With its spacious parks and beaches, family-friendly attractions and terrific climate, San Diego is a perfect vacation spot for kids. With so much to see and do, it helps to have an itinerary planned in advance. Start the day at
one of San Diego's top attractions, continue with a visit to Birch Aquarium in La Jolla or Balboa Park in downtown San Diego, and conclude with a cruise around San Diego Bay.
Take your pick from one of these world-renowned attractions:
- SeaWorld San Diego is a 189-acre park featuring shows, fascinating attractions and dozens of exhibits containing marine life from around the globe. Shows feature animals such as killer whales, bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, seals and otters. Favorite exhibits include Wild Arctic, Penguin Encounter, Sea Turtle Bay and Shark Encounter. Visitors can also pet dolphins, touch and feed bat rays, meet Elmo and friends at Sesame Street Bay of Play, hop on the Shipwreck Rapids and Journey to Atlantis thrill rides, or take in a panorama of San Diego from the Mission Bay Skyride.
- Home to 4,000 animals, the world-famous San Diego Zoo is known for its expansive natural habitats. It is also one of only four facilities in the nation to house critically endangered Giant Pandas. Bioclimatic exhibits, such as Monkey Trails and Forest Tales, are linked by an expansive series of trails allowing visitors to view animals from all levels. Other popular exhibits include Elephant Odyssey, Polar Bear Plunge, Absolutely Apes, Gorilla Tropics, Sun Bear Forest and Tiger River.
- Located 30 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a 1,800-acre preserve where wild animals roam free over vast expanses as they would in their native habitats. Through interactive animal shows, natural habitat exhibits and aboard an open-air tram, visitors can see exotic animals like white rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, Roosevelt’s gazelles, African crowned cranes and much more. Popular tours and activities include the Flightline, Photo Caravan Safari Tours, Balloon Safari, Segway Rolling Safari and the Petting Kraal.
- The USS Midway Museum pays tribute to the hundreds of thousands of men who served their country aboard the vessel and highlights San Diego’s rich military history. Part of the Navy fleet for 47 years, the USS Midway was home to more than 200,000 sailors during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, as well as other conflicts and crises around the world. This decommissioned aircraft carrier now resides along San Diego Bay and features interactive exhibits and more than 25 aircraft displays. Many of the story-telling docents are veterans who served aboard the carrier.
- LEGOLAND® California Resort in Carlsbad was the first LEGO® theme park in North America, and it offers far more than classic building blocks. The Resort, which is geared toward families with children ages 2 through 12, has more than 60 rides, shows and attractions including favorites like the Dragon Coaster, LEGO TECHNIC® Coaster and Land of Adventure. At the new Pirate Reef, families join a buccaneer-filled flume boat and race between two battling pirate ships. Then journey to a galaxy far, far away at the new LEGO STAR WARS Miniland area. Miniland also features miniature replicas of famous structures throughout the world that are sure to fascinate grownups and children alike. The Resort is also home to the world’s first LEGOLAND® Water Park and SEA LIFE® Carlsbad Aquarium, which provides a kids-eye view of the undersea world.
If you are returning from a morning at LEGOLAND or the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Birch Aquarium is a convenient stop on your way downtown. If you spent the morning at SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo or USS Midway, visit Balboa Park in the afternoon.
- Birch Aquarium is a stunning La Jolla landmark that attracts visitors of all ages. Children are especially attracted to the "touch and learn" exhibit of starfish and other sea creatures; the outdoor tidepool; the fanciful seahorses; and the impressive collection of sharks. On certain days, guests can watch divers descend into the 70,000-gallon giant kelp forest tank to point out various species of fish, feed them, and answer audience questions. The aquarium also has an Explorers Gallery with science displays and interactive features, and a simulator ride with surround sound and computer-generated visuals that mimics an underwater adventure. Open daily except major holidays.
- The largest urban cultural park in the United States, Balboa Park is often referred to as the “Smithsonian of the West” for its large concentration of cultural institutions. Among its 1,200 lush acres are 15 of San Diego's largest museums ranging from art and photography, to science, space and more; eight gardens; the San Diego Zoo; and renowned performing arts venues like the Tony Award®-winning Old Globe theatre.
End your day with a scenic cruise around San Diego Bay. Both Flagship Cruises & Events and Hornblower Cruises offer narrated one-hour tours featuring either the north or south end of the bay. Highlights (depending on the itinerary) include the Coronado Bridge; naval aircraft carriers and other military ships; San Diego's working shipyards; Shelter and Harbor Islands; the submarine base; and Point Loma. You'll often see seals and sea lions perched on the buoys as well as a colorful variety of sail and power boats, especially on the weekends.
Families will appreciate the comfortable cruise boats that feature snack bars, indoor and outdoor seating, and bathroom facilities. Bring a sweater; even when the weather's warm, sea breezes can add a chill out on the water. After your cruise, walk along the bayfront to see the Star of India (a classic sailing ship) and the ferryboat Berkeley. Nearby family-friendly dining options include Anthony's Fish Grotto and the Fish Market. Note: Dinner cruises are also offered by the tour boats; check with the companies for details.