San Diego is a great vacation spot for the whole family. Parents will love relaxing in the sun at one of the many resorts with kids clubs. Kids will love adventures to the world famous San Diego Zoo, Legoland in nearby Carlsbad, and SeaWorld.
San Diego is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the country, with mild weather, a famous zoo, several world-class theme parks, and 70 miles of stunning coastline. Sandy beaches, crashing waves, and curiosity-stoking tidepools will capture your attention. When it comes to hotels, families have a lot of options. Downtown high-rises have cool perks for the kids as well as Bayfront resorts within easy reach of SeaWorld.
“San Diego is home to over 70 miles of gorgeous coastline, beautiful state parks, hiking trails, and tons of kid-friendly attractions. The problem won’t be finding something to do, but yet finding a way to do them all.” Global Munchkins
San Diego Mission Bay Resort
The San Diego Mission Bay Resort is centrally located, making it easy to get to all of your planned adventures. The resort is also a destination in itself! Great restaurants, relaxing pools and spa services are perfect for adults to rejuvenate while the kids enjoy activities and their very own wading pool. For more family fun there are resort games and action sports rentals.
Omni La Costa
At first, you might think that the Omni La Costa Resort was created just for grown-ups. After all, it has two PGA championship golf courses, 21 tennis courts, a world-famous spa, and a yoga and wellness center founded by Deepak Chopra. Yet this resort caters to little ones too, with its excellent supervised children’s program (for kids 6 months and up) in a 4,000-square-foot activity center called Kidtopia, and three pools in a family-friendly playground called Splash Landing. One of the pools is zero entry and there is also an interactive water play zone that’s fantastic for the toddlers.
Hotel Del Coronado
If finding an incredible beach is your primary goal, then look no further than Hotel del Coronado on the Coronado Peninsula. In summer, the resort offers family activities like Beach Bonfires and Movies on the Beach. There is also the option of beach front dining and lounges, as well as Del Watersports, featuring surfing and paddle boarding year round. The Del, as it’s known to locals, is a tourist attraction in its own right. This luxury hotel is renowned for its extravagant weekend brunch, high-end shops, and immaculate stretch of beach. Because of the resort’s glamorous vibe, it’s been the setting of several notable movies. Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, was filmed on location in 1958 for the resort’s beautiful Victorian architecture, and showcases its charm. You can read more about the history of the hotel and its famous patrons on the hotel’s website, as well as in the New York Times article titled The Hotel Del Coronado’s Past Lives.
SAN DIEGO ZOO
Of course, you can’t bring kids to visit San Diego without going to its famous zoo. Widely regarded as one of the best zoological centers in the world, the San Diego Zoo wows animal lovers of all ages. The San Diego Zoo is a pleasurable outdoor experience that takes all day to properly explore. It is home to around 3500 rare and endangered animals of more than 650 species (the largest collection of species in the world). It also boasts a gorgeous botanical collection with 700,000+ plants.
SAN DIEGO ZOO SAFARI PARK
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park immerses you in an active, hands-on safari experience where herds of animals roam natural habitats in a vast reserve, and the only two platypuses in the US swim and splash. Choose from a variety of exciting safari expeditions by caravan truck, cart, zip line—there’s even an overnight option. Everywhere you look, there are amazing views of lions lounging in the grasslands, antelope and giraffes mingling, rhinos wallowing in waterholes, storks and cranes on the march, and more. Engage in close encounters with animal ambassadors, explore walking trails that lead to beautiful vistas and endangered species like the Sumatran tiger, and discover the adventure of conservation in action at this leading-edge wildlife park.
SEAWORLD SAN DIEGO
SeaWorld San Diego is home to world-class animal shows, presentations and exhibits, spread out on beautiful Mission Bay Park. Get ready for loops, laughs and thrills! Stroll through over 100 acres of beautiful outdoor grounds on Mission Bay as you enjoy amazing animals, world-class educational presentations, exciting seasonal events and more.
Legoland is recommended for families with children ages 2-12, but we went when it first opened when I was around 14 and I loved it! You can enter a world of knights and princesses to conquer the Dragon Coaster, get a Driver’s License in Fun Town, and marvel at cities built entirely out of millions of LEGO® bricks in Miniland U.S.A. Meet LEGO costume characters at a safe distance, play at outdoor playgrounds Hideaways or DUPLO® Playtown, or enjoy the swift speed of the beginner coaster Coastersaurus.
The nation’s largest urban cultural park is home to 17 museums, gorgeous gardens, historic buildings, San Diego Zoo, restaurants, and performing arts venues. If you plan on visiting multiple museums, you should purchase a Balboa Park Explorer pass. Some of my favorite museums to check out with kids are the Fleet Science Center, Natural History Museum, Model Railroad Museum, Air and Space Museum, Museum of Us (Anthropology).
