We love visiting the city of San Diego, California. Since we have family there, we often visit a few times a year. And every time we go, we’re always looking for affordable and fun San Diego kids activities.
There are dozens of fun things to do in San Diego with kids. But many of these activities cost an arm and a leg!
The San Diego Zoo, and its affiliate Safari Park, can cost between $44 to $54 dollars per person. Single day tickets to SeaWorld are $72 a person. Legoland, in nearby Carlsbad, costs $89 per person per day.
For a family of four, that can mean spending over $800 to see all of those places. For those of us looking for ways to save money on US family travel, we need alternative options for San Diego kids activities!
This post was updated on August 28, 2021.
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.
Getting to know San Diego by taking a tour
One of the easiest ways to get to know a new city is by taking a tour. While many of the tours can be quite pricey, like the Old Town Trolley and SEAL tours, there are some pretty affordable tours available for families as well. These tours take you through various parts of the city. And they can help give you a glimpse the history and culture of the city.
Take a look at these tours you can book for your trip to San Diego. They make excellent learning opportunities for families who enjoy worldschooling.
Old Town Scavenger Hunt, Walking Tour: self-guided walking tour through Old Town San Diego led by Riddle Tours.
Balboa Park Scavenger Hunt Adventure: self-guided walking tour through Balboa Park led by Urban Adventure Quest.
Ghosts of San Diego Walking Tour: a ghost-themed tour through Old Town San Diego led by Ghost City Tours San Diego.
1 Hour Eco Pedal Boat Rental at San Diego Bay: rent a pedal boat through Eco Pedal Boat Rentals and explore San Diego Bay.
Stand Up Paddleboard Rental: rent a paddleboard near San Diego Bay through West Coast Paddle Board Rentals.
Finding affordable San Diego kids activities
Fortunately, from our many visits to the city, we’ve been able to find a few affordable San Diego kids activities. For families who enjoy exploring the outdoors, the book Afoot and Afield: San Diego County has over 200 ideas for enjoying nature in the area. I only cover a few outdoor activities in this post. So the book will certainly give you more options if you’re an outdoor loving family.
We love doing the San Diego kids activities in this post because they make our San Diego itinerary with kids so much more entertaining. And they are great affordable alternatives to the touristy spots. While your family can certainly spend time visiting Legoland and the San Diego Zoo, I suggest checking out the options on this list as well.
Take a look at other ways we make world travel affordable in this post.
Ready for a change? Take the first step to living a life of full time travel.
1. Getting close to marine life at Birch Aquarium
Our kids love aquariums. There’s something cool about seeing marine life up close and personal. While San Diego may be well known for Sea World, in our family, the Birch Aquarium is where we go to see sea creatures. You can find fish and shark there. And you can even touch some animals in their tide pool exhibit.
If you’re looking for some fun San Diego kids activities, consider spending an afternoon at Birch Aquarium. The aquarium is part of UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Tickets for adults are $19.50, while kids are $15. Birch Aquarium is open every day from 9am to 5pm.
2. Exploring San Diego kids activities at La Jolla Shores
Nearby to Birch Aquarium is La Jolla Shores. Swimming at this beach is one of our favorite fun things to do in San Diego with kids. The waves are gentle enough for young kids, but still fun to splash around.
La Jolla Shores is located in the La Jolla neighborhood. The beach runs about one mile long and is open all year long. There are also a lot of restaurants nearby, so you’ll have plenty of options for places to eat after a long day of beach play!
3. Enjoy sun and sand at Mission Bay Park
Another place we enjoy visiting is Mission Bay Park. We love spending an afternoon flying kites on the grassy fields. And we love splashing in the water too. Since the area is a bay, the water is pretty calm, so it’s a great option for outdoor things to do in San Diego with toddlers. Even if your kids are older, they’ll enjoy it too!
Like La Jolla Shores, Mission Bay Park is open all year long. The park has bike paths and walking paths, as well as playgrounds for kids. There are also grills for families to use for picnics and barbecues.
4. Try old-fashioned San Diego kids activities at Old Town San Diego
Close to Mission Bay Park is Old Town San Diego, also another of our favorite San Diego kids activities. We love visiting historical parts of towns we visit. They help us learn about the history of a city, and give us a feel for what it might have been like being in that city in the past.
Old Town San Diego has a handful of points of interest for families to explore. There are at least 22 historic sites within the area to visit. Old Town also has a lot of restaurants for families to choose from. Our family enjoys walking through the Old Town State Historic Park. The area has been remade to look like San Diego in the 1800’s, including old style shops and businesses!
5. Museum hopping at Balboa Park
Balboa Park, located in central San Diego, is a favorite place for our family to spend a day. The park has so many San Diego kids activities to explore, with over 18 things to see and do. We like spending the day at Balboa Park, and walking through the gardens and playgrounds.
Open all year round, Balboa Park was first established in 1868, with 1400 acres of land. One of the first museums at Balboa Park, the San Diego Natural History Museum, was created in 1874.
