Hey PaperFinch friends! I’m Katie Schwarz, and I live in sunny San Diego. It’s okay to feel a little jealous. Especially if you live in a cold climate. While we do occasionally get some rain and clouds, the weather here is pretty fabulous most of the year. So, go ahead and plan a trip. And then grab something from the PaperFinch Design shop to memorialize your trip.
Just a little about me: I’m a military spouse, mom, graphic designer and branding mentor. I’m originally from Texas, but San Diego has become a second home. San Diego has something to offer everyone. But if you have littles, there are more than enough family-friendly places to visit! My kids are 5 and oh-so-close to 3, so many of our family faves are geared towards younger kiddos. Keep reading for my personal top 5 kid-friendly things to do in San Diego.
San Diego Zoo
Our entire family loves going to the San Diego Zoo. We have a membership and go often. Like twice a month a lot. The San Diego Zoo isn’t your average zoo. They are a world-class conservation focused organization that also focuses on having a great time. You can see pandas, penguins, birds of all kinds, giant Galapagos tortoises, lions, tigers, and bears. Oh my! Really though it’s an incredible organization that cares about conservation, education and getting its visitors involved.
In case you need more convincing check out these stats:
- 100 acres in the heart of the gorgeous Balboa Park
- Home to more than 3,500 animals
- Successful and groundbreaking breeding programs to preserve endangered species
- A gorgeous botanical collection with more than 700,000 exotic plants.
We especially love the koalas, orangutans, Insect House, and the entire Africa Rocks section which features warm weather penguins! There are a lot of hills. Be prepared to walk, and bring a stroller for the kids. My 5-year-old still alternates between walking and riding here. You can bring in snacks and water bottles. We typically bring in food for the kids, water for the whole family, and buy lunch for the grown ups. The food is a little pricey, but it does support the conservation efforts.
Bonus: The Safari Park is the second location north of San Diego. This park is even larger, and is home to most of the organizations breeding efforts. Totally worth a trip if you have time!
There’s plenty of parking at both locations. It’s free to park at the Zoo but it's $15 at the Safari Park.
Seagrove Park at Del Mar
There are a ton of beaches in San Diego and the surrounding areas. The best one depends on what you want to do and the vibe you’re looking for. Our current favorite is Seagrove Park in Del Mar. This is just north of San Diego proper. It’s a great option for families with young kids because there is a fabulous playground. The play area is up on a hill with a great view of a popular surfing spot. My kids love watching the surfers while swinging.
A few reasons this is a great family beach:
- PUBLIC BATHROOMS!!!
- Lots of grassy areas for play/picnics/anyone who doesn’t like sand
- Nice beach area for swimming or other beach things
A couple of things to note. The Pacific is cold; even in the summer. We usually just get our feet wet over actually swimming. Part of the beach is open to leashed dogs during the off season.
Parking can be difficult. There’s a mixture of free and paid spots. Many of the free spots have time limits. It’s best to come early, and be prepared to walk. However, the area is very walkable in general and has lots of fun places to eat. Babywearing or a jogging stroller are your best bet here. Some of the sidewalks have shifted and it isn’t the smoothest terrain.
The Sandcastle Man
This one is technically another beach but so worth seeing. The Sandcastle Man is a ridiculously talented sand sculpturist. He can usually be found on the beach in front of the Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island. His work is amazing. It’s mesmerizing for all ages, and the beach is enjoyable as well. You can even commission a special sandcastle to celebrate a special occasion. Check his social media channels to make sure he’ll be working.
A couple of things to consider: During the summer it does get crowded. So get there early during the summer months, or when school is out. The Del (Hotel Del Coronado) is amazing to check out even if it’s not in the budget to stay there. You can easily spend an entire day (or more) on the island.
Parking can be hit or miss on the island in general. Be prepared to walk, and most spots are metered. Strollers and beaches are typically a headache, so I prefer babywearing for tiny kids.
Natural History Museum
This one is also in Balboa Park near the zoo. But you’ll want to hit them up on separate days. The zoo is an all-day affair, if you want to see most of it. The Natural History Museum, or The Nat, is one of our favorite museums in the park. It’s very kid-friendly and has some fun hands-on activities. Although I have to remind my youngest that doesn’t mean everything is hands on...He once tried to climb into an exhibit so he could touch the jaw bone of a sperm whale. Eeek! He really likes sperm whales thanks to Wild Kratts on PBS.
You can easily work in other activities at Balboa Park on the same day. It’s more of a few hours kind of thing instead of an all day. But there are so many things you can do at the park. Saturdays are particularly fun with street musicians and performers throughout the park.
Parking is typically free, but can be hard to find. On crowded days, you may need to park in the larger lots on the outskirts of the park. Little legs would appreciate a stroller if you plan on covering the park in addition to the museum. Babywearing is a great option for the tiniest family members. If your toddlers are anything like mine, they will want to walk a lot. So, a stroller can be easier for the park.
Another fave spot for our family is Seaport Village. This lovely area is right on the bay and has really lovely views of San Diego Bay, Coronado Island, and the Bay Bridge. We always make a game out of trying to spot any wildlife in the water when we go. There is a delightful collection of shops and spots to eat from seafood to delicious sweet treats. Again, the weekends tend to feature a variety of musicians and performers or events.
My littles particularly love the historic carousel. We usually hit it up before stopping for ice cream. This spot is a great way to spend a couple of hours and grab lunch. Perfect if you’re recovering from a full day at the zoo, but still want to explore the city. Strollers are optional here depending on the age or tiredness of your littles. We usually skip it altogether now. When we had babies, we usually opted for babywearing over a stroller.
Parking is close, and there is usually enough (unless it’s an event weekend). There is a charge for parking in the designated lots, but you can get a cheaper rate if you get your ticket validated at one of the shops or restaurants.
Bonus: The USS Midway is not far. It’s a great museum on a de-commissioned naval ship. Lots of aviation and naval history. Paid parking is available in lots at Navy Pier and nearby metered spots. Skip the stroller if you can. Some of the ship is in-accessible to strollers or wheelchairs. Babywearing is a great option to keep littles contained.
There you have it! Five (plus a couple of bonuses) of our family’s favorite spots in San Diego. Hit me up on Instagram @bykatieschwarz if you’re planning a trip.
Book your San Diego with these gorgeous homes from VRBO here!