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Top 20 San Diego Outdoor Activities for Families

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With warm weather year round, over 70 miles of coastline, gorgeous parks, and surrounding mountains, San Diego is full of outdoor activities the whole family will enjoy! No matter what age (from 0-100) there are so many ways you can embrace the beauty of this Southern California city. 

The list could go on and on with all the things to do in San Diego. While the endless opportunities are incredible, it can be hard to know where to start. 

So here are the top 20 outdoor activities all over the greater San Diego area -- from the beaches on the coast to the entertainment downtown to the outdoor adventure inland. These are the best things to do for families.

Map thanks to Wanderlog, a road trip planner on iOS and Android

Things to do on the Coast

1. Hike Torrey Pines

Father and son hiking on the cliffs at Torrey Pines State Reserve overlooking the ocean
Mother and Son walking on Torrey Pines State Beach

Hiking is one of the ultimate San Diego outdoor activities. Head west to the coast for a fun family hike with a stunning ocean view. The hike is relatively short and easy for all ages. 

Start by hiking up the road, through the reserve, and then down the cliffs onto the beach. This way you are facing the stunning ocean view the entire time while hiking. Plus you get to cap it off with a walk (or run) down the beach. 

Keep an eye out for paragliders as you’re hiking. The Torrey Pines Gliderport is just north of this beach, so you may get to watch some people soaring on the ocean breeze up and down the coastline. 

2. Watch La Jolla Seals

La Jolla Seals at Children's Pool Beach

Off the edge of the cliffs in La Jolla is a cute little cove called Children’s Pool Beach. Contrary to what the name implies, it’s not a beach for kids. It’s actually where all the seals hang out. Watch them swim, play and bask in the sun like the cute little blobs they are. Kids always love watching the seals, and the surrounding coastal scenery makes it an extra beautiful experience. 

In the summer months, walk out the long bridge path to get even closer to the seals. Just be prepared you may catch a splash or two from crashing waves nearby. 

3. Discover the La Jolla Tide Pools

Mother and baby on the beach of the La Jolla Tide Pools in San Diego

Along the stunning La Jolla coastline is a little spot filled with natural tide pools. Families can walk around the rock formations discovering little pools of sea life. Hunt for starfish, look at sea anemones, and touch any sea urchins you find (carefully). 

If you’re not as intrigued about little creatures, walk around a bit. You can climb or jump around the rocks. Find a little cove to dip your toes in the sand or splash around in the miniature waves rolling in. This is a perfect spot for little ones to get their feet wet without the overwhelming vastness of the ocean staring them down.  

PRO Tip: Check out the tide chart before you go. If you go at high tide, the pools will be constantly covered by crashing waves. Although, high tide makes for a fun time of watching surfers catch big waves.

4. Spend a Day on Coronado Island

Hotel Del Coronado beach villa in San Diego

What if you could enjoy a day in an idyllic little vacation vibing town on the water? Well, you can! Coronado Island contains one of the best little towns in all of San Diego. 

They have the best beach in San Diego with a gorgeous iconic resort as a backdrop. Here you can experience all the fun San Diego outdoor activities--sunbathing, body surfing, running up sand dunes, watching military helicopters fly around, and spotting cruise ships and sailboats. Plus they have cute little shops, delicious dining options, and even better ice cream! There is something for everyone in the family. 

PRO Tip: Make sure to check out the bay side of the island for a stunning view of the San Diego bay and downtown skyline. It’s especially beautiful at dusk. 

5. Bike around Mission Bay

Take a bike ride on the nearly 12 miles of trails around Mission Bay. Pedal around the peaceful bay side and see the occasional jet ski or sailboat cruise by. Or take a ride along the beach as you watch people play beach volleyball on one side and you admire the rows of pretty beach houses on the other. 

6. Play around at Belmont Park

Roller Coaster and shops at Belmont Park in San Diego

After you bike around Mission Bay, hop on over to Belmont Park at Mission Beach for outdoor activities--amusement park style. Ride the wooden Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, or check out one of the many rides for all heights. 

If your kids are more into games than rides, you’re in luck. Belmont Park has a wide variety of arcade games for all ages.

Did all those games work up an appetite? Grab a yummy corn dog or funnel cake to eat on the go. Or sit down at Beach House and put your toes in the sand beneath your table as you eat your dinner and watch the sunset over the ocean.

7. Walk through the Flower Fields

Mother and son in field of ranunculas at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad

If you’re in San Diego between early March and early May, then you have to go see the incredible display of color at The Flower Fields in Carlsbad. The nearly 50 acre field is filled with all different colored ranunculus. It’s like walking through a sea of rainbow colored petals. 

