Are you looking at the best things to do in San Diego with toddlers? In this guide we round up everything you need to know about visiting San Diego with toddlers from top tips, where to stay and best things to do in San Diego with toddlers.
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Where to Stay in San Diego with toddlers
It can be quite daunting when you are looking at where to stay in San Diego with toddlers. I think when you are considering where you want to stay it is worth looking at what you want to do. There are lots of things to do in San Diego with toddlers (more on this later) but depending on what your priorities are should dictate where you stay.
For instance do you want to spend most of your time at one of the many toddler friendly San Diego beaches or are you prioritising theme parks or museums? All of this will influence the best place to stay as a family in San Diego.
I would say there are three main options when considering what accommodation is right for families visiting San Diego. The areas or types of accommodation I would say you should consider are:
- Hotel Circle
- Theme Park Accommodation
San Diego has some of the best city beaches I have ever been to anywhere in the world. If one of the main aims of your stay is visit the beaches then you should consider the following hotel
However if you San Diego with toddler itinerary contains more of a mixture of activities then a great choice could be hotel circle. Now don’t get me wrong this is not the most scenic place to stay in San Diego but there are lots of great hotels and apart hotels which are perfect for families traveling with toddlers. It also has great ar transportation links which make it easy to get to theme parks, beaches and out of town attractions.
Also if you aren’t staying in San Diego for long and your priority for your visit is the theme parks you could consider theme park accommodation such as the Legoland Hotel at Legoland California.
How to Save Money Visiting San Diego with toddlers
If you want to visit many of the top San Diego attractions with toddlers, the cost can soon rack up. Therefore if you are looking for how to save money visiting San Diego we recommend getting a city card for your stay. The city card has entrance fees to many of the top San Diego attractions included in the cost of the card.
When we were in San Diego our card allowed us to get entry to:
- Sea World
- USS Midway
- San Diego Zoo AND Safari PArk
- San Diego city cruise
to name just a few of the things we did using our card.
Best Things to do in San Diego with toddlers
Now we have looked at what you should consider when looking at where to stay in San Diego with toddlers we will turn our attention to the best things to do in San Diego with toddlers.
We loved how toddler friendly this city was and were surprised at how many San Diego toddler activities there are in the city. Even when we put together our very full San Diego with toddler itinerary we were surprised at how many things we hadn’t got chance to do. We are definitely plotting a return as I think this might be the best US city to visit with toddlers.
So without further here are, in our opinion, the best things to do in San Diego with toddlers.
Best San Diego Attractions for toddlers
San Diego Zoo
Now when I think about the best San Diego Attractions for toddlers, the place that comes first to mind is of course the world famous San Diego zoo.
The San Diego Zoo is one the best attractions for toddlers in my opinion because of the combination of activities that you can do once inside the zoo. Included in your ticket price is not only the zoo but also the San Diego zoo skylark and kangaroo bus Aswell as the amazing explorers base which is a very toddler friendly play area.
However it is worth noting that to do everything the zoo has on offer in one day is almost impossible even without a toddler. So be sure to pace yourself and prioritise the animals and activities you want to do most.
Also, the San Diego Zoo is on a hilly site so you will definitely want to bring your stroller with you. For more San Diego with toddler tips please check out this post.
Please note: the queue can get quite large if you wait to buy your tickets to the Zoo on arrival. We advise buying them in advacne to save on time. Click here to buy your tickets online in advance.
San Diego Safari Park
If you aren’t animaled out at the San Diego Zoo then you should also add San Diego Safari Park (previously San Diego Wild Animal Park) to your San Diego itinerary.
The San Diego Safari Park is located about 30 miles away from the zoo in Escondido.
On top of that you can take the Africa Tram through the park. Taking only 25 minutes it is the perfect length for a toddler’s attention span. And the great thing is that this is included in your ticket price. There are other safaris available however these are an addition to your ticket price and may not be worthwhile if you are traveling with toddlers.
