89 Things to Do With Your Kids in San Diego
Camps, classes, and activities for San Diego’s youngest—and perhaps busiest—residents
On the third Saturday of each month, the Birch Aquarium hosts a SEA (Science, Exploration, Adventure) Day where guests can meet researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, partake in hands-on science, move through activity stations, and flex creativity with a thematic craft. All ages, $14/child, $18.50/adult.
2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla
During Family Sundays, children use an interactive treasure map to get to know the museum’s exhibits. They also make art, take home prizes, and enjoy chamber music ensemble Camarada. April 9, otherwise on the third Sunday each month. $5.
1439 El Prado, Balboa Park
This charming spot, tucked in the far corner of Balboa Park near the Air & Space Museum, has been entertaining children with hand puppets and marionettes since 1947. Check online for show schedules, which rotate weekly (Wednesday–Sunday). $5.
2130 Pan American Plaza, Balboa Park
This museum is known for its artist-in-residence series, and has a corresponding four-week Kids-in-Residence after-school program where students work with the visiting artists. Lux also offers an open studio for teens, classes, and camps; its summer sessions are especially popular, and campers get to exhibit their work at the end. Ages 5–17; prices vary.
1550 South El Camino Real, Encinitas
In a stunning Rob Quigley–designed building, explore a collection of age-specific exhibits, each one a collaboration between an artist and child development specialists. You won’t see any Disney or comic characters here—everything is about the imagination. Art studios, a garden project, innovators lab, giant sandbox, karaoke space, and more all offer an educational and interactive environment. Toddlers and up; $13.
200 West Island Avenue, Marina District
Budding coders can get a jump on their career path with this program offering nine levels of classes (one of which is a community service initiative) taught by professional programmers. Students who complete all levels are eligible for Java certification. Grades 5–12; $240/month.
12625 High Bluff Drive, Carmel Valley
This nonprofit community music school starts music appreciation and education early, beginning with mommy-and-me classes for babies. As kids grow, they can take private lessons or affordable group lessons for all kinds of instruments. Student bands have the opportunity to perform for the community. All ages; $26/private lesson.
2590 Truxtun Road, Liberty Station
Walk-ins are welcome at both Ceramicafe locations. Paint ceramics, mosaics, clay, and more. Turnaround time for finished pieces is just five days. Ask about school projects, fundraisers, and organized parties.
3435 Del Mar Heights Road, Carmel Valley and 5500 Grossmont Center Drive, La Mesa
A wonderland of model trains, mini villages, and interactive exhibits at a kid’s-eye level can be found in Balboa Park. Ask for their scavenger list so your small fry can search for miniatures like a shark in a pool, a drive-in movie, rock climbers, and more while exploring the colorful displays. All ages; $4–$10.75; kids under 5 free.
1649 El Prado, Balboa Park
Enroll your child in one of San Diego Junior Theatre’s arts, dancing, singing, movement, or acting classes that are offered at locations all over the county. After-school programs and production workshops are available by grade and theme. Grades PreK–12; $140–$190.
1650 El Prado, Balboa Park
Mentored by famed jazz musician Gilbert Castellanos, the Young Lions (aka local jazz prodigies) perform jam sessions every Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Panama 66. Kids can enjoy the live music and run around the enclosed sculpture garden.
1450 El Prado, Balboa Park
Founder and owner Juliana Flores offers art classes, workshops, and camps. The curriculum balances structure and open expression to create a safe environment for kids to unleash their artistic capabilities and make meaningful artwork to bring home. Ages 18 months–10 years; $25–$30/drop-in class.
2820 Roosevelt Road, Liberty Station
At the Just For Kids cooking classes, young chefs work together in teams to create their own dishes and sauces. Each class ends with a taste-off. Ages 7–13; $49/class.
512 Via de la Valle, Solana Beach
Allow your child the freedom to paint whatever and however they like at Clay ’N Latte’s paint-your-own-ceramics studio and creativity lounge. Children are provided with paint, tools, and a variety of ceramic pieces to choose from. Staff members glaze and fire the completed masterpiece, which is then available for pickup six days later. All ages; $6/child, $8/adult, plus price of ceramic.
