-do with kids. The tram tour takes you out and around to view giraffes, zebras, rhinos and other African animals running, sleeping, living in a more natural environment, areas you can’t see on foot. Kids are free in October. If you live locally, a membership is an excellent value. For one low price, you can visit both the Zoo and Safari Park all year long.
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- Hiking – San Diego’s year-round great weather makes hiking a great family activity any time. I think getting kids outdoors, moving, talking, exploring nature is an important and fun part of childhood. San Diego has many great hiking areas for all different hiking abilities. Hike along the beautifulTorrey Pines Reserve and see breath-taking views of the Pacific Ocean. The San Elijo Lagoon is a great walking area to see birds, crabs and other natural wildlife of the area. We have also enjoyed Elfin Forest, Mission Trails Regional Park, and Los Penasquitos Canyon for family hiking.
- Botanical Garden – The botanical garden is a rich variety of plants from around the world. We especially loved the edible garden area showing a variety of foods and how they grow as well as the herb garden where we could touch and smell the aromatic herbs. It is a beautiful and peaceful garden to walk through. The Hamilton Children’s Garden is a favorite spot to spend some time as the kids can climb on the tree house, run boats down the river, learn to use a sundial and build a fort with balsa blocks. Admission is free the first Tuesday of each month.
- Olympic Training Center – The largest Olympic training center is right in our own Chula Vista and is a free visit. I love the Olympics and think their stories are so inspiring. This is a great place to take kids and talk about dreams and goals. Olympic athletes are there training on the great facilities including track and field, BMX bike, soccer, tennis and more. Stop in the shop for Team USA paraphernalia and support our athletes!
- Balboa Park – In my book, Balboa Park is a must-visit place in San Diego. This 1,200 acre cultural park has so much to offer no matter what you interests are. Besides the zoo, there are many other great walking paths, gardens, museums and theaters to enjoy. Often live entertainers are out around the park performing their shows. We have seen some great magic shows there. Some of our favorite museums at Balboa Park are the Fleet Science Center, the Natural History Museum, and the Museum of Man. The free Botanical Garden is also a great stop. The museums are free to residents on rotating Tuesdays through the month. Here is the Balboa Park free Tuesday museum schedule. Many of the museums are also discounted 50% off in February with the Macy’s pass. In the summer, the Organ Pavilion hosts great free concerts. And don’t miss December Nights at Balboa Park bringing in the holiday season and all the museums are opened for free.
- Beach – San Diego’s beaches are always a hit with the kids. Hours of fun out in the sand, surf and sun. Enjoy walks along the beach, building sand castles, boogie boarding, and more. Head out to Coronado Island or hit up Mission Beach, La Jolla Shores has a playground at the beach and usually gentler slopes and waves for kids. Another favorite activity at the beach is tide pooling. Wait for a negative tide and head out to sea the sea life of San Diego right in their own habitat. Point Loma, La Jolla Cove, Scripps Pier and Tourmaline Surfing Park all have tide pools brimming with sea life.