The Best San Diego Itinerary With Kids: 6 Sustainable San Diego Family Vacation Ideas

May 7, 2022

Since 2021 was not the best year to plan a family vacation, this year will be better as many traveling restrictions have been removed. It is an excellent opportunity to start planning your next vacation with your family right now. And what better vacation to plan than a San Diego itinerary with kids?

For this post, I invited Julio Sanchez from Cardiff Vacations to share his thoughts on the best sustainable San Diego family vacation itinerary ideas.

If you plan to enjoy your San Diego family vacation itinerary close to the sea, Cardiff by the Sea offers several beautiful ocean-view vacation rentals. If you’ve never been to San Diego yet, you will discover many places to take kids in San Diego, unique rentals to stay at, and a handful of activities that you can enjoy on your San Diego itinerary with kids.

This post may contain affiliate links. That means I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something. But don't worry, this will not result in any extra costs to you.

Colorful signs in Old Town San Diego

Helpful information for your San Diego itinerary with kids

Just so you can get to know a bit about San Diego city, it is the second-largest city in southern California, situated in the southwest point of the United States. It's about a 2-3 hour drive south of Los Angeles and Disneyland. San Diego city has a mild year-round climate, extensive beaches, and parks that are easily accessible.

Being the second-largest city in southern California, San Diego can sometimes be crowded and full of visitors. But planning ahead for your San Diego itinerary with kids will help you see the full potential of this beautiful city. Planning your San Diego trip with family early will also save you a lot of money for the rental properties because San Diego is known for its high real estate prices.

To learn more about San Diego, buy one of these guide books to prepare you for your San Diego itinerary with kids:

Fodor's San Diego: with North County

DK Eyewitness Top 10 San Diego

100 Things to Do in San Diego Before You Die

And if you want to get a good introduction to the city of San Diego, book one of these tours for your San Diego family vacation itinerary to learn about the history and culture of San Diego:

San Diego Scenic Tour

San Diego Shore Excursion: San Diego Seal Tour

Gaslamp Quarter Downtown San Diego Food Tour

Tours make excellent worldschooling resources to incorporate learning into your family’s travel experiences!

The San Diego Seal Tour

A San Diego itinerary with kids for all seasons

Unlike many other cities similar to it, San Diego offers you sustainable activity choices for your San Diego family vacation itinerary. There are many parks and green spaces where your kids can spend some time discovering new family activities in San Diego and having a good time. If your kids are busy, you will have more time to spend with your wife or husband.

Although the weather is perfect all year long, there are some extra unique things in the summertime. In the summertime, San Diego is full of special events and exhibits and the crystal clear water of the sea. There are so many places to go in San Diego for kids! 

Here are some places you can plan to visit during your San Diego itinerary with kids:

  • SeaWorld San Diego
  • Mission Bay
  • Balboa Park & Museums
  • Belmont Park
  • Cardiff State Beach
  • San Diego Zoo & Safari Park

Traveling to other places in California? Read my California posts here.

A pond at Seaport Village

1. Learn about marine life at SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego is an excellent option for animal lovers to include in your San Diego vacation itinerary. This is a half-animal conservation institute and a part theme park making it a fantastic adventure, especially for children. Some of the most popular marine animals that you can see here include:

  • Penguins
  • Tortoises
  • Seals
  • Orcas
  • Dolphins
  • Whales

Besides seeing the beautiful aquatic animals, you and your kids can try an exciting thrill water ride, coaster, and much more. Before visiting SeaWorld San Diego, make sure to check their calendar to see whether they have a special event while staying here.

SeaWorld San Diego is also committed to supporting the protection of our environment by taking part in various activities such as:

  • Rescuing ill, orphaned, and injured animals
  • Funding and supporting organizations focused on animal rescue and rehabilitation conservation education, habitat protection, and species research
  • Seeking sustainable food sources for the park's guests and animal inhabitants

Animal attractions can be a gray area when it comes to practicing ethical family travel, so it’s important to do your own research on the places you plan to visit.

An orca whale at SeaWorld San Diego (photo courtesy of Cardiff Vacations)

2. Spend an afternoon at Mission Bay Park

Parks are the perfect place for a sustainable San Diego itinerary with kids. Mission Bay is one of the largest parks in the country, with many points connecting you with the bay, coves, and a few islands. Ski Beach is the way to go if you are looking for the best place for a picnic or family party. Playa Pacifica Park also offers many grassy areas and playgrounds for kids.

Sailing and other water-based San Diego activities for kids are another fun, sustainable way to enjoy your time in Mission Bay park. The Mission bay aquatic center offers instructional sessions on various water activities, including:

  • Surfing
  • Sailing
  • Wakeboarding
  • wake surfing
  • stand up paddling
  • Waterskiing
  • Paddling
  • Rowing
  • Kayaking
  • Windsurfing
San Diego kids activities
Play time at Mission Bay Park

Ready for a change? Take the first step to living a life of full time travel.

