San Diego is an incredible city, so narrowing down your many options can be quite tricky. Also, many of the most popular tourist attractions (such as Sea World or the San Diego Zoo) can be expensive for families traveling on a budget. Here, we hope to help you with these challenges by showing you our favorite affordable places that will be fun for children and adults.
Whether you’re just visiting San Diego or you live here in town, we’ve put together a list of kid-friendly activities that offer year-round fun for the entire family. Not everything on the list is free, but many of the options are affordable.
KEEP KIDS HAPPY IN SD
REUBEN H FLEET SCIENCE CENTER
This is a large museum offering many hands-on learning activities for children of all ages. Many of the galleries and exhibits are interactive as well as child-friendly, and the planetarium is a real crowd pleaser. There are also night events for viewing the solar system through telescopes.
Fun Fact: This was the first museum to implement a large ‘IMAX’ planetarium that’s great for learning about the solar system. If you plan, they do some events at the planetarium.
SAN DIEGO NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Established in 1933, this museum is the oldest in Southern California. Here, you’ll find a variety of plant and animal species on display, including giant dinosaurs. This is also a great location if you’re interested in teaching your kids about the history, geology, and ecology of the San Diego area.
There are many caves, coves, and beachfront that make for great snorkeling in the San Diego area. Snorkeling can be a fantastic way to teach your children about marine ecosystems while simultaneously getting them comfortable with swimming in the ocean. If you aren’t equipped to go snorkeling, some shops will rent you equipment for the day at an affordable price.
In the summertime, there are large gatherings of Leopard Sharks at La Jolla Cove. Luckily, Leopard sharks don’t bite. They look cool. If you’re lucky, you can use this opportunity to show your children sharks in their natural environment!
Located in the downtown area, this large park area is an excellent spot for parents to relax while kids run wild on interactive water fountains and playground equipment. Additionally, there is a large grassy area so families can sprawl out for picnics and games. Plus, there are some great harbor views. Overall the Waterfront Park is a great hangout spot for families, especially if you were already interested in visiting the downtown area.
LA JOLLA CHILDREN’S POOL
This is an excellent opportunity to see dozens of Sea Lions, exotic looking fish, and a variety of crustaceans that live along the coastline. If you were already interested in snorkeling, this is the perfect area to do it.
CHILDREN’S DISCOVERY MUSEUM
The Children’s Museum is dedicated to interactive learning. If your kids are a bit too energetic for the traditional museum experience, the San Diego Children’s Museum offers an opportunity to learn by becoming involved in exhibits and experiments. In the outdoor displays, you’ll even find worm farms, chicken coops, and other areas kids can explore.
MISSION BAY BEACHES
If you have younger children or children that aren’t comfortable with swimming in the ocean, consider hanging out at one of the bay beaches in town. Bay beaches are popular among families because there are no waves, so it’s a safe environment to relax and allow your children to play in the ocean without getting beat up by the surf.
Located right on the beach, Belmont Park has been a family favorite of the San Diego area for many years. This is a good choice if your family would enjoy playing arcade games, jumping on numerous rides and little roller coasters, or just eating big scoops of ice cream. This small amusement park should only take half a day, and due to its proximity to the beach, you can get right back to surfing after.
BIRCH AQUARIUM AT SCRIPPS
Dedicated to teaching the public about oceanography as well as ocean conservation, this is the public exploration area for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The aquarium boasts an impressive display of 60 habitats and thousands of fish. Hosting a variety of fish and invertebrate from the across the world’s oceans, this can be a great learning opportunity for kids and adults. There are also many interactive educational experiences where children can touch starfish and sea anemones.
As a couple of bonuses, the views are pretty great in the area, and they offer whale watching tours at certain times of the year.
LEARN TO SURF
San Diego is one of the most iconic surf cities in the world. Surfing (or boogie boarding) can be a great way to familiarize your child with swimming in the ocean. Plus surfing is a pretty neat activity that kids will love to brag to their friends about.