Top 20 Places to Take Kids in and around San Diego
Every May and June, thousands of local parents, grandparents, and caregivers weigh in on their favorite local places to take kids. This page is where we showcase the 2023 list of winners for the San Diego area. (Click here for the full list of nominees.)
Of course, there are literally hundreds of wonderful places to take your kids in our area, not just this year's winners! Get great ideas here! After you check out the list, make sure to find great things to do on our packed daily calendar, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter, and visit our Everything That's Free page for lots more ideas.
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1. San Diego Zoo
The Zoo, located adjacent to downtown San Diego in Balboa Park, is 100 acres in size. It is well known for its lush, naturalistic habitats and unique animal encounters and is home to more than 12,000 rare and endangered animals representing approximately 650 species and subspecies and a prominent botanical collection with more than 700,000 plants. It is viewed in several ways, first and foremost by walking along pathways, into aviaries, and through bioclimatic zones. There is a 35-minute Guided Bus Tour that gives a good overview of the Zoo, along with an Express Bus that stops at several locations to assist guests in accessing different areas. We suggest taking the Guided Bus Tour upon your arrival to acquaint yourself with the various areas where you would like to spend additional time. The Zoo is a unique walking experience that exhibits animals in the most natural way possible, adding shows and animal presentations throughout the day for additional enjoyment. We recommend a minimum visit time of at least three to four hours.
2. Balboa Park Carousel
The Dorothea Laub Balboa Park Carousel is one of Balboa Park’s most beloved attractions. Built in 1910 in New York, the menagerie style Carousel was brought to Balboa Park in 1922 and continues to bring joy to riders of all ages more than a century later. Almost all of the animal rides are original, as is the motor, murals, band organ, and famous brass ring game. This historic and beloved Carousel reopens for the summer after restoration on National Carousel Day, July 25, 2023.
3. SeaWorld San Diego
Only at SeaWorld® San Diego theme park can you get close to dolphins, penguins, sharks and more! See awe-inspiring shows with magnificent killer whales, playful dolphins, humorous sea lions plus an amazing pet show featuring adopted animals. Dive under the sea at Explorer's Reef and touch a crab, shark, or playful cleaner fish. Experience exhilarating rides, roller coasters and water rides. See dozens of amazing attractions. Enjoy fresh California cuisine. Experience this beautiful park located on scenic Mission Bay. SeaWorld® is a top-rated, all-age attraction and a must-see for any visit to San Diego.
4. Plunge San Diego
Dive into fun at Plunge San Diego, the spectacular oceanside venue at Belmont Park in Mission Beach. Thanks to a five-year restoration project, the historic swimming pool originally built in 1925 is now a state-of-the-art attraction with a retractable roof and floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Swim in a sunlit paradise and enjoy the dining deck attached to the pool’s renovated Beach House Restaurant. The heated pool has seven (7) lap swim lanes, and a shallow area with an obstacle course for family fun. Open to the public, The Plunge offers premier programs including swim lessons for every age, a masters swim team, aqua aerobics classes, and recreational swim time. The iconic facility features a floating obstacle course, basketball hoop, dry sauna, hot showers, lockers, functional fitness area and direct beach access. For current schedules, programs and rates, visit Plunge SanDiego at plungesandiego.com
5. "My local library"
Of course, our local library system is not really ONE place, it is MANY places... but it's important to emphasize how valuable libraries are for family learning and fun. The libraries in our area are wonderful about posting their events to the KidsOutAndAbout calendar so you always can get ideas for free things to do with your kids that celebrate education and imagination. KidsOutAndAbout.com takes this opportunity to salute the wonderful children's librarians who serve our community with such dedication.
6. Fleet Science Center
The Fleet Science Center connects people of all ages to the possibilities and power of science to create a better future. Our mission is to realize a San Diego where everyone is connected to the power of science.
At the science center, you can explore and investigate more than 100 interactive exhibits that pique your curiosity and become immersed in an IMAX film adventure that shows the wonders of the planet—and beyond—in the Eugene Heikoff and Marilyn Jacobs Heikoff Giant Dome Theater. For young science enthusiasts, the Fleet hosts school field trips, science workshops and educational camps.
7. Belmont Park
Sure to please the entire family, Belmont Park is located on the surf and sand of Mission Beach and offers free parking and free park admission.
Belmont Park is San Diego’s only beachfront amusement and entertainment complex. Visitors can enjoy traditional and contemporary amusement park rides including the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, play laser tag, visit the arcade, climb the Sky Climb Rock Wall, Dine at Draft or Cannonball, enjoy a round of golf at Tiki Town Mini Golf, glide on the Zip Line or play midway style games - to name a few. The Park features a wide array of cuisine including oceanfront restaurants Beach House Bar & Grill, Draft and Cannonball as well as quick service concepts Belmonty's Burgers, Hot Dog on a Stick and Dole Whip.
8. Oma's Family Farm
Oma’s Family Farm offers a wide variety of activities and events throughout the year. Visit us for Recess, Schedule a private event, or stop by for our Pumpkin Patch & Christmas Tree Farm in the fall. We would love to have you visit! All tickets are pre purchased through our website.
10. Birch Aquarium
Dive into the world of sharks, seahorses, and coral reefs at Birch Aquarium. As the public outreach center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Birch Aquarium features amazing creatures including a rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle, a Giant Pacific Octopus, Weedy Seadragons, and Moon Jellies. Get hands-on with local creatures while enjoying stunning ocean views.