There are lots of other toddler friendly attractions in the safari park too such as the conservation carousel and the walkthrough aviary as well as plenty of play areas.
Balboa Park is a one stop toddler attraction as there is so much to do there. There are museums (which we will talk about in more detail below) for every interest from transport to natural history but as well as that there are plenty of parks and gardens where toddlers can run free.
There are plenty of play areas such as Bird Park at Upas, Sixth Avenue Playground and Bird Park at Cedar which are all perfect for toddlers.
The park is free to enter however the museums require ticketed admission at an additional cost.
If you are looking for the best California theme parks for toddlers then San Diego is a great place to head as it has not one but two of the theme parks on this list.
The first of course is Legoland California located just a short drive outside of the city in the beautiful Carlsbad. Legoland is a great place to head with toddlers especially for those aged 3 and over. There are lots of rides for this age including the famous Legoland Driving School and the Duplo area of the water park is perfect for toddlers of any age.
Another great thing about the park is that it is basically three amusement parks for toddlers in one as there is Legoland, the Legoland Water Park and the aquarium all on the same site.
Top Tip: Toddlers aged two and under are free to go to Legoland.
Click here to find our full guide on visiting Legoland California with toddlers including a breakdown of the best Legoland California rides for toddlers.
Belmont Park is the sea front amusement park located just off Mission Beach – one of our favourite beaches in San Diego. Belmont Park is free to enter but the dollars can rack up as you need tickets and tokens to ride the rollercoasters or play the games.
Although not all the rides here are toddler friendly they will enjoy the fames and some of the smaller rides.
Top Tip: If your group plans to do a lot of rides at Belmont Park then it is definitely worth looking into a pass as this will likely save you money.
Children’s pool, Sealions and seals
La Jolla is home to the children’s pool and the La Jolla Cove Sea Lions. My toddler was fascinated by how close the sea lions were and the noise they made.
The beach of the children’s pool is closed usually between December and May for the seal breeding season but you can still come and watch the them from the boardwalk.
Even when it isn’t breeding season I would not recommend using this beach to swim on. The seals and sea lions use the beach and waters here all year round so the water isn’t of the best quality. You would be much better coming here to see the animals and then heading to one of the other amazing La Jolla beaches to swim from. There are plenty of other great beaches in San Diego for preschoolers which we will talk about a bit later.
Sesame Place San Diego
Sesame Place San Diego is the new kid on the block when it comes to San Diego amusement parks for toddlers. Only opening in March 2022 this theme park is specifically aimed at the toddler audience.
It has over 15 Sesame Street rides and character meet and greets that your toddler is bound to love.
Click here for more information on visiting Sesame Place with toddlers.
Old Town San Diego
Old Town San Diego is known as the birthplace of California and is a must see on any trip to San Diego. There are museums here dedicated to local history but it is also one of the best places to buy souvenirs in San Diego. My 6 year old and my toddlers favourite thing here was to try their hand at traditional candle dipping.
We also love the food there because you can sit outside with giant margaritas for the non driving parents and the kids will love to watch the Mariachi bands.
Top Tip: The parking at Old San Diego is notoriously difficult. We recommend getting there first thing and spending the morning and lunch there so you don’t struggle for parking. Otherwise we recommend getting their on public transport.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
How many in the cities in the world offer a great place to go hiking with toddlers? Not many? Well San Diego does. The best place to go hiking in San Diego with kids is at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve gets its name from the Torrey Pine trees the Reserve is home too. We love the fact that you can feel like you are deep in the forest while in the city but also love the unparalleled ocean views you get from the park. As an added bonus there are plenty of toddler friendly hikes but be warned they are not stroller friendly.
There is also the Torrey Pines State Beach within the reserve which is another great San Diego beach to visit with toddlers.
Top Tip: if you are worried about your toddlers legs and you are on a hiking trail where strollers aren’t allowed you should take a toddler hiking carrier with you.