3. Visit Balboa Park & Museums for your San Diego itinerary with kids

Balboa Park is the largest urban and cultural park in the country, filled with gardens, theaters, museums, and many activities you can enjoy during your family trip to San Diego. There are a few picnic spaces, a cactus garden worth visiting, and inspiring museums located throughout the park.

Besides visiting beautiful buildings, children can learn a lot of information as Balboa Park boasts 17 museums and cultural institutions. Some of the best museums for your San Diego itinerary with kids include:

  • Fleet Science Center
  • Natural History Museum
  • San Diego Art Museum
  • Air & Space Museum
The Conservatory at Balboa Park (photo courtesy of Cardiff Vacations)

4. Enjoy the thrills at Belmont Park

There can’t be a perfect San Diego itinerary with kids if the amusement park is missing. Belmont Park offers the ideal combination of fun for kids and nostalgia for you and your loved one. This destination features anything you could think about, from roller coasters to bumper cars, arcade gamers, a boardwalk-style attraction, laser tag, a mirror maze, a rock wall, and mini-golf.

I suggest you book one entire day for Belmont Park and another one for Balboa Park & Museums because you might find yourself spending a whole day at each of these parks, and your kids might not be so happy leaving them too early.

Amusement park rides at Belmont Park (photo courtesy of Cardiff Vacations)

5. Add family time to your San Diego itinerary with kids at Cardiff State Beach

Another place you can spend time with your family without spending too much money during your San Diego itinerary with kids is Cardiff State Beach. The best part about this place is that you can park your car right next to the beach so you won’t have to carry your provisions a long way.

You can walk on the beach up to Tide Beach Park, which allows you to swim, but be careful about the riptides that might occur even during summertime.

The beat at Cardiff State Beach (photo courtesy of Cardiff Vacations)

6. Get up close and personal with animals at San Diego Safari Park

One of the other best places to visit in San Diego with kids is the San Diego Safari Park. It is situated outside San Diego, around 35 miles north of the city. The emphasis of the Safari Park is on animals found in African Safaris, such as lions, elephants, exotic tigers, rhinos, and more. The exhibits are enormous, so visitors can see the animals just as they were in the African safari.

 A San Diego Zoo Safari Park ticket includes general admission, and admission to the:

  • Cheetah Run
  • Africa Tram Safari
  • Regularly scheduled exhibits and shows  
Giraffes in front of a grassy field standing next to a truck with people during a San Diego itinerary with kids at the San Diego Safari Park.
Giraffes at San Diego Safari Park (photo courtesy of Cardiff Vacations)

Tips for A Sustainable San Diego Family Vacation Itinerary

Although your choices of family San Diego activities matter a lot when it comes to the sustainability of your San Diego itinerary with kids, there are also other things to keep in mind if you’re trying to travel more sustainably, such as:

  • Travel locally. No matter your choice of transportation, your traveling harms the environment, unless you’re traveling by bike or other fuel-free means of transportation. To keep the impact on the environment as low as possible, try to choose travel destinations closer to your city.
  • Use biodegradable wipes. When doing a San Diego itinerary with kids, things will inevitably get messy at some point, and you need to have some wipes on you at all times. An excellent way to travel more sustainably is to use biodegradable wipes instead of regular ones.
  • Take your reusable bottles with you. The use of plastic bottles comes with substantial environmental harm, so it is best to steer away from them as much as you can, including when you travel to San Diego with kids. 
  • Use public transportation or rented bikes to get from one place to another.

Read here for more tips on how to travel sustainably with your family.

A Spanish style building in Balboa Park during a San Diego itinerary with kids
A building at Balboa Park

A family-friendly city for your San Diego itinerary with kids

San Diego is a family-friendly city, offering great tourism for tourists of all ages. Not only will you be able to have a lot of fun in this beautiful city, but you will also have the opportunity to learn new information about marine life and history during your San Diego itinerary with kids. On top of that, there are many mile-long beaches and parks to explore, making your San Diego trip with kids unforgettable.

Have you experienced some other fun places to go with kids in San Diego? Share your ideas for a San Diego itinerary with kids in the comments below.About the author: Julio Sanchez is the proud owner of Cardiff Vacations which offers beautiful ocean view vacation rentals on the Pacific coast in Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

The Best San Diego Itinerary With Kids: 6 Ideas For A Sustainable San Diego Family Vacation | The Wandering Daughter | Pinterest image of a conservatory with a reflecting pond in front of it, and text overlay.

Need help thinking through how to budget for a family trip? My Travel Budget Worksheet is just the tool you need! Click here to receive your free copy by signing up for my newsletter.

Want to connect with me on social media? Find me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. And for those of you who are dedicated to traveling more responsibly, sustainably, and ethically, join over 200 like-minded families on my Facebook group, Responsible Family Travel.

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