From the water to the mountains, there are plenty of free things to do with kids in San Diego
Believe it or not, one of the most amazing destinations to visit with kids actually has so many fun things to do that are free! If you are heading into town and looking for great adventures to do with your family on a budget, check out my favorite free things to do with kids in San Diego!
Let’s start with the obvious – San Diego has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and, yes, they are free! From swimming in the waves to perfecting your sand castle masterpieces, grab your buckets and shovels and be prepared for you kid’s to have so much fun, you may get away with reading a magazine or two!
My favorites for families: Coronado, Moonlight in Encinitas, La Jolla Shores and Law Street in Pacific Beach.
As the tide retreats, tiny pools fill up and become a natural aquarium for you and your family to enjoy. Find the starfish, sea urchins and guess whether there’s a crab in that shell!
My favorites for families: Swamis in Cardiff, Carlsbad off Tamarack, in front of the Power Plant and the La Jolla Cove.
Just as you find yourself needing a break from the sun, enter into one of the many San Diego libraries for some free fun. The new central library in San Diego’s East Village offers plenty of different open spaces for kids and teens to read and play.
My favorite for families: Encinitas library with its ocean views.
One of the best parts about being in San Diego is enjoying all its beauty. With great weather and scenic views, hiking with your family is yet another way to appreciate America’s finest city. When it comes to adventures on foot with the kids, check out some of the top happening hiking spots compiled from suggestions of local moms.
Walk among the famous Torrey Pines with the Pacific Ocean as your backdrop.
It would nearly be a crime not mention this spot first! In fact, when gathering as much hiking intel as I could from other parents, this was the one place always mentioned. Sandwiched between Del Mar and La Jolla, the wild flowers can be enjoyed with one of the world’s most breathtaking ocean views. With three of the popular hike options being short ones, choose to walk to the water or get up close to the famous Torrey Pines! If you want to get your kids excited about hikes, start at this 1,750 acre seaside reserve. (12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, California 92037.)
This 915 acre reserve is nestled neatly in North County with sprawling ocean views. Known for its bird watching, there’s also lots of unique plants to check out, too. In fact, you may even spot a fish or two in the lagoon on one of the eight trails to choose from! (2710 Manchester Avenue in Cardiff-by-the-Sea.)
The Batiquitos Lagoon is a great place to see wildlife.
Beginners should start here. And by that, I especially mean those with the age 3 and under set that just want to get a nice walk in with a view of the water. Enjoy ocean and lagoon scenery with an easy walk for all ages. (7380 Gabbiano Ln, Carlsbad, CA 92011)
Got older kids? Get ready to hike to the highest point in San Diego! Savor the 360 degree views of San Diego and a healthy 3 mile round trip workout, too. With the shorter distance, kids may not notice that the hike is a bit more of a challenge. And bragging rights of reaching the “top of San Diego” (and the view!) will make it all worth while. (At the corner of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road.)
For fun with finding shells along the dam, this hike is another great place to enjoy with children while collecting wild flowers along the way. With easy trails, the historical landmark is also great for bird watching. (1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119)
Known for its cool rock formations that look like potato chips hanging in the sky, this hiking trail is thought of as moderate in terms of difficulty but worth the effort for the photos sitting on the edge of the rocks. With great views, round trip will be just about 8 miles so make sure the kids are up for a true adventure if you go for the whole route. (Mt Woodson Trail, Poway, CA.)
The Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve features hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
Kid friendly walking (read: easy trails) can lead to the excitement of a waterfall! One of the best options leaves from the Canyonside Rec center with a path that will guide you along the creek to the main waterfall event. For a very different hike, be sure to check out the West Entrance as well. Either way, bring your swimsuits on a hot day and enjoy a little dip in the water to cool off! (12122 Canyonside Park Drive, San Diego, CA 92129.)
For the over 5 years old crowd, get ready for some steep hills that will guide you to awesome views overlooking North County all the way to the ocean on a clear day! Reaching the top of the summit of Black Mountain, catch the views to downtown San Diego, too! (12115 Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92129)
Remember, with so much beauty to explore in this city, be sure to get the kids outside and enjoying all the atmosphere that one of these family hikes in San Diego has to offer.
