San Diego is one of the top family travel destinations in the USA, and for good reason. The city has one of the best zoos in the world, a great foodie scene, accommodation options for all budgets, and renowned interactive museums. Whether you’re interested in good beaches, water sports, shopping, or thrill rides, there is a San Diego activity waiting to be experienced by you and your family.
This city is one of my favourite places in the world, not only because there are so many things to do in San Diego, but because it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been lucky enough to live in. Once you experience your first San Diego sunset on the beach, walk along the boardwalk at Mission Bay, or see the San Diego skyline at night as you’re driving back into downtown, you’ll see what I mean.
San Diego is a city that was built for family travel, so get ready to relax, feel the sea breeze, and take in the many sights that ‘America’s Finest City’ has to offer.
Know before you travel. Our top San Diego travel tips
Travelling to San Diego can be such an enriching experience for the whole family. There are so many things to do in San Diego and having the best place to stay and wander is extremely important. Here we’ve got some information to get you planning your trip to San Diego to make it completely hassle-free.
Where to stay in San Diego
You’ll never be short of options for your accommodation in San Diego. In San Diego, you find a range of hotels, apartments and hostels. You will be sure to be able to find something to fit singles, couples, families and groups on every budget. If you’re not keen on any of our picks below or have specific needs, we recommend using Trip Advisor and Agoda to find the best prices in San Diego.
Luxury Accommodation: Located in the heart of downtown San Diego is the Hard Rock Hotel. With family rooms accommodating 4 it is an ideal base. Featuring a fitness centre, electric bike hire, bar, restaurant and a hard rock shop. Search your Hard Rock options today
Mid-range Accommodation: Featuring an outdoor pool, spa, and fitness centre the Radisson Hotel San Diego-Rancho Bernardo is ideal. Featuring family rooms accommodating up to 4 people. Satellite Tv, Air Conditioning and a fridge in every room. Rooms from $150usd
Budget accommodation: The Comfort Inn and Suites is located close to the nearby San Diego Zoo, Seaworld and the Airport. Featuring rooms accommodating up to 4 people with outdoor pool, spa, wifi, laundry facilities and atm all onsite
Hostel: This recently renovated urban hostel offers private rooms for 4 with ensuites. The HI San Diego Hostel is in the gaslight district of the city. Featuring free wifi, 24-hour front desk, a fully equipped kitchen and tour desk await you at this accommodation option
San Diego Airbnb alternative for your stay
If you prefer a home away from home-style accommodation in San Diego then Air BnB is the best choice for you. There are so many options for singles, families and budget-friendly options as well. Check out the map below to find the perfect San Diego Airbnb
How to get to San Diego
- San Diego International Airport is the main airport in San Diego County, and one of the cheapest airports to fly into and out of on the West Coast of the US. You can search flights to San Diego with CheapOair
- You can book an airport transfer to your hotel for convenience
- You can also drive to San Diego from anywhere in mainland USA. It’s about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, and a nine to 10-hour drive from San Francisco on the I-5 if you’re travelling within California.
- You pick up a hire car at any major airport in the United States including San Diego
- If you are travelling by bus, you will probably be dropped off around the Greyhound Bus Terminal at Trolley Plaza, near Petco Park in downtown. You can search for a bus journey to San Diego with Busbud.
- If you’re staying in North County, there’s an Amtrak stop in Solana Beach. If you’re staying near Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach or Mission Bay, there is a stop in Old Town San Diego. Book your trains with Omio, the worlds premier transport search engine.
How to get around San Diego
The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System features 3 tram/trolly lines throughout the city. The Orange line connects the Downtown area to eastern parts of San Diego through Lemon Grove and El Cajon. The Green Line runs from Old Town through Mission Valley, San Diego State University, and Santee. There are 97 bus routes that run throughout the San Diego area. As always you can catch a taxi or book an Uber to get around.
The best things to do in San Diego with teenagers
These are my picks for the best things to do in San Diego with Teens!
Go to the beach with your teenagers
You can’t visit San Diego without visiting the many stunning beaches around the county. And, the great thing about the beach is that it’s an ideal activity for the whole family.
Whether you want to play volleyball, sunbathe with a good book, go swimming in the ocean, or maybe even learn how to surf for the first time, there’s a little something for everyone at the many San Diego beaches.
These are a few of my favourite beaches in San Diego county that are worth a visit.
- Windansea Beach
- Torrey Pines State Beach
- Pacific Beach
- Ocean Beach
- Coronado Beach
- La Jolla Cove
- Mission Beach + Mission Bay
Teenagers in San Diego will love the beaches and the Californian beach culture.
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Ready to give your teens a thrilling experience in San Diego? Belmont Park is a classic amusement park right on the ocean that has been providing adrenaline rushes for all ages since 1925.
The most popular attraction at Belmont Park is the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, which is definitely worth a few rides. Other favourite rides include Control Freak, Beach Blaster, and Krazy Kars.
