10 Kid-Friendly Secret Spots in San Diego

Co-authored by: Alison LeReaux

You’re in San Diego! The sun is shining, the birds helped you make your bed this morning, and your kids have enough energy to start 12 different companies before lunch. What do you do next?? We’ve compiled a list of our favorite kid-friendly places around San Diego and NO we do not include Legoland.

1. Catamaran Beach

Don’t worry about lugging chairs and umbrellas to a beach day at the Catamaran! Every morning the hotel sets up lounge chairs and umbrellas in the sand for their guests, but if you buy a drink or some food from their restaurant you can use them for the day. Parking is a little challenging, but that means you have fewer people to get lost in! The Catamaran is a bayside hotel on the northwest side of Mission Bay. If your kids aren’t great swimmers this is a great alternative to the ocean beach where the waves are more powerful.

2. Mission Beach

This one’s for the older kiddos. Mission Beach has two massive parking lots (one on either side of the roller coaster), a ROLLERCOASTER, mini golf, arcade games, a ton of food options to purchase and the beach! Mission Beach is one of the most crowded beaches in San Diego but if you’re looking to keep your older kids entertained this is the spot.

3. Waterfront Park

Water fountains you can run in! San Diego’s Waterfront Park is Downtown, between Little Italy and the San Diego Harbor. Large grassy areas, interactive water fountains, multiple jungle gyms and picnic areas for the whole family! Street parking may be difficult on a sunny day so there’s a $10 parking garage underneath the park.

4. Torrey Pines Railroad Hike

Welcome to the lesser known Torrey Pines trail that ends at a playground! You can either pay to park at the North Beach Lot or find free street parking on Carmel Valley Road. Start walking at the North Beach Lot and walk under the bridge. You’ll walk north on the sandy beach for about 10 minutes before you come up to the dirt trail. This trail takes you above the cliffs and runs parallel to the rail road tracks for two miles. This is a great trail to see any whales or dolphins in the ocean and it’s fun to have the trains speed past, but be careful with the little ones and make sure they stay on the trail!

5. Cabrillo National Monument, Lighthouse & Tide Pools

You can spend an hour or a full day here! Pack all the kids in a car and pay to park (entrance fee is per car and has no time limit). You can learn a little San Diego history while exploring the museum next to the parking lot, then head up to the lighthouse! Walk around the lighthouse grounds and see the garden where the keepers used to grow their food. If the kiddos have a little more energy take them on the out-and-back hike down the hill. If it’s a hot day bring plenty of water because there is no shade. On your way back up take a rest at the Artist’s House and if you’re there during the summertime the Artist in Residence offers free art lessons one Saturday every month. Click here for more details. And don’t forget to explore the tide pools on the other side!

6. Birch Aquarium

IT’S AN AQUARIUM! Come on. Kids of any age love sea creatures and this place has plenty! The rooms are cooler so this is a perfect outing for a hot summer day. Check out their calendar and see them feed the sharks and turtles!

7. Balboa Park

Photo by SoCal Pulse

Photo by SoCal Pulse

This is a loaded tip. Get ready :) If you’re going to Balboa Park, you may as well make a full day out of it. Park where you can and start exploring! Our favorite things to do as kids were play with electricity at the Fleet Science Center, smell the chocolate plants and see the venus fly traps in the Botanical Garden, share a baked item from one of the cafe carts, play in the huge water fountain, eat lunch in the rose garden and wander through the Japanese Friendship Gardens. You can make Balboa Park as cheap or expensive as you want so plan accordingly and your kids will have plenty to do!

8. Centenniel Park

Photo taken from Joseph-Ramiro Macias-Perez

Photo taken from Joseph-Ramiro Macias-Perez

Take your kids on an island adventure! This park is on Coronado Island and the adventure starts on the ride over. You can either take a ferry ride across the harbor or drive yourself across the huge bridge that gives an incredible view of all of San Diego. Centenniel Park has plenty of grass to run on, shops to buy food and is dog friendly!

9. La Jolla Shores

Photo taken by vietimgy.pw

Photo taken by vietimgy.pw

The Shores has one of the more mellow beaches in San Diego and comes with its own playground! Keep a close watch on the kids though because the crowds pile in fast- especially on a beautiful summer day. The “secret” spot, however, is the main lifeguard tower. Most people don’t know you can go right up to their gate, ring the buzzer, and ask if your kids can have a tour of the tower! This gives your kids a chance to learn about rip currents, how lifeguards operate, and let’s them see the beach from above. Bonus points if you bring some snacks for the lifeguards :)

10. Paradise Point

Photo taken by Resort Pass

Photo taken by Resort Pass

Welcome to Paradise! If you want to stay at a resort for a day without paying the full price opt for a day pass! Paradise Point is situated in the middle of Mission Bay perfectly secluded from crowds. $10 per child and $25 per adult gives you access to a huge pool with a large shallow end for the littles and plenty of loungers and umbrellas, a jacuzzi, 10% discount at the hotel restaurants, coy pond, access to the fitness center and free parking! Click here for more info.