A city cruise around San Diego is a fabulous way to see both the city and some of the city’s famous wildlife. It is also one of the best things to do in the city with a toddler. On the harbour cruise you pass the amazing USS Midway and could also see seals and sea lions if you are lucky.
The city cruise only lasts about an hour so perfect for a toddler’s waning attention span and there is a bar onboard where you can get snacks and drinks for your toddler.
Our City cruise which was included in the price of our city card. Note: This was the only thing we had to book in advance with our city card but be sure to check your terms and conditions before travel.
Best Beaches in San Diego with toddlers
Though San Diego has lots of amazing family beaches our families favorite is the fantastic Mission Beach. Mission beach is a haven for water sport enthusiasts but also great for families. There are lots of places to eat in this area and you can rent any pieces of equipment you may need for an active day at the beach from bikes to paddle boards.
Pacific Beach or P.B. as the local call it, is another great beach for toddlers in San Diego. Mission Beach runs into Pacific beach if you walk along the boardwalk for long enough but each beach has a slightly different vibe.
Pacific Beach is slightly smaller in length than Mission Beach but also has lots of great amenities. I personally prefer Mission Beach as I think the boardwalk is slightly cleaner and isn’t as known for nightlife but during the day both are great for families visiting San Diego.
La Jolla is hands down my favourite place in San Diego. The beaches here are family friendly being flat and relatively deep. Toddlers will love playing on the sand here and rock pooling.
Our favourite beach in this area is the La Jolla Shores Beach. The amenities nearby are great for snacks and there are toilets here too. This beach also has lifeguard which is an added safety bonus for visiting beaches with toddlers.
And if you get bored of the beach there is a playground really nearby.
Coronado Central Beach
This beach is in front of the famous La Coronado Beach. If you can afford to splurge a bit on a hotel then this hotel should definitely be on your list. However if your budget can’t stretch the La Coronado or it issn’t convenient for your stay then we recommend heading to this beach at least once instead.
The beach is relatively deep and the waters calm and often features on the best beaches in the US list. You can also head into the hotel for lunch if you have time in your itinerary.
Best Museum in San Diego with toddlers
We love visiting museums with toddlers however some museums are definitely more toddler friendly than others. But the good news is that San Diego has lots of toddler friendly museums. Our favourites are:
USS Midway with toddlers
I must admit that when my husband told me we were going to visit the USS Midway with our toddler and our 5 year old I was skeptical but I actually shouldn’t have been. We had a fantastic time there.
We were all surprised that the USS Midway is actually pretty accessible even with a stroller. The only places we found that you couldn’t take a stroller to on the USS Midway were:
- the canteen and mess
- the hospital and dental surgery.
Everywhere else we got the stroller around really easily and there are lots of open spaces you can walk around. For older children they will enjoy joining the Junior Pilot Program (similar to the junior Ranger program you can partake in when visiting national parks with kids).
My toddlers love to visit an aquarium so when I read about the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla I knew that we had to add this to our San Diego itinerary.
On top of lots of great exhibitions showing different aquatic habitats from around the world, toddlers will love the hands on exhibits in the Tide Pool area where they can touch creatures such as starfish.
New Children’s Museums
San Diego is lucky to have not one but two museums dedicated to children. Now children of all ages love a children’s museum but I think toddlers really get a lot out of a visit to one.
The great thing about this museum is there are plenty of exhibits and events that are actually designed and aimed at toddlers such as the toddler’s music time. It has to be near the top of the list for the best toddler activities in San Diego.
The new Children’s museum is also great for those visiting San Diego with babies who get into the museum for free but will also enjoy some of the sensory activities the museum has on offer.
San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum
Located in Escondido (near to the San Diego Safari Park) this is another great children’s museums where there are lots of hands on activities for toddlers. The Museum has great exhibits on World Culture and History and toddlers will absolutely adore getting their hands wet at the Toddler Tide Pool.
Have you been to San Diego with toddlers? What are you favourite San Diego attractions for toddlers?