11. Agua Hedionda Lagoon
The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation operates the Discovery Center (DC). The DC is an extraordinary collection of hands-on exhibits, gardens, and live animal ambassadors allowing visitors to “taste nature.” We primarily serve families with school-aged children who care about the environment, the watershed, and the local community, and we are stroller friendly. These families come to Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation for active ways to involve their kids in fun, hands-on, educational experiences that give them a sense of accomplishment. By providing direct access to nature, we uniquely offer fun, interactive experiences with diverse bodies that rely on the lagoon. We do this differently from others by offering learning experiences that focus on the hands-on doing (not just viewing) of how people and wildlife depend on active watershed management.
12. San Diego County Fair
With more than 1.5 million visitors each summer, The San Diego County Fair is one of the top 10 Fairs in the U.S. and Canada.
13. Sesame Place San Diego
Sesame Place® San Diego is the only theme park on the West Coast based entirely on the award-winning show, Sesame Street®. Conveniently located just 20 minutes from San Diego and 2.5 hours from Los Angeles, this 17-acre theme park is perfect for families with kids of all ages and has been designated as a Certified Autism Center. The new theme park features 18 Sesame Street-themed rides and exciting water attractions, a family-friendly rollercoaster and a 500,000-gallon wave pool – one of the largest in Southern California. The park also features an engaging musical play area, an interactive Sesame Street Neighborhood complete with the iconic 123 Stoop, daily live character shows, an award-winning parade, one-of-a-kind photo opportunities and of course, everyone’s favorite furry friends. For more information, visit www.sesameplace.com/sandiego and follow the park on Facebook and Instagram.
14. San Diego Botanic Garden
San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG) is a botanical oasis designed to empower people of all ages and backgrounds to explore and protect the natural world around us. Through an array of educational programming, events and activities for children and adults alike, the Garden aims to create, share, and apply plant wisdom to the world. Visitors can enjoy 4 miles of meandering trails, 5,300 plant species and varieties, and 29 uniquely themed gardens. Three children’s gardens can be found throughout the property, including Hamilton’s Children’s Garden, the largest kids’ garden on the West Coast. Little explorers can climb a tree house in a jungle canopy, enjoy a miniature railroad, and challenge themselves with interactive elements at the Junior Quail Trail."
15. The New Children's Museum
At The New Children’s Museum, we believe play and art-making promote the skills that our future leaders need: creativity, confidence, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, collaboration, resiliency and optimism. The New Children’s Museum unlocks children’s innate creativity by exposing them to art and the creative process.
16. San Diego Children's Discovery Museum
The mission of San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum is to inspire children to learn about our world through exploration, imagination, and experimentation.
17. LEGOLAND® California Resort
AWESOME AWAITS at LEGOLAND® California Resort with more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions for families with children ages 2-12. The LEGO® Ferrari Build & Race experience is now open! See the world’s first life-sized LEGO Ferrari F40 and race your own creation. Then soak up the sun at the LEGOLAND Water Park or chill out at SEA LIFE® aquarium. Plus, stay and play at the amazing LEGOLAND Hotel or Castle Hotel located right at the main entrance.
18. Mission Bay Park
Mission Bay Park is the largest aquatic park of its kind in the country. It consists of over 4,235 acres in roughly equal parts land and water. Mission Bay boasts 27 miles of shoreline, 19 of which are sandy beaches with eight locations designated as official swimming areas. Mission Bay Park offers boat docks and launching facilities, sailboat and motor rentals, bike and walk paths, basketball courts and playgrounds for children. It is one of San Diego's most fun-filled spots to visit.
19. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve® is located within San Diego city limits and yet remains one of the wildest stretches of land on our Southern California coast! Because of the efforts and foresight of the people in this area, 1,500 acres of land are as they were before San Diego was developed — including the maritime chaparral, the rare Torrey pine, miles of unspoiled beaches, and a lagoon that is vital to migrating seabirds. Visitor Center-Museum Shop is open 9:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m. There are guided hikes at 10:00 a.m., Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Mindful Walks are 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. on Sundays.
20. San Diego Natural History Museum
The Nat has five floors of exhibitions, a giant-screen theater, and San Diego’s only Foucault pendulum. Through its permanent collection, special exhibitions, numerous educational programs, and the opportunity to see scientists at work, the Museum fosters in visitors of all ages a lifelong love of learning about nature and the environment.
Winners in Special CategoriesIn the second part of our survey, we asked readers to select their favorites in three categories. Here were their choices.
Top Arts Educator: San Diego Craft Collective
San Diego Craft Collective is your family's go-to arts education center! As a nonprofit, our focus is on sharing the joy of traditional and modern craft by teaching you the skills you need in a safe, professional and welcoming environment. We offer a wide range of crafts, from woodworking and ceramics to glass and fiber arts. And we believe that craft belongs in the hands and imaginations of everyone -- all ages, genders, races, socio-economic backgrounds, interests and beyond. Besides supporting our local schools with hands-on art programs, we also offer a monthly free kids craft & open house, scholarships, fellowships, a robust volunteer program, rented bench space, and access to a full woodworking, ceramics & glass studio. Come fast-track your learning and explore craft today! Visit us at sandiegocraft.org for more information!
Top Sports Educator: YMCA of San Diego
The Y focuses on youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility, and incorporates the core values of caring, honesty, respect, responsibility, and faith into all we do. The Y is more than a gym. We are a community with something for everyone in your family regardless of age, income, ability, ethnicity, or faith. When youth play sports at the Y, they gain more than just exercise. They learn what it takes to be a leader in sports and in life. Youth learn the fundamentals of the game while building character, developing self-confidence, and creating healthy relationships.
Top STEM Educator: San Diego Zoo
The Zoo, located adjacent to downtown San Diego in Balboa Park, is 100 acres in size. It is well known for its lush, naturalistic habitats and unique animal encounters and is home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals representing approximately 660 species and subspecies and a prominent botanical collection with more than 700,000 plants. It is viewed in several ways, first and foremost by walking along pathways, into aviaries, and through bioclimatic zones.