San Diego, CA Top Attractions

Custom made for families, San Diego has plenty of public parks, nice weather year round, several museums, and many things for children of all ages to amuse themselves with. A family trip to San Diego is not complete without visits to the following sites:

San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park

For kids who love animals, there’s the well known San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Animal Park. The zoo is located in Balboa Park, while the park is located a bit north of the city. If you have the time, you should take a full day for your kids to enjoy the park and the zoo. The 100-acre zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals including a giant panda cub and a baby Sumatran orangutan. Other unique habitats include Monkey Trails and Forest Tales Habitat, SBC Giant Panda Research Station and Tiger River.

San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo (619.234.3153) is one of the most beloved attractions in the city. The famous zoological park covers a little more than 100 acres and houses more than 3,500 animals and 700,000 plants—many of which are endangered species. Highlights include the panda exhibit, the Polar Bear Plunge (the enclosure is an aquatic tank that allows the arctic cuties to frolic), and Monkey Trails—a series of pathways that meander through a tropical forest much like the kind found in Asia. Children especially enjoy the treetop walkways, which allow them to see eye to eye with monkeys.

San Diego Wild Animal Park

Also well worth a visit is the San Diego Wild Animal Park (760.747.8702) the zoo’s east county site (about 30 miles northeast of downtown), where enclosures are kept as natural—and large—as possible. Animals roam expansive field exhibits and mingle with other species they would encounter naturally. In addition to 3,000 animals, the park is home to miles of marked trails and lush landscaping. Kids can purchase food to feed animals like lorikeets, deer, and even giraffes. The park offers a child-pleasing overnight program that allows visitors to camp in tents on the property.


Coming in at a close second in popularity with families is SeaWorld (800.257.4268), a marine zoological park on south Mission Bay. Part amusement park, part aquarium, SeaWorld is deservedly famous, and its star—killer whale Shamu—has been San Diego’s unofficial mascot for years. Shamu’s live show, Believe, is a park favorite; you’ll also find shows featuring dolphins, otters, and sea lions; animal exhibits housing penguins, sharks, and stingrays (kids can feed and pet the rays, which have had their stingers removed); and thrill rides. (Don’t miss Journey to Atlantis, a water rollercoaster set to a soundtrack of dolphin calls.)

Legoland and Sea Life Aquarium

Pride of the North County, Legoland (760.918.5346) in Carlsbad is an oversized advertisement for the colorful namesake building bricks. Tens of millions of Legos make up miniature reproductions of cities like San Francisco, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.. In addition to the tiny architecture scattered throughout, the park boasts more than 50 rides and attractions, many of which run on kid power via rope pulling, pedal pushing, and water squirting. There’s also a miniature golf course onsite, a massive jungle gym, and several water-play zones. New in 2008 is the 1920s Egyptian-themed Land of Adventure, where guests can search for hidden treasures.

In mid-August, a new sister attraction called Sea Life Aquarium opened next door, featuring marine life, imaginatively designed aquariums, and interactive science exhibits. A highlight is the Lost City of Atlantis, complete with an underwater statue of Poseidon and a ten-foot-long submarine made entirely of Legos. (A separate entrance fee is required, although discounts apply when purchased in conjunction with Legoland tickets.)

Old Town San Diego Park

The Old Town San Diego Park serves as a way to recreate life in both the early American and early Mexican era of 1821 – 1872. Perfectly situated in San Diego, the park helps to recreate what was once San Diego. No matter how you look at it, a trip to California isn’t complete without a visit to the Old Town.

Around the five adobes of the main complex, there are shops, a museum, and several restaurants. Around the garden courtyard, the La Casa mansion helps to bring back a taste of the Old Town. Just a short hop from there, the museum is full of artifacts that help to reflect on the life that was once the Old Town.

The Old Town also has a blacksmith shop, schoolhouse, and several other historic buildings, including the first newspaper office in San Diego. This is truly a place to visit, especially for those who are wanting to learn more about the history of San Diego.

The city of San Diego was the first Spanish settlement in California. This occurred when a fort and mission were established in 1769. Back in 1769, California was just beginning to get established, therefore it wasn’t near the state nor the size that it is today.

When visiting the Old Town Park, you should make sure to visit the Robinson-Rose House Visitor Center. This center is reconstructed now and displays a model of Old Town and the way it looked back in 1872. The model that is on display was created by Joseph Toigo.

The Old Town Park also offers exhibits of the way things used to be, programs, and even guided tours. You can get a personal tour of the park, with a guide who will show you around and even explain things to you.

During your visit to the park, you can also enjoy a picnic at one of the picnic areas or get something to eat from one of many vendors. There are supplies here as well, including restrooms.

