From the beaches to the parks to the friendly vibe of the people, San Diego is truly one of the greatest destinations in the world for children. To top it off, our amazing city has several fun attractions to choose from! As a local mom of five kids, here are some family friendly tips on how to make the most of three of my favorite places to visit, the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and LEGOLAND California.
Known as the World-Famous Zoo, it truly lives up to the hype as one of the greatest family friendly destinations to see over 4,000 different animals! Trying to see them all in one day might be a tad ambitious, but here are my recommendations that maximize what you can fit in.
Start with a walking tour by heading down Center Street, checking out the bears along the way until it turns into Park Street and takes you to the pandas! Head there first as the viewing line for an up close look tends to get long. From there, continue the loop along to the polar bears, a truly fun exhibit where you can view the polar bears playing underwater! As your legs begin to tire, avoid the steep hill and hop on the Skyfari that takes you back toward the entrance of the park.
Disembark from your Skyfari bucket and head down Treetops Way to see the orangutan trail, making your way to the Treehouse Café to enjoy the views during lunch.
After fueling up, take Monkey Trail back to see gorillas and more, detouring through Scripps Aviary for some spectacular bird viewing. As you make your way back toward the main zoo entrance, catch the Hippo Trail as well.
By this point, the whole family will likely need a break, but you haven’t even gotten to the lions, tigers, giraffes and elephants! It’s at this time you can rest your feet on the bus tour catching several more great views of the animals.
Finally, if there is any ounce of energy left, head to the Children’s Zoo, truly a treat for the younger set. From hands on exhibits to the petting zoo, it’s a delight and the perfect way to end the day.
If you have tiny kids that need strollers, the Skyfari does not let strollers on board. I do recommend parking your stroller and enjoying the sky-high views round trip, then either walking some of the trails or heading straight for the bus tour.
The closest you may come to feeling like you actually are in the wild, this park is not to be missed. Note that during spring and summer, temperatures can heat up so head there early to beat the summer heat. Head straight to the African Tram first thing as lines tend to get long later in the day and it is pretty much the only line to worry about. This tram takes your family on a tour of the park and offers a view of the animals in an atmosphere created to be like their natural habitat - a favorite for my kids and me. Once the tour is over, walk over to see the lions since they also tend to draw a crowd, for a can’t miss, up close view!
From there, follow the path to see the gorillas, keeping an eye on the various show times. A personal favorite has been the bird show for years and a great way to take a walking break.
As lunch time hits, choose the Samburu Terrace and grab one of the tables near the amazing view area!
Also, be sure to check the schedule for animal demonstrations for up close views (and even some petting!) of some spectacular creatures. Speaking of which, the petting zoo is always a fun time for the kids as well.
Grab your map and seek out the rest of your favorite animals, then cool off in the kid’s fun splash area. Note: bring swimsuits and towels.
As the day winds down, hit the carousel near the front entrance.
Family Friendly Hints
Remember, when traveling with kids, make sure to equip yourself with several snacks to keep hunger away and try to go during times when your child will be least tired. Just as you think you might be headed toward melt down city, let the younger kids sit back and relax in the stroller while you take a walking tour as each of my favorite attractions have plenty of areas to stroll! And when all else fails, remember my mantra: relax while watching one of the shows!
For Lego fans young and old, this is must-stop destination while in town.
Bring your bricks! If your child has a Lego figurine they are ready to be rid of, they can trade it with any Legoland staff member and continue to keep trading throughout the day! And if you are ready to purchase more, be sure to hit the store early in the day as it can get pretty crowded.
Next stop is to head to the back of the park first to avoid the long lines later in the day.
Be prepared that the height requirements are very strict for the rides, so be sure to measure your child before waiting in long lines only to be turned away (and I have seen that happen to many a screaming child!).
During the warmer months, bring towels and a change of clothes as several rides and the Pirate Shores will get you very wet. Though they have dryers you can pay to use, it’s nice to have a cozy towel handy.
When hunger strikes, eat at the restaurants in the aquarium (get your hand stamped for park reentry) and Mini Town as both have delicious food.
If you run into a “survey taker” during your visit, be sure to participate as you usually get a cool prize.
Once you are ready for a breather, hit the shows. In particular, the “The Big Test,” a.k.a. the fireman show, is a family favorite as are the 3D movies, too.
Do you have any family friendly tips to share? Tell us in the comments below!