San Diego is the perfect place for your next family vacation.
Whether your kids love the beach or you’re looking for a mix of culture and outdoor activities, this laid-back seaside town offers something for everyone.
There are plenty of family-friendly activities that would work with any schedule, from a weekend getaway to a longer family road trip.
Historic San Diego
The Mission Valley Old Town is located right in the bustling heart of San Diego. This beautiful neighborhood features numerous historic buildings. It is also just a short 15 minute drive away from many of San Diego’s biggest attractions.
History buffs are sure to love the Whaley House. This expertly restored historic building was built in 1856 by Thomas Whaley and has been the site of a museum, theater, store, and even a courthouse. Private and group tours are available, but be sure to check out their calendar for exciting upcoming events.
Another great option to tour the city is on the Old Town Trolley. This hop-on and hop-off trolley service runs several loop routes throughout downtown San Diego. It stops at numerous areas of interest including the USS Midway, Balboa Park, and the Coronado Island Ferry.
Parks & Gardens
Balboa Park is a definite must-see attraction for any visitor to San Diego. This massive 1,200 acre cultural park offers countless attractions including the Museum of Man, the Model Railroad Museum, and a lush and colorful botanical garden. There are also numerous restaurants on-site, making this the perfect place to spend the whole day.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park covers over 100 acres and features 8 entertaining and educational safari experiences. Here you can find all manner of exotic animals including cheetahs, lions, elephants, and rhinos. They also offer special event services and can accommodate people with disabilities, including mobility-restricted visitors.
For a more active day in the great outdoors, visit the Torrey Pines State Reserve. This spectacular area covers more than 1,700 acres of pines, sand dunes, and protected wildlife. Choose one of the numerous hiking trails for comfortable and easy walks that offer frequent lookouts over the ocean.
Beaches & the Coastline
Mission Beach is a popular destination located on the northwestern edge of town. This free beach stretches for nearly two miles, making it one of the best places around to swim or relax in the sun. It’s also very popular with surfers and there are a number of local agencies that offer lessons for surfing beginners to experts of all ages.
If Mission Beach is just too crowded for you, visit Coronado Beach instead for a more low-key seaside experience. This beach is located across the bay from San Diego and has a mile and a half long shoreline that offers calm waters, stretching sand, and great views of the city.
The Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is located 7 miles to the west of San Diego and covers 68 acres of cliffs and pristine shoreline. Whales are frequently seen off the coast and a wide range of walking trails are available to suit hikers of all fitness and energy levels.
Museums & Culture
No visit to San Diego is complete without a stop at the world-famous USS Midway Museum. Located right in the downtown area, this museum is actually on a ship! Visitors can tour the fascinating Midway aircraft carrier and take part in activities like a flight theater and the exciting “Ejection Seat Simulator”.
After visiting the Midway, finish a day of nautical fun at the famous San Diego Maritime Museum. Here you can tour many different types of ships, including historically-accurate sailboats and submarines. You can also see the Bay in a whole new light on a guided 45 minute cruise.
The San Diego Musical Theater brings the best of Broadway right to you every night. Here your family can spend a delightful evening enjoying the greatest and catchiest musical hits with performances of popular shows like “9 to 5”, “First Date”, and “Pump up the Volume”.
Day Trip Destinations
There’s no better way to enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Ocean than by cruising along the famous 59 Mile Scenic Drive. This aptly-named loop route takes you along countless vistas, ocean view points, historic sites, and other attractions. Be sure to check out Soledad Mountain for a 6 mile loop trail that rewards hikers with an unforgettable panoramic view of the city and coastline.
The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is located a few hours drive to the east of San Diego. You’ll find the drive well worth it. This is the largest park in California, spanning an astonishing 600,000 acres. Here you’ll find a unique arid landscape filled with knife-edged mountains, remote canyons, and desert flora and fauna.
If your family would like to take an overnight sidetrip, don’t miss the chance to go camping in Joshua Tree National Park. Located along I-10 and to the northeast of San Diego, Joshua Tree offers visitors a slice of life of both the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. After viewing the Joshua Trees that the park is named after, visitors can hike, practice rock climbing, and check out the park’s many naturally occurring oases.