Those living in San Diego can find the Old Town Park on San Diego Avenue and Twiggs Street. Being close to the main city, visiting the Park is easier than you may think. If you live in the city but have never been to the park, you should stop by and take a look.

On a vacation or a visit from town, the Old Town San Diego helps to bring back a taste of the past. There is a lot to see here and a lot of historical value. All you need to do is stop by the park and see what you think about the way things used to be.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a great place to visit, with everything from street entertainers and clowns to the Natural History Museum, the Model Railroad Museum, the Aerospace Museum, and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center — with its hands-on exhibits and IMAX theater.

The Park covers a huge 1,200 acres and it’s minutes away from downtown San Diego. We have over 85 cultural and recreational organizations here, including fifteen museums and various performing arts groups, like the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre and the world-famous Old Globe Theatre, which presents at least 14 productions and 550 performances a year. And speaking of “world famous,” we’re also home to the San Diego Zoo, where you can stroll around the 100-acre grounds, discovering colorful and exotic species of animals displayed in spacious natural habitats.

Balboa Park
Balboa Park

Balboa Park (619.239.0512) is an urban oasis just north of downtown comprising subtropical gardens, expanses of grassy lawn, a Frisbee golf course, a 1920s-era carousel, several theater venues, and more than a dozen museums. The Reuben H.Fleet Science Center (619.238.1233) is a special favorite with kids, thanks to the numerous interactive exhibits and the IMAX Dome Theater.

Other family-pleasing museums in the park include the San Diego Air and Space Museum (619.234.8291), the San Diego Model Railroad Museum (619.696.0199), and the San Diego Natural History Museum (619.232.3821). If you plan to visit several of these, purchase a park passport at the Visitor Center (located in the Hospitality House), which can save as much as 50% off full-price admissions.

Belmont Park

Amusement Parks are a great attraction in San Diego, with Belmont Park being very popular. There are many rides here, amusing kids for hours on end. The Giant Dipper and the Plunge are among the best, for younger or older kids.  With plenty for the entire family, this Park has something for everyone. With rides for the entire family and basically everything in between, Belmont Park makes for a very exciting adventure.

The most distinctive attraction in the Park is the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. The coaster was built in 1925 and has been restored over the years. This coaster is truly one of a kind, as it offers quick drops, steep hills, and insane speed!

Belmont Park in San Diego also offers the endless wave, which is perfect for wave riders. The Flowrider offers hourly rides, even lessons for beginners. If waves aren’t your sort of thing, you may find the raceway bumper cars or the Chaos enticing. Chaos resembles a ferris wheel, although it creates a random three dimensional rocking and rolling. Anytime you get on it, no two rides are every the same!

For arcade enthusiasts, there is a family fun arcade and gamelords. This creates the ultimate gaming experience, keeping kids, teenagers, and even adults occupied for hours on end.

Other rides at the park include the Vertical plunge, krazy kars, and the infamous “plunge”. The plunge is a great attraction, and actually happens to be the largest indoor heated pool in San Diego. Perfect for swimming, diving, and just enjoying yourself, the plunge is a blast.

To feel the sensation, the Crazy Submarine and the Trampoline can help you. To truly test your limits, the Rock Wall will offer a unique challenge. Anyone wanting to give it a try, can get to climbing the wall and see if they truly have what it takes to get to the top.

Once you’ve had your fill on rides, there are plenty of other entertainment and events to keep you occupied. In Belmont Park, there is always something going on. With San Diego being a tourist attraction, you can bet the entertainment in Belmont Park is nothing short of spectacular.

For the kids, Belmont Park offers some truly unbeatable deals on birthday parties or private parties. If you decide to have a party here, you can pretty much rent a chunk of the park for yourself. For kids, this can truly be an unforgettable memory.

Closed Monday – Thursday, Belmont Park is open Friday and Saturday 11 AM – 10 PM and Sunday 11 AM – 8 PM. Although the park is closed on major holidays, you can visit on the weekends and enjoy the best in entertainment.

To round out your fun, make sure you do a little shopping and take in some of the food. Belmont Park in San Diego has great food and shopping, giving you more than a few reasons to visit the park and be amazed – truly amazed.

New Children’s Museum

Opened in mid-2008, the New Children’s Museum (619.233.8792) downtown is housed in a glass and concrete space with soaring ceilings and floating staircases. Throughout are murals kids can color in, blackboards they can draw on, and graphitised walls they can climb. There is also a rotating exhibit space that highlights thought-provoking pieces by renown artists. This attraction is best saved for the ankle-biter set (seven and younger).

