Dozens of public parks, 70 miles of beaches, and numerous museums are just part of what awaits kids and families. For current information about activities for children, pick up a free copy of the monthly San Diego Family Magazine, or check it out online at www.sandiegofamily.com; its calendar of events is geared toward family activities and kids' interests. The International Visitor Information Center, 1040 1/3 W. Broadway at Harbor Drive (tel. 619/236-1212), is also a great resource.
The Top Attractions for Kids
- Balboa Park has street entertainers and clowns that always rate high with kids. They can usually be found around El Prado on weekends. The Natural History Museum, the Model Railroad Museum, the Air & Space Museum, and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (with its hands-on exhibits and IMAX theater) draw kids like magnets.
- The San Diego Zoo appeals to children of all ages, and the double-decker bus tours bring all the animals into easy view of even the smallest visitors. There's a Children's Zoo within the zoo, and kids adore the performing sea lion show.
- SeaWorld San Diego, on Mission Bay, entertains everyone with killer whales, dolphins to pet, and plenty of penguins. There are also wet and wild thrill rides and a collection of Sesame Street-related attractions, including rides and a "4-D" interactive movie experience.
- The Zoo Safari Park delivers a memorable wildlife experience, re-creating the savannas of Africa with free-roaming animals. For visitors age 3 and up, the Roar & Snore sleepover program -- held year-round on weekends (except Dec and Jan) -- is immensely popular.
- LEGOLAND California, in Carlsbad, features impressive models built entirely with LEGO blocks. There are also rides, special events, and contests; a sea-life aquarium (with real fish) and a water park have been added, as well. The park advertises itself as a "country just for kids" -- need you say more?
- Birch Aquarium at Scripps, in La Jolla, is an aquarium that lets kids explore the realms of the deep and learn about life in the sea.
- The New Children's Museum, in downtown, is a $25-million, modern space where kids can indulge in educational and cultural playtime, including hands-on art projects and storytelling.
- Maritime Museum, along the Embarcadero, will have kids unleashing their inner Capt. Jack Sparrow, as they swashbuckle their way through this collection of classic sailing vessels.
- Seaport Village has an old-fashioned carousel for kids, lots of kid-friendly shops and outdoor eateries, and harbor views of some very impressive ships.
- Whale-Watching Tours offer a chance to spot 40-foot gray whales that migrate past San Diego each winter.
- Old Town State Historic Park has a one-room schoolhouse that rates high with kids. They'll also enjoy the freedom of running around the safe, parklike compound to discover their own fun.
- The Gliderport will transfix kids as they watch aerial acrobats swoop through the skies of La Jolla.
- Chula Vista Nature Center is a small facility near the southern end of San Diego Bay that has open tanks for getting up close to turtles, stingrays, and small sharks; there's also a walk-through aviary.
The Old Globe Theatre (tel. 619/234-5623; www.theoldglobe.org) in Balboa Park showcases Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! each year during the holidays. Performances are scheduled late November through December. Tickets are priced $39 to $77 for adults, $20 to $57 for kids 17 and under. The San Diego Junior Theatre (tel. 619/239-8355; www.juniortheatre.com) is the oldest continuing children's theater program in the country, operating since 1948. The productions (shows such as Willy Wonka and Beauty and the Beast) are acted and crewed by kids 8 to 18 and are staged at two different theaters: Balboa Park's Casa del Prado Theatre and the YMCA Firehouse in La Jolla, 7877 Herschel Ave. Nearly a dozen shows are staged each season, with performances held on Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons; ticket prices are $8 to $14.
Sunday afternoon is a great time for kids in Balboa Park. They can visit both the outdoor Spreckels Organ Pavilion for a free concert (the mix of music isn't too highbrow for a young audience) and the House of Pacific Relations to watch folk dancing on the lawn and taste food from many nations. Or try the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, in Balboa Park's Palisades Building (tel. 619/544-9203; www.balboaparkpuppets.com). Individual shows might feature marionettes, hand puppets, or ventriloquism; the stories range from classic Grimm's Fairy Tales and Aesop's Fables to more obscure yarns. Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 10 and 11:30am, and Saturday and Sunday at 11am, 1, and 2:30pm (additional showtimes are added in summer). The cost is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children 2 and older; free for children 1 and under.