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.
These are my picks for the best things to do in San Diego with Teens!
The best things to do in San Diego with teenagers
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.
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!
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.
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.
Cosmic bowling, or blacklight bowling, has become a big deal in San Diego in recent years and it also happens to be a great activity for the whole family.
There are quite a few cosmic bowling spots around San Diego county, just make sure to check websites ahead of time because cosmic bowling usually only happens once or twice a week.
Here are a few spots you could go for a fun night of cosmic bowling.
- Kearny Mesa Bowl
- Parkway Lanes
- Poway Fun Bowl
- Sea ‘N Air Lanes
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
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 eocal 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.
Best places to stay with teenagers in San Diego
Kings Inn – If you’re travelling with your teens on a budget and you’re looking for a fun family-friendly accommodation that is in a good location, check out Kings Inn.
It’s close to the highway, but also near many of the top attractions listed above, including the San Diego Zoo and Belmont Park.
One of the best features of this hotel besides the price is the outdoor pool, which you’ll often find kids and teens playing in on a hot day.
Bahia Resort Hotel – One of the most popular hotels for families in San Diego. The Bahia Resort is slightly more upscale than the Kings Inn but still affordable for the whole family.
This hotel is also located next to some of the most popular San Diego attractions, and right on the beach of Mission Bay. The beach area features a volleyball court, water sports, and low key eateries for the whole family to enjoy.
For more options including hotels, apartments and hostels check the booking.com map to secure your San Diego accommodation
How to get to San Diego, California
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.
It’s also conveniently located right in downtown San Diego, so it takes about 10-15 minutes by car to get into downtown from the airport.
And when I saw right in downtown, I mean it. Don’t be alarmed when you see an aeroplane flying really low above downtown San Diego, because the airport is literally right there.
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.
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.
The Amtrak train also comes right through San Diego, stopping a few times throughout the county.
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.
And, lastly, if you’re staying around downtown San Diego, there is the Santa Fe Depot stop right near Waterfront Park.
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 written by Mimi McFadden who blogs at https://theatlasheart.com/
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