With wildlife safaris, aquatic exhibits, thrilling amusement parks, and fascinating history attractions, San Diego is a prime destination for a family trip. You’ll find plenty of things for kids in San Diego, whether you want kid-friendly attractions or outdoor fun for active teens, so you can plan a memorable trip. From animal encounters to historic reenactments to an afternoon in the park, you can find it all in the city. Take a look at the top 17 San Diego kids’ activities to plan your itinerary.

Exciting animal activities

1. Have up-close encounters at the Living Coast Discovery Center

The Living Coast Discovery Center is an educational center that uses marine animals and birds to teach about environmental conservation. The center is part of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge and focuses on the native animals and plants of Southern California. Sure to delight animal and nature lovers, the Living Coast Discovery Center features a turtle lagoon, shorebird aviary, raptor aviary, native plant garden, a massive shark tank, and a stingray touch pool. You could also visit the Discovery Center Galleria, which has lobsters, octopuses, seahorses, and snakes. The center offers a variety of animal encounters.

2. Marvel at whales with Hornblower Cruises

Hornblower Cruises offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience seeing whales and dolphins in their natural habitat. San Diego is one of the top destinations to see whales and dolphins offshore, especially gray whales, which migrate between Alaska and Baja California in winter and spring. Other whales often seen on the cruises include minke whales, fin whales, humpback whales, blue whales, and bottlenose dolphins. One of the best aspects of a whale-watching cruise is that you’ll never experience the same trip twice.

3. Enjoy a safari at San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo, is one of the top kid-friendly things to do in san diego. The renowned animal park features over 12,000 animals representing global wildlife species and is known for its open-air, cageless exhibits and naturalistic habitats that promote wildlife well-being. Each section of the zoo is focused around wild environments, such as the African rainforest, the Arctic tundra, and free-flight aviaries that are home to everything from hippos to monkeys to pandas to Arctic foxes. You'll also find a dedicated children’s zoo with reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals.

4. Experience sea life at Birch Aquarium

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is a fascinating aquarium with over 3,000 marine and aquatic animals. The aquarium offers over 60 tanks of Pacific fish and invertebrates in the Hall of Fishes, including tanks inspired by the environments of the Pacific Northwest, Mexico, and Baja California. You could also see ElasmoBeach, a sandy-bottomed tank that mimics the La Jolla seafloor and houses sharks and rays. Kids will like Tide-Pool Plaza, a collection of tide pools with touch tanks to encounter hermit crabs, lobsters, and starfish.

Fun indoor experiences

5. Learn about history at USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum is a ship museum with aircraft and militaria on a historic aircraft carrier, the Midway. As one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers of the century, the carrier played a vital role in US military history throughout the 20th century and boasts many aviation breakthroughs. When you visit, you can see the sleeping quarters, bridge, engine room, flight control, and officers’ quarters to get a feel for life on the ship at the time. Kids will like interactive experiences like flight simulators, videos, and aircraft they can climb in to sit in the cockpit.

6. Let the kids play and discover on their own in the New Children’s Museum

The children's museum is a creative, kid-friendly museum that focuses on imagination, art, and critical thinking and makes for a great stop when you're in San Diego with kids. Using contemporary art created by local artists, the museum allows children to play and interact in massive art installation “rooms” to stimulate learning and engagement. Some notable exhibits include “TRASH,” an exhibit designed to encourage children to think about garbage in a new way, and the Innovators LAB, a space that uses art, design, and science for creativity. Wobbleland is another popular attraction that encourages toddlers to play with food sculptures.

7. Teach the kids about human origins history at the Museum of Us

The Museum of Us is a fascinating anthropology museum that chronicles the history of humans in the western Americas. Most of the exhibits focus on pre-Columbian history, Native American cultures, and Mesoamerican civilizations, but you’ll also find Ancient Egyptian antiquities. In total, the museum has over 300,000 archaeological items from excavations, each within a themed area. Some of the museum highlights include “Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth,” “Post Secret,” “Living with Animals,” and “Monsters!”, a child-friendly mythology exhibit with interactive activities and folk art.

