Family Fun in San Diego

San Diego offers so much in the way of family-friendly attractions your biggest challenge is convincing the kids to leave at vacation’s end.

Kids at the San Diego Zoo

© Stefano Panzeri | Dreamstime

Probably the most famous attraction is the San Diego Zoo, and with good reason. Already a blockbuster, the zoo opened a new, $68 million exhibit called Africa Rocks this summer. There are six new habitats that showcase the biodiversity of the continent, along with the flora and fauna that inhabit them. Meanwhile, the zoo’s sister attraction, the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo Safari Park, takes visitors on safari rides to see wild animals, like giraffes and cheetahs, in an approximation of their natural habitat. Kids can also enjoy ropes courses and zip lines and even take a behind-the-scenes tour of the park.

SeaWorld San Diego also opened a new attraction this year with Ocean Explorer, featuring five rides, including one aboard a mini-submarine. Other attractions include Dolphin Encounters and Dolphin and Beluga Interaction Programs.

Fans of amusement parks are not forgotten in San Diego, thanks to Belmont Park in Mission Beach. The beachfront park offers classic rides, including the historic Giant Dipper roller coaster. Kids can also play mini golf or laser tag.

Of course, part of any family-friendly vacation is finding the right hotel or resort, and San Diego has more than its share of options in just about every price point. And while deals are available year-round, for the last six years in a row Kids Free San Diego turns the month of October into a bonanza of savings for families.

Gaslamp San Diego California

© Evgeniefimenko | Dreamstime

At the new The Pendry, for example, an upscale hotel opened this past February in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, kids age 12 and under can stay up late with a Kids Party Free in their PJs sleepover party that includes up to two in-room movies, snacks and candy and Kid’s Sleepy Time Spray from Spa Pendry. The package is good every night in October.

The Kona Kai Resort & Spa, overlooking Point Loma and Shelter Island, welcomes kids with gifts and a free meal at the hotel’s Vessel Restaurant and Bar with the purchase of an adult meal.

The Paradise Point Resort & Spa on Mission Bay gives kids an “island allowance” that they can use on a variety of on-property activities, such as mini-golf, bike rentals and paddleboarding.

Kids Free San Diego also offers deals at arts and cultural venues, including free admission at more than three dozen museums for kids 12 and younger.

At the Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla, for example, children can enjoy interactive exhibits, watch a tank feeding and see sharks, jellyfish and other marine life.

At the Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma, families can watch films and participate in ranger-guided walks to Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which dates from the 1880s.

The Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad entertains and instructs families about American popular music through audio and video clips, musical artifacts and instruments kids can play themselves.

Families looking for a daytrip to Mexico from San Diego can walk across the pedestrian bridge, called the Cross Border Xpress, which connects Tijuana International Airport with San Diego. Kids can also cruise around the San Diego Bay for free with a full-priced adult reservation via San Diego Sailing Tours, which offer group and private sailing experiences.

Small legs might appreciate a cycling experience on an electric bike, widely available for self-guided and group tours throughout the city.