San Diego Family Attractions
San Diego family attractions include maritime-oriented Seaport Village and USS Midway Museum, while Horton Plaza is excellent downtown shopping, dining & entertainment attraction. The Gaslamp Quarter however, is the heart of San Diego nightlife, particularly at the House of Blues.
New Children’s Museum San Diego
DESCRIPTION: NCM is located an architecturally striking and creative 50,000 square feet museum that reaches three-stories high. It includes a high atrium, 17-foot concrete entrance bridge, angled “saw tooth” roof structure, and a glass-enclosed elevator shaft that functions as a heating & cooling tower. As a result, this building to use very little electricity. Multiple galleries provide spaces for hands-on experimentation, two birthday party rooms, a 250-seat theater and an indoor/outdoor café are additional features. The museum features a triangle-shaped on-site park designed for children with three shade-covered play spaces for day and evening activities. The structure utilizes impressive green-friendly architectural practices and is one of the first green museums in California. It provides an engaging environment in which the family can think, play and create together. The Gaslamp Quarter is nearby.
ADMISSION: Adults and Children (1+) $12, age 65+ and Military with ID $8; children under age 1 enter Free; Target Free Second Sundays of each Month
DAYS & HOURS: Mon, Wed-Thu 10a–4p; Fri 9:30a-4p, Sat 10a-4p; Sun 12p–4p
HANDICAP ACCESS: yes
ADDRESS: 200 West Island Avenue, San Diego, CA MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: Convention Center Trolley Station
PARKING: paid lot accessed at Front or Union Street
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
DESCRIPTION: This relatively unknown public treasure hosted by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography emphasizes learning for children, adults and teachers. It sparkles with eye-popping, informative conservation exhibits and that are scary, if we don’t address Global Warming. Award-winning aquarium staff lead numerous efforts and family activity programs as well. Visitors will enjoy its giant Coral & Kelp Reefs, Tide Pool, Pier Walk, seahorses, sharks exhibits, explorers gallery and best of all, its dive shows in a 70,000 gallon aquarium.
ADMISSION: adults $14, ages 3-17 $10; seniors and college students $10, ages 2 and under enter Free
DAYS & HOURS: daily 9a-5p
ADDRESS: 2300 Expedition Way, San Diego, CA MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: none
DESCRIPTION: In 1892, in exchange for 32 acres of land in the northwest corner of the Park for her commercial nursery, Kate Sessions offered to plant 100 trees a year within “City Park” and donate 300 trees and shrubs for use elsewhere in the City. Thus, Kate Sessions became the early designer of the park’s beautiful landscaping; the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition Art and Culture, Gardens and Spanish-Renaissance Architecture left many venues in the park and several have been added: San Diego Zoo, Fleet Science Center, Air & Space Museum, Natural History Museum, San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego Museum of Art, Mingei International Museum, Museum of San Diego History, Centro Cultural de la Raza, Balboa Park Carousel, San Diego Art Institute, Timken Museum of Art, Photographic Arts Building, Japanese Friendship Garden, San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum, Miniature Railroad, World Beat Center, Veterans Museum, Japanese Friendship Garden and Visitors Center; also contains The Old Globe Theatre, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Starlight Theatre and Starlight Bowl.
DAYS & HOURS: daily 9:30a-4:30p, with expanded summer hours
ADDRESS: visitor center at 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA MAP
PARKING: plenty around the park
San Diego Zoo
DESCRIPTION: Located on 100 acres near downtown San Diego, the zoo has championed many save-from-extinction campaigns for a variety of animals. It offers a guided tour bus that traverses 75% of the park and an overhead gondola lift called Skyfari, providing an exciting aerial view of the zoo. The sunny maritime climate is well suited to many plants and animals that give the zoo a distinctive look & feel, yet a comfortable home to an extensive collection of birds, reptiles and mammals, and a fantastic arboretum. As part of its gardening effort, the zoo raises 40 varieties of bamboo for the pandas on long-term loan from China, and it maintains 18 varieties of eucalyptus trees to feed its koalas. You may have heard about their great work with the California Condors. You can easily spend a day here. From downtown take 12th Avenue north, you see signs for zoo parking. Also notable for being among the first zoos to install near-natural animal habitats. It is worth the admission price to see the best zoo in America. Events both day and night are legendary at this zoo, including African Extravaganza in the summer.