Perched high up on my father’s shoulders back when I was four years old, I remember the excitement of walking around Balboa Park. With so much to see from performing artists to the lily pond in front of the Botanical Building, even picnicking on the grass was a delight all of its own. Now that I am a mom of five, I continue to treasure the beautiful scenery, the iconic Cabrillo Bridge east/west entrance, gardens and so much more. And that’s before ever stepping foot inside one of the many museums and attractions! Over the past few decades (yes, I’m aging myself), I’ve also narrowed down some favorite spots that are frosting on the cake of family adventure.
Escape into the world of fairy tales and adventure with marionettes at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre
Truth be told, I didn’t find out about this delightful show for the whole family that features marionettes, hand, rod, and shadow puppets, until one of my kids was invited to a birthday party there a few years back! With two shows daily Wednesday-Friday and three on weekends, be sure to pop in for some entertainment for all ages!
All aboard the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad’s G16 – now a rare antique with as few as fifty currently remaining
Located just outside of the zoo, I used to always beg my mom to let us ride on this train! Now, I beg my kids to let me go on…kidding…kind of! The 3-minute ride around the tracks is a must and don’t miss a ride on the classic 1910 carousel, too!
And speaking of locomotives, this is another gem I learned about when invited to a birthday party here: the train museum! Watch as the mini-trains travel through large layouts, with four set-ups choo-chooing along at once in a 28,000 square foot space!
Hands on fun for all ages can be found at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
It’s hard to narrow down the must-see museums, but if you are short on time and could only choose one, this would be it! A definite field trip favorite when I was in elementary school, it’s a treat to see my kids enjoy the hands on exhibits all the while learning. And if you have the time, be sure to catch the IMAX theater located in a giant dome that makes you feel like you are in the movie! An absolutely incredible experience, it’s also great for a date night for parents if you can squeeze one in.
Sunshine, plenty of seating and good music make the Spreckels Organ Pavilion perfect for a family afternoon
One of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs (no, really!), this is a must-see (or is that hear?). Be sure to check the schedule but shows are generally on Sundays and a great place to rest after enjoying all the above attractions.
Keeping the kids awake past midnight on New Year’s Eve can sometimes be a recipe for disaster, but luckily, several venues around San Diego offer a range of family friendly events that allow you to toast your tots and still make it back by bedtime. Whether you prefer to go budget-friendly or big-time, here’s a short list of options that will help make it a joyous transition to 2014.
Kids’ New Year’s Eve at LEGOLAND
Ring in 2014 at LEGOLAND’s family friendly New Year’s Eve Celebration
Kids ring in the New Year as if they’re smack dab in the middle of New York’s Times Square at LEGOLAND’s New Year’s Eve party. The event features a full lineup of live kids music and an early evening countdown that culminates with its traditional LEGO brick dropping and a giant fireworks display.
This family focused fete includes a buffet style dinner and dessert bar, a live DJ, and a special Kids Party Zone complete with a “Gamer Room” that includes XBox Kinect, Dance Central, racing games, and Wii. Kids will also enjoy face painting, traditional table games like air hockey and foosball, plus their very own dance floor. The Kids Club Party Room counts down the New Year with a balloon drop at 9:00 PM.
Where: Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa 5480 Grand Pacific Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008 When: December 31, 2013 Time: 6:30 PM to 12:30 AM (Kids countdown at 9:00 PM) Cost: $90 Adult (18+); $45 Child (13-17); $30 Child (4-12) Free for Ages 3 and under. Prices increase after December 30, 2013. > Find out more about New Year’s Eve 50’s Themed Sock Hop Bash
Kids New Year’s Eve at Hotel del Coronado
Skating by the Sea at The Del!
While the grownups toast champagne in the Hotel Del’s beautiful Crown Room, kids will be having a ball of their own with dinner, beach games, a bonfire and enjoying the resorts Kidtopia, a fun-filled facility catered specially for kids 4-12.
Taking place the Saturday before New Year’s Eve, the New Children’s Museum hosts a zany Pajama Jam where both kids and grownups sport their jammies and bunny slippers while they boogie down to live kids music from Clint Perry & The Boo Hoo Crew, enjoy a delicious dinner from local restaurants, participate in New Year’s themed art-making activities and of course, a balloon drop.