PRO Tip: Snap all the prettiest pictures with an expansive garden as your backdrop. You’ll have beautiful photos to show off to your friends and family. 

8. Kayak La Jolla Sea Caves

Got big kids? This adventurous San Diego outdoor activity is perfect for kids ages 15 and up. But even kids 6 and up could join in the fun tandem style with an adult. 

Paddle out through the waves and discover the La Jolla Sea Caves. If the tide is just right, you may be lucky enough to paddle inside a couple. Keep your eyes peeled for incredible sightings of leopard sharks and gray whales. 

PRO Tip: Make sure you take your dramamine if you get seasick. The rocking back and forth got to me, so I had to make a break for the shore to avoid feeding the fish my lunch (if you know what I mean). 

9. Splash with Dolphins at SeaWorld

Dolphin Days show at SeaWorld San Diego

Learn all about the animals living in the ocean, and get a chance to see them up close. Spend a day at SeaWorld San Diego and enjoy thrilling rides, animal exhibits, and animal encounters. 

Oh...and you can’t forget about their wonderful shows. Watch dolphins jump and splash the audience at Dolphin Days, or laugh at the corny humor in Sea Lions Live! You’ll be entertained and informed all about their sea animals and how they care for them.

Things to do Downtown

10. Watch a Baseball Game at Petco Park

Up high view of Petco Park at dusk in San Diego

The San Diego Padres’ baseball stadium, Petco Park, is located downtown--only a couple of blocks from the popular Gaslamp Quarter. Their ballpark is one of the coolest stadiums in the nation. With local craft beers, bbq joints, sandwich shops, and seafood restaurants...this park will keep you savoring flavors throughout the entire game. 

Take your little ones beyond the outfield and let them run the bases on the kids wiffle ball field. If they are brave enough, have them step up to the plate and swing for the fences. 

You can enjoy the game family picnic style from that lawn in the outfield, or opt for an assigned stadium seat. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy a great game--it’s hard to find a bad seat in the house. 

11. Savor Italian Cuisine in Little Italy

Family standing in front of Little Italy sign in San Diego

Make your way to Little Italy in downtown San Diego for authentic Italian food. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it. If you happen to be crazy and not like Italian food (umm...who are you?), some of San Diego’s best non-Italian food also resides in Little Italy. A few of our favorites are Nonna, Cloak and Petal, or Born and Raised.

Stroll under the cafe lights at night as you share a few scoops of gelato. Or stop by on a Saturday morning to meander through the Little Italy farmers market full of fresh food, flowers, and art. 

Any day of the week any time of day, your tastebuds await something truly mouth-watering! Eating in Little Italy is one of the best things to do downtown. 

12. Splash around at Waterfront Park

arching fountains at Waterfront Park in San Diego
Little boy jumping in water at Waterfront Park by Star of India

A little ways down from the airport on Harbor Blvd is Waterfront Park. At first glance it may look like a reflection pool with arching fountains, and it is. But it’s also where San Diegan kids love to splash and play! 

Let your little ones jump around in 6 in deep water and play in the water fountains, as you soak in the beautiful view of the harbor and the Star of India pirate ship. Spread out on the huge grassy lawn and enjoy a picnic in the lovely San Diego weather.

Behind the fountains you’ll find a little coffee stand and children’s playground geared toward varying age groups. I recommend stopping here BEFORE your kids get soaked from head to toe. 

13. Explore Balboa Park

Spanish Village building in Balboa Park in San Diego

Just outside of downtown is the beautiful Balboa Park. It’s full of gardens, fountains, museums, and architecture that will amaze you for hours. The little ones will love to run and jump their way across the lawns, down the paths, and into (I mean, beside) water fountains. 

As you mosey along, listen to the sounds of a guitar or saxophone played by local street performers. Or catch a free outdoor concert on certain days of the week. If you're here during the holiday season, check out December Nights for a night filled with music, food and beautiful light displays all over Balboa Park. 

Walk through the Spanish Village and peruse little shops with unique artisan goods.  You’ll feel a new zest of life as you admire the colorful cement blocks covering the ground in the plaza. 

PRO Tip: Tell your kids to only touch the BLUE (or whatever color) blocks, and they will be entertained by hopping and stepping their way through the plaza. 

14. See Animals at the San Diego Zoo

Tiger at the San Diego Zoo

On the edge of Balboa Park, you’ll find the San Diego Zoo. It’s one of the best zoos in the country...and for good reason. It’s a zoo experience unlike any other!

