Year-round sunshine, 70 miles of sparkling coastline, historical landmarks, and fun-filled attractions make San Diego an exceptional spot for a family getaway. It’s a waterfront paradise where visitors of all ages can discover new interests and thrills, from tide pools and water sports to theme park rides and museum exhibits. Each San Diego destination has a distinct identity that will appeal to different types of families. Get to know this Southern California region with seven family-friendly vacation ideas in San Diego stretching from north to south.
Where to Stay: The Westin Carlsbad Resort & Spa
Why It’s a Top Spot for a Family Vacation: Located about 30 miles north of downtown San Diego, Carlsbad is a family-friendly haven with a theme park, aquarium, and plenty of ways to enjoy the SoCal sun and surf.
A not-to-be-missed San Diego family attraction is LEGOLAND California, where families can spend days exploring immersive lands. The Carlsbad theme park is great for kids 12 and under, with more than 60 rides and shows including movie character meet-and-greets, a dinosaur roller coaster, and a factory tour. In the spring and summer, you can upgrade to a park-hopper ticket to access the water park, or visit the SEA LIFE Aquarium all year long. The convenience of staying at one of the two on-site hotels is undeniable, and The Westin Carlsbad Resort & Spa is within walking distance to the parks and offers a broad range of experiences the whole family can enjoy, such as a spa, nearby championship golf course, and farm-to-table restaurant. It’s also less than a mile from the Carlsbad Flower Fields and offers complimentary daily transportation to see the 50-acre ranch that blooms with color from March through May. To soak up some sun, cruise to Carlsbad State Beach. The wide swaths of sand allow families to spread out and enjoy activities such as swimming, surfing, kayaking, and windsurfing.
Where to Stay: The Lodge at Torrey Pines
Why It’s a Top Spot for a Family Vacation: Known as the “jewel” by the sea, La Jolla is a coastal paradise with picturesque beaches and upscale accommodations.
This family-friendly vacation idea in San Diego starts at the north end of La Jolla. The Lodge at Torrey Pines, a Forbes Four-Star luxury resort, has myriad amenities for families ranging from a children’s scavenger hunt and daily croquet games to guided nature walks along the winding footpaths of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. With its rocky cliffs and sandy alcoves, La Jolla is also a treasure trove of tide pools home to sea anemones, crabs, barnacles, and other marine life. Hospitals Reef is a local favorite for exploring tide pools on your own, but head to Dike Rock for guided tours led by docents from Birch Aquarium. Make time to go inside the aquarium to view more than 60 habitats for fish, invertebrates, and animals such as little blue penguins, sea dragons, and leopard sharks. Farther south, La Jolla Shores is great for more active kid-friendly experiences, with smaller surf and high visibility providing ideal conditions for swimming and kayaking.
Where to Stay: Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina
Why It’s a Top Spot for a Family Vacation: The Embarcadero delivers the best of both worlds for families who want to stay close to the water while enjoying the lively energy of the nearby city streets. You can enjoy sweeping views of the skyline, see public art installations, and be immersed in San Diego’s nautical heritage all in one day.
Located along the downtown area’s scenic shore, the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina offers unique amenities including a Top Golf Swing Suite with virtual games for all ages. Unwind at the poolside restaurant after a day of sightseeing at nearby attractions such as Seaport Village, home to waterfront shopping, dining, and an old-timey carousel pavilion. Infuse your San Diego family travel with some educational fun by touring the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s collection of historic vessels such as the Star of India, or let kids earn their junior pilot wings at the USS Midway Museum housed inside a former aircraft carrier. Or, experience your own nautical adrenaline rush aboard a Patriot Jet Boat ride through San Diego Bay. For more creative play, visit The New Children’s Museum, which features climbable sculptures and hands-on art studios.
Where to Stay: Paradise Point Resort and Spa
Why It’s a Top Spot for a Family Vacation: A quintessential California boardwalk town, Mission Beach has everything from on-the-water experiences to amusement park rides, all in close proximity to the 200-acre SeaWorld San Diego.
