Kids in San Diego Guide

Kids in San Diego Guide #travelideas #kids #sandiego

San Diego’s a kid’s paradise! We have amusement parks, museums, attractions, activities, and so much more. Your kids will love and remember everything they do in SD. Here’s your guide for the best places to take them.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is one of the best places in San Diego. With 14 different museums, numerous gardens, theaters, shows and more, visitors can’t go wrong. It’s the perfect location to explore with kids because of everything it has to offer. A few locations are highlighted below but the reality is kids will love most of the areas in Balboa Park. Our top kid spots include the San Diego Natural History Museum, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, Zoro Butterfly Garden, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, San Diego Zoo and Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre.

Learn more here.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Perched on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Birch Aquarium is worth visiting simply for the views. Along with MCASD: La Jolla, it’s one of the most breathtaking locations for cultural institutions in San Diego. It houses over 60 habitats of different fish species from all over the world (from the tropics to the Arctic). An interactive oceanographic museum features exhibits showcasing the institute’s scientific discoveries as well as all kinds of cool ocean crafts (who doesn’t love submarines…). For the kids, there are tons of opportunities to view and touch the otherworldly creatures that we share our ocean depths.

Address: 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla CA 92037
Learn more here.

Cabrillo National Monument

The Cabrillo National Monument sits on the tip of Point Loma and includes the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, along with hiking trails, tide pool areas, and gorgeous views of Downtown San Diego and the ocean. President Woodrow Wilson created the Park in 1913. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is one of the original West Coast lighthouses (there were only 8!) and is restored to look like it did when it was first built.

The hiking in the area provides gorgeous views of the City and gives visitors a chance to enjoy the fresh ocean breeze. Plant and animal life thrives in the area. Coastal sage scrub is a great plant to see and enjoy while you’re here—this is the last area the coastal sage scrub grows. Birds rule at Cabrillo National Monument—there have been over 200 species of birds recorded in the area! The Park’s tide pools are one of the best-preserved rocky intertidal areas open to the public in Southern California.

Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego CA 92106
Learn more here.

California Surf Museum

Do you know surf? After you visit the California Surf Museum, you’ll be pro! The California Surf Museum houses everything surf—from the history of the sport to highlights on totally radical surfers. It was established in 1986 and has received lots of donations over the years. Kids will enjoy the mix of art, history and surf gear.

Address: 312 Pier View Way, Oceanside CA 92054
Learn more here.

LEGOLAND

LEGOLAND brings all the fun of LEGO’s to an amusement park. On 128 acres, the Park has over 60 rides, plenty of hands-on zones, attractions and fun shows. The Park gears itself toward kids between the ages of two and twelve, but the whole family will have fun walking around and watching the shows.

Opened in 1999, LEGOLAND California was the first LEGOLAND opened outside Europe and has such areas as Dino Island, Fun Town, Castle Hill and Pirate Shores.

Address: 1 Legoland Drive, Carlsbad CA 92008
Learn more here.

Living Coast Discovery Center

The Living Coast Discovery Center is your place for adventure. The Center is located on the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and gives visitors access to animals and plants within the Center’s location, zoo and aquarium. It provides many different exhibits, tours and classes to help educate visitors about different habitats and their inhabitants. The Center even offers composting classes, kayaking, hiking and other adventures for those who choose to participate.

The Center also has a turtle lagoon, a shark and ray interactive area, a walk-through aviary, an eagle mesa, a raptor area, a native plant garden, and 1.5 miles of walking trails. The Center hosts seasonal special exhibits March through September.

Address: 100 Gunpowder Point Drive, Chula Vista CA 91910
Learn more here.

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Want to step aboard ships from the 1800s? You can at the Maritime Museum of San Diego! The Museum has a great collection of ships, photos, art, books, and other historical material to preserve and educate visitors on the amazingness that is San Diego’s maritime history. It has 9 ships of all different types, including submarines, sailing ships, steam-powered boats and vessels. Two of the ships are National Historic Landmarks (Star of India and Berkeley), and the Star of India is the oldest active vessel in the world. It has 5 permanent collections: Age of Sail shows the history of sailing the seas; Charting The Sea shows technology and the history of navigation in the seas; San Diego’s Navy highlights the history of the Navy in San Diego; Age of Steam, features the steam-powered ferry boat, Berkeley and the history of the steam-powered boat; and Harvesting The Ocean showcases the history of San Diego commercial fishing.