Let the kids play all night at John’s Incredible Pizza Company
For a more low-key approach, head to John’s Incredible Pizza Co. where kids of all ages will enjoy celebrating the New Year with an evening of pizza, games, rides, and a special Horn Parade for those that can make it to midnight!
Time to start thinking about what you’ll wear for Halloween. Don’t wait until October 31 to try out your costumes. Here are some fun places in San Diego to take your dressed-up kids before Halloween even hits. Go ahead; get a few more wears out of those get-ups!
LEGOLAND for Brick or Treat
My son was so excited for Brick-or-Treat that he jumped out of his skin! 🙂
My kids’ favorite place for Halloween is LEGOLAND for Brick or Treat weekends in October. We’ve been lucky enough to go three years in a row and they are begging me to make it four this year. In addition to the always amazing and humorous spooky LEGO figures that are added to the park for the Halloween theme, my kids enjoy the interaction of the Brick or Treat Trail where they collect coloring books, healthy snacks, unhealthy snacks, and oh yes, some candy. The kids love that they are running around the park, in their costumes, at night, with a complimentary Brick or Treat bag full of free stuff.
Parents will agree it’s a great time to visit LEGOLAND because not only are hours extended during Brick or Treat weekends, there are free fireworks and extra shows on Saturday nights, and best of all, it’s Kids Free October in San Diego! Visitors get a free child admission with each paying adult through October.
Where: LEGOLAND California Resort, One LEGOLAND Drive, Carlsbad, CA 92008 When: The Brick or Treat Trail is open Weekends in October 2013 Time: Saturday 12:00 to 9:00 PM. Sunday 12:00 to 5:00 PM Cost: Free with admission. Special $30 Party Nights Hopper tickets are available online only and valid for same-day admission to LEGOLAND California and SEA LIFE Aquarium between the hours of 5:00 to 9:00 PM on Brick-or-Treat Party Nights October 5, 12, 19 or 26. This is an exclusive online discount. Also, $59 Brick-or-Treat Hopper tickets are available online only and valid for same-day admission to LEGOLAND California and SEA LIFE Aquarium on customer selected Saturday in October. > Find out more about Brick-or-Treat at LEGOLAND
Even the animals get in on the Spooktacular Halloween fun at SeaWorld
Another family favorite is SeaWorld weekend’s during the Halloween season. Kids can wear costumes and hunt around the park for 10 different trick or treat stations. The Sesame Street characters have a special “Countdown to Halloween” show, Penelope”s Undersea Pumpkinfish Patch, and sea lion’s Clyde and Seamore’s new “Spooky Adventure” show.
Haunted Pirate Ships and More at the Birch Aquarium
Looking for an affordable, educational and family-sized Halloween event? Discover what lurks beneath the surface October 25 & 26 at the 13th annual Haunted Birch Aquarium: Shipwrecked! The entire family can enjoy spooky science activities, explore the aquarium’s “wreckage” for sunken treasures, listen to zydeco band Billy Lee & the Swamp Critters, and enjoy the aquarium after dark, in costume. Haunted Birch Aquarium offers participants a fun and informal atmosphere in which to learn about ocean science and win prizes for best costume. This not-too-spooky event is geared toward families and open to guests of all ages. Children ages 2 and under are free, and children under 16 must be accompanied by a paid adult.
Gather round for haunted seafaring tales and lantern tours at the Maritime Museum of San Diego
For a historically haunting experience, venture on board the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship for a special 45-60 minute tour. Part of San Diego’s Maritime Museum collection, the Star of India’s storied past includes real-life encounters with ghosts, and the tour includes special activities for the family, including seafaring ghost stories and “creepy treats.” Kids are encouraged to wear costumes.
Bring the kids for some Halloween fun in San Diego’s Downtown
Want to get some shopping done while celebrating the spooky season? Take the family to Seaport Village’s Halloween Bash on the Bay and enjoy a kid’s costume contest with prizes, photos of your ghouls, princesses and pirates next to a living scarecrow, and music by the Monster Mash Band and Thriller DJ. The event will not include candy or trick or treating, but offers many family-friendly activities, including a scavenger hunt, face painting and harvest-themed games.
