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20 Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

san diego

San Diego is home to more than 1.3 million people. That makes it the second most populous city in California. On top of this, San Diego has a distinctive location, sitting on the Pacific Ocean just a short distance from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Under these circumstances, interested individuals shouldn't be surprised to learn that the city offers many things to do for everyone.

Here are 20 things to do in San Diego with kids:

1. Balboa Park

San Diego established Balboa Park in 1868. As such, it is one of the first large-scale urban parks in the United States. That said, Balboa Park didn't become what it is in an instant. Instead, a wide range of interested parties contributed in various ways.

For instance, the botanist Kate Sessions put an enormous amount of effort into the project, so much so that she is still responsible for a considerable portion of the oldest trees within.

Nowadays, Balboa Park is home to museums, theaters, and other cultural venues, thus making it a good place to check out for people who want family-friendly entertainment.

2. Belmont Park

Belmont Park is an amusement park in Mission Beach. The business tycoon John D. Spreckels had it built in the early 20th century to provide more recreational opportunities. As a side bonus, Belmont Park made its surroundings more attractive, thus making it that much easier for him to sell land in the area. The place has seen ups and downs over time. Despite those, it is still standing.

3. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

The University of California, San Diego, is home to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Birch Aquarium is one of the main ways the latter reaches out to the public. It contains various exhibits that might appeal to interested individuals.

For example, it has tanks containing species from different parts of the Pacific coast. Similarly, it has an artificial lagoon housing little blue penguins from New Zealand and Australia.

4. Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument is meant to honor the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, which is notable for being the first time a European set foot on the West Coast of what would become the United States. Those who aren't interested should know that the rest of Point Loma Peninsula has other attractions. If nothing else, it offers a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape.

5. Flower Fields

The Flower Fields is a beautiful flower garden found at the Carlsbad Ranch. Anyone who enjoys a visual spectacle should visit between March 1 and May 14, which is when it opens to the public.

6. Hotel del Coronado

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Hotel del Coronado is a hotel. To be exact, it is a beachfront hotel in the city of Coronado, which sits across San Diego Bay from Downtown San Diego. The place has some extra appeal for history enthusiasts.

That is because it is a large-scale wooden beach resort in the Victorian style, which wasn't a common building type in the first place and has become rarer still in modern times.

Moreover, it is huge, so much so that the only wooden building bigger than it in the United States would be the Tillamook Air Museum over in Oregon. That said, the Hotel del Coronado continues to serve its intended purpose, thus making it a good place for interested individuals to stay and play.

7. La Jolla Cove

San Diego's location makes it an excellent vacation destination for people who want to hit the beach. La Jolla Cove is one of the options. It is part of a nature reserve, which has contributed to its popularity with swimmers, snorkelers, and other people who want to make use of the water.

Unfortunately, the presence of California sea lions has created complications. For instance, La Jolla Cove is sometimes affected by a very distinctive odor, meaning interested individuals might want to head somewhere else during the warmer parts of summer.

8. LEGOLAND California

People who enjoy LEGO might want to check out LEGOLAND California, which was the third such theme park to come into existence. The resort has a role-playing area, a miniature park, a water park, and an aquarium, meaning interested individuals can expect a wide range of experiences.

9. Little Italy

The existence of a Little Italy in San Diego might seem a bit strange. After all, Italian immigrants would have found it easier to reach the East Coast than the West Coast in the 19th and 20th centuries.

That said, Italian Americans played a vital role in establishing San Diego's fishing and canning industries, which continued to operate until the early 1980s. Since then, Little Italy has undergone gentrification, thus making it a popular tourist destination filled with retailers and restaurants.

10. Maritime Museum of San Diego

Those fascinated by historical means of sea travel should consider the Maritime Museum of San Diego a must-visit destination. That is because it boasts one of the largest collections of such vessels in the United States.

One example is the Star of India, one of the iron-hulled sailing ships that saw use from the late 19th to early 20th century before being obsoleted by steamships and other modern vessels. Another is the San Salvador, a fully-functional replica of the full-rigged galleon that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo used to explore the coast of what is now California.

11. New Children's Museum

The New Children's Museum is an art-themed institution that encourages creativity and critical thinking. Initially, it was the Children's Museum of San Diego. It didn't rename itself the New Children's Museum until 2008. The name represents its commitment to getting contemporary artists to design art installations for kids to engage with, thus ensuring that it will remain new and exciting rather than risk becoming old and worn-out.

12. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Old Town San Diego doesn't contain the mission and military outpost that were the first European settlement on what is now the West Coast of the United States. No, that would be Presidio Park. However, Old Town San Diego does sit next to Presidio Rank, so chances are good that interested individuals can guess it is home to some of the city's oldest buildings. Simply put, this is the place people should visit if they want to learn more about the city's roots.

13. Petco Park

Baseball might have lost ground to football. Despite that, it is still one of the great American pastimes. As a result, Petco Park is a good place to visit for people who would like to catch a San Diego Padres game.

14. San Diego Botanic Garden

Once upon a time, the San Diego Botanic Garden was the Quail Botanical Gardens. Then, it received a rename in 2009, which was meant to better reflect its status as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region. Of course, the San Diego Botanic Garden boasts native California plants. Interested individuals should know it is also home to plants they wouldn't expect to see in a Mediterranean climate. For instance, the institution is home to one of the finest collections of bamboo in the United States. Furthermore, it boasts everything from a desert garden to a tropical rainforest, meaning it is much more exciting than it might sound on initial consideration.

15. San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is one of the attractions in Balboa Park. Famously, it was one of the institutions that pioneered the use of open-air enclosures that exhibited the animals' natural habitats. Something that served as a major improvement on the earlier preference for cages.

Nowadays, the San Diego Zoo remains notable, not least because it is home to more than 3,600 animals representing more than 300 species. Those numbers include some of the most popular animals on the planet. Examples range from Amur leopards and African penguins to elephants, gorillas, and tigers.

16. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Cliffs are some of the most dramatic landscapes in nature. That is particularly true when they are situated next to the ocean because the contrast between the two can enable each to stand out even more to the senses. Sunset Cliffs is named thus because of the seaside cliffs people sometimes use to watch the sunset.

However, interested individuals should know the relevant paths aren't necessarily well-developed, meaning they come with a real element of risk. Still, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park possesses some spectacular sights because of sea arches, sea caves, and other geographic wonders.

17. Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve

California has plenty of interesting natural landscapes. For another example, consider the Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve. It is named thus because of the critically-endangered Torrey pine, which can be found nowhere else in the world.

These trees are quite distinctive-looking. Exposure to harsh coastal winds means they can grow to resemble oversized bonsai trees. Meanwhile, their roots reach deep and wide. To an extent, that is because of their search for water and nutrients. Besides that, those roots also play a critical role in keeping the trees rooted in place. Sadly, the Torrey pine's prospects aren't looking too good.

They are already down to a few thousand individuals out in the wild. Moreover, they haven't fared too well under the conditions of recent years, so there is concern over how they will cope with the rapid pace of change in the world. Due to this, interested individuals might want to visit Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve while its namesake trees are still around.

18. USS Midway Museum

The Midway is a decommissioned aircraft carrier. Given its name, it shouldn't be surprising to learn that it never saw use during the Second World War. Instead, the Midway entered active service just a few days after that conflict's conclusion before remaining there until 1992.

Thanks to that, it saw use in the Vietnam War and the Gulf War. San Diego is strongly associated with the U.S. Navy, so it makes sense that it was chosen to house the aircraft carrier when it was decommissioned to become a mix of museum and monument. The result is the USS Midway Museum, which has the distinction of being the biggest institution of its kind in the world.

19. Whale Watching

Some people enjoy seeing animals in their natural habitats. As such, the existence of whale watching shouldn't be any more surprising than the existence of bird watching.

That said, people can't just go whale watching anytime and anywhere they want. Instead, they need to be at the right times and the right places if they want to catch sight of these magnificent animals. San Diego has a historical connection with the hobby.

That is because Cabrillo National Monument was where organized whale watching started back in the 1950s. It remains useful for this purpose in the present. Even so, interested individuals should know there are other places where they can see whales throughout San Diego.

In some cases, these places can even give them a glimpse of other local marine wildlife, with examples including dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles.

20. Whaley House

Given the name, interested individuals should have no problem guessing that Whaley House was once a home. The funny thing is that it has also been a store, a theater, and a courthouse.

In any case, Whaley House has a fair amount of historical value because of its status as the oldest brick structure in Southern California. However, interested individuals might have spookier reasons for including the building on their list of places to visit.

The building is supposedly one of the most haunted places in the United States. Some stories claim the ghosts responsible for the spectral phenomenon are members of the Whaley family who died on the property. Others focus on an executed criminal nicknamed Yankee Jim.

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Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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