Address: 1492 North Harbor Drive, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

Mission San Diego de Alcala

The Mission San Diego was the very first mission of the twenty-one missions in California. Also known as the Mother of the Missions, it was founded on July 16, 1769 by Junipero Serra. It was California’s first church and is considered the birthplace of Christianity in the far West. It even serves as an active Cathloic Parish today so it’s not uncommon to see weddings or other festivities of the church taking place.

Address: 10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego CA 92108
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Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

Founded in 1798, the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is the largest of the 21 California Missions and is thus termed, the King of the Missions. It’s a National Historic Landmark and is home to a community of Franciscan Friars. The complex holds a museum, historic church, cemetery and even a retreat center. The museum always has exhibits on early California during the time of the missions.

Address: 4050 Mission Avenue, Oceanside CA 92057
Learn more here.

Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park is a great place to hike and enjoy the great outdoors.  It includes nearly 5,800 acres and was once a home to Native Americans in San Diego.  It even has areas where the military had practice exercises and because of this, an intensive sweep was required in the 1990s to get rid of lots and lots of unexploded materials that hikers would find on the trails!

The Visitor Center of Mission Trails is a great stop within the Park.  It includes exhibits on the history of the Park, plant life in the Park and animal life within the Park.

Address: One Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego CA 92119
Learn more here.

The New Children’s Museum

Best place ever for kids! The New Children’s Museum is over 30 years old. It started in La Jolla in 1983 and relocated to a warehouse in 1983. In 2002, the Museum closed its doors to start building the new environmentally friendly space and took to the streets to bring art and activities to the area. The new space reopened in 2008 with a huge environmentally sustainable building and a passionate staff dedicated to help kids think creatively, critically and uniquely.  The Museum focuses on bringing original and tactile art for visitors; it wants everyone to leave with energy and a new way to see the world.

Address: 200 West Island Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

Old Town State Historic Park

If you want to know the history of early San Diego, Old Town is THE place to go. The Park consists of houses, chapels, courthouses and mansions belonging to the early residents of San Diego, from 1821 to 1872 in particular. There are early American settlement elements in the culture around Old Town and Mexican flavor from the occupants before them. The attractions, shops and restaurants make it a favorite for kids and families.

Address: 4002 Wallace Street, San Diego CA 92110
Learn more here.

Petco Park

Petco Park is a great venue for exploring and for watching some baseball. It was opened in 2004 and serves as the San Diego Padres home field. It’s an awesome place to go with kids. Take a tour, watch a game or just roam around the Park in the Park.

Address: 100 Park Blvd, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

Located in Balboa Park, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is a favorite of kids. The Museum houses over 100 interactive exhibits within its walls and holds the world’s first IMAX Dome Theater (still the only Giant Dome IMAX in San Diego). It has many green initiatives in place including its LEED Silver Certification, installation of solar panels (these produce enough to power about 65 homes and prevent the release of about 60 tons of carbon monoxide), promotion of recycle programs, installation of low-flow toilets (and other water saving techniques) and recycling of 33% of their total waste. The cleaning crew even uses green cleaning products!

There are 12 main permanent exhibitions at the Museum including exhibits that explore the cells in the body, explore stem cells, allow kids to build structures, involve using the senses, show space technology, teach about San Diego’s water and teach about energy.

Address: 1875 El Prado, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego Air and Space Museum

Planes, planes and more planes. The San Diego Air and Space Museum is the best place to go for aviation history and more. Located in the old Ford V8 building in Balboa Park, the Museum has everything from a model of the hot air balloon that became the first manned vehicle to fly in the 1700s to restored aircraft from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It even has many space exploration artifacts.  The library contains one of the most extensive collections of archival and aerospace-related materials in the country.

The permanent collection includes over 15 aircrafts (such as the Apollo IX Command Module and a Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat), space exploration artifacts and historical pieces on women in aviation, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Its exhibitions include: the Kid’s Aviation Action Hangar, where kids have an interactive place to play and learn; Centennial of Naval Aviation Exhibit, which honors the last 100 years of Navy flight; Atlas Rocket Exhibit, which showcases the story of the Atlas rocket series from the 1950s to now. The interactive flight simulators makes this attraction well rounded in its offerings for visitors.

Basically, there are a lot of cool things to see and do for kids!