There are also fun attractions outside of the rides that are great for teenagers. These include laser tag, a laser maze, rock climbing wall, ropes course, mini-golf, a 7D theatre, and zipline. This has to be one of the top attractions in San Diego for teenagers!
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For Australian travellers, we recommend Fast Cover Travel Insurance
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Balboa Park is one of the most popular attractions in San Diego and another spot that is ideal to visit for the whole family.
This is where you’ll find the majority of San Diego’s best museums, as well as a 1,200-acre park filled to the brim with tasty food, nature, classic cars, and the San Diego Zoo.
A few museums that would be especially good for teenagers at Balboa Park are the San Diego Air & Space Museum, Fleet Science Center, San Diego Museum of Man, and the Japanese Friendship Garden. Have at least one of these on your must-see list when you visit San Diego with teens!
San Diego Zoo & Safari Park
Although the San Diego Zoo is located inside Balboa Park it deserves its own section because it’s huge.
It’s not uncommon to spend a couple of days exploring the zoo because it’s hard to see everything in one day.
Although I’m not usually a big zoo person, the San Diego Zoo is another level of zoo. It has been voted the #1 zoo in the world for years and offers all kinds of animal encounters – both outside and inside the enclosures.
If you have time, make sure to also spend a day exploring the sister park to the zoo as well – the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. If your teenagers enjoy seeing animals then this has to be on your list for San Diego with teenagers.
If you had to pick one to visit, I still always recommend the zoo first, but Safari Park offers a more unique take on the average zoo experience.
At the Safari Park, you can choose from a number of different safaris to go on that will allow you to get up close and personal with wild animals in open enclosures.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Safari Park is not actually located in San Diego. It’s in Escondido, just north of the city.
USS Midway Museum
Unless you’re really into military history, touring a historical naval aircraft carrier doesn’t sound all that interesting, but the USS Midway Museum is actually one of the coolest things to do in San Diego.
Located in downtown San Diego, at Navy Pier, the USS Midway Museum allows you to see just how huge an aircraft carrier really is.
As you walk through the carrier, you’ll feel like you’re out at sea about to take on a mission. Throughout the main tour of the carrier, you’ll come across interactive rooms where you’ll learn more about the naval history of the USS Midway and the US Navy as a whole.
After exploring the carrier, make sure to head outside to sit inside some of the most famous military aeroplanes in US history, and experience a flight simulator to test out your piloting skills.
Related posts: We know because we travel with teenagers. Use our epic guides from all over the world for inspiration
Patriot Jet Boat
If you’re craving more thrills, hop on the Patriot Jet Boat for a speedy ride around the San Diego Bay.
Featuring loud rock music and 360-degree turns, this 30-minute jet boat tour gives you a scenic ride past some of San Diego’s most famous downtown waterfront sites and gets the adrenaline flowing.
Kayak through Sea Caves
One of the best ways to experience San Diego is from the sea, especially kayaking around the many sea caves in La Jolla.
Even if your teen hasn’t kayaked before, La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks is a great company to go with if you’re a beginner, as long as your teen knows how to swim.
If you’re under 14, you’ll be placed in a tandem kayak with your parent, otherwise, they’ll show you the ropes on how to maneuver your own kayak if you’re 14 and up.
The tour they offer is 1.5 hours and takes you around five distinct marine environments that are all within less than two square miles.
You’ll come across kelp forests, deepwater canyons, rocky shallows, and sandy beaches throughout the tour.
10 Pin Bowling
10 Pin bowling is a great family activity to do with teenagers. There is nothing like a bit of family competition and 10 pin bowling in San Diego is just the thing. Strikes, Spares, gutter balls are all part of the action. Most of these bowling venues have food and beverage options for you. Find a place to bowl in San Diego with Yelp
Going to the Cinema in San Diego
Watching a movie is popular with teenagers anywhere in the world. Going to the cinema in San Diego with teenagers is a great evening activity. You will find the state of the art screens and sound for you to watch the latest blockbusters in San Diego cinemas.
We recommend the following San Diego Cinemas
- AMC La Jolla 12 – Showing the latest movies with comfortable reclining chairs. Find out movie times at AMC here
- The Lot at Liberty Station – This venue has an onsite restaurant as well as the latest blockbusters. Find out more about The Lot here
Bike riding in San Diego
San Diego bike riding is a popular family activity when travelling with teenagers. Bike riding allows you to experience your location either in town or out in the surrounding areas. You will find bike tours are the best way to go.
You will either have a guide to point out all the important attractions or a map to follow. The bike tours will take you on a San Diego family vacation 2 wheeled adventure. Alternatively, you can find locations that hire bikes and let you explore on your own.
Book all your family travel San Diego bike tours today
Escape rooms in San Diego
For those new to Escape rooms, this is a quick run down.