Belmont Park is a traditional, California seaside amusement park. It’s free to walk around, but you’ll need tickets for the games and rides like a historic roller coaster, an arcade, carnival rides, giant scoops of ice cream, a zip line, laser tag, miniature golf, and a new go-kart track.
If you have been following me for any length of time you will know how much I LOVE dole whip, which is why an onsite Dole Whip® truck is so exciting for me! There is also a fun, family-friendly beach bar called the Beach House.
OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO
Step back in time in this historic area of San Diego. Staking claim as the birthplace of modern California, Old Town is where the first Spanish settlers arrived in 1769 and built the first of 21 missions in the state. Today, you can wander through 15 historic buildings here. These include a variety of stores peddling souvenirs, homemade soaps, candies and more. Older kids might enjoy a tour of Whaley House, which was featured on the Travel Channel’s America’s Most Haunted. Parents will enjoy the amazing selection of food with over 20 eateries, many boasting some insanely delicious Mexican food.
KAYAK SEA CAVES
Experience the thrill of ocean kayaking as we paddle along the sea cliffs and caves of La Jolla’s Ecological Reserve and the nearby world famous La Jolla Cove. Kayakers will likely see an array of marine life, including sea lions, seals, Garibaldi, leopard sharks, shovelnose guitarfish, and the occasional dolphin.
LEARN TO SURF
Founded in 1996 in La Jolla, California, Surf Diva Surf School is considered the gold standard of surf schools world-wide; fulfilling dreams and empowering students to learn how to surf while being conscious of the ocean and the environment. The team of 50 elite surf instructors are trained to teach beginner levels and handle advanced coaching. The best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun!
RELAX AT THE BEACH
San Diego has 70 miles of coastline and a variety of beaches. Most locations have lifeguards in the summer. Here are just a few family favorites if you are looking to dip your toes (or a whole lot more!) into the Pacific:
Mission Bay Park — the largest aquatic park in the country — has eight sandy beaches for swimming and space for a lot of recreation. Fire rings are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Bonita Cove in Mission Bay has playground equipment and is popular for families with tadpoles.
La Jolla Shores is a mile-long beach in La Jolla and is adjacent to the ecological reserve. It has soft sand and gentle waves, as well as a playground at Kellogg Park.
Children’s Pool is a small beach that is partially protected by a seawall and a permanent lifeguard station. You might catch sight of seals and sea lions, and keep in mind that the beach is closed during harbor seal pup season starting in December.
Coronado Beach cannot be beat for the mild waves and white sand. The beach at the Hotel del Coronado magically sparkles with “gold” mineral mica.
The San Diego area and popular family attractions are a bit spread out, so no matter how you arrive, you’ll probably want a car to explore California’s second largest city. If you don’t come by car, you’ll probably want to rent one. And if your drive is a long one, here are some tips for traveling with kids for lengthy car rides.
Keep in mind that May and June are the gloomiest months, even if you may be ready for the beach. The weather is cause enough for locals to refer to its heavy clouds and morning fog as “May Gray” and “June Gloom.”
It’s well worth investing in a Go San Diego Pass. You’ll save up to 55% on top attractions including the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, the New Children’s Museum, and much more!
Those considering a fall visit are in luck! October is Kids Free San Diego Month, with over 100 deals just for kids. Take a look at which attractions, hotels, and restaurants are offering freebies to families.
The San Diego Zoo is MASSIVE, so you won’t be able to do it all in one day. Start your planning by looking at the park map on the zoo website and plot out your plan. Guests can take a 35-minute Guided Bus Tour on double-decker buses that give a good overview of the Zoo. There is also the option of the “Kangaroo” Express Bus that stops at several locations for guests to access different areas. Do the Guided Bus first, sit on the first deck, towards the middle on the right for the best views.
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) Rated PG, 94% from Rotten Tomatoes
The historic Hotel del Coronado, located just across the bay from downtown San Diego, was the backdrop of one of the original rom-coms, “Some Like it Hot” featuring the powerhouse comedy duo Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. In it, the pair donned heels, eye shadow, and dresses in order to elude the mob after seeing something they shouldn’t have. The film is anything but a drag, however — with hilarious escapades and pacing that still hold up today. Oh, and lest we forget to mention it, “Some Like it Hot” is considered by many to be legendary sex-symbol Marilyn Monroe’s finest performance.
TOP GUN (1986) Rated PG, 59% from Rotten Tomatoes
Set in part at San Diego’s Naval Air Station Miramar, “Top Gun” famously tells the story of Navy Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), a brash fighter pilot who rarely follows the rules, but always comes through in the clutch. The high-flying action, edge-of-your-seat aeronautics, and tense military drama have captivated generations of audiences. Kansas City Barbecue in downtown San Diego is also a must-see spot for any Top Gun fan, as it served as the backdrop for some of the movie’s popular bar scenes.
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