Top 14 Best Things to Do in San Diego this Weekend with Kids

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Are you ready to transform a typical weekend into an unforgettable adventure with your kids in sunny San Diego? Whether you’re a local or visiting for the first time, San Diego is bursting with child-friendly activities that promise fun for the whole family.

Best Things to Do in San Diego this Weekend with Kids
Best Things to Do in San Diego this Weekend with Kids

From the thrilling rides at Belmont Park to the educational exhibits at the San Diego Zoo, our guide to the top 10 best things to do in San Diego this weekend with kids will ensure every moment is packed with enjoyment.

Get ready to explore interactive museums, beautiful outdoor parks, and so much more. Dive into our curated list and start planning a weekend that your kids will talk about for years to come!

See also: 10 Best Things to Do in San Francisco this Weekend

San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is a local treasure and a globally renowned destination, celebrated for its extensive and diverse animal collection. Nestled in Balboa Park, this iconic zoo has over 3,500 animals representing more than 650 species. Visitors are drawn to its lush, expansive habitats that mirror the animals’ natural environments, providing both an educational and immersive experience.

San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo

Among the standout exhibits, the Giant Panda Trek offers a rare glimpse into the life of these beloved creatures, though the pandas have returned to China, their legacy remains. The Polar Bear Plunge and Elephant Odyssey are also crowd favourites, showcasing these magnificent animals in habitats designed to educate about conservation efforts.

For a truly interactive experience, the Skyfari Aerial Tram provides a bird’s-eye view of the zoo, and the Bus Tour is perfect for those looking to cover more ground quickly.

To make the most of your visit, arrive early to avoid the midday crowds and take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures when animals are most active. The zoo opens at 9 AM daily. Consider purchasing tickets online to skip the lines; adult tickets are around $69 and children’s tickets are about $59.

A membership might be cost-effective if you’re planning multiple visits or exploring other attractions in Balboa Park. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring sunscreen, as much of the zoo is outdoors. For an extra special experience, check out the Behind-the-Scenes Tours where you can get up close and personal with some of the zoo’s residents.

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is an absolute gem in San Diego, known for its stunning scenic beauty and vibrant marine life. The clear, calm waters make it an ideal spot for both snorkeling and kayaking. The Cove is part of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, a protected marine reserve, ensuring an abundance of sea life like colorful fish, playful sea lions, and even the occasional harmless leopard shark. You might even spot the majestic kelp forests swaying underwater, creating a mesmerizing underwater landscape.

La Jolla Cove San Diego
La Jolla Cove San Diego

The best time to snorkel at La Jolla Cove is during the summer and early fall when the water is warmest, typically around 70-75°F. Mornings and early afternoons are perfect as the waters are calmer and the visibility is excellent. For kayaking, the same seasons are ideal, and you can paddle out to explore the famous seven sea caves. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of dolphins frolicking in the distance.

Safety is key while enjoying these activities. Always snorkel with a buddy and stay within the designated areas. The currents can be strong, so keep an eye on the weather and ocean conditions. Wearing a wetsuit during the cooler months is advisable to stay warm. Moreover, respecting the marine life and following conservation guidelines is crucial—don’t touch or disturb the animals and avoid stepping on the fragile coral.

Getting to La Jolla Cove is straightforward. It’s about a 20-minute drive from downtown San Diego. Parking can be a bit tricky, especially during peak times, so arriving early is a good idea. Public transportation options include buses that drop you close to the Cove. The area around the Cove also offers plenty of rental shops where you can get snorkeling and kayaking gear, with some offering guided tours to enhance your experience​.

See also: Best Things to Do at La Jolla Cove Beach, San Diego

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a must-visit for nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts. This coastal gem offers a variety of scenic trails that provide breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the rare Torrey Pine trees, which only grow here and on Santa Rosa Island.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

For an easy and rewarding hike, try the Guy Fleming Trail. It’s a short loop with stunning ocean views and wildflowers, making it perfect for families and beginners. If you’re up for a bit more of a challenge, the Razor Point Trail leads you to dramatic overlooks and fascinating rock formations. My personal favorite is the Beach Trail, which descends 300 feet to the shore, offering a mix of coastal chaparral and beach access.

The best times to visit are early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat and crowds. Wear sturdy shoes, bring plenty of water, and don’t forget your sunscreen. Check the tide schedules if you plan to hike down to the beach, as high tide can make some paths tricky. The reserve is open daily from 7:15 AM to sunset, with a $20 parking fee per vehicle or $4 per hour if you plan a shorter visit.