ADMISSION: $42 adults, $32 ages 3-11, ages 2 and under enter Free; multi-day ticket and VIP options available
DAYS & HOURS: daily 9a-5p
ADDRESS: 2920 Zoo Drive MAP
Fleet Science Center & Planetarium
DESCRIPTION: The Perception exhibits are first-rate, even if you think this will only appeal to the kids – surprise, you’ll get hooked on the many interactive exhibits too. Tons of fun for all. The IMAX Dome Theatre is a nice treat, especially if you wait in line 15 minutes before it starts to a an upper middle seat. Separate admission fees apply for the museum and IMAX. For best viewing, come late to enjoy the planetarium.
DAYS & HOURS: daily 9:30a-6p
ADDRESS: 1875 El Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA MAP
Museum of Natural History
DESCRIPTION: Kids will love watching the giant pendulum time exhibit and the dinosaurs. A keynote exhibit explains and demonstrates how western wildfires spread quickly.
ADMISSION: adult $13, age 62+, military ages 3-17, students with ID $8, ages 3-12 $7, age 2 and under free
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Sun 10a-4:30p
ADDRESS: 1788 El Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA MAP
San Diego Air & Space Museum
DESCRIPTION: Showcase exhibits include How Things Fly, Atlas Rocket, San Diego: the Birthplace of Naval Aviation, Centennial of Naval Aviation, 3D/4D Theater, History of the Ford Building, and International Air & Space Hall of Fame. Another exhibit celebrates African Americans in Aviation with, among others, photographs of the Tuskegee Airmen in training and on war bond posters. Scale models of the planes they flew in Europe can be purchased in the gift shop.
ADMISSION: $18 ages 12+, $7 ages 3-11, seniors and military $15, ages 2 and under enter Free
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Sun 10a-4:30p
ADDRESS: 2001 Pan American Plaza in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA MAP
SeaWorld San Diego
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 1964 by four graduates of UCLA who originally considered building an underwater restaurant. Instead, Shamu the killer whale set them on the journey to attracting millions of fans. Today, it has grown to one of the world’s premier marine adventure parks with 200 acres of extravagant shows, thrilling water rides and unforgettable animal encounters emulated by other water parks worldwide. Aside from Shamu, park shows include Dolphin Discovery, where you can pet dolphins, Ignight, where dolphins perform amazing acrobatics to music in a nighttime show, Clyde and Seamores Risky Rescue and Sea Lions Tonight with real animal actors, Riptide – a kind of SeaWorld meets X-Games, Cirque de la Mer – an electrifying combination of mysterious creatures, acrobatics, special effects set to music. Smaller kids reallly love Pets Rule with an surprising cast of animals performing tricks and Sesame Street Presents. Well-loved rides include Journey To Atlantis, Shipwreck Rapids and Wild Arctic Ride, Bayside Skyride, Elmo’s Flying Fish and more. A Skytower ride cost extra, but you can purchase a combo ticket and Shamu’s SkySplash nightly fireworks are free; most thrill rides have a 42″ height requirement. You can also arrange exclusive animal interactions, park tours and adventure camps.
ADMISSION: $61 ages 10+, $51 ages 3-9, ages 2 and under enter free
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Fri 10a-6p, Sat-Sun 10a-7:30p; longer summer hours
ADDRESS: 500 SeaWorld Drive, San Diego, CA MAP
PARKING: $12 cars, $17 RVs and Preffered parking
DESCRIPTION: Now owned by SeaWorld, its the place where San Diegans go, beside the beach, when its hot. Water rides include Pacific Spin 4 person raft ride, La Jolla Falls of 4 high-speed slides, Palisades Plunge of 3 tube slides plus the Cyclone, Tornado and Typhoon tube slides, and Beach Blaster, Green Room, Point Break, Riptide, Silver Strand and Surf Advisory body slides. If you just want to relax with the family, there’s Balboa Bay wave pool and Sunset River lazy river ride, Disk’s Beach House and the Tykes Trough; All Day Locker rentals cost $7 (small), $8 (medium), and $9.00 (large). Private cabanas may be reserved as well.
