Family Vacations to San Diego

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San Diego – Family Vacation Guide

There are superb beaches, museums, theme parks and one of the best zoos in the nation. What more do you need?

Why Go

  • San Diego International Airport is conveniently located just 10 minutes from downtown, and, upon arrival, families find the city consists of many neighborhoods.

  • Average temperatures in San Diego hover around 70F with plenty of sunny days and low humidity.

  • In October, when the beach crowds disappear, San Diego welcomes families with its annual “Kids Free” month.

What to Do

From 70 miles of coastline, to quirky neighborhoods, to bays, hills and mountain landscapes, there’s a host of family activities waiting to be explored.

San Diego Zoo

A paradise for kids, for over 100 years, the San Diego Zoo has worked to inspire families’ passion for nature. The 100-acre zoo contains thousands of rare and endangered animals from over 650 species as well as a vast botanical garden within its borders. Highlights include hippos, tigers and giant pandas. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a separate attraction 30 miles north of San Diego (in Escondido, California), but is well worth the visit. This expansive park recreates an African savanna on just a portion of its 1,800 acres. Families can go on multiple safaris inside the enclosures to get up close to the animals.

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Balboa Park

The San Diego Zoo resides within Balboa Park, often called the “Smithsonian of the West” for its concentration of museums and gardens, spread out over 1,200-acres. Notable family-friendly museums within Balboa Park include the San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego Natural History Museum and Reuben H. Fleet Science Center to name a few. Kids will also love tumbling around and strolling in the gardens, reaching for the brass ring on the historic carousel and riding an antique miniature railroad.

Theme Parks

SeaWorld San Diego opened in Mission Bay in 1964, and is the original SeaWorld theme park. The 189-acre park hosts multiple exciting shows, dozens of exhibits of marine life and rides like the Manta roller coaster, Skytower and Submarine Quest. Aquatica San Diego is located in Chula Vista and combines thrilling waterslides with lovable animal exhibits. Legoland California is 30 minutes north of San Diego and is a theme park aimed at younger visitors (ages 2-12) who love all things Lego. The nearby Legoland Water Park combines waterslides with, you guessed it, Lego models and activities.

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San Diego’s Mission Bay is a designated water space for recreation that has no shortage of fun for the entire family including sailing, boating, fishing and swimming. On land, Mission Bay has 20 miles of paths for running, biking and skating. Gain a new perspective of the city with a harbor tour, dinner cruise or with an enchanting day of whale watching. The San Diego Bay itself is a deep harbor and home to a number of U.S. Naval Ships. The USS Midway is permanently docked in San Diego Harbor and currently serves as a museum. In addition to touring the historic aircraft carrier itself, families can inspect the variety of military aircraft on the deck of the USS Midway.

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You don’t have to look far to find the beach in San Diego. There’s quite a few fantastic options among the 70 miles of coastline including La Jolla, Ocean, Pacific and Mission Beaches. Head over the Coronado Bridge for Coronado Beach, voted one of the “best in the United States.” In the shadow of the historic and picturesque Hotel Del Coronado, families will find a one-and-a-half-mile-long stretch of pristine, white sandy beach and spectacular sunset views of the Pacific Ocean.

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Where to Stay

  • The Gaslamp Quarter is across from the Convention Center and filled with restaurants and dining options.
  • Old Town San Diego offers culture with the living legacy of the city’s Mexican heritage and first downtown.
  • Ocean, Pacific and Mission Beaches all have the feel and vibe of classic Southern Californian beach towns.

Getting Around

San Diego is easy to get around by car and families have plenty of rental options.  Traffic is not quite as congested as other Southern Californian destinations and especially manageable outside of the morning and evening commuter rush hours. Spending any time at the tourist sites, you’re bound to see the Old Town Trolley Tour. This tourist shuttle has 11 stops at some of the major sites downtown and also offers La Jolla and Mission Bay routes.

Dave Parfitt is a reformed academic with a PhD in neuroscience, who began writing about his family travel adventures after surviving a trip to Walt Disney World with his two budding princesses, now ages 19 and 16. As owner and editor of Adventures By Daddy, Dave offers family travel advice and escapist fun from Dad’s point of view.

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