Although Balboa Park is free to visit, the museums at the park do have admission fees. Fortunately, you can buy a Balboa Park Explorer Pass, which is good for one week. The Explorer Pass costs $59 for adults, and $32 for children. This will get you and your family into any of the museums at Balboa Park for the whole week.
6. Learning about science at Fleet Science Center
One of the museums that we enjoyed visiting at Balboa Park was Fleet Science Center. Our kids love science centers, and when we were looking for fun things to do in San Diego with kids, we knew that we needed to put a science center down on our list. Besides exhibits teaching kids about scientific concepts, there is also a Kids City exhibit, dedicated to kids under five. This makes Fleet Science Center a great option for things to do in San Diego with toddlers!
Fleet Science Center is open Mondays through Thursdays from 10am to 5pm, and Fridays through Sundays from 10am to 6pm. If you’re not buying a Balboa Park Explorer Pass, admission to Fleet Science Center is $21.95 for adults aged 13 and older, and $18.95 for kids aged 3-12. Museum admission includes tickets to an Imax film at the science center.
7. Cabrillo National Monument, a National Park within the city limits
We love national parks, and we always try to visit them where ever we go. In fact, we’ve visited so many national parks in the West during our travels through the United States.
Cabrillo National Monument is a national park located in the southern part of San Diego. It commemorates the spot where the first European, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, first set foot on the United States west coast. The park has a visitors center and a lighthouse where kids can learn and explore.
The best part about Cabrillo National Monument, however, are the tide pools. During low tide, visitors can see all sorts of sea life! The hike to the tide pools is a bit rocky, so it may not be suitable for young kids. And the tide pools are only accessible during times of low tide, which varies throughout the year. Check with a tide chart ahead of time to see when the best time to visit during low tide. Entrance into Cabrillo National Monument is $20 per vehicle.
8. Go hiking at Tecolote Canyon Natural Park and Mission Trails
Taking part in outdoor San Diego kids activities doesn’t just have to be limited to the national park. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore in San Diego as well. We especially enjoy hiking at Tecolote Canyon Natural Park and at Mission Trails Regional Park.
Tecolote Canyon is located on the western side of San Diego, near Mission Bay. The canyon was once home to the indigenous Kumeyaay tribe. Today, the park has over 6.5 miles of trails for families to explore. There’s also a nature center for kids to learn about the outdoors.
To the north eastern part of the city is Mission Trails Regional Park. The park has over 65 miles of trails and also a visitor’s center. We love spending an afternoon at Mission Trails exploring the trails.
9. Enjoy San Diego kids activities at Seaport Village
San Diego Bay is a beautiful part of the city to explore. And one place to see the beauty of San Diego Bay is at Seaport Village. This outdoor shopping mall is full of shops, restaurants, and San Diego kids activities like biking and kayaking.
Seaport Village also has a historic carousel built in 1895. Rides cost $3 each. The Old Town Trolley and SEAL tours both make a stop at Seaport Village.
10. Learn indigenous history at Barona Cultural Center and Museum
As a family who aims to take a responsible approach to travel, we feel it’s important to learn about the history of the cities we visit. History doesn’t just mean colonial history. It also means learning about indigenous history.
30 miles outside of San Diego, located on the Barona Reservation is the Barona Cultural Center and Museum. This is the place to learn about the indigenous Kumeyaay-Diegeño tribe. The museum is small, but is full of informative exhibits about the history and culture of the Kumeyaay. Entrance to the museum is free of charge.
11. Take a day trip to Julian, California
Another fun day trip from San Diego is a visit to Julian, California. This town has a wild west town feel to it, and is famous for its pies!
One fun activity to do with the kids is to visit the Eagle Mining Company gold mine. A tour guide leads you through the tunnels of the mine, and you can see how miners mined gold in the 1800s. At the end of the tour, you can also practice panning for gold in a trough filled with sand, water, and gold dust. Admission to the gold mine tour is $15 for adults and kids over 13 years old. Kids aged 5-12 cost $8.
Check out all my posts about traveling to California with kids here.
So many affordable San Diego kids activities!
Whether you’re looking for things to do in San Diego for toddlers, or seeking out educational activities for your older kids, these affordable San Diego kids activities are guaranteed to make your visit enjoyable. And the best part is, you don’t have to break the bank! Doing all of these activities will cost a family of four between $200-$300, a fraction of what it would cost to do the big name San Diego attractions.
I honestly think travel doesn’t have to be expensive. And I also think that visiting a popular city like San Diego doesn’t have to mean just going to the tourist destinations like SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, or Legoland. There are so many more places in San Diego that are worth visiting with your kids.
Have you visited San Diego with your family? What are your favorite San Diego kids activities? Share them in the comments.
Is San Diego part of a bigger family travel adventure for you? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel! as a resource for tools, advice, and action steps for planning your trip.
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.