ADMISSION: $30 adults, $20 ages 3-11 and 62+, ages 2 and under enter free
DAYS & HOURS: 9a–7p; park closed in the winter
ADDRESS: 2052 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista, CA MAP
LEGOLAND Theme Park and Water Park
DESCRIPTION: In the 1930s, Ole Kirk Christiansen started making wooden toys in Billund, Denmark and named his toys and workshop, “LEGO”, a contraction of the Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”. In 1949, the forerunner to the LEGO brick was introduced. In 1968, LEGOLAND Billund opened a theme park with all buildings, landscapes and vehicles built using LEGO bricks – the legend started. Recently, LEGOLAND California was voted the Best Children’s Park for the fifth year in a row by Amusement Today trade magazine. Its stunningly beautiful on a 128-acre theme park geared ages 2-12 with over 50 family rides, hands-on attractions and shows. Bring a change of clothes for the kids, since some attractions involve water. Admission fee is competitive with major theme parks and the unique miniature cityscapes made of LEGOs alone are worth the visit. LEGOLAND Water Park also opened in 2010 to great applause from every 1-10 year old. One of a kind Build-A-Raft River, Orange Rush, Splash Out, Twin Chasers, Splash Safari, and Kid Creek are the main attractions. On hot days, parents will appreciate Eleven 10’x10′ cabanas are available for rent.
ADMISSION: $80 ages 13-59, $65 ages 3-12 and 60+
DAYS & HOURS: daily 10a-5p, but some weekends open longer
ADDRESS: One LEGOLAND Drive, Chula Vista, CA MAP
SEA LIFE LEGOLAND California
DESCRIPTION: A two-story, 36,000 square foot aquarium will feature play zones, fun facts, quiz trails and marine exhibits designed to educate children about life under the sea; features include a seahorse kingdom, a 360 degree ring of sting rays and fish and an interactive tide pool; the signature attraction will be the Lost City of Atlantis aquarium recreation; this 175,000-gallon ocean display will feature a 10 foot statue of Poseidon, a seven foot LEGO submarine and more than 72 LEGO models among the numerous fish and sharks roaming the waters; requires a separate park admission from LEGOLAND California
ADMISSION: $19 ages 13-59, $16 ages 60+, $12 ages 3-12, age 2 and under free
DAYS & HOURS: daily 10a-5p, longer hours April-August
ADDRESS: One Legoland Drive MAP
PARKING: $10, shared parking with LEGOLAND
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
DESCRIPTION: Many people consider this to be their favorite zoo because it places priority on the animals’ physical space and social well being, allowing them to thrive in dignity; no wonder they reproduce better here than practically any other man-tended habitat for wild animals; aside from the elevated overview of the park, a narrated tram encircles a large region of park space with strategically placed gullies and fences that let you safely see gazelles, long horn elk, pandas, elephants, rhinos, wildebeasts, cheetahs, reptiles, lions and birds of prey in natural-looking African and Asian environments; some pay extra for the VIP treatment to feed giraffes and safely pet rhinos — it is the closest experience to a real African safari and unforgettable; watching the lions up close and the unchained Cheetah Run up to 70 mph is amazing; this park helped rescue the California Condor and many other animals from extinction; in summer months it features special performances by acrobats; the park includes a zipline that covers a great distance over animal habitat; save budget room for the gift shops
ADMISSION: tickets start at $42 adults, $32 ages 3-11, ages 2 and under free; there many packages for VIP, Zipline, multi-day experiences and overnight camp
DAYS & HOURS: 9a–5p; summer hours are longer
ADDRESS: 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, CA MAP