Home > Travel > My Favorite Family Friendly Things to do in San Diego

My Favorite Family Friendly Things to do in San Diego

Walking on Coronado Central Beach

Walking on Coronado Central Beach

One of our absolute favorite places in the world is San Diego. To me, it is the perfect city. The weather is great, downtown is fairly safe, and there are tons of things to do for all ages. If it wasn’t so expensive, and if the traffic wasn’t crazy in SoCal, we would certainly consider living there. I guess we’ll have to enjoy it on vacations. Here are some of my favorite family friendly things to do in San Diego. Most of them don’t even cost that much.

Coronado Island

If you take the bridge or ferry out of the city and over to Coronado Island, it’s like going to a small beach town. I  don’t think young adults looking for the night life scene would enjoy it much, but for families with kids or those looking to relax, it’s wonderful. Coronado is an expensive place to live, but it’s super cheap to visit.

Coronado Central Beach is one of the best. They have a dog friendly area if you want to bring your pooch. You can also fish right in front of the famous Hotel del Coronado. Right now, there are tons of sand dollars that are fascinating to kids. You can also watch the planes take off and land from the military base nearby. There’s even free parking along Ocean Avenue.

La Jolla Shores

If you go early, you should be able to find free parking along the street near the shore. Otherwise, you might have to walk a way or pay for parking. Other than that, La Jolla offers a great viewing area for sea lions. You can’t touch them, and you shouldn’t, but you can often see baby sea lions. It’s really fun to watch these amazing creatures that seem to do little besides swim, eat, lay in the sun, and play all day.

You can swim or snorkel in La Jolla Cove. There isn’t a huge beach like on Coronado, but you canfind plenty of space to park your umbrella. If not, there is a huge grassy park above the cove.

At La Jolla Shores

At La Jolla Shores

Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines is near La Jolla and is home to the Torrey Pine tree, the rarest of pine trees in the US. You can hike or enjoy the beach. Admission is $10 on the South Beach lot and varies up to $15/day on the North Beach lot. No food or drink other than water is allowed on the reserve, except for the beach, where you can picnic if you desire.

San Diego Zoo vs Sea World

These attractions are certainly not cheap, but are often on the list of things to see when you visit San Diego. Personally, I would rather go on a hike or to the beach, but kids love these places. As a disclaimer, I am such the animal lover that all zoos or shows that make animals do circus type tricks bother me a bit. Both of these places are known for their efforts in animal rescue and conservation, so reluctantly I went.  We did both when our daughter was 3.

Sea World had many things that toddlers would enjoy, like the Sesame Street play area and kiddie  rides. It was fun to see the shows, and there was even a 3D movie that offered a cool respite on a pretty warm day. I would think teens might get a bit bored unless they love marine mammals, but I haven’t been through teen years, so what do I know?

Although the San Diego Zoo is world renowned, I was not incredibly impressed. First, there is nowhere to park if you don’t arrive pretty early. I’m sure it is better in slower seasons, but this was spring break.  We probably spent 45 minutes looking for a spot and had to walk a really long way.

The zoo was crowded, so there were bottlenecks at the most popular places, and the paths through the zoo had some really steep ups and downs. Normally, I wouldn’t mind, but with a stroller and being behind traffic jams, it certainly lowered the quality of the experience.There was almost too much to see, and we ended up skipping many exhibits because we were hot and tired. I have enjoyed smaller zoos in other cities much more, although you can’t find the more rare animals, like pandas, in other places.

The zoo might be more fun with an older child or during off season, but if you have small kids, I would vote for Sea World hands down.

Those are a few of the many family friendly things we’ve done in San Diego. We try to go once a year, so I’m sure I’ll add to the list as time goes on.

What have you enjoyed in San Diego? Zoo or Sea World?


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I have never been to San Diego but I’ve heard from friends and others that it’s an awesome city to visit. I have heard a lot about the Zoo, so it’s interesting to hear your opinion. Perhaps because it is so well-known they can no longer handle the crowds because everyone puts it on their “must visit” list? Who knows, but anyway definitely enjoyed this post – will we be seeing more travel posts in the future?

  2. I loved San Diego, the weather was perfect and after 3 months or so of traveling through Mexico it felt so tidy and clean. The waterfront is beautiful, we walked a lot and then went to the old district that was renovated for food and drinks. I loved that it was so walk-able compared to most major cities in the US.

  3. Never been to San Diego but from all I’ve heard it sounds like a great place to visit. I’ll agree with you on the smaller zoo point. We took our son to a very small zoo near us and though it wasn’t the most impressive place I’ve ever seen, it was easy to get around, wasn’t crowded, and had all the glamour animals of the main zoos. Our son couldn’t have had a better time.

  4. Nice post Kim! Nicole was born and raised in SD and had the pleasure of living there myself with a tour guide. 🙂 We love all three of these places and her parents live about 10 minutes from LJ Shores and love it there. We love Torrey Pines so much that that is where we scattered the ashes of our little one – Isaac in the Ocean right off the coast there. In regards to the Zoo…I would actually recommend the Wild Animal Park. It’s part of the Zoo (about 20 minutes away) and MUCH better. They have a ton of land and you get to see other animals more so in the “wild” I would highly recommend it to anyone.

  5. Those are all really great places. Was the small bad at the La Jolla cove? Oh man it was when I was there. I like the Mission Beach area…there are places you can rent a bike for cheap and ride up and down the beach. Also downtown has been revitalized quite nicely. I also enjoy going out of the downtown area into north san diego county.

  6. When my children were much younger, we visited the zoo and Sea World. Watching the Legos commercials, I wish I had young children to enjoy the experience. Perhaps, grandchildren is a solution some day!

  7. I have only been to San Diego once and I was really young, but I am reminded of it quite a few times a year when my dad wears his “La Jolla” sweatshirt. He bought it there and has had it for like 20 years.

  8. Great post Kim, I have been to Coronado Island and it is really great, just the bridge that you drive to get there is something to behold! I haven’t been to the Zoo, always heard it was so great but with so many other options in San Diego maybe it is worth passing. Thanks for the great post!

  9. I prefer Sea World over the San Diego Zoo also. I didn’t like the idea of waiting in line to see some of the animals, like the Pandas, and we got tired from all the walking.

    We also really liked the beaches located between San Diego and LA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.