Learn the difference between African and Asian elephants. Listen for a tiger’s roar as you walk through a bamboo forest. Watch 27 different species of monkeys swing, jump, and play with their primate friends. 

If you want to go to the San Diego Zoo most out-of-towners don’t know about, check out the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido. Scroll to the end of this post for more info. 

15. Eat Fresh Tortillas in Old Town

Watch the making of fresh tortillas right in front of you. Then savor their flavor while they’re still hot! Que delicioso! Melt a little butter and salsa on the tortilla, and you will be in heaven. Fresh tortilla--that’s all it takes. 

Venture into the restaurants and sit down with your family for a traditional Mexican meal, but pleeeeease promise me you’ll grab at least one fresh tortilla to eat first! 

After eating all of the delicious things, take a stroll through Old Town San Diego. Learn about San Diego’s history, buy unique gifts, and enjoy new entertainment events each month.

Things to do Inland

16. Pick Apples in Julian

Mother and son walking through an outdoor apple orchard in Julian
Little boy picking an apple off a tree in Julian

Nestled up in the mountains east of San Diego, lies the quaint small town of Julian. It’s an idyllic mountain town filled with friendly people and DELICIOUS apple pie. 

In the early fall season, drive on up to Julian to go apple picking as a family at one of the apple orchards in the surrounding area. After you have filled up your bags with apples, head into town to peruse shops filled with home decor, toys, books, and more.

Don't forget to stop in one of their local restaurants. Try an apple cider float, apple burger, apple pie, or warm apple crisp. You can’t go wrong! 

17. Picnic at Santee Lakes

About 25 minutes east of San Diego is the beautiful Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve. With its 7 lakes, green grassy areas, and several playgrounds, it’s the perfect spot for a family picnic. 

Santee Lakes is chocked full of San Diego outdoor activities. Fish for bass, bluegill, catfish, and rainbow trout. Cruise around the lake paths on foot or by bike. Or go out on the water in a paddleboat available to rent by the hour. 

If you like to travel in your RV, this place is meant for you! The northernmost portion of the park is a campground where you could stay for one night or twenty. Don’t have an RV? They have cute little cabins you can also rent per night. 

18. Go on Safari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park entrance

Ever wonder what it’s like to go on a safari? Instead of flying to Africa, jump on the Africa Tram at San Diego Zoo Safari Park and learn all about their savanna animal habitats. Or opt for one of their private guided tours to get extra up close and personal with the animals. 

Spend the rest of your day checking out all the Safari Park has to offer. Walk through the lemur’s habitat as they bounce around. Watch cheetahs bolt down a long grassy lawn. Or take your little ones to the petting zoo to feel a fuzzy goat or sheep. There are plenty of animal encounters to keep you entertained and educated all day long.

19. Catch a Movie at the Santee Drive-In

Kick back under the stars and watch a new film on the big screen at the old fashioned Santee Drive-In Theatre in East County. Load up your family and friends and drive on into the outdoor theater. It’s one of the best things to do for families because you can bring your babies and little kids to the movies (even if they just sleep in the car the whole time). 

Pack all your favorite snacks, wear your comfy pajamas, or even lounge on mattresses and pillows in the back of your truck. Get all cozy and watch Hollywood’s latest releases. 

Ready for a movie marathon? Stick around for the second movie and enjoy two films for the price of one (totally legal BTW, your ticket gets you admission to both movies). Nothing says San Diego summer like an outdoor movie night.

PRO Tip: Arrive at the Drive-In early. The line can start to get long, and you want to make sure you can park in a good spot in the outdoor theater. 

20. Hike to a Natural Waterfall Slide

Father and son hiking to 3 sisters falls just east of San Diego
3 Sisters Falls waterfall

While there are a number of lovely hikes all around the greater San Diego area, the hike to Three Sisters Falls is worth a mini day trip. Drive an hour and a half east of San Diego up into the mountains to embark on a moderate hike with the best reward at the end--tiered waterfalls!

The multi-tiered waterfalls are not only beautiful to look at. You can swim in a pool of water at the base of the falls. Or if you are ready for a real adventure, slide down the smooth rock slide amidst the waterfall!

Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon zipping down the waterslide and splashing around in the water. You'll be embracing the epitome of San Diego outdoor activities. 

Our Favorite San Diego Outdoor Activities

San Diego has SO MUCH to offer. If you don't have time to do all 20, and it’s hard to decide what to do, check out our family's top 5 picks: 

  1. Hike Torrey Pines
  2. Spend a Day on Coronado
  3. Splash with Dolphins at SeaWorld
  4. Watch a Baseball Game at Petco Park
  5. Go on Safari San Diego Zoo Safari Park

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