Getting there is easy. It’s a short drive from downtown San Diego, and parking is available at the entrance. Public transportation options include buses that stop near the reserve. Respect the natural habitat by staying on marked trails and not disturbing the wildlife​.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is an extraordinary urban oasis in San Diego, packed with museums, gardens, and cultural institutions that offer a rich tapestry of experiences. This 1,200-acre park, often dubbed the “Smithsonian of the West,” is home to 18 museums, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, and numerous performance venues.

Balboa Park San Diego
Balboa Park San Diego

Start your visit with the San Diego Museum of Art, which showcases masterpieces from around the globe. The Museum of Us dives into the human experience with interactive exhibits, while the Fleet Science Center delights with hands-on science activities for all ages. Don’t miss the Japanese Friendship Garden, a serene escape featuring traditional Japanese landscaping and koi ponds. For aviation enthusiasts, the San Diego Air & Space Museum offers fascinating exhibits including the Apollo 9 Command Module.

One of my favorite experiences is catching a play at the historic Old Globe Theatre, where you can enjoy Shakespearean classics in a charming outdoor setting. During my last visit, the performance under the stars was simply magical.

Visitor tips: The park is open daily, and many museums offer free admission on rotating Tuesdays for San Diego residents. Parking can be challenging on weekends, so consider using public transportation or ride-sharing services. For a more immersive experience, grab a Balboa Park Explorer Pass, which provides unlimited access to all the museums for a full year.

Throughout the year, Balboa Park hosts a variety of seasonal events. December Nights is a beloved holiday tradition featuring festive lights, music, and food. The park also celebrates Earth Day with one of the largest free environmental fairs in the world.

The USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum in San Diego is a must-visit for history buffs and families alike. This historic aircraft carrier, which served from 1945 to 1992, now offers an immersive experience into naval history. The Midway was the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century and played significant roles in various conflicts, including the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. Walking its decks, you can almost hear the echoes of the 225,000 sailors who served aboard.

The USS Midway Museum San Diego
The USS Midway Museum San Diego

Key exhibits include the flight deck, home to restored aircraft like the F-14 Tomcat and the A-7 Corsair. Interactive displays such as flight simulators and the Battle of Midway Theater bring the ship’s history to life. Below deck, you’ll find the engine room and crew quarters, which give a sense of daily life on the Midway. Don’t miss the Command Information Center, which looks straight out of a Cold War movie, complete with vintage radar screens and communication equipment.

For a memorable visit, plan to spend at least 4-5 hours exploring. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers, as temperatures vary throughout the ship. It’s best to visit early in the day or during weekdays to avoid crowds. Tickets are $34 for adults, $24 for youth and veterans, and free for children under 3 and active duty military. Purchasing tickets online can save time and offer discounts.

Located at 910 North Harbor Drive, the museum is easily accessible from downtown hotels, and there are about 300 parking spots nearby. Public transportation options include the trolley and bus, making it convenient to reach without a car. The museum is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, with the last admission at 4 PM.

Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument

Exploring Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument is like stepping into a rich tapestry of history and natural beauty. This area commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the United States in 1542. The monument, established in 1913, celebrates his journey and offers a deep dive into the early exploration of California.

Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument
Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument

One of the highlights of the monument is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which has stood watch over San Diego Bay since 1855. Although it was decommissioned in 1891 due to frequent fog obscuring its light, the lighthouse now serves as a museum, restored to its 1880s appearance. Climb to the top for panoramic views of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean—an ideal spot for photography. Additionally, the Visitor Center offers engaging exhibits and films about Cabrillo’s voyage and the history of the area.

For the best experience, visit early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds and capture the best light for photos. Winter is a particularly magical time at Point Loma, offering prime whale-watching opportunities as gray whales migrate along the coast. Don’t forget your binoculars!

A visit to the tide pools is a must. Located on the west side of the park, these natural aquariums are best explored during low tide in winter. Look for sea stars, anemones, and crabs nestled among the rocks. If you’re hiking, the Bayside Trail offers easy to moderate paths with stunning coastal views and the chance to spot local wildlife.

The park is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, with a $20 entrance fee per car, valid for seven days. It’s about a 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego, and parking is available near the Visitor Center. Public transportation options are limited, so driving or using a rideshare service is recommended.

Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego is a vibrant historic district that takes you back to the early days of California. Known as the birthplace of California, Old Town showcases the rich cultural heritage and historical significance of San Diego, with roots dating back to 1769 when Father Junipero Serra established the first of 21 missions in California.

