San Diego family vacation ideas and family resorts

Families often choose San Diego for their vacation, thanks to its mix of natural beauty, sightseeing opportunities, and fun activities for all ages. Southern California’s temperate climate is ideal for families looking for fun things to do year-round, with plenty of indoor and outdoor choices to suit the weather. Family resorts in San Diego are often close to fantastic beaches that are perfect for sunset strolls and great pictures together.

San Diego family resorts

1. Watch seals and sea lions play at La Jolla Cove

La Jolla is a popular destination for San Diego vacations, known for family-friendly resorts and the loveable seals offshore. Multiple La Jolla beaches are equipped with lifeguard stands and restroom facilities year-round. You’ll love visiting the beach at the Children’s Pool, located just off La Jolla Cove, where seals and sea lions emerge from the water to bask on the shore. Among the resorts here, you'll find convenient access to the beach along with patios facing the water that let you spot sea lions without having to even leave your room.

2. Bike the beachfront boardwalk on Coronado Island

Coronado Island offers great San Diego family resorts in a charming seaside town. Coronado is known for its beautiful, shimmering beaches, thanks to the natural presence of the sparkling mineral mica found in the soft sand. Bike rentals are available off Orange Avenue in the quaint downtown area of Coronado and are perfect for biking along the winding beachside boardwalk. You’ll also find plenty of shopping, dining, and sightseeing opportunities here, including the iconic Victorian Hotel del Coronado. The major draw is local resorts' proximity to stunning things to do, but you'll also find a trend of patio balconies and private pools in addition to the private beach access.

3. Build and play at LEGOLAND California

If you’re looking for a San Diego family resort, LEGOLAND California offers lots of options for entertainment and unique places to stay. LEGOLAND resorts provide families with amenities like pools, full kitchens, kids activities, and more, in addition to convenient proximity to all that LEGOLAND has to offer. Multiple parks supply endless entertainment choices, from the LEGOLAND Park rides and attractions to slides and pools at the Water Park and exploring the SEA LIFE Aquarium. Separate park tickets are available, as well as park-hopper tickets for the various LEGOLAND sites.

4. Relax at Welk Resort

Welk Resort is an iconic destination located among the mountains and valley of Escondido. When you book your stay here, you'll find high-end golf courses and tennis courts alongside swimming pools and whirlpools. Additionally, this resort is home to the Actors' Equity Theatre, an intimate theater with 339 seats that often hosts Broadway productions. Convenience is also one of the top features here, as this resort is close to the San Diego Zoo.

5. Find family fun around Omni La Costa Resort

At Omni La Costa Resort, you can find family-friendly accommodations right alongside a comprehensive and relaxing spa. From the moment you check in, your kids will begin an enjoyable stay, as they'll be gifted a backpack full of goodies to enjoy. On the grounds, you'll have 8 different swimming pools to choose from, some of which have impressive waterslides. Additionally, this resort features the Kidtopia Kids Club, which offers supervised play for children from 6 months to 12 years old and features interactive games and educational programming.

Free activities for San Diego family vacations

6. Surf and sun on San Diego’s beaches

San Diego family vacations wouldn’t be complete without visiting Southern California’s iconic beaches. At low tide on Shell Beach, you’ll find tide pools perfect for splashing around, just at the south end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Torrey Pines State Beach, just off the highway in La Jolla, is equipped with bathrooms, showers, lifeguards, and a place for little ones to play near the lagoon. Families with dogs may want to check out the dog beach in Coronado, where furry friends can run around and play in the waves.

7. Hiking at Torrey Pines Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines Natural Reserve boasts 8 miles of hiking trails for hikers of all experience levels. Trails offer fantastic views over the Pacific Ocean while walking amidst the beauty of Southern California’s native Torrey pine trees and wildflowers. The family-friendly Guy Fleming Trail is a popular choice with its easy 0.7-mile loop featuring views of the Peñasquitos Marsh from the North Overlook and views of the city skyline and the sea from the South Overlook. Be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks for your hike, as there are no shops to purchase from within the reserve.

