Sunny weather. 70 miles of beaches. Fish tacos. These are just a few of the reasons San Diego is one of the top destinations for families in the US. Sure, there’s the big attractions like the world-famous zoo and wild animal park, SeaWorld, and Legoland, but the beauty of San Diego lies in its simplicity: a day at the beach, cold beer at one of the city’s child-friendly breweries, and dining on Mexican food so good you’d swear you were on the other side of the border. With its laid-back vibe and an average year-round temperature that hovers in the 70s, this big city often feels like a beach town, and what’s easier with kids than the beach? Here are our suggestions for how to make the most of your stay the next time you’re in San Diego with kids.
Standing in the parking lot overlooking Windansea Beach in La Jolla, you’re greeted with a sweeping vista of crashing waves and a flotilla of surfers bobbing offshore. The underwater coral reefs create epic breaks that locals have been surfing for decades. The rugged palm-covered shack standing on the beach was originally built by surfers in 1946 and is now a historical city landmark. For the littles, the soft sand is great for sandcastles, and the powerful surf is fun to wade into, though take note, swimming here isn’t for the faint of heart.
6800 Neptune Place, La Jolla, CA 92083
A park with heart
Balboa Park is the geographic and cultural heart of the city. This 1,200-acre space is anchored by the renowned and very popular San Diego Zoo. If crowds and tour buses aren’t your thing, save your money and stroll through the rest of the park for a much more relaxing experience. Kids will love spotting koi and turtles in the lily pond in front of the Botanical Building. If you’re hungry, head for the terrace of nearby Panama 66 at the San Diego Museum of Modern Art for tasty salads, sandwiches, and of course, beer. The park is home to 17 museums. The Natural History Museum is particularly family-friendly, with educational movies in its giant theater included with the price of admission, and a child-proof room complete with fake trees and butterfly wings for tiny nature lovers.
1788 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101
See sea lions
La Jolla Cove, a small cove surrounded by bluffs, is by far the most popular attraction in La Jolla. It’s worth braving the crowds though, for any given day you can get up close to the resident colony of sea lions and seals. They are wild animals, so it’s good not to get too close, but your kids will love gawking as these smelly, magnificent creatures sunbathe, flop in the surf, and bark loudly at each other. Just below the rocky points, the sea lions call home is a stairway down to Cove beach, a small strip of sand popular with families, swimmers, and snorkelers. Before you leave, be sure to take a stroll through the adjacent Ellen Browning Scripps Park. There are stunning views of the Pacific from its walkway.
1100 Coast Blvd. La Jolla, CA 92037
Water without waves
Mission Bay is San Diego’s human-made 4,600-acre saltwater playground. It’s home to SeaWorld, and popular with kayakers and paddle boarders. Fanuel Park is an easy place to experience it as a family. This waterfront park has bathrooms, showers where you can rinse off the sand, and two playgrounds where kids can play when they get bored with the beach. The water is warm with lots of seagrass kids can pull up and mud that squishes between their toes. This is a particularly great beach if your kids aren’t swimmers yet, as you don’t have to worry about waves knocking them down.
4000 Fanuel St, Pacific Beach, CA 92109
Tacos to go
There’s often a line out the door at the Taco Stand, but it moves fast and is for good reason. This little shop serves up delicious Mexican fare at decent prices. The tortillas are handmade and the salsa is made fresh daily. For fish taco enthusiasts, there are two different kinds: Baja-style, fried in a fluffy batter, and grilled. There’s no kid’s menu, but there are the standard kid favorites such as quesadillas and bean and cheese burritos. Order at the counter and grab a seat or take your food to go.
621 Pearl Street, La Jolla, CA 92037
Beer and astroturf
San Diego is home to 155 craft breweries, and Waypoint Public is a great place to taste some of them. This family-friendly restaurant in the hip North Point neighborhood has 30 beers on tap, and you can try them while grabbing a bite and letting the kids play. On warm evenings, the restaurant rolls up its garage door windows and families gather around large tables to dine on upscale pub fare like Mediterranean lamb burgers and summer greens with roasted beets. For little ones, there’s a kids’ menu featuring burgers and pasta, and a fenced-off corner just for them complete with bean bags and astroturf.
3794 30th Street, San Diego, CA 92104
Ready to go? We got just the place for you and your family.
This is amazing! I’m heading to San Diego for Thanksgiving and can’t wait to explore these recommendations.