Old Town San Diego
Old Town San Diego

The area is brimming with museums, shops, and restaurants that offer a peek into life in the 1800s. The Whaley House Museum is a must-see, famous for its haunted history. For a taste of early Californian life, visit the Casa de Estudillo, a well-preserved adobe mansion that served as a social and political hub. The Robinson-Rose House now serves as the park’s visitor center, providing information and guided tours.

Don’t miss the Old Town Market with over 40 unique shops selling everything from Mexican folk art to handmade jewelry. Dining in Old Town is a treat with numerous restaurants like Casa de Reyes offering delicious Mexican cuisine and a festive atmosphere.

Old Town hosts numerous special events throughout the year that bring history to life. The Cinco de Mayo Fiesta is a lively celebration with music, dancing, and food, while Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) features traditional altars and activities honoring deceased loved ones. The Old Town San Diego State Historic Park also offers free guided tours Wednesday through Sunday, providing deeper insights into the area’s history.

Visitor tips: Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, with free admission to most attractions. Parking can be challenging, especially on weekends, but the nearby Old Town Transit Center provides convenient access via trolley and bus. For a more immersive experience, join a guided tour to learn fascinating stories and historical facts about the area.

See also: 17 Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara With Kids

Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter is the beating heart of downtown San Diego, famed for its lively nightlife, diverse dining options, and rich history. Spanning 16 blocks, this historic district blends Victorian charm with modern entertainment, offering a vibrant mix of bars, restaurants, clubs, and cultural venues.

Gaslamp Quarter San Diego
Gaslamp Quarter San Diego

When it comes to dining, the Gaslamp Quarter does not disappoint. You can savor gourmet seafood at Osetra, indulge in Italian delicacies at Bencotto Italian Kitchen, or enjoy a lively dinner show at Cafe Sevilla, known for its delicious tapas and flamenco performances. For those who love rooftop views, Altitude Sky Lounge and The Nolen provide stunning vistas of the city skyline along with great cocktails.

Nightlife here is legendary. Dance the night away at popular clubs like Omnia and Fluxx, or catch live music at House of Blues and Tin Roof. If comedy is your thing, the American Comedy Co. offers a lineup of top-notch comedians that promise plenty of laughs. One of my personal favorites is the Shout! House, where dueling pianos create an interactive and entertaining atmosphere that’s perfect for groups.

Safety in the Gaslamp Quarter is generally good, thanks to a strong police presence and well-lit streets. However, it’s always wise to stay aware of your surroundings, especially late at night. For transportation, the area is well-served by buses and trolleys, with the San Diego Trolley’s Green Line stopping at the nearby Gaslamp Quarter station. Ride-sharing services and ample parking garages also make getting to and from the area convenient.

The Gaslamp Quarter truly comes alive after dark, making it an unmissable part of any San Diego visit. Whether you’re here for the food, the music, or the historic ambiance, you’re sure to have a memorable night​.

Petco Park

Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres, is a gem in the heart of downtown San Diego. This state-of-the-art stadium, nestled in the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter, offers an exceptional experience for baseball fans and event-goers alike. Opened in 2004, Petco Park is renowned for its stunning architecture, breathtaking views of the San Diego skyline and the Pacific Ocean, and its commitment to providing a top-notch fan experience.

Petco Park San Diego
Petco Park San Diego

The stadium boasts a variety of features designed to enhance your visit. From the Park at the Park, a grassy hill behind the outfield where families can picnic and watch the game on a big screen, to the Gallagher Square, which hosts concerts and community events, there’s something for everyone. The concourses are lined with local eateries offering everything from classic ballpark fare to gourmet dishes, ensuring you won’t go hungry.

Petco Park is not just for baseball games; it also hosts a myriad of events throughout the year. The 2024 schedule includes concerts by major artists like Foo Fighters, Def Leppard, and P!NK, as well as special events like the San Diego Rodeo and various themed nights during the baseball season.

For first-time visitors, a few tips can make your experience even better. Arrive early to explore the park and catch batting practice. Families will love the designated family areas and kid-friendly activities. If you’re driving, consider pre-booking parking to avoid the hassle. Public transportation is also a convenient option, with the San Diego Trolley and numerous bus routes stopping nearby​.

SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego is a premier attraction, blending thrilling rides, captivating shows, and educational experiences. Located in Mission Bay, the park offers something for everyone. Highlights include the Orca Encounter, which features orcas displaying natural behaviors and is a favorite among visitors. Another must-see is the Dolphin Adventures show, where these intelligent animals perform amazing tricks. For thrill-seekers, rides like the Electric Eel and Manta provide exhilarating experiences.

SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego

Visiting SeaWorld with family? Plan your visit early in the day to avoid crowds and maximize your experience. Check the park schedule online for show times and special events. During summer, the park hosts the Summer Spectacular, featuring extended hours and nightly fireworks. For dining, try the Calypso Bay Smokehouse for BBQ or the Explorer’s Cafe for a variety of meals. SeaWorld also offers an All-Day Dining Deal, allowing you to enjoy meals and snacks throughout your visit​.

SeaWorld is dedicated to conservation and education. The park’s rescue programs have aided over 39,000 animals. Educational programs include interactive exhibits and behind-the-scenes tours, where visitors can learn about marine life and conservation efforts. The Rescue Jr. area is perfect for kids, offering hands-on activities that teach about animal rescue and rehabilitation.

SeaWorld San Diego opens at 10 AM daily, with closing times varying by season. Tickets start at around $100 for a single-day pass, with various annual pass options available. The park is easily accessible by car, with ample parking on-site for $30. Public transportation options include buses and the San Diego Trolley​.

Mission Beach

Mission Beach in San Diego is the perfect spot for a day of fun and relaxation by the ocean. This iconic beach town offers nearly two miles of sandy shorelines, bustling boardwalks, and plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained. Whether you’re into swimming, surfing, or simply soaking up the sun, Mission Beach has it all.

Mission Beach San Diego
Mission Beach San Diego

Activities and Amenities: The beach is divided into sections for swimming and surfing, making it safe and enjoyable for all. Lifeguards are on duty year-round, ensuring a safe environment. The boardwalk is lined with rental shops where you can get bikes, surfboards, and other beach gear. Belmont Park, an old-school amusement park, features the historic Giant Dipper roller coaster, mini-golf, bumper cars, and more, adding a nostalgic charm to your visit.

Best Spots: For swimming, head to the designated areas marked by yellow and black checkered flags. These zones are patrolled by lifeguards, providing a safe place for a dip. South Mission Beach is less crowded, perfect for spreading out your towel, playing beach volleyball, and fishing off the jetty. Surfing enthusiasts will find great waves, especially in the early morning and during the fall season.

Safety Tips and Dining: Always swim in designated areas and be mindful of the ocean conditions, as rip currents can occur. For families, it’s wise to keep an eye on children at all times and apply plenty of sunscreen. When hunger strikes, the area offers a variety of dining options. Check out The Mission, a popular spot for breakfast and brunch, or head to Draft Mission Beach for a beachfront dining experience with great views and craft beers​.

Mission Beach is accessible via car with ample parking at Belmont Park and other public lots. Alternatively, the San Diego Trolley and local buses offer convenient public transportation options. Open from dawn to dusk, it’s an ideal location for a full day of sun, surf, and fun.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in San Diego is a breathtaking destination known for its stunning ocean views, rugged cliffs, and spectacular sunsets. Spanning 68 acres along the Point Loma Peninsula, the park offers a serene escape with its dramatic coastal landscape and panoramic vistas.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

The best times to visit Sunset Cliffs are during sunrise or sunset when the light paints the sky in vibrant hues, perfect for photography. Arrive early to secure a good spot, especially on weekends when it tends to get crowded. Luscomb’s Point is a favorite among visitors for capturing the perfect sunset photo. Remember to bring a jacket as it can get chilly by the ocean.

When exploring the park, safety is crucial. The cliffs can be steep and uneven, so wear sturdy shoes and stay on designated paths. Obey all signage warning of unstable cliffs and avoid areas marked as dangerous. The tide pools at the base of the cliffs are fascinating to explore, but be mindful of the tides to avoid getting trapped by the rising water.

Sunset Cliffs is also committed to conservation efforts. The park is home to native coastal sage scrub habitat and various marine species. Visitors are encouraged to respect the natural environment by not disturbing the wildlife and leaving no trace.

There are no restrooms at the park, so plan accordingly. Parking can be found along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and on side streets like Ladera Street. Public transportation is limited, so driving or using a rideshare service is recommended.

Comic-Con International

Comic-Con International in San Diego is the pinnacle event for pop culture enthusiasts, offering an unrivaled blend of excitement, fandom, and exclusive content. This annual event, taking place from July 25-28, 2024, at the San Diego Convention Center, attracts tens of thousands of fans from around the world. It’s a hub for everything from comics and movies to TV shows and gaming.