Over a dozen museums are treating families to free admission for children 12 and under during the 5th annual Balboa Park Halloween Family Day on Saturday, October 26. In addition to free children’s admission with a paid adult, participating museums and cultural attractions will present a spooky array of hands-on activities, crafts, special tours, storytelling, and other free goodies.
San Diego is known as the place where summer never ends, so why wait until summer to visit? Pack up the kids and head to San Diego for spring break – and don’t forget your sunscreen because you’ll need it. From our sun-kissed beaches and family friendly attractions, to discovering San Diego’s history and the great outdoors, there are so many fun things to do in San Diego that your only problem will be deciding what to do first.
Hit the Beach this Spring Break
Bring the family to San Diego for a Spring Break beach vacation
Get outdoors and visit San Diego’s 70 miles of awesome beaches where there’s plenty of room for the whole family to splash in the Pacific Ocean this spring break. Whether it’s catching a wave on a boogie board, building a magical sand castle, or playing a rousing game of beach volley ball, this is the place to make special family memories. And, for families on a budget, this is an economical way to spend a day that’s easy on your wallet.
See many of the new baby animals at San Diego attractions.
Journey to the San Diego Zoo’s Lost Forest zone, and pass the time away hanging around the world’s rarest monkeys, gregarious hippos, and other exotic animals. You can also step into a real-life adventure at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and immerse yourself in an active safari experience where herds of animals roam in a 1,800-acre reserve. Or come celebrate the wonders of the sea at SeaWorld San Diego and experience the amazing Shamu show, and thrilling rides like Journey to Atlantis, Shipwreck Rapids and Wild Arctic. If the kids are more in the mood for a creative, interactive day, let them play at LEGOLAND California where there are more than 60 rides, shows, attractions and lots of Legos!
Live the Adventure of a Lifetime at the U.S.S. Midway Museum
Take off into excitement aboard the USS Midway Museum
Prepare yourself for a lifetime memory aboard the USS Midway Museum, one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers in U.S. history. Experience 60 exhibits, get an up close look at 25 restored aircraft or hop into a simulator and feel what it’s like to be an aviator launching off a flight deck, engaging the enemy and then returning safely. This is an unforgettable adventure for the entire family.
Explore Balboa Park
Explore many educational wonders or just relax next to a flowing fountain in Balboa Park
Think, Play and Create at the New Children’s Museum in Downtown San Diego
The New Children’s Museum is a dynamic, new museum model for kids with inventive and engaging art experiences. From toddler to teen, there are fun-filled exhibitions, hands-on art making activities, special artistic performances and fun, educational happenings.
Discover the Cabrillo National Monument
Explore the Old Point Loma Lighthouse at the Cabrillo National Monument
The Cabrillo National Monument is where Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first landed in San Diego in 1542. Now a U.S. National Park, the area offers dazzling views of San Diego Bay and tons of activities for kids. Families can hike a scenic two-mile trail, explore the Old Point Loma Lighthouse first lit in 1855, check out the tide pools and more. But first things first, be sure to stop at the Visitor Center to learn how your child can become a Junior Park Ranger during your visit.
I’ve been to Balboa Park countless times; visiting the museums, going on field trips with my kids, or simply enjoying the gardens. I thought I had seen it all…that is until I signed us up for a photo tour of Balboa Park.
We went with Snap Photo Tours, who specializes in photo tours of some of San Diego’s best sights including: Balboa Park, Coronado, and the Gaslamp Quarter. Their guides are just as much experts behind the camera as they are on the tours themselves.
Learning the Basics with Snap Photo Tours.
Our two-hour guided tour started with basic photo tips and how to avoid taking the “tourist shot” (which I’m sad to say I was guilty of). After learning the basics, we headed over to many of the famous and not so famous landmarks of Balboa Park learning a new “trick” for taking photos at each stop. From lighting, to angles, to framing, we were taking great photos in no time!
Different Perspective of the Organ Pavilion
One of my favorite stops was at the Organ Pavilion. I’ve walked past the Organ Pavilion numerous times, but never stopped to appreciate the details and lines of the building.
Exploring the Organ Pavilion
My two kids ages, 9 and 11 loved the tour and had a great time. I think they actually took better photos than I did.
A great shot of the kids that avoids the “tourist photo.”
