San Diego has been our home for a little over 8 months now. We moved here in September of 2018 after my husband received a job offer he couldn’t refuse. Much like anything, moving your family to a new city is both exciting and nerve-wracking because of all of those uncertain things like finding our new normal and becoming familiar with the ins and outs of a bustling city.
Now, with almost a year under our belts, I still feel a little foreign here. San Diego doesn’t feel like home yet and maybe it never will. Nonetheless, it hasn’t stopped my husband and I from exploring and eager to find fun places to go and do while we call this city our home. Here are our top places to visit and things to do with kids in San Diego!
The New Children’s Museum is a MUST do while you’re in town because it’s a multi-level museum with numerous rooms dedicated to exploration – and it’ll keep your child busy for hours. I love that the museum promotes discovery-based play with their intricately designed activities, which helps develop in children creativity, problem-solving, and social skills.
The museum also offers art workshops for older kiddos and even has a summer program for families. You can, of course, book a birthday party here or schedule your next field trip. They have so many educator resources available and support educator and military families with discounts throughout the year.
We love taking Grey because it gives him a chance to explore and really get the wiggles out. One of the coolest installations they have is on the third floor and is the wonder sound. It’s a massive tree house that’s filled with nooks, rooms, stairs, ropes, and good ‘ole exploration. Visually it’s impressive and is big enough for parents to climb through it (but I recommend – based on your child’s age – to let them explore it on their own).
Just be prepared for a lot of people regardless of when or what time you go; typically earliest is better. You can park on the street at either the metered or pay lots or the museum has a limited number of spaces in their garage that they share with the apartments next door. It’s $10 to park there and it’s first come first served.
Waterfront & Balboa Park
You’re not doing it right if you don’t find the nearest park to visit while in town. Finding the right playground for Grey was actually more difficult than we thought. Yes, there are plenty of smaller parks nestled within the city (we even have one right in front of our building) but we’ve come to find that nefarious people and homeless like to congregate at these smaller parks; making them a little unsafe to take your child to. So, to the bigger parks we go!
Park Boulevard, San Diego
Pepper Grove Playground is a great open playground with sandpits, swings, and two play structures for bigger and smaller kids. This was our favorite playground for Grey when we first moved because it’s never packed, it provides a great view, the airplanes fly right overhead, and is right next door to many museums like the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum. It also is close to the San Diego Zoo!
1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego, CA 92101
Waterfront Park is another favorite of ours. It’s newer and is located right off of Pacific Highway, which is right at the waterfront (hence its name). It’s very easy to find parking and is a great way to spend the afternoon – especially coming off the heels of exploring Embarcadero or the Midway aircraft carrier.
This park offers a larger play area with different styles of jungle gym play structures. It even has a massive hill that supports big slides to go down. Grey could easily spend hours just going up and down the hill.
On a rainy day and many viewings of Finding Dory later I just had to find an aquarium for Greyson. La Jolla has the nearest aquarium, which is easy to drive to from downtown and is a part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. It’s a public center that provides visitors the opportunity to view plenty beautiful fish while learning about ongoing research and discoveries related to climate, the earth, and our oceans.
San Diego Zoo/Safari Park
This goes without saying.
The San Diego Zoo is one of the largest zoos I’ve personally ever been to and it never disappoints. There are always so many animals and wildlife to see and Greyson loves wandering around. We’ve been so many times, Grey has the whole landscape memorized and goes straight to his favorite animals; knowing exactly where to find them.
The zoo is broken into multiple areas dedicated to a geographical location, which makes finding your go-to animals easier. It’s a very large park so be prepared to walk your butt off and best yet, you can bring a stroller, cooler, your own snacks, etc. This was great when we were new to the zoo and kept Grey in a stroller for the most part. Eventually we were able to teach him to walk and to stay with us and no longer need to take it with us (on less thing to take!).
I recommend going right when the park opens and give yourself a few hours (like 4) to see the majority of the park. There’s a “sky train” as Grey call it, otherwise known as a sky tram, that will air lift you from one side of the park to the other. There’s plenty of bathrooms, areas for food, drinks (alcohol too!) and gifts. If you buy a souvenir cup, you’ll get a discount on future drinks when using that cup…even beer.
We purchased a zoo membership when we first moved to San Diego back in September (since I wasn’t working right away) and that allows us into the park unlimited times during the year (Greyson was free up until his 3rd birthday). When I wasn’t working and we didn’t have a school yet for Grey, I would take him about 3 times a week just walk and get out of the house. It’s great early in the morning and even on busy days, the park is so big you don’t feel like you’re being crowded.
Periodically throughout the year the city has free admission days for both the zoo as well as many other museums and attractions around town. Some of these include:
- Balboa Park Explorer Pass
- Go San Diego Discount Card
- San Diego Kids Free October
- Resident Free Days (for residents of SD)
- Military Discounts
The Safari Park is a separate location that you’ll have to drive to. It feels like the San Diego Zoo…but a safari! This is great for older children who are able to go on the offered safari rides otherwise you’re stuck wandering around the main exhibits and habitats (which is pretty cool anyways). When Grey is older we can’t wait to book an excursion out to see the animals up close!
Belmont Park is a cute little beach park nestled in a cute town called Mission Beach. It was founded in 1925 and features old school boardwalk vibes with their classic Giant Dipper roller coaster and the Plunge Pool offering a day of fun for the whole family. Think of it like a mini carnival on the beach as there are all kinds of arcade games, rides, and food!
Belmont Park offers a couple of different ticket options and even free parking, which is super convenient. Check out their current promotions to see if you can snag a sweet deal before planning your visit. The park itself is free, but I highly recommend purchasing tickets or passes (especially with little ones!) so they can play and ride an unlimited amount of times, which saves you from taming a screaming toddler.
As new residents of San Diego we’re always looking for new places to visit and that is, most importantly, kid-friendly. Luckily San Diego as a city is very welcoming and inclusive of families by offering many attractions and fun experiences intended for the whole family. These are our top places to go each weekend and my hope is that you find time in your travel schedule to experience for it yourself on your next trip to downtown.