Bordered by the ocean to the west and Mission Bay to the east, Mission Beach is a waterfront playground for families. Sunseekers can easily spend all day on the sandy shores swimming and surfing; if it’s your kids’ first time on a board, Mission Beach Surfing School instructors lead private land and sea lessons with all equipment included. On the bay side, try stand-up paddleboarding in the calmer waters. When you’re ready for a break, head down the 3-mile boardwalk to visit the historic Belmont Park, a beachfront amusement center with carnival games, an arcade, and rides like the vintage Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. More family fun awaits in nearby Mission Bay, where SeaWorld San Diego offers animal encounters, tours, shows, and thrill rides. On a private 44-acre island just north of the theme park, the secluded Paradise Point Resort and Spa is central to all the activities in the bay. There’s also plenty to do without leaving the property, with hotel amenities including five pools, bonfire pits, tennis courts, a 70-foot observation tower, and a marina with water sports equipment rentals.
Where to Stay: San Diego Mission Bay Resort
Why It’s a Top Spot for a Family Vacation: Considered the “birthplace” of California, Old Town San Diego is now ripe for exploration with historical exhibits, museums, and living history demonstrations in the plaza.
Make San Diego Mission Bay Resort your home base for exploring Old Town. This hotel packs in the family fun, with features like a waterfront pool, private beach with fire pits, weekly s’mores nights, and games like giant chess boards located around the property. When you’re ready to venture out, the historic landmarks and museums of Old Town are less than 10 minutes away. Step back in time to San Diego circa 1800s, and take a walking tour of landmarks including Mason Street School, San Diego’s first one-room schoolhouse; the haunted Whaley House Museum; and the Junípero Serra Museum, which sits on the site of the first permanent European settlement in California. Mexican cuisine abounds in Old Town, so come hungry to sample authentic dishes like handmade tortillas and molcajete from Old Town Mexican Cafe and Casa Guadalajara. Pick up a souvenir from one of the colorful Bazaar del Mundo shops and some traditional sweets for little ones from Mexico Candy Shop.
Where to Stay: The Westin Gaslamp Quarter
Why It’s a Top Spot for a Family Vacation: The lights and buzz of San Diego’s downtown area create a faster-paced family getaway, with opportunities to sample international cuisine, walk the city streets, and tour world-class museums.
In the heart of downtown, The Westin Gaslamp Quarter is ideally located for a San Diego family vacation. The historic Gaslamp Quarter is just out the front doors and while it’s decidedly not kid-friendly after dark, there are plenty of great daytime eateries like Broken Yolk Cafe and Chocolate Cremerie. To explore more of the city, borrow hotel bikes to pedal along the waterfront or catch a ride on the hop-on, hop-off Old Town Trolley Tours to nearby Balboa Park. You could spend days wandering the sprawling complex of museums and landmarks, which include a historic carousel dating back to 1910, the Fleet Science Center, San Diego Air & Space Museum, and more. Don’t miss the San Diego Zoo, a wildlife oasis where animals ranging from koalas and orangutans to big cats and elephants roam the 100-acre park.
Where to Stay: Hotel del Coronado
Why It’s a Top Spot for a Family Vacation: A peninsula situated between the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay, Coronado is known for its sweeping beaches and miles of car-free bike paths accessible to all ages and skill levels. It oozes small-town charm, with all the ease of a laid-back seaside oasis and convenient access to downtown San Diego just across the bridge.
A beach day has never been easier than when you’re staying steps from the sand. Family vacations at Hotel del Coronado include access to its private beach with chair and equipment rentals, reserved day beds, and food and drink service. At night, reserve a fire pit at the luxury resort to roast s’mores while watching the sunset. If water sports like kayaking or paddle boarding at Coronado Beach aren’t on the itinerary for your San Diego family vacation, book bike rentals for the whole crew to stay on dry land. Start your cruise at a bike path just outside the hotel, then pedal by sights like Coronado Yacht Club and see the Coronado Bay Bridge from afar. Local companies like Wheel Fun Rentals also offer three- and four-wheel passenger cycles to transport little ones who tire easily. Bike to the other side of the peninsula to visit Coronado Ferry Landing, a fun destination for families with restaurants (including casual eateries and dessert stops), a small shopping village, and live music every Sunday. On your way back, cut through the center of town to explore Orange Avenue landmarks such as the Coronado Museum of History & Art, which has diverse exhibits that have ranged from the city’s naval ties to its silver screen heritage.
Whether you want to take a scenic waterfront hike, visit theme parks such as LEGOLAND California or SeaWorld San Diego, or go on a tasting tour to find the county's best tacos, San Diego family vacations can take any shape or form. There’s something for every personality and age group—plus, as a drivable city, it’s easy to add day trips to the itinerary to ensure you don’t miss a thing when visiting this coastal SoCal destination.