Our picks for things to do this weekend are top-notch with delicious food, world-class golfers, a festival for the whales and wonderful pieces of art that chronicle the story of America. This is your weekend:
San Diego Restaurant Week – Week 2
Try 100 Wines Hillcrest during San Diego Restaurant Week
By popular demand, San Diego Restaurant Week has been extended for another week! Enjoy a prix fixe lunch or dinner at over 120 restaurants throughout the county. Hurry up, because the deliciousness ends on Friday!
Rickie Fowler in Round Three at the 2012 Farmers Insurance Open. Photo courtesy of Stan Badz.
Spend this weekend enjoying beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean while also watching the world’s greatest golfers play at the south and north courses of Torrey Pines Golf Course during the Farmers Insurance Open. Single day tickets are still available.
The Big Bay Whale Festival is a free, one-day family festival with a wide variety of interactive and hands-on displays to learn about California gray whale ecology and conservation. Children will enjoy the walk-through gray whale, train rides, giant inflatable obstacle course, free face painting and art mural coloring project.
Get ready to enjoy a fun and warm fall weekend in San Diego with these great things to do:
1. Old Town San Diego’s Dia de los Muertos
An impressive alter at Fiesta de Reyes
Colorful altars and other traditional celebrations of Day of the Dead, one of Mexico’s most revered and festive holidays, return to Old Town San Diego. This community-wide commemoration, which honors ancestors and other deceased loved ones with special menus, music, dancing and crafts, is free and designed for all ages.
The free Fall Back Festival brings the history and culture of the Gaslamp Quarter and Old San Diego alive for children and families. The event features entertainment such as a Wild West Shootout, hayrides, ice cream eating contest, clog dancing and food.
The San Diego Asian Film Festival is one of the largest exhibitions of Asian international and Asian American cinema in North America. Along with narrative features, the nine-day Festival also showcases documentaries, short films, and animation. Screenings take place at the Mission Valley UltraStar Cinema with tickets starting at $11.50.
Say Cheers to another exciting San Diego Beer Week!
The San Diego Brewers Guild Festival kicks of San Diego Beer Week (SDBW) this Saturday. SDBW is a ten-day celebration inspiring people to drink local, craft beer and promoting San Diego’s thriving brewing culture. With over 317 events throughout the week, visitors are sure to get their share of San Diego’s best brews.
Over a dozen museums are treating families to free admission for children 12 and under during the 4th annual Balboa Park Halloween Family Day on Saturday, October 27. In addition to free children’s admission with a paid adult, participating museums and cultural attractions will present a spooky array of hands-on activities, crafts, special tours, storytelling, and other free goodies.
Head to the Gaslamp Quarter this Saturday and share in the Halloween fun with music on the entertainment stages, dancing, costumed characters, costume contest and more. Open to adults, 21 years and older. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 day of show.
The driver never made it through the Haunted Trail! Photo courtesy of Mike Rollerson.
The Haunted Trail of Balboa Park is a stroll you will never forget. As you walk the mile-long Trail, spine-tingling sights and sounds will leave you trembling. Among the twisted grove of pines and gnarled oaks along the trail, you’ll experience terror that is simply too big to house indoors. Watch your back and keep close to your companions because you never know which way the terror will hit you.
Find out why the wine is red…at the South Coast Winery!
South Coast Winery has paired up with the “ghouls and goblins” from its Vineyard Rose Restaurant and its Winery, enhancing the ‘original’ Behind-the-Scenes Tour and adding a “Spook-tacular” Tour. Starting out in the vineyards, then the proceeding to the haunted halls of the winery, one never knows who or what will appear before you to serve up the wines for tour participants and just how it will be delivered. The tour concludes in the winery’s cellar, tucked away in the private Carter Reserve Room, for more haunted happenings.
Haunted Pirate Ships and More at the Birch Aquarium
Discover what lurks beneath the surface at Haunted Birch Aquarium: Shipwrecked! Enjoy close encounters of the fishy kind, BOO-gie down with Billy Lee and the Swamp Critters, and explore our wreckage for sunken treasures. Wander the aquarium’s galleys for tricky treats and discover a sea of glowing creatures while having a monstrous good time. Dress to impress!