Spread over 100 acres of mesas and winding canyons, the San Diego Zoo has been a park-goer's delight for nearly 100 years. With over 3,500 animals, it's an amazing place to view rare and exotic creatures in enclosures that simulate their natural habitats. Kids can get up-close encounters with a startling variety of living things across multiple habitats at the brand-new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, which replaces the former Children's Zoo and features numerous creative play areas (and even a splash zone). Or spend the night at the Zoo and see what happens after the crowds go home and the sun goes down.
Find yourself in the middle of Africa, where more than 3,500 rare and exotic animals roam several expansive habitats as large as 100 acres at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park near Escondido. Explore walking trails that bring you face to face with animals; view giraffes, rhinos, antelope and more aboard the African Tram Safari; or watch the fastest land mammal as it whooshes by in hot pursuit of a mechanical lure at Cheetah Run. Kids love feeding the birds out of the palms of their hands at Lorikeet Landing, or brushing the Boer, Nubian and pygmy goats at the Petting Kraal.
- Teens can participate in a Photo Caravan Safari jeep excursion into the park's vast sanctuary for endangered animals. Two- and four-hour safaris serve up tons of unique photo opportunities and the chance to hand-feed giraffes.
- Teens can also take flight on Flightline Safari, the Park's fast-paced zip line experience that provides aerial views of exotic animals.
- The Jungle Ropes Safari is a great place for teens to challenge themselves with rope bridges to cross, aerial tightropes to navigate, and swinging log steps to negotiate.
- Teens will love to take a ride on the wild side with a two-hour behind-the-scenes tour of Lion Camp and the Park's cheetah enclosures.
- At the Savanna Cool Zone, kids can walk through the palm trees, where a gentle mist falls from above and the path leads to a turtle, lion and crocodile. Located next to Lion Camp, the Savanna Cool Zone is a wild way to cool off on a hot summer day!
- Head to the Samburu Jungle Gym, where kids can climb and explore in a safari-themed play area located below Benbough Amphitheater. Parents will love the shade-covered picnic area.
- The Conservation Carousel features 60 animals, some rare and endangered, to ride.
Catching a San Diego Padres game at Downtown San Diego's beautiful Petco Park — named America's No. 1 ballpark by USA Today — is one of the absolute best ways to spend a family day in San Diego. This ballpark has it all: A stunning location by San Diego Bay, awesome food and beverage options, close proximity to the excitement of San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter, and a host of excellent in-park amenities and seating options. Families will particularly love the grassy expanses of the park's Gallagher Square, perfect for picnicking and taking in all the sights.
- The teen-agers in your family should love checking out the San Diego Padres Official Team Store, which is located on the ground floor of the Western Metal Supply Building (incorporated into the ballpark) and carries loads of great Padres merch, from hats to uniform jerseys to branded blankets.
- Teens who are baseball fanatics also will appreciate the range of Petco Park tours on offer — sometimes with the added bonus of checking out Padres batting practice.
- The ballpark also hosts a wide range of top concerts — in Gallagher Square, on the larger Sycuan Stage and (for the biggest acts) venue-wide.
- Sunday is kids day at Petco Park: Anytime there's a Sunday home game, the ballpark's Gallagher Square hosts KidsFest, which starts two hours before game time and includes bounce houses, interactive games, face painters, balloon artists and more.
- Youngsters will also love playing in the sand pit behind center field, or running the bases at Play Ball Field, a miniature baseball diamond made just for them.
- And if they need a sweet treat, check out such kid-favorite snack options as Mister Softee, Cravory Cookies or Holy Paleta frozen desserts.
SeaWorld San Diego along Mission Bay celebrates the wonders of the sea with spectacular live animal shows starring penguins, sea lions, dolphins and, of course, orca whales. Feed and touch dolphins, and get face-to-snout with polar bears, beluga whales, sharks and penguins. SeaWorld also offers several wet and wild animal interaction programs that bring to life the park's conservation efforts.
- Feel the thrill of adventure on the park's exciting rides: Manta, Journey to Atlantis, Shipwreck Rapids, Riptide Rescue, Electric Eel and the brand-new Emperor, the tallest and fastest dive coaster in California.
- The Dolphin Encounter gives teenagers 15 minutes of hands-on time to feed and practice training maneuvers with the park's bottlenose dolphins, all without donning a wetsuit. The hourlong Dolphin Interaction Program takes the experience to the next level as teens suit up and hop in the pool with the dolphins.
- Teenagers can also get their feet wet during the 90-minute Wild Arctic Interaction Program, when they can meet Arctic animals like barking seals, giant walruses and polar bears before climbing into the water with gentle Beluga whales.
- For the ultimate experience, the Trainer for a Day program allows teenagers to work alongside SeaWorld's trainers as they coach and care for dolphins.