20 Main Street, Vista
Monart is an educational drawing method with a studio in Liberty Station. Work on fundamental drawing skills while improving focus, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, problem solving, and self-confidence. Morning and evening studio classes are available; the first class is free. Ages 4–16; $20/class, camps start at $140.
2590 Truxtun Road, Liberty Station
The name sounds intimidating, but future animators or video game designers will be eager to jump right in at this learning center for digital art. Ages 6+; $205/five classes.
2690 Historic Decatur Road, Liberty Station
Girls in grades 5–8 are invited to investigate contemporary science topics every second Saturday of the month at the Fleet Science Center. Each lesson features hands-on activities and interaction with local female scientists. Students face exciting challenges within a variety of fields, including biology, physics, and robotics. $15.
1875 El Prado, Balboa Park
Why I Love Belmont Park
“There’s this big wave where you can go down on a boogie board. I haven’t done it yet. I’ll do it when I’m 7. They have a humongous ice cream there! —Audrey, 6
This amusement park is kid heaven, with rides, arcade games, mini golf, an escape room, wave machines, and more. At the Mission: Impossible–style Lazerblast, players must duck, dive, and roll to avoid touching the laser beams on a timed course. Ages 5+; free admission and parking; rides start at $3.
3146 Mission Boulevard, Mission Beach
Kids will love this indoor paintball venue, where the two playing fields have plenty of inflatable obstacles to shoot around (or hide behind) during games such as Capture the Flag and Buzzer Beater. Parents will love that the safety gear can be rented on-site and the paint is water based for easy cleanup. Ages 6+; packages start at $44.
8268 Industrial Park Driveway, Clairemont Mesa
C’mon and ride the train at this hidden North County park that boasts full-size authentic steam engines, cable cars, and more from the early 1900s. Plus, the park’s monthly Kids’ Night Out offers themed games, arts and crafts, and movies for kids in grades 1 to 5. Registration required. $1 train rides for kids, $2.50 and up for adults.
14134 Midland Road, Poway
Climb into the cockpit of a helicopter, become a pilot in a flight simulator, tour the engine room, galley, and brig, or explore the 29 restored aircraft on the deck of this floating aircraft carrier museum. All ages; $8–$18.
910 North Harbor Drive, Marina District
Make it a family staycay and get early access to the park when you spend the night at this 250-room hotel with kid-friendly buffets and Lego palm trees. Their new Castle Hotel, opening in 2018, will feature knights, princesses, dragons, wizards, and a spectacular pool with slides and splash fountains. Rooms start at $175.
5885 The Crossings Drive, Carlsbad
As the name suggests, this indoor park has climbing walls, slides, trampolines, an obstacle course, and more. Parents can mingle and catch the game on TV in an adult area. Ages 5+; starts at $10/hour.
8711 North Magnolia Avenue, Santee
Kids don’t need a license to drive the electric go-karts at K1’s two San Diego County locations. Junior karting lets kids race against one another. For young drivers who want to learn more about the sport, junior and youth leagues and individual lessons are available. Must be at least 48 inches tall; $20+.
1709 Main Street, Barrio Logan and 6212 Corte Del Aberto, Carlsbad
This indoor play village consists of a fire station, theater, nursery, pirate ship, and more. The facility encourages creativity while providing education and entertainment. Look for seasonal events, themed workshops, and kids’-night-out activities. Toddlers and up; $15.
2865 Sims Road, Liberty Station
Up to 36 players on three teams can battle it out in this mazelike, fog-filled laser tag arena. Your child can indulge their space action hero fantasies as they capture bases, gain special powerups, and take home a comprehensive scorecard showing their rank and how many times they got ambushed by their best friends. Good news for the young at heart, too: There’s no upper age limit. $7.50+.
3146 Sports Arena Boulevard, Midway District
Get your exercise while wearing out your toddler during the mommy-and-me times when rates are cheaper than regular hours and you don’t have to worry about your littles getting trampled by big kids.