8. Explore Queen Califa’s Magical Circle in Kit Carson Park

Stepping inside this unique sculpture garden is akin to stepping into a dream-world from the mind of renowned artist Niki de Saint Phalle. A black-and-white patterned maze leads you to a central garden filled with large, mythical-inspired sculptures covered in bold mosaics. These quirky art pieces provide a great backdrop for photos with the family. Queen Califa’s Magical Circle has limited operating hours and is generally closed for rain, so it’s best to check their info before visiting.

9. Picnic and play at Waterfront Park

This beautiful waterfront public park features a large green space and gardens, plus elaborate playgrounds and interactive fountains to splash in. During the day, this park is perfect for picnics on the grass, cooling off in the playful fountain jets, and strolling along the waterfront. As evening arrives, this becomes a great spot to stretch out on a blanket and enjoy the sun setting over the harbor as you watch the ships sail by. If you have little ones who need to burn off some energy, Waterfront Park’s open layout provides plenty of space to run around and play.

Outdoor family vacation fun in San Diego

10. Explore the Cabrillo Monument and Old Point Loma Lighthouse

You can enjoy beautiful views over the San Diego harbor and learn about the region’s history at the Cabrillo National Monument. The Cabrillo Monument marks the spot where the first European expedition landed in 1542 on what would later become the West Coast of the United States. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse formerly guided ships in the San Diego Bay and now provides a glimpse into what life was like in the 1800s. Lucky wintertime visitors might even catch a glimpse of gray whales off the coast during their annual migration.

11. Enjoy nature at the San Diego Botanic Gardens

You can experience the beauty of nature within San Diego Botanic Garden, which features over 25 different themed gardens and plant life from around the world. Highlights include an exotic Bamboo Garden, a lush Tropical Rainforest and waterfall, and sweeping ocean views from the top of the Overlook Natural Area. At the Hamilton Children’s Garden, kids can explore a treehouse in the jungle, build a fort with giant balsa wood blocks, and learn about California native quail on the Junior Quail Trail. Interactive workshops and events are often available, including a family-friendly scavenger hunt through the gardens.

12. Go wild at the San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo, housing more than 600 species of animals in a beautiful seaside setting, is widely considered to be a must-see for any family vacation in San Diego. Lush trails offer views of animal ambassadors ranging from furry pandas and polar bears to lemurs, giraffes, kangaroos, koalas, and more. Within the Children’s Zoo, kids can run around the large Fisher-Price Discovery Playground and meet friendly creatures in the petting zoo. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind adventure, upgraded tour experiences are offered to get you even closer to some of the zoo’s most iconic animals.

13. Go on a safari adventure at the San Diego Safari Park

San Diego Safari Park, the larger sister park to the San Diego Zoo, is an 1,800-acre expanse focusing on animal conservation efforts and endangered species. You can explore walking trails on foot or hop on the African Tram for an expedition around the savanna habitats and past roaming giraffes, rhinos, and Cape buffaloes. Additional park highlights include wildlife encounters with animal care specialists, nature shows, a colorful carousel, and playground areas. Adventure-seekers can book unique themed safaris that offer guided tours with different animal experiences, such as watching a cheetah run at top-speed in the Sun Up Cheetah Safari.

14. Explore California’s cultural heritage in Old Town

Old Town is the birthplace of California, a living legacy of charming, historic buildings and museums celebrating San Diego’s roots and cultural history. Families can explore numerous historical sites, including a 19th-century schoolhouse, old adobe ranch-style homes, California’s first Spanish mission, and the reportedly haunted Whaley House. Many local restaurants specialize in authentic Mexican cuisine, serving up tasty traditional dishes and plenty of flavorful drinks. On the streets, mariachi bands play live music among the colorful shops and open-air marketplaces that offer everything from fresh, homemade taffy to ethnic pottery and jewelry.

