With all the world-class attractions located here, it’s no wonder San Diego is consistently rated one of the top family destinations in North America. In between days spent at the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld and LEGOLAND, you can also find abundant fun within the parks and gardens found throughout the county. Here are some of the best ones that offer something special for kids of all ages.
Known as “the Smithsonian of the West,” Balboa Park houses 17 museums, beautiful gardens, and multiple theatres and restaurants. The following is a short list of offerings where learning and fun go hand-in-hand for children of all ages.
- Featuring more than 100 interactive science exhibits in five galleries, as well as major traveling exhibitions, the Fleet Science Center is an educational, entertaining experience for guests of all ages with seven galleries of hands-on science exhibits. Its IMAX Dome Theater, the first of its kind in the world, presents IMAX films and lively planetarium shows. While most exhibits are suitable for ages seven and up, Kid City is a vibrant exhibition aimed at younger children.
- The world of model trains comes alive at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum with four enormous scale and model layouts that depict railroads of the Southwest in O, HO, and N scales and an interactive toy train gallery.
- Boasting memorabilia and athletic accomplishments for more than forty-two sports, the San Diego Hall of Champions is the nation's largest multi-sport museum. Relive the career of Tony Gwynn, known locally as "Mr. Padre," follow the evolution of the surfboard or soar with local skateboard legend Tony Hawk.
- The San Diego Junior Theatre presents year-round, family-friendly productions at the Casa del Prado Theatre.
Commemorating the “birthplace of California” and the arrival of European explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, Cabrillo National Monument provides spectacular panoramic views of San Diego's bustling harbor and magnificent downtown skyline, as well as an excellent vantage point for observing California gray whales during their winter migration season. In the historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse, now restored into a museum, tiny rooms preserve the furnishings, toys and other possessions of the lighthouse’s former keeper and his family. On the shoreline below the monument, tide pools are filled with flowery anemones, scampering shore crabs and many other creatures of the sea. The best times to visit the tide pools are during winter and spring low tides.
At nearly 5,800 acres, Mission Trails Regional Park is a large urban park with more than 40 miles of hiking and biking trails along the San Diego River. Originally used by the Kumeyaay Indians, the state-of-the-art visitors center shares the history of the Kumeyaay culture, traditions and beliefs. While there, you can also view magnificent wildlife or join a guided hiking tour. Shore fishing and boat rentals are available at Lake Murray within the park.
The 37-acre San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas has one of the region’s most extensive garden collections with unusual plants from around the world. The Hamilton Children’s Garden is the largest interactive children's garden in the West. Kids can go from the Spell and Smell Garden, where they can take a trip through the alphabet as represented by plants—"C" is for Chocolate Mint, "N" is for Nasturtium, etc—to Toni's Tree House, a 20-foot tall man-made tree dotted with live plants that kids can explore from its root tunnels up through its branches, crossing a rope bridge in the process. At the Garden Rhythms section, kids can use a rainstick to create a rain storm, and play bamboo chimes and a slate xylophone to make sounds that reverberate throughout the garden.
Good for younger kids: The Seeds of Wonder Garden is designed for preschoolers and engages children in various arts and crafts such as building a birdfeeder, potting plants to take home or making a sculpture to be displayed in the Garden.
The beachfront Belmont Park offers amusement rides for kids of all ages, including the vintage “Giant Dipper” roller coaster, Tilt-A-Whirl, Bumper Cars, and Beach Blaster. Laser tag, an arcade and wave machine round out the fun.
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