A Quick Guide to San Diego for All Ages

Story and Photos By Elisa Parhad

guide to san diego

Quadricycles are among the many family activities offered at Paradise Point Resort. PHOTOS BY ELISA PARHAD

San Diego has long been a favorite family-friendly getaway for Angelenos – and we looked into all the reasons why. Between the sun, surf and world-class attractions, we found something fun for everyone – of all ages.  

If you’re looking for a home base, Paradise Point Resort boasts 44 acres of lush grounds, five pools, three onsite restaurants, mini golf, sailing lessons, beach fire pits for s’mores and a surf academy. Book a suite or bungalow for a stay right on the shores of the calm bay waters.  

San Diego Harbor and the Waterfront  

Here’s a