Things to Do in San Diego With Kids

Mandrill at the San Diego Zoo


If an Academy Award were handed out for city weather, San Diego would carry it home year after year. With 266 sun-gilded days and July highs of only 79 degrees, it's hard to have a bad family vacation in this bustling, friendly city. Kids of all ages will find San Diego's mix of natural beauty, bubbling downtown, super-museums and bunches of beaches—over 60 of them!—pure paradise.

Where to begin the adventure? Here are five activities on the "must-do" list to make your kids happy.

San Diego Zoo

This is one "world famous" attraction that deserves all the fame it has earned. With thousands of wild animals, including many on the endangered species list, San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Dr., San Diego, CA) was named the top zoo in the world by TripAdvisor.

It's not just lions and tiger and bears, oh my. Think lion-tailed macaques and Amur leopards and giant panda bears, oh my. Plus lemurs, bonobos, elephants, mandrills, okapis, polar bears, flamingos and pygmy marmosets. And don't miss the Skyfari Aerial Tram, a deliciously fun shortcut over the treetops with a bird's eye view—make that a laughing kookaburra.

Go for a day, a weekend or a full week. Your kids won't want to leave.

Cabrillo Monument

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the leader of a 16th century expedition, was the first European to step onto the continent's west coast. The Cabrillo Monument (1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr., San Diego, CA), at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, traces Cabrillo's story and commemorates his achievement. The Monument also offers the pleasures of tide pooling adventures and the opportunity to tour the old Point Loma Lighthouse.

Reuben H Fleet Science Center

Science in school might not please your youngsters, but science in the Fleet Science Center (1875 El Prado, San Diego, CA) is another animal entirely. At the science center, kids explore and investigate and, in short, have fun. The more than 100 interactive exhibits keep children engaged, like Retro-Active Science, San Diego's Water, So Watt!, Cellular Journey and Kid City. The whole family will love the IMAX film adventure and learn something about the universe in the Heikoff Giant Dome Theater.

Birch Aquarium

You want your kids to learn biology? At the Birch Aquarium (2300 Expedition Wy., La Jolla, CA), they will, with teachers like fish, sea horses, sea dragons, jellyfish and giant octopus. You'll find beautiful visuals and an enormous sparkling tank full of sharks, sea turtles and kelp. Yes, there are educational activities, but they are low-key and fun, like the tide-pool area where kids touch sea creatures.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Some 2,000 coastal acres are preserved as Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (12600 N. Torrey Pines Rd., San Diego, CA). And although the park is within San Diego city limits, it's unexpectedly and gloriously wild. You'll find a central plateau with cliffs that overlook the beach far below and views of passing whales. Kids will love looking for the many wild animals in the reserve, like fox, bobcats, rabbits and skunks. Take a break from urban activities to hike the 8 miles of trails.