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Perched above La Jolla Shores, Birch Aquarium at Scripps (858.534.3474) is part of the outreach program of the acclaimed Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This small aquarium features an inside exhibit space that houses exotic specimens from around the world. There is also an extensive hands-on exhibit on global warming—which was visited by Al Gore himself on opening day. Outside is a tide pool exhibit where children can touch creatures like sea cucumbers and starfish while learning about tides.

Explore! View colorful Pacific marine life and cutting-edge oceanographic discoveries at the public exploration center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USCD, La Jolla, California. We offer education and outreach programs, teachers workshops, learning resources and much more. Located at 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037. Telephone (858) 534-FISH, Fax (858) 534-7114.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

The collection of restored structures in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park (619.220.5422) highlight the early Pueblo era of 1821 to 1872. Shopkeepers and park rangers dress in period costumes and occasionally take part in historic reenactments.

Exhibits highlight the commercial and personal lives of the first missionaries and colonists, as well as the native Kumeyaay Indians. Children will enjoy a walk through the Blackhawk Livery Stables to see antique buggies and carriages. The park is also home to Plaza del Posado a lively period-themed shopping and restaurant district.

Other San Diego Attractions

Cabrillo National Monument

Established in 1913, Cabrillo National Monument, commemorates Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s voyage of discovery. Pictures of this historic landmark.

Callaway Vineyard & Winery

Daily tours are available without reservations. Wine tastings at modest prices. Visitor Center and Gift Shop. Callaway Vineyard & Winery, 32720 Rancho California Road, P.O. Box 9014, Temecula, CA 92589-9014. Phone: ( 951) 676-4001 or (800) 472-2377; Fax: (951) 676-5209.

Hotel del Coronado

Considered one of America ‘s most beautiful beach resorts, is a classic historic hotel, “The Del” was built in 1888 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977. Today, The Del offers travelers contemporary luxury in an enchanting Victorian atmosphere. Add to this, the resort’s beachfront location, and it’s no wonder USA Today calls The Del “one of the top ten resorts in the world.” Address: 1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118. Phone: 800-HOTELDEL; 619-435-6611.

Knott’s Soak City

San Diego County’s wildest water adventure park! Thirty-two water-logged acres packed with 23 of the most intense water rides imaginable — all themed to the surf woodies and longboards of the 1950s San Diego coast! And don’t miss the wave, new for the 2005 season is Pacific Spin! A giant six-story funnel drops riders from 75 feet in the air, then into a 132-foot-long tunnel before toppling into a pool below. Located: 2052 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista, CA 91911. Phone: (619) 661-7373.

LEGOLAND California

Another popular park for kids is Legoland California, which is located north of San Diego. There are a lot of things to see in this park, with a majority of the park being built from the popular Lego blocks. Overall, this is one of the best and most quiet options for younger children.

The theme park where creativity meets fun! Discover kid-powered rides, cool building challenges, a unique mix of interactive attractions. In June 2006, LEGOLAND California opened Pirate Shores, the park’s largest expansion, with four all-new water-based attractions.

Liberty Station

It’s all Happening Here – Point Loma, San Diego, California. A fascinating blend of living, working, shopping and more. Come and see the transformed Naval Training Center.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá – Mission Valley

Founded on July 16, 1769 by Blessed Junipero Serra. It was designated as a Minor Basilica in 1976 by Pope Paul VI. The Mission today is an active Catholic Parish in the Diocese of San Diego. Address: 10818 San Diego Mission Rd., Mission Valley, San Diego, CA. Phone: (619-281-8449). Open daily. Suggested donation ($3) for adults.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse was in operation at the entrance to San Diego Bay for 36 years, first lit on November 15, 1855, until March 23, 1891 when the light was extinguished. Pictures of Old Point Loma Lighthouse, an historic San Diego landmark.

PETCO Ballpark Tours

You haven’t seen PETCO Park until you’ve gone behind-the-scenes on one of our guided tours. Discover “writer’s row” in the press box, learn about the historic Western Metal Supply Co. Building and explore the Padres dugout. The new crown jewel of downtown San Diego, PETCO Park serves up baseball Southern California style-complete with swaying palm trees and a sandy beach beyond centerfield. Please call our Tour Hotline at (619) 795-5011 or email a request to [email protected]

Final Word

Hitting the beach is a great alternative, as San Diego has many different beaches for kids of all ages. On the beaches, kids can build sandcastles, rent boogie boards, or just enjoy the swimming that San Diego is so proud of..

Older kids will enjoy the true recreation mode for San Diego – roller skating and rollerblading. Along Mission Bay there are great spots, along with playgrounds and parks. You can fly kites here as well, which is a great break from the ordinary.

If San Diego is on your family vacation list, rest assured that there will be plenty for your kids to do on your stay. They will feel right at home with the many things to do – while you your mate are occupied with plenty of things for you to do as well.

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