An escape room, also known as an “escape game”, is a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints, and strategy to complete the objectives at hand.
Escape rooms may consist of a large, single room, or span multiple rooms. Players are given a set time limit to unveil the secret plot which is hidden within the rooms. If your teen likes this stuff it is definitely one of the top things to do in San Diego with teenagers.
Lockdown Escape Rooms – features Medieval, Western and Science rooms.
Address: 1037 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103, United States
The Great Room Escape – features art heist and mad lab room plus more.
Address: 9340 Dowdy Dr Ste 105, San Diego, CA 92126, United States
Going to the Gym in San Diego
Fitness is very important to a lot of teenagers these days. Working out is a big part of a healthy lifestyle. Just because one is travelling it does not mean you need to stop working out.
In San Diego, you can go to a number of Gyms that sell passes ranging from a day to a week and a month. Day passes start at 16 euros a day while a week pass costs 45 euros. You can find a list of Gyms in San Diego at the Trainaway fit website
Best places to shop with teens in San Diego
Fashion Valley – The go-to shopping centre for teens and young students at nearby universities, Fashion Valley has all the popular stores that teenagers love to shop at.
A few favourite stores here include Abercrombie & Fitch, Claire’s, Forever 21, Gap, H&M, Hollister, Urban Outfitters, Vans, and the Disney Store.
There is also an 18-screen movie theatre that features 3D films, and plenty of dining options to satisfy a number of different food preferences.
Old Town San Diego – If you’re looking for a more unique place to bring your teen for shopping, check out Old Town San Diego.
You won’t find the international shopping brands here, but it’s a great place to find handmade goods and local souvenirs. I especially love the Mexican-themed shops selling handmade alpacas, colourful jewellery, and small knick-knacks.
Best places to eat with teenagers in San Diego
Corvette Diner – This 1950s-themed restaurant is a fun place to eat for the whole family. Corvette Diner goes beyond the classic old school diner, with waitresses that are dressed head to toe in 1950s garb and sing as they bring you your burgers and shakes.
Corvette Diner is located near Midway District/Loma Portal on Historic Decatur Road.
Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop – Although not a traditional taqueria, Lucha Libre is a colourful in-your-face wrestling-themed taco shop.
They serve up delicious Mexican food, over-the-top decor, and even have wrestling memorabilia and masks that you can pose with for the ‘gram.
Their original location is near Mission Hills on Washington Street, and they’ve now expanded to having another location on University Avenue in North Park.
Filippi’s Pizza Grotto Little Italy – Who doesn’t love a good pizza shop? And even more than providing tasty pizza, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto is known as one of the most family-friendly pizza places in town.
The aspects that make Filippi’s Pizza Grotto so special, besides their quality food, is their generous portions and affordable prices. Make sure to go to their location in Little Italy on India Street for an authentic Italian atmosphere.
Just note that this place gets packed, so be prepared to wait in line if you’re going during peak lunch or dinner times.
You will need US Dollars for your trip. We suggest you get a Transferwise Money card prior to leaving to save on withdrawal fees. You can transfer money from your home country into USD if you’re an international traveller.
For the USA there are two associated plug types, types A and B. Plug type A is the plug which has two flat parallel pins and plug type B is the plug which has two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin. The USA operates on a 120V supply voltage and 60Hz. Buy your A-Type adaptor today before you travel
Call 000 when in the USA
Yes, tap water is drinkable. If you are unsure we suggest you buy a drink bottle with a water filter on it for travelling. You can buy your water bottle here before you leave
A general rule for waiters is to tip 15 to 20 percent of the pre-tax bill
Stay in San Diego
At the top of the article, we suggested some accommodation choices. If you are looking for a wider variety of choices please find below an interactive map from Booking.com for you t0 find your perfect stay in San Diego
Weather in San Diego
August is the hottest month in San Diego with an average temperature of 23°C (73°F). The summer months are the most popular time to visit for people who love the beach. Winter brings cooler weather with the coldest being January with an average 14°C (57°F). The sunniest month is July where you will see up to 10 hours of sunshine. The wettest month is February with an average of 53mm of rain. The best month to swim in the ocean is in August when the water temperature is around 20°C (68°F).
As you can probably tell with the options above, San Diego is a popular vacation destination for families because it’s so affordable and easy to get to. We hope this article answers the question of what to do in San Diego with kids.
This article was contributed by Mimi McFadden who blogs at https://theatlasheart.com/ for us here at Wyld Family Travel. We hope this helps you with San Diego attractions for you and your teenager. San Diego with teenagers has many attractions and activities for you and your teen to do, see, try and taste. For more amazing ideas on where to holiday in the USA click through to our USA Destination Page for more brilliant inspiration.
We know because we go! Travelling with older kids has just as many issues as travelling with younger kids. Use our Travel with Teenagers Destination Guides from all over the world for your next family holiday inspiration.
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