Whether you are planning a road trip or want to explore where you live, don’t miss these 14 unforgettable non-theme park things to do in San Diego with kids!
With its mild climate, miles of coastline, and a plethora of attractions, San Diego is a popular choice for a family vacation. For us, it was a stop during our Epic West Coast Road trip. We not only met up with friends but also had an amazing opportunity to explore the area.
While most people think of theme parks when they think of a family-friendly San Diego trip, there is so much more to this sunny city than just its amusement parks.
Let’s explore some of the other great things that America’s Finest City has to offer visiting families seeking a more genuine experience for their vacation.
Things to Do in San Diego with Kids
Balboa Park is one of the most popular destinations to visit in San Diego, and for good reason. With plenty of things to do, it’s perfect for families or anyone looking for a fun day out.
There are seventeen museum buildings, a large garden, five playgrounds, a carousel, and even a miniature railroad track. The iconic merry-go-round was built in 1910 and features intricate hand-carved animals. Balboa Park offers free admission and the grounds are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Balboa Park provided the perfect spot for the kids to get their wiggles out! It was beautiful and there was so much to do.
Fleet Science Center
Children of all ages will spend hours learning about how things work while turning knobs and pressing buttons in the giant interactive space within the Fleet Science Center at Balboa Park. It’s one of the largest science museums in the country, with more than 100 interactive exhibits.
Kids will love exploring everything from technology to outer space, and parents will appreciate the educational content combined with plenty of fun activities. There’s also an IMAX theater on-site for even more immersive learning.
San Diego Natural History Museum
Visiting the San Diego Natural History Museum at Balboa Park is a fun and educational experience for all ages.
The museum features exhibits on many different aspects of natural history, from dinosaurs to plants to animals. It’s one of the best museums in the city, and it’s huge – perfect for kids who love to explore. The exhibits are engaging and informative, and there’s always something new to see.
You can easily spend an entire day here so be sure to put the Natural History Museum on your list of things to do in San Diego.
San Diego Air and Space Museum
Do you have an interest in the universe and everything beyond our planet? If so, the San Diego Air and Space Museum will take you on a journey through space, from the planets and stars all the way out to the edge of the known universe.
You’ll learn about everything from ancient astronomy to modern space exploration, and there’s even a section dedicated to UFOs! Whether you’re a seasoned space buff or just starting your journey of cosmic discovery, put on your rocket scientist hats and get ready for an out-of-this-world experience!
Mission Trails Regional Park
Mission Trails Regional Park is a great place for families looking for some outdoor adventure. This is the perfect place to let them run around and explore nature while also getting some great views of San Diego’s cityscape in the background.
With more than 65 miles of trails and 8,000 acres of hills and canyons to explore, there’s something for everyone at this urban park. Hiking and biking trails wind through the park’s natural areas, while playgrounds, grassy areas with picnic tables, and fishing spots are perfect for a day in the great outdoors.
One of the best things about Mission Trails is that it is located just minutes from downtown San Diego – so it’s easy to get to!
Cabrillo National Monument
Bring the kids to the Cabrillo National Monument for a real history lesson in San Diego. There are plenty of activities for kids of all ages, so the whole family will have a great time exploring the park together. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse museum provides visitors with sweeping photographs of the life of the 1800s by displaying period furniture and lighting equipment.
Follow the Bayside Trail for a spectacular panoramic view of the ocean and the city below. You can sometimes spot migrating whales here from January or February.
Make sure you stop by the tide pools too while you’re there – they’re always a hit with kids!
The New Children’s Museum
Do you have young kids who love to explore and learn? If so, The New Children’s Museum is the perfect place for them. With exhibits and activities designed specifically for kids aged 10 and under, this hands-on museum is packed full of exhibits and activities that will keep your kiddo entertained for hours. From its interactive exhibits to its rotating art programs, there’s always something new to explore at this museum.
Plus, the location can’t be beat – it’s right in the heart of downtown San Diego, so there’s plenty to see and do in the surrounding area.
Keep in mind that the museum is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays when planning your trip.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a world-famous institution for marine biology and public education perched on picturesque bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. With exhibits on everything from the creatures of the deep sea to coral reefs, the aquarium is home to 60 different habitats, including sea lions and jellyfish. It also features an impressive single-paned window that provides visitors with a stunning view of the ocean from within.