15. Spend the day at Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a huge entertainment hub within San Diego that's sure to please even your pickiest family members. The park houses more than 16 different museums and performing arts venues, including the San Diego Air and Space Museum, The Old Globe theater, and Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater. Families with younger kids can enjoy several playgrounds, take a spin on the carousel, and ride aboard the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad. Beautiful outdoor trails wind through multiple themed gardens, including a fragrant rose garden. Plenty of dining and shopping options are available, as is a free tram service to easily get you around the park.

16. Roast marshmallows over a beach bonfire

Relaxing with your family around a firepit on the beach is a great way to spend your evening in San Diego. Multiple San Diego beaches allow bonfires inside designated firepits. Some firepit sites are available for free to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, including those at Tourmaline Beach, Oceanside Beach, Coronado Beach, and Mission Bay beaches, among others. Local companies also offer convenient firepit rentals services in case you don’t have the time to stake an early claim on one of the city’s free spots. Check local rules and regulations for burn guidelines.

Museums for family vacations in San Diego

17. See dinosaur bones at the San Diego Natural History Museum

The interactive attractions at San Diego’s Natural History Museum are especially popular among families, with exhibits including earth sciences, animals, dinosaurs, and fossils. For kids obsessed with creepy-crawlies, the Living Lab exhibits include an observational beehive, spiders, centipedes, and snakes. Stop by the Demonstration Lab to see scientists working on specimens behind the scenes. You can even snap a selfie in front of a huge Megaladon shark replica hanging in the Atrium. Admission to the museum's theater is included with entry and features engaging 2D and 3D films shown at regular intervals.

18. Watch model trains in action at San Diego Model Railroad Museum

You don’t have to be obsessed with trains to enjoy strolling through the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, as their expansive collection of indoor and outdoor exhibits are sure to capture everyone’s imagination. Watch scale models of different California trains twist and turn among incredibly detailed landscapes, through tunnels, and over miniature bridges. Multiple exhibits offer unique themes and settings and allow you to view the intricacy and engineering of the models up close. If you’re inspired to build your own model railroad, check out the museum’s on-site gift shop.

19. Create artwork at the The New Children’s Museum

This arts-based children's museum houses multiple floors of colorful, interactive spaces designed to stimulate kids' imaginations and creativity. Immersive exhibits offer you freedom from the phrase “Don’t touch that,” as rooms include things like climbable sculptures, hands-on spaces to explore, and crafting opportunities. In the Sketch Aquarium, kids can draw their own sea creature and then watch it come to life in a massive aquarium projected digitally onto the wall. Most creative exhibits in the museum are inclusive for all ages, but there are several available specifically for very young children, like Wobbleland for toddlers under 4.

20. Captain the high seas at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

Climb aboard the Maritime Museum's historic fleet of sea vessels, including the famed Star of India, an 1863 iron-hull. You’ll learn about ships from different eras in history as you explore various schooners, steam-powered boats, and submarines. Kids will love pretending to be pirates while you traverse ship decks, hopefully without a mutiny. The adjacent museum houses intricate ship replicas, historical artifacts, and information on San Diego’s rich seafaring history. Additional day-sail tours are offered to adventure seekers, where you might have the chance to help sail beautiful ships like the San Salvador or the Californian.

21. Conduct experiments at the Fleet Science Center

The Fleet Science Center is a museum and planetarium with a youthful approach and offering tons of hands-on exhibits and interactive experiences for all ages. You can experiment with electricity in the So Watt exhibit or visit the moon in an immersive virtual reality simulation. Kid City brings play and learning activities to children 5 and under, from experiments and games in the Little Learner’s Lab to moving chutes and tracks on the Ball Wall. The museum also houses a massive, domed IMAX theater that offers films and digital shows throughout the day.