If you’re wanting to take a trip to California, or more specifically, Southern California, please let me convince you that San Diego is where you want to go. “America’s Finest City” is known for the scenery and flawless weather, but it has so much more than that to offer visiting families. You can make your trip to San Diego anything you want from a casual, family road trip stop to the blockbuster trip of the summer. Here are some places and activities that I consider must-sees in this city we call home.
For Anyone And Everyone: The San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is one of the best in the world and it’s easy to see why. The zoo is huge, there are so many animals, and completely different sections that feel like different environments. It doesn’t matter who you’re traveling with–all ages will enjoy this zoo!
Aside from the animals, there are a few other things that make this a great family stop. Parking is free, every part is stroller and wagon friendly, there are bathrooms all over, snack spots, restaurants, and there’s even a nursing room for nursing moms that need a place to sit down out of the sun and feed. If you’re able to get out early or your kids wake up before the sun, the zoo opens at 9:00 AM (that’s our favorite time to go!). You can easily park at the front of the parking lot as the crowds haven’t quite gathered yet.
Honorable Mention: If you’re staying farther north or you’re in San Diego for a while and your family loves animals, the San Diego Safari Park is amazing, too. It is a wide-open space where you can go on safaris and see animals roam around in different environments.
Quick Tips For Visiting The San Diego Zoo:
- There’s a great double-decker bus tour that starts right near the front of the zoo if you want to get the lay of the land before you venture out on your own.
- Map out your route before you start. The zoo is BIG and you don’t want to be stranded by the polar bears and hangry (trust me).
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Again, this place is big and you will be walking a lot. There’s nothing worse than a day taken over by blisters or an uncomfortable sweater.
For The Explorer: Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a great place for a family day because there are SO many different things do to. There are outdoor areas, vendors, museums, and restaurants. There are around 20 museums and exhibits but be sure to check the schedule when you plan your visit as some rotate seasonally. Some of our favorites are the San Diego Natural History Museum (the NAT), the San Diego Air and Space Museum, and the San Diego Museum of Art. There is truly a museum for everyone!
If museums aren’t your thing, there are beautiful outdoor areas to run around, have picnics, and enjoy the San Diego sun. There’s even a carousel, playground, and a mini train to ride. Check out their kid’s itinerary for family-friendly ideas around the park. The Old Globe is also an option if your family likes theater. It is a beautiful setting within the park that features all kinds of performing arts.
For The Beach Bums: Mission Bay
Okay, I know exactly what you’re thinking. You are expecting a beach! This is San Diego, right?! There’s a beach suggestion in the next section but hear me out about Mission Bay. Mission Bay is right across from Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. It is quieter, there aren’t waves, parking is easy, there’s a playground AND in my local mom’s opinion, it is a better option for families with young kids than going to one of the main beaches. You still get everything you’re looking for with the sand, water and sun, but just in a more kid-friendly package.
Quick Tips For Enjoying Mission Bay:
- Bring food. One thing about Mission Bay is that it isn’t lined with restaurants like the beaches. There are plenty of restaurants and places to grab food and snacks on your way in.
- If you’re in San Diego on a holiday weekend, go early. Yes, I said that this isn’t as busy, but it’s still water in San Diego. People will camp out on holiday weekends to make sure their families have the best spot possible.
For A Day Trip: Coronado
Coronado is an island off of San Diego that you can get to via bridge or ferry. Coronado is famous for the Hotel Del and its beautiful, wide, white beaches. Being on Coronado is like stepping into a different world. It has small-town, vintage-era beach vibes and is such a fun place for a day trip. It is a great place to rent beach cruisers to get around for the day (if your family is comfortable on bikes). Aside from the gorgeous houses on tree-lined streets that I could stare at forever, the beach here is hard to beat. There is so much sand and so much space, you rarely feel crowded and on top of each other as you do elsewhere.
The Hotel Del is a special place. Its beautiful, old-world charm is enchanting. If you need a place for a fancy meal while you’re in San Diego (probably without the kids) this is a great option (just remember to make a reservation ahead of time).
Quick Tips For Coronado Island:
- Unless you’re staying on Coronado, I would avoid the 4th of July weekend. Thousands of people flock to Coronado for the Fourth of July festivities.
- Parking can be tough here. If you’re planning on staying a while, bring an alternate mode of transportation for the kids (like a wagon) because you will probably stray far from the car.
- Looking for an afternoon ice cream stop? Mootime Creamery is the place to be.
For A Family Photo: Sunset Cliffs
Sunset Cliffs is one of the most beautiful places in San Diego. No matter how many times I come here, it takes my breath away. If you visit Sunset Cliffs, you’ll likely see lots of photoshoots happening (maybe even a wedding!). It’s the perfect spot to take a family picture to remember your trip to San Diego. Sunset Cliffs is located in Ocean Beach, a super fun, eclectic, beach town. If you are catching a sunset here, consider having dinner in Ocean Beach. There are amazing restaurants of all kinds of cuisine. Two of my favorites are the famous Hodad’s for a burger or the OB Noodle House.
For The Sports Fan: Petco Park
If you’re in San Diego between April and September and have sports fans in tow, catching a game at Petco Park is a must. Even if you aren’t a sports fan, you’ll enjoy the beautiful scenery. There isn’t much better than a warm summer night at Petco Park in the heart of downtown San Diego. There are great food options inside the park such as the famous San Diego eateries. Remember when I mentioned Hodad’s? They also have a location in the park! As does the famous Phil’s BBQ.
There’s also a section called Gallagher Square that is a grassed “standing room only” option for games. The tickets are usually around $25 and people bring blankets and watch games on the screen. It is a great option if you have kids that are more interested in an impromptu game of tag than the score of the game. If you’re a big fan, you can take a tour of the park. A park tour is a fun way to get a behind-the-scenes look at the park, where the players hang out and can be a really special experience for a true baseball fan.
Quick Tips For Visiting Petco Park:
- If you can, catch a weekday game. The parking and logistics will be easier, it usually isn’t as crowded, and tickets are often cheaper than weekend games.
- Parking downtown can be tricky. I’ve had the best luck with parking at the Padres Parkade as you can reserve your spot ahead of time.
San Diego is so family-friendly and is a great option for a trip if you’re wanting to come to Southern California! The city has tons to offer on top of the well-know, beautiful scenery and weather. I hope some of these tips and places come in handy as you’re planning your trip. I know your family will love this city as much as ours!