- Sesame Street Bay of Play combines rides and play areas all themed around "Sesame Street" characters.
- Sharing a meal next to a whale tank during Dine with Orcas is memorable for any age. And not only does it eliminate the need to search for a table while balancing multiple meals on trays, but the distraction of watching orcas swim and train means younger kids will stay put long enough for the adults to finish their meals, too.
San Diego's newest theme park is full of watery wonders, with 11 aquatic attractions to complement its generous collection of "dry" rides. The 17-acre Sesame Place – the only "Sesame Street"-themed park on the West Coast — invites visitors to try out such splashy, family-minded rides and slides as Bert's Topsy Turvy Tunnels, Snuffy's Spaghetti Slides and Oscar's Rotten Rafts, as well as Big Bird's Beach, a 500,000-gallon wave pool surrounded by a sandy beach. The park, operated by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and now open year-round in San Diego's South Bay community, is also a Certified Autism Center.
- The Honker Dinger Dash offers six colorful side-by-side slides for a maximum splash factor.
- Cookie Monster's Mixer is a four-person family raft ride that plunges six stories, with plenty of spins along the way.
- The waves and sand at Big Bird's Beach make it a good place both to chill and find some gentle thrills.
- Elmo's Silly Sand Slides offers six perfectly kid-sized slides for the park's youngest adventurers.
- Hop on a tube and take a fun family float down Big Bird's Rambling River.
- Oscar's Rotten Rafts might have a tongue-in-cheek name, but there's not much rotten about a ride down the twists and turns of this family ride.
- The latest addition is The Count's Splash Castle, an interactive water-play zone on Sesame Island that boasts a whopping 111 play elements.
Through a self-guided audio tour of the USS Midway Museum, narrated by Midway sailors, the honor and history of this decommissioned aircraft carrier come to life. Explore more than 60 exhibits, which incorporate the voices of many who served on the USS Midway and tell of their experiences. Visit the mess deck, sleeping quarters, hangar deck and flight deck, as well as a collection of 25 restored aircraft. The tour of the bridge, chart room and primary flight control is guided by a volunteer, in many cases a navy pilot or sailor who served aboard the USS Midway.
- Roll, somersault, spin and loop your fighter during a pulse-pounding aerial combat ride aboard Air Combat 360.
- In Flight Avionics, enjoy 5 minutes of simulated flight time as you participate in an F/18 "Screaming Eagles" training exercise. Launch from the carrier, hit your target and land safely to see if you have what it takes to pilot one of these jets.
- Have an adventure at sea without leaving port. Eat on the mess deck and sleep in the original Enlisted Berthing area during a family sleepover aboard the Midway. Only offered once per year.
Home to more than 60 rides, shows and attractions, LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad features a variety of LEGO-themed entertainment designed for children, including "Mini Land," which showcases some of the nation's most famous cities through life-size replicas built entirely from LEGO bricks. The latest addition: Mini San Diego! To find age-appropriate rides and activities, when visiting with younger kids, head left as you enter the park and travel clockwise. When visiting with older kids, head right as you enter and travel counterclockwise.
While LEGOLAND is geared toward the preteen and under crowd, there are a few rides and attractions that will keep teenagers happy and entertained.
- Head to the Imagination Zone where teenagers could spend the whole day, between the Xbox game Space, Lego Robotics activities and Lego building opportunities.
- Good rides for the teen crowd include Lego Technic Coaster, Lost Kingdom Adventure and Knights Tournament.
- The outdoor play areas at Hideaway and Pharaoh's Revenge are also great fun.
- The new Lego Ferrari Build and Race is bound to please both teens and younger kids with its hands-on opportunities to craft and try out a custom Lego Ferrari race car.
- Water Works allows kids to jump on pads to make music play and fountains spray.
- Fairy Tale Brook is an enchanting boat ride through a humorous LEGO version of familiar fairy tales.
- Dig Those Dinos is an interactive area where kids can test their paleontology skills as they dig for dinosaur bones buried in sand pits.
- Swabbies Deck is a play area amid pop-up water jets, playful water fountains and delightful squirt cannons. Bring a change of clothing for this water area.
An extension of the main park with a separate entrance fee, LEGOLAND Water Park features a variety of kid-friendly attractions including a Build-A-Raft river where visitors can custom build their own LEGO® raft, several water slides, a 45-foot-tall tower playground and two sandy beach wading areas.
The adjoining SEA LIFE Aquarium incorporates LEGO® models into a child's voyage to the depths of the ocean, presenting the wonders of the underwater world to them in a way specially designed for their understanding.
Less than two hours north of downtown San Diego you'll find Disneyland Resort. Read Day Trip to Disneyland for a few tips and tricks to make this excursion even more enjoyable.
Follow these links to other San Diego family friendly attractions including the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Belmont Park, and Balboa Park.