Whether your interest lies in marine life or just looking at cool fish, there’s something for everyone at the Birch Aquarium. And if you’re feeling brave, you can get up close to some creatures in the Touch Tank!
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve offers visitors a great way to explore natural Southern California beauty and its native plants. With its miles of hiking trails, pristine beaches, and awe-inspiring views, the reserve is a must-see for nature lovers of all ages. The reserve hosts the rare twisty Torrey pine and the prickling pear cactus, and other native species.
The Guy Fleming Trail is a top pick for families. This 2/3-mile loop has the greatest variety of wildflowers, ferns, and cacti. The trail also offers two scenic overlooks with panoramic views that make for a great day trip or just something different from your average hike.
Make sure to stop by the visitor center to learn more about the reserve and pick up a map before hitting the trails. You won’t be disappointed!
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is a beautiful and popular beach in the coastal town of La Jolla. The crystal-clear water, warm swimming temperatures year-round make this one of California’s most picturesque beaches to enjoy your day at sea with family or friends.
Visitors can spend their time in the water by snorkeling through shipwrecks offshore or enjoying the sea life while kayaking. Thrill-seekers will love diving into deep waters where manta rays often swim underwater!
There are also plenty more things on offer for visitors who want to stay on land including watching sea lions from some distance away (depending on your courage), checking out old caves near the shoreline, or taking advantage of Ellen Browning Scripps Park’s grassy shade for an afternoon family picnic.
Stay for the amazing sunsets and enjoy live music at many of the nearby restaurants.
San Diego Botanic Garden
If you’re looking for a fun and interesting day trip with your family, the San Diego Botanic Garden is definitely worth considering. With more than 37 acres of gardens, plants, and nature trails to explore, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Themed gardens include a Japanese garden, rose garden, succulent garden, and several gardens made especially for children.
The Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden focuses on young children. It features a dinosaur-themed garden, playhouse, and topiary as well! During most months it also hosts weekly activities in partnership with SAPLinGS – Science Art & Play In Ground Space Saves (a program that promotes creative learning).
The Hamilton Children’s Garden provides a wealth of learning opportunities for kids. Here, children will have fun exploring the Butterfly Bed and Breakfast, playing giant tic-tac-toe, wandering through an elaborate slatted labyrinth, learning about sundials, or climbing an elaborate treehouse.
The San Diego Botanic Garden is also home to a variety of interesting plants and animals, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled! A variety of events are also held at the botanic garden throughout the year, so be sure to check their website before your visit.
Maritime Museum of San Diego
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is a world-renowned floating museum that showcases maritime history and culture. The museum’s fleet includes eight vessels, including the USS Midway Museum, which is the largest naval vessel in the world open to the public and offers a fascinating glimpse into life on a US aircraft carrier.
There’s plenty to keep kids entertained, from interactive exhibits to aircraft simulators, and parents will appreciate the historical and military context provided by knowledgeable guides. You can tour the Star of India, the oldest active sailing ship, and even stay aboard during special family overnight adventures in the summer.
Carlsbad Flower Fields
The Carlsbad Flower Fields are a must-see popular attraction in San Diego County.
Every spring, the fields come alive with a rainbow of colors as 50 acres of flowers bloom in every imaginable color. Mother Nature’s display of color at Carlsbad Ranch will not be seen anywhere else in the world. Locals and tourists alike flock to Carlsbad Flower Fields to admire the Giant Tecolote Ranunculus, tiptoe through the maze of sweet peas, fill out passport papers at stamp stations and learn about recycling and composting.
The best time to see the fields is usually mid-March through early May, but check the website for updated information on blooming times. Sadly, we visited in June so we missed the flowers in bloom but this would be amazing to experience in person.
The closest thing to a theme park on our list, Belmont Park is a historical gem and has plenty of rides and games to keep kids entertained, as well as some great food options.
It’s not only affordable but also offers plenty to do with your whole family! From the Giant Dipper (a vintage wooden roller coaster originally built in 1925) that will leave you screaming at speeds over 45 mph, to the brand new rock wall, there are 22 rides and attractions plus carnival-style games to enjoy, all while being surrounded by beautiful views and amazing oceanfront scenery.
Have you visited San Diego with your family? What were your favorite things to do in San Diego with kids?