A San Diego family vacation has the perfect combination of sightseeing and relaxation on the beach. Since San Diego has so much to offer for a family vacation, it can be overwhelming choosing between all the activities. Here is a simple San Diego family vacation planning guide where you can pick and choose activities to make your own itinerary. Start your planning today, and don’t miss out on everything this amazing city has to offer!
Where to Stay
Decide if you want to stay in the city or on the beach. Mission Beach is a great San Diego family vacation beach spot. Choose between staying Pacific side or bay side for beach access. We had little ones, so we picked the bay. That ended up being the perfect decision for our family! The San Diego Bay had fewer people, the water was very calm, and there was still plenty of sand. When you are playing on the San Diego Bay, you don’t have to worry nearly as much about water safety as you do when playing in the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Ocean can be rough! We were in the water all day on our beach days, and we were able to enjoy the water in the afternoons after our sightseeing. Staying on the Mission Beach bayside still allows for a short walking distance to the Pacific beachside to see the sunset at night.
710 Beach Rentals is highly recommended. Their customer service is fantastic, and they had an assortment of housing options in different price ranges throughout San Diego for a family vacation.
Day 1 – Arrival Day and Belmont Park
Choose a flight arriving earlier in the day to allow time for Belmont Park. My kids were over the moon when we drove to an amusement park on the beach! There is something for all ages if your kids are too young to ride the roller coaster. You can also purchase ride tickets for single rides or buy an all-day pass.
The park has typical amusement park food, which can be great for kids. There are also restaurants within walking distance if you want to sit down, have a drink and watch the sunset.
Day 2 – Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a wonderful city park that hosts many of the local museums, the zoo, restaurants, and performing artists. The park itself is free. The museums do have their own fees. You can spend the entire day in this park without ever going to a museum. My kids enjoyed the street performers the most. We stumbled into the park on a festival day, which ended up being an added bonus. You can check out their list of events and offerings at Balboa Park’s website. If you wish to explore Balboa Park for more than one day or visit many of the ticketed attractions, you can check out the Explorer Pass.
Day 3 – Beach Day
We would visit and enjoy the beach every day of our vacation. However, it was nice to have assigned beach days to just relax and enjoy the water. Even if you go have your San Diego family vacation in colder months, the beach can be a lot of fun with little ones.
You can rent paddle boards from Ray’s Rentals. They had great customer service when we were having trouble finding a life jacket for our five-year-old. If you have never been paddle-boarding, do not worry! It does not take much skill, other than a little balance. We rode our boards on the San Diego Bay. The ocean was far too rough (and cold) to enjoy them with our little ones. However, on the bay, we were able to put them on the front of the boards as we paddled all around. My kiddos especially loved seeing the stingrays in the shallower water near the bay’s edge. Just make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket!
Day 4 – Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour
The Old Town Trolley Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour was one of the highlights of our San Diego family vacation. We were traveling with a four and five-year-old, and they too enjoyed it. We were worried they may have been bored after a couple of hours. However, the scenery was changing constantly, and we enjoyed stops all along the tour. We had cupcakes, a delicious brunch, and walked on the famous Coronado Beach. We went in October, so kids ride free.
If you pack a towel in a bookbag, you can spend some time on Coronado Beach.
Day 5 – USS Midway Museum and Beach Afternoon
I’ll be honest, this was a pick specifically for my husband. I did not think my two young girls would care anything about the USS Midway Museum. However, I was wrong. They had so much fun and were mesmerized with how our service men lived on this giant boat. There is something for everyone here. There are airplanes, living quarters, and driving from the captain’s seat. You could easily spend an entire day here.
Day 6 – San Diego Zoo
No San Diego family vacation is complete without a visit to the zoo! The San Diego Zoo is a massive beast when it comes to zoos! I highly recommend getting there early, right when they open. This is when the animals are the most active, and it gives you sufficient time to explore the park. Start off your day with the guided bus tour. It is 35 minutes long, but it is well worth the time investment. You can get a good layout of the park, and you will see many of the animals right from the bus. It also gives your kids a chance to tell you their preferred stops for later in the day.
Day 7 – Beach Day
We wanted our last full day to be a beach day. We again rode our paddleboards, and we built sandcastles on the beach. For sunset, we headed out for dinner with a view. There are many kid-friendly restaurants on the beach. The views will not disappoint!
Day 8 – Departure Day
Your San Diego family vacation is coming to an end, but hopefully, you had a visit full of amazing memories! If your flight is later in the day, you can have breakfast at Richard Walker’s Pancake House. This can be a special treat before leaving town.
Kids are Free in October
We took our San Diego family vacation in October. It happened to be our school’s fall break week. The weather was beautiful. It was warm outside with comfortably cool evenings, even though the water was a bit chilly. The best part about a San Diego family vacation in October was kids were free at many ticketed venues. You can check out the Kids Free October benefits here.
San Diego is a foodie town, and you will find some amazing choices for food and drinks. Here is a list of our favorites on the trip.
Lucha Libre Taco Shop
Lucha Libre Taco Shop was a recommendation from our Old Town Trolley Tour Guide. The California Burrito is a local favorite. If you call at least 24 hours ahead of time, you may be able to reserve the golden table!
The Donut Bar
Poke is becoming a sensation across the country, and San Diego does poke well. Think of it as quick-service sushi without sacrificing quality. Poke Chop has delicious options to satisfy any sushi craving.
Richard Walker’s Pancake House
Check out Richard Walker’s Pancake House on your San Diego family vacation. What kids don’t love pancakes?! The giant baked apple pancake is ridiculous and wonderfully impressive.
Stone Brewing Company
San Diego is home to Stone Brewing Company, one of my favorite craft beers. You can take a tour at the Escondido, CA location. Children are allowed on the tour. Kids 12 and under are free. Kids over 12 only cost $1.
San Diego Family Vacation Planning Made Easier
San Diego is a wonderful family town. There are endless activities, restaurants, and tours you can do with your family. Hopefully, this itinerary can provide some inspiration for your next San Diego family vacation and make the planning a little easier.