Address: 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego Automotive Museum

The San Diego Automotive Museum has a passion for cars and motorcycles throughout history. It was founded in 1988 and has one of the best collections of automobiles on the West Coast. The collection consists of celebrity cars like Frank Sinatra’s 1967 Austin Petrol Hire Car and Louie Mattar’s world-famous Fabulous $75,000 Car (it holds the driving distance endurance record), along with other rare cars. If you like motorcycles, the Museum holds a great collection with brands such as Harley Davidson, Moto Guzzi and Indian.

Address: 2080 Pan American Plaza, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego Botanic Garden

The San Diego Botanic Garden is a beautiful 37-acre oasis in the North County of San Diego. The Garden had its starts in 1942 when Ruth Larabee purchased 26 acres of land in Encinitas for her and her husband, Charles, to live. They both had a lot of money and spent a lot of time beautifying their land. After a divorce and many life-changes, Ruth eventually died and left the land to the County of San Diego to be used as a public park.

Today, its plot includes 4 miles of garden trails, 3,000 varieties of plants, the nation’s largest bamboo collection, the largest interactive children’s garden on the West Coast and ample opportunity to sit back and relax.

Address: 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas CA 92024
Learn more here.

San Diego Central Library

The new San Diego Central Library took 3 years to build but it was worth it for this mecca of information and culture. It opened September 28, 2013 with nine stories, a charter school, cafe, store, public art and plenty of space for events.

The art collection is great and just getting better with time. It has a permanent gallery space on its top level for rotating exhibits. It also has art throughout the building in the form of displays, sculptures, installations and paintings. We love the baseball memorabilia collection, which is the second largest in the US.

Address: 330 Park Blvd, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego Children’s Discovery Center

Geared toward children ages 0 to 10, the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum involves lots of interactive playing and learning. The Museum’s exhibit space takes children on fun journeys such as playing musical instruments, performing in costumes, participating in archeological digs and building structures out of recycled material. It strives to allow children to engage with and in the world.

Exhibits include: Explorer Discovery SailboatImagination PlaygroundRokenbok (building and construction interactive area), Keva Planks (building interactive exhibit), Light Table (interactive color mixing), Imagination Stage (create your own puppet show), Aquaponics (shows plants and water animals living together in harmony) and the Children’s Discovery Garden (working garden showing kids planting, compost, earthworms, and the care of gardening). Talk about a cool place!

Address: 320 North Broadway, Escondido CA 92025
Learn more here.

San Diego Hall of Champions

If you like sports, the San Diego Hall of Champions is the place to go. The Museum is the largest multi-sport museum in the US and once visitors walk in, there’s no doubt that this is true. The place is giant. Located in Balboa Park, the space holds exhibits on great athletes across the more popular sports such as baseball and basketball and the lesser known sports such as sailing and motor sports .

It was started in 1959 with the goal of improving the lives of San Diegans through sports. The way it achieves this is through involvement in youth sports throughout the County. It also uses much of its space to honor local San Diego sports accomplishments. Tony Gwynn and Bill Walton are from here after all.

Address: 2131 Pan American Plaza, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Small and quaint, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is a great place for train enthusiasts and kids. It’s one of the world’s largest indoor model railroad displays and the only accredited model railroad museum in North America. They have five operating train layout exhibits: Tehachapi Pass, San Diego and Arizona Eastern, Pacific Desert Lines, Cabrillo Southwestern and Toy Train Gallery (which is an interactive exhibit). Along with these model railroad trains, the Museum has four visual displays: where visitors can learn the history of these different aspects of trains: Railroad Women, Display Cases, Southern Pacific Semaphore and a Museum Trolley.

Address: 1649 El Prado, San Diego CA 92101 (Lower Level)
Learn more here.

San Diego Museum of Man

The San Diego Museum of Man is a great museum and a favorite among locals and visitors alike.  It’s housed in one of the original 1915 Panama-California Exposition buildings, the California Building, and its collections include over 400,000 artifacts.  The Museum focuses on archaeology, anthropology and history.  The Museum has many different permanent exhibits.  It includes Ancient Egypt (with mummies and other cool artifacts), Children’s Discovery Center (interactive exhibit allowing kids to learn anthologist roles in discovering ancient civilizations), Footsteps Through Time: Four Million Years in Human Evolution (5 galleries of the history of humans along with interactive replicas of early humans), Kumeyaay: Native Californians (history in Southern California of old), and Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth (history in Central America with many artifacts).