Sky Zone Toddler Time (Tuesdays) $10. 851 Showroom Place, Chula Vista
Rockin’ Jump Rockin’ Tots (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays) $7. 8190 Miralani Drive, Mira Mesa
If your kiddo already monkeys around, consider arming them with the skills to do it safely. Two beginner classes are available based on age: the Mini Monster Program for kids ages 4–6 and the Rock Monster Program for kids 7–14. $30/lesson; reservations recommended.
10110 Mesa Rim Road, Mira Mesa and 405 Camino del Rio South, Mission Valley
This kids’ yoga studio has a weekly program that consists of a 75-minute art and yoga class and a healthy snack. The studio also offers monthly yoga events designed around themes, holidays, family, and seasons. Ages 6 months–19 years; $15 and up.
1040 University Avenue, Hillcrest and 2670 Via de la Valle, Del Mar
Why I Love T-ball
“I like to play T-ball cause that’s the day that I don’t get homework and I only hit all the doubles.” —Franco, 4
This youth program not only helps kids hone their running skills and set new personal records, it also introduces them to other track and field events such as the pole vault, long jump, and decathlon. Members of Eagles Wings—which uses the track at Cathedral Catholic High School—get to participate in USA Track & Field youth competitions. Ages 9–18; $600 for the competitive season (February through August); off-season pricing available.
5555 Del Mar Heights Road, Carmel Valley
At this golf mainstay across from the fairgrounds, kids can play mini golf, take lessons at the Junior Golf Academy, practice driving and putting, attend a summer golf camp (ages 4–13) or get in shape at the Milo Fitness outdoor gym. Prices vary.
15555 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar
Learn to hang ten at this unintimidating surf school that offers private lessons for newbies or advanced shredders, along with fun camps. Kids learn to surf on the gentle waves at La Jolla Shores. Ages 5–17; private lessons start at $85; $330 for 5-day camps.
2160 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla
This new program for the body and mind—45 minutes each of outdoor workout, yoga, and free writing—gives kids a competitive edge, but with a greater focus on empowering teens. Ages 14–18; $180–$250/month.
Meets at Pure Yoga, 100 Chesterfield Drive, Cardiff-by-the-Sea
This Linda Vista arena is a roller-skating mecca replete with flashing disco lights, DJs, slushies at the snack bar, and a cast of characters from serious trick skaters and women sporting 1980s Madonna-esque fashion to date night couples and raucous teens. There’s rink hockey, roller derby, and dance instruction, too. All ages, $10 admission, $4 skate rental.
6907 Linda Vista Road, Linda Vista
Take off the training wheels this summer and watch your easy rider blossom into an Olympic-level BMX champion. With events held at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center (formerly the Olympic Training Center), riders compete in age categories beginning as young as 5. $5 admission, $20/clinic.
2800 Olympic Parkway, Chula Vista
San Diego is a triathlete’s paradise, so it’s no surprise we start them young here. USA Triathlon–certified coach Judi Carbary runs youth workouts year-round in Mission Bay, Solana Beach, and Carmel Valley, with the opportunity for kids to compete in several triathlons. Ages 7–15.
Attend the Pet Awareness Workshop Series (PAWS) at this San Elijo vet hospital and tour the X-ray room, surgery room, and more. In small groups, kids meet and hold Hubert the bearded dragon, William Snakespeare, Parker the turtle, and others. PAWS also teaches pet health and safety to kids begging to get a pet. $40/student; second Wednesday of every month, 3:30–5:30 p.m.
1691 Melrose Drive, San Marcos
At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, sleep in a cozy bed in a canvas tent, watch elephants from your patio, experience intimate animal encounters, and roast marshmallows by the fire under a blanket of stars. Zip-line and private caravan tours can be added; dinner, snacks, and breakfast included. All ages. $140–$220/person.
15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido
Why I Love KinderTots
“When I was littler, my dad took us and I saw a lion. They’re just looking at us, and I was wondering what they wanted to eat.” —Milan, 8
The San Diego Zoo holds an hour-long class on Saturdays just for preschoolers, led by early childhood education specialists with animal guest stars. Themes vary by month. Coming up: All About Body Adaptations (April), Keeper Work Includes Counting (May), and Balancing Bash (June). 18 months–3 years, $12 plus admission.
