Seven Affordable San Diego Kids Activities

San Diego kids activities

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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 May 17, 2020.


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A mother and daughter standing at the edge of a cliff looking out into the ocean at Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, one of many San Diego activities with kids that families can do
Spending time in San Diego with my daughter (October 2018)

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 visits to San Diego 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.

Old Town San Diego, a place with a lot of San Diego kids activities
Signs in Old Town San Diego (April 2017)

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.

A child looking at fish at Birch Aquarium, an idea for San Diego activities with kids
Looking at fist at Birch Aquarium (December 2015)

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!

Playing on the beach at La Jolla Shores (April 2017)

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.

Flying kites at Mission Bay Park (April 2017)

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!

Having fun in Old Town San Diego (April 2017)

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.

Balboa Park, a popular place for San Diego activities with kids
Spanish architecture at Balboa Park (January 2011)

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.

Fascinated by a tornado machine at the Fleet Science Center (October 2018)

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.

Taking in the view at Cabrillo National Monument (October 2018)

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.

Seven Affordable San Diego Kids Activities | The Wandering Daughter

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