8. Discover natural science at the San Diego Natural History Museum

The San Diego Natural History Museum is an intriguing museum with exhibits on science and nature. Fossils are a big draw for kids, along with mineralogy exhibits and cataloged artifacts from research collections that include birds, mammals, and prehistoric animals. Some of the unique exhibits you could see at the museum include a massive blue whale suspended above the atrium, a finback whale skull, and global wildlife dioramas. The museum hosts different events and exhibits, such as art shows and an exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

9. Marvel at the wonders of science at the Fleet Science Center

The Fleet Science Center is an intriguing science museum and planetarium with interactive exhibits and a variety of fun and educational experiences. The planetarium hosts regular shows with an astronomer to teach about hot topics in astronomy, while the IMAX theater shows kid-friendly movies. The museum itself has a variety of exhibits on different aspects of scientific development, such as Look! Touch! Listen!, an interactive sensory exhibit, and So Watt!, an exhibit focused on light and electricity. One of the highlights of the center is Kid City, an area designed for children under 5.

Outdoor fun kids activities in San Diego

10. Enjoy the sunshine at Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a historic park with vast green spaces, green belts, gardens, walking paths, and attractions for the whole family. The San Diego Zoo, San Diego Natural History Museum, Fleet Science Center, and San Diego Air & Space Museum are all found within Balboa Park, as are numerous other museums and attractions. You could also explore several gardens, including the Australian Gardens, Desert Garden, and Palm Canyon. In addition to attractions, the park has a variety of athletic fields and activities for kids, such as the Balboa Park Carousel and the Balboa Park Activity Center.

11. Play beach games at Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach is a long stretch of sandy beach that travels from Hotel del Coronado to Sunset Park. Known for its numerous things for kids in San Diego, Coronado Beach offers plenty of space for sunbathing, beach games, and building sandcastles. If you have the family pet, the beach has a pet-friendly area called Dog Run Beach near Sunset Park. Along with swimming and beach activities, Coronado Beach is a prime vista point for sights like Point Loma and the Cabrillo National Monument in the distance. After spending the day in the sun, you can visit the restaurants on the beachfront.

12. Explore the depths at La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is a picturesque cove on a sandy beach. The cove is surrounded by dramatic cliffs that shelter it from the wind and provide calm, clear waters for families with children to swim. As part of the marine reserve with rich sea life, La Jolla Cove is a popular destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. If you have young children, you can visit the tide pools and unique marine creatures that are revealed at low tide. Another highlight of visiting La Jolla Cove is seeing the California sea lions that spend their time on the beach and bluffs.

Unique experiences for families

13. Explore deep space at the San Diego Air & Space Museum

The San Diego Air & Space Museum is an aviation and space museum that houses many original and replica aircraft and spacecraft. Much of the collection is rare and historic, such as the Montgomery 1911 Evergreen Glider, the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XVI, the North American P-51D Mustang, and the Curtiss P-40E Warhawk. Other highlights include a reproduction of the 1902 Wright Glider and the Apollo 9 command module. Along with aircraft, the museum has an aircraft model shop, aircraft books, and historic photographs depicting aviation and aircraft construction. Remember to keep this museum in mind when looking for indoor kid activities in San Diego.

14. Wander antique ships at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

The Maritime Museum of San Diego offers a collection of historic ships and vessels docked in San Diego Bay. The museum is home to many authentic and replica ships, including the Star of India merchant bark from 1863 and the Medea 1904 steam yacht that served in both World Wars. Other highlights include the HMS Surprise, a replica of a Royal Navy frigate that was used in several Hollywood films, and the USS Dolphin, a diesel-electric submarine from 1968. The museum’s treasure is the San Salvador, an accurate replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s flagship.

15. Find thrills at Belmont Park

When you're looking for kid-friendly things to do in San Diego, nothing offers fun quite like a theme park. Belmont Park is a fun-filled amusement park on the oceanfront in Mission Bay. Opening in 1925 as the Mission Beach Amusement Center, Belmont Park is a local favorite and tourist attraction that draws millions of visitors each year. The museum’s primary attraction is the historic Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster that’s registered as a local landmark. You can try many other historic rides and activities, such as The Plunge indoor swimming pool. The park has numerous newer attractions, such as a zip line, an aerial obstacle course, laser tag, and a variety of thrill rides.

16. Discover local heritage at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

The Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is a fascinating historic park that chronicles the history of the city. Located in the Old Town neighborhood, the park features many historic buildings that date between 1820 and 1870, giving you a glimpse into life in the past. Some of the notable buildings include an 1850s hotel building that’s now a history museum, a mid-century courthouse, the first public school in the city, and a 19th-century newspaper office. Throughout the day, you’ll see living-history demonstrations with costumed interpreters to immerse you in the experience.