2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park
The county’s most popular Pumpkin Patch also has a year-round zoo with mini-donkeys, goats, llamas, pigs, emus, peacocks, and more. Purchase bags of animal feed for 50 cents and let them eat right from your hands. Bring a picnic and have lunch under the shaded trees. And don’t miss the candy shop on the way out! Free.
15954 Woods Valley Road, Valley Center
At the Pet Pals program (one Friday each month from September to May), a themed workshop such as “Meow! Cute Kittens and Cats” teaches kids about all things animal. In April, kids visit a veterinarian. With the five-week Junior Trainers Intro to Dog Training, future pet whisperers will learn about body language, handling, basic obedience, tricks, and more. Ages 6–12; Pet Pals $10/class; Junior Trainers $120. Registration required.
5500 Gaines Street, Morena
Why I Love City Farmers Nursery
“It doesn’t have a beach. It, it, it… has a farm and a house and a mailbox. And we play in it. And turtles! Fishies! Bunnies!” —Sloane, 3
This hidden gem in City Heights stocks garden supplies and plants, but it’s the adjacent café, farm animals, and playhouses that make our kiddos flip. Teach them about gardening, harvesting, and animal care. Bonus: The store has a section devoted to science fair supplies.
3110 Euclid Avenue, City Heights
For an easy walk that toddlers can do, the trail loop by the nature center is flat with shortcuts; young children can look for lizards and birds. The nature center also offers free Family Fun Days the first Sunday of each month with different themes, crafts, and interactive exhibits. All ages; free.
2710 Manchester Avenue, Cardiff-by-the-Sea
Little Italy is home to high-tech desserts ordered via tablet, like flavored merengue bowls of gelato or ice cream, homemade cakes, sauces, candies, and fruit.
1608 India Street, Little Italy
Climb around the school bus in the restaurant’s outdoor area or draw on the chalkboard wall.
8384 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa
The next time you’re headed out for margaritas, get the kids a treat, too, at one of the park’s sweet shops. Old Town House of Jerky & Root Beer has more than 45 types of root beer and delicious root beer floats, and Cousin’s Candy Shop is filled with barrels of old-fashioned candies that will lead your littles on an inevitable sugar rush.
2754 Calhoun Street and 2711 San Diego Avenue, Old Town
Why I Love Corvette Diner
“They got games that are so fun. There’s a zombie one and it’s my favorite. And they got birthday parties. LOTS of parties.” —Cristiano, 6
Dancing servers in poodle skirts, arcade games, rock ’n’ roll memorabilia, and a glow-in-the-dark dining room have all made this ’50s-inspired diner a hit for the past 30 years.
2965 Historic Decatur Road, Liberty Station
Besides the play area decked out with toys, books, and pillows, the restaurant hosts a monthly Family Movie Night. Free.
3794 30th Street, North Park; 16490 Paseo Del Sur, Del Sur (opening soon)
This playful scene is the new hot spot for brunch with the kids in tow, thanks to corn hole, hula hoops, soccer balls, Frisbees, and spacious green turf. Dogs are welcome, too.
10996 Torreyana Road, La Jolla
Coronado’s sweet shop is an eye-popping sugar nirvana of truffles, taffy, fudge, and chocolate-covered strawberries, along with colorful bins of licorice, lollipops, jawbreakers, M&Ms, jelly beans, Pez collectibles, and retro novelty treats.
1126 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Fried chicken, nuggets, soft-serve, bocce, a sand pit, and an enclosed play area make this casual, walk-up eatery the ultimate kid-friendly spot. (The Encinitas location even has mini golf!)
407 Encinitas Boulevard, Encinitas; 2266 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy
Kids eat free after 4 p.m. every Wednesday and are given pre-rolled pizza dough, marinara sauce, cheese, and three toppings of their choice to build their own pizza.
1206 Orange Avenue and 1201 First Street, Coronado
When figuring out where to get your weekend donut fix, remember that kids get free kid-themed donuts at this Downtown staple.
631 B Street, Downtown