San Diego, California is a wonderful travel destination for families. And while it’s known for its beaches, there are also several family friendly activities that don’t involve the beach. Multidimensional TravelingMom and her family frequently vacation in San Diego since it’s in close proximity to her home state, Arizona. Get ready to explore with these 8 family friendly activities in San Diego beyond the beach.
Family Friendly Activities in San Diego
Ballgame at Petco Park
San Diego is worth visiting just for its beaches alone. My four-year-old son could spend hours on the beach, collecting seashells and building sand castles. But my husband and I also try incorporating other activities into our vacations. Activities that are not only fun but also educational. Activities that encourage our son to learn more about the world and the environment around him. And activities that are just plain fun, like watching a baseball game and flying a kite! So here it goes, here’s my list of 8 family friendly activities in San Diego…..beyond the beach!
1. Balboa Park
There are several family friendly activities in San Diego, beginning with the kid friendly museums in Balboa Park. It’s the home for museums like the San Diego Air & Space Museum and the San Diego Natural History Museum, as well as the San Diego Zoo. We like the Air & Space Museum because my son is fascinated with outer space and the moon.
Displays include both space suits and the Apollo 9 Command Module. Each area of the museum is arranged by flight eras, allowing kids to see the evolution of aerospace, from early flight to modern age.
TravelingMom Tip: Avoid limited parking near the museums later in the day (even with parking lots nearby) by opting to park in the Inspiration Point parking lot. Then board the tram to different locations throughout Balboa Park.
Since our son is also interested in dinosaurs, one of our favorite museums in Balboa Park is the San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT). TheNAT features a lot of exhibits for children, such as an interactive campsite complete with an RV. Other exhibits are specific to California wildlife and for animals now extinct and still living. Kids can also learn about the ecosystem specific to California’s different regions and get a sense of how native animals live in those habitats.
2. Maritime Museum
The Maritime Museum is one of our favorite places to visit, even though I’m not even much of a ship aficionado. Explore several ships displayed, including the Star of India and a replica of a pirate ship used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean. Our favorite naval vessel is the submarine. My son loves looking through the periscope (and so do I!).
3. U.S.S. Midway
The U.S.S. Midway is located right down the street from the Maritime Museum. This aircraft carrier houses a collection of every aircraft you can imagine. Kids (and adults) are allowed to go inside some of the aircraft. Feeling more adventurous? Step into a flight simulator! A self-guided audio tour is also available, but we skipped it as my 4-year-old quickly lost interest. Because of its size, the U.S.S. Midway might be overwhelming for younger children. Instead I’d suggest letting younger children explore the different aircraft.
4. Seaport Village
Seaport Village, located near the waterfront, is another fun place to visit as a family. We love the ice cream cones from Ben & Jerry’s, and my son loves the vintage carousel. Browse its several shops, unique to California, and while there are sit down restaurants, choose also from available quick service options. The food at the quick service restaurants is affordably priced, especially for families.
The Old Police Headquarters have recently been renovated, and includes the opportunity to view old jail cells! There are also grassy areas nearby, perfect for learning to fly a kite.
Conveniently, Seaport Village can also be used as a launching pad for a SEAL Tour (see #5 below) since Old Town Trolley has a location at Seaport Village.
5. SEAL Tour
The SEAL Tour, by Old Town Trolleys, is another favorite of ours and one that I highly recommend. It’s a guided sea and land tour, which means the vehicle converts to a boat on water during the tour. Our tour guide was extremely nice, and very funny. Let’s face it – it’s difficult finding a tour that all family members will enjoy.
But the SEAL Tour is one that appeals to all ages. Adults will enjoy learning more about San Diego and the important role that the naval industry has in its economy. Kids, on the other hand, will enjoy seeing sea lions and think it’s cool that the vehicle turns into a boat.
6. Ballgame at Petco Park
One of our favorite ballparks to visit is Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. It’s located in downtown San Diego, near the Gaslamp Quarter. Not only is it extremely kid friendly, but it’s also pet friendly. Those who are visiting Petco Park for the first time can get a commemorative pin to celebrate the occasion. Not only does it make the visit more personal, but it’s also a great souvenir to bring back home. This marked my son’s first visit to Petco Park and he loved it. The atmosphere itself is very lively and the fans are some of the nicest I’ve encountered. And as for the ballpark itself, it’s beautiful and well maintained. There’s also several food options available, including kids meals. There’s also an area called Picnic Hill where children can run around and families can picnic while enjoying the ballgame.
7. Safari Park
The Safari Park is located in Escondido, which is less than an hour away from San Diego. While it’s affiliated with the San Diego Zoo, it’s a completely different experience. It’s well worth the visit, but due to its location, you will need a car to get there. It’s also very large so plan on spending the entire day there. While the animals are the main focus, there are several other things available for children. For example, there is live entertainment and animal encounters. Additionally, there are several playgrounds scattered throughout the park. And my son, of course, likes to explore them all! Other experiences are available for an additional charge like zip lining and going on a balloon ride. The highlight is the Africa Tram, which is included in the cost of general admission. We truly felt like we were on an African safari, and the scenery is amazing.
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to get in line for the Africa Tram first thing in the morning. It’s extremely popular. We made it on the second tram for the day and when we returned to the tram station, the line was extremely long.
8. Birch Aquarium
The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is located in La Jolla, California and near the La Jolla Coves. While there are several fish tanks throughout, there are also touch tanks both indoors and outdoors. It’s an educational and interactive way to get children interested in sea life. At one point, my son was able to hold a starfish which was the highlight of his visit. Overall, it’s a great introduction, especially for younger children, to sea life in a calming environment. Plus, the view (overlooking the ocean) is spectacular.
The list above is just some of the many family friendly activities in San Diego beyond the beach. There’s also LEGOLAND California which is less than an hour away from San Diego, in Carlsbad, and also a favorite place of ours to visit. With so much to see and do, it can be difficult to experience it all during a visit. That just means more of a reason to return!