Address: 1350 El Prado, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego Natural History Museum

If you like bones, want to be a paleontologist like Ross from Friends, or loved the movie, Night at the Museum, you’ll LOVE the San Diego Natural History Museum. The NAT always has interesting exhibits dealing with dinosaurs, fossils, San Diego’s natural history past and more. It was founded in 1874 and is the oldest scientific institution in Southern California (third oldest west of the Mississippi!). The permanent collections include:Camp-O-Saurus, an interactive play area for kids; Skulls, showing almost 200 skulls from different animals around the world; Water: A California Story tells about the water history in California and its future; and Fossil Mysteries, presenting the fossil history in Southern California and Baja California, Mexico. 

Address: 1788 El Prado, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego Zoo

Located in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is an animal paradise. It has over 650 species and over 3,000 animals within its bounds. The Zoo’s beginnings started in 1915 after exotic animals from the 1915 Panama California Exposition were abandoned. The Zoological Society of San Diego began in 1916 by Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth who served as the Society’s president until 1941. The Zoo was given permanent space in Balboa Park in 1921. The Zoo is one of the first to exhibit animals in cageless exhibits (aka exhibits that try to re-create the animal’s natural environment where they have room to roam).

The animal zones include Africa Rocks, Discovery Outpost, Lost Forest, Asian Passage, Elephant Odyssey, Outback, Northern Frontier, Panda Canyon and Urban Jungle. And, of course, the Zoo has a Children’s Zoo where kids (and adults!) can pet the animals and learn more about the animal kingdom. Over 30 special exhibits and activities in this area.

Address: 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Ever wanted to go on safari? Here’s your chance! The Park covers a huge area, both in terms of land and in number of animals. The Park is over 1,800 acres. The animal exhibits, which are all completely open and mimic the natural environments of the animals, includes Gorilla Forest, African Woods, Lion Camp, Elephant Valley, Tiger Territory, Asian Savannah and more. The Park houses more than 300 species of animals with numbers of animals surpassing 2,600. Plant life is just as bountiful with over 3,500 species of plants.

The Park opened in 1972 and the first two animal tenants were an antelope and a zebra. The Park’s veterinary hospital is the largest in the world and it works to help with conservation of animals around the world, most notably with its condor breeding program.

Address: 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido CA 92027
Learn more here.

SeaWorld

San Diego’s SeaWorld was the first of the Parks to be developed. It was founded in 1964 by four graduates of UCLA. The Park first opened with under 50 employees, 2 seawater aquariums and animals. It has only gotten bigger since, with new rides, more land, more animals and new parks (in other cities).

The Park is a great destination for exhibits, shows, and rides. The rides include a flight simulator, a rollercoaster, a water raft adventure, a skytower, a skyride and more.

Exhibits include: Turtle Reef, Shark Encounter, Dolphin Point, Penguin Encounter, Sesame Street Bay of Play, Animal Encounters, Aquarium de la Mer, California Tide Pool, Freshwater Aquarium, Pacific Point, Shamu’s Underwater View, Wild Arctic and World of the Sea Aquarium.

Address: 500 SeaWorld Drive, San Diego CA 92109
Learn more here.

USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum is a museum like no other. The Museum is located on one of the US’s longest-serving aircraft carriers. Over 225,000 sailors served on the Midway when it was active. There’s a lot for you to see and do when aboard the Midway: 60 exhibits, 29 restored aircrafts, a self-guided audio tour, docent tours, 2 flight stimulators, a café, and a gift shop. The many exhibits take you through all part’s of a sailor’s life aboard the ship: the sleeping quarters, the ship’s jail, the pilots’ ready rooms, etc. Go here to learn about sailor’s life at sea and experience the inside of a massive aircraft carrier!

Address: 910 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

The Water Conservation Garden

The Garden was started in the early 1990s. The water districts around the area wanted to create a conservation garden that showed people how to save water outdoors (the early 1990s brought a multiple year drought in the area). Even though the land was put aside, it wasn’t until 1999 that the Garden opened to the public.

Slowly over the years, the Garden has grown to include many different exhibits and types of gardens. Gardens and exhibits include a meadow area, a turf comparison area, a succulent garden, a container garden, a white plants garden, a vegetable garden, a butterfly garden, a compost exhibit, a sensory garden, irrigation area, a children’s discovery trail and more.

Address: 12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West, El Cajon CA 92019 (Cuyamaca College’s Campus)
Learn more here.

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