Comic-Con International San Diego
Comic-Con International San Diego

Overview of the Event and Its Significance: Comic-Con is a cultural phenomenon, renowned for its wide-ranging panels, Q&A sessions, and exclusive previews. It’s the place where major entertainment companies unveil their biggest projects. From sneak peeks of upcoming blockbusters to insider discussions with creators and stars, there’s always something groundbreaking happening. Attendees can expect to see big names from comics, TV, and movies, making it a must-visit for anyone passionate about pop culture​.

Tips for Attendees and Must-See Panels: To make the most of your Comic-Con experience, planning is key. Create a schedule of must-see panels and events but allow flexibility for spontaneous discoveries. Popular panels often require queuing up early, so prioritize your top picks. The event’s mobile app is a great tool for real-time updates and navigating the sprawling convention space. For first-timers, the “Hall H” panels are legendary for major announcements and celebrity sightings, but don’t overlook smaller panels which can offer unique insights and interactions.

How to Make the Most of the Experience: Comic-Con can be overwhelming, so stay hydrated and pack snacks. Comfortable shoes are essential as you’ll be on your feet a lot. Connect with other fans through social media to enhance your experience and maybe even meet up with fellow attendees. Don’t miss the Artist Alley and Exhibition Hall where you can find exclusive merchandise, rare comics, and meet your favorite artists. Off-site events in the Gaslamp Quarter also offer additional fun, from themed parties to interactive installations​.

San Diego Harbor Cruise

San Diego Harbor Cruise offers an unforgettable way to explore the city’s stunning waterfront and iconic sights. With various options available, these cruises cater to different interests and schedules, making them a perfect addition to any itinerary.

San Diego Harbor Cruise
San Diego Harbor Cruise

The harbor cruises range from 1-hour to 2-hour tours. These cruises provide live narration and cover key sights such as the downtown skyline, USS Midway Museum, Coronado Island, and the Coronado Bridge. Some tours also offer views of the naval base and the Star of India, a historic ship. For a unique experience, consider a sunset or dinner cruise, where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the city as the sun sets, along with a gourmet meal and live entertainment.

Booking Tips and Best Times to Go: It’s advisable to book your tickets in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. Online reservations can secure your preferred cruise time and often provide discounts. For the best experience, opt for cruises during the late afternoon or early evening to capture the stunning sunset. Mornings are great for those who prefer a quieter and cooler atmosphere.

Personal Experience: On my last visit, I took a 2-hour sunset cruise which provided an incredible view of the city’s skyline and the naval ships illuminated by the setting sun. The live commentary was both informative and entertaining, offering insights into San Diego’s rich maritime history.

Practical Information: Harbor cruises typically depart from the Embarcadero. Prices start around $35 for a 1-hour tour, with longer and themed cruises costing more. There are numerous parking options near the departure points, and the area is also accessible via public transportation, including the San Diego Trolley.

Final Thoughts on Best Things to Do in San Diego

As we wrap up our guide to the top 10 best things to do in San Diego with kids this weekend, remember that the city offers more than just a checklist of attractions—it provides an opportunity to create lasting memories.

Whether you choose to thrill the little ones with amusement park rides, educate them with interactive museum exhibits, or simply enjoy the great outdoors at a beach or park, San Diego has something to captivate every child’s imagination.

FAQs on Best Things to Do in San Diego

What’s there to do for kids in San Diego?

San Diego offers a wide range of activities for kids. Some top places to visit include the San Diego Zoo, which spans 100 acres in Balboa Park, and the SeaWorld San Diego. For a fun ride, kids can enjoy the Balboa Park Carousel. The Plunge San Diego offers a great swimming experience, while the Fleet Science Center provides interactive exhibits. Belmont Park is perfect for amusement park enthusiasts, and Oma’s Family Farm offers a charming agricultural experience. Additionally, don’t forget about the local libraries for educational activities and storytime sessions.

Is San Diego worth visiting with family?

Absolutely! San Diego is often called “America’s Finest City,” and it’s a fantastic destination for families. It features popular attractions like the San Diego Zoo and Legoland. Beyond these well-known spots, families can explore places like La Jolla Cove and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a mix of coastal and desert adventures.

Which beach is good for kids in San Diego?

La Jolla Shores is an excellent beach for kids. This mile-long sandy beach has gentle slopes and small waves, making it safe for younger children to play in the shallow water and for older kids to try surfing, bodyboarding, and other water activities.

Is San Diego a good place to raise a kid?

San Diego is indeed a great place to raise children. It offers safe urban streets, high-quality schools, and numerous parks and playgrounds. Some of the best neighborhoods for families include areas with strong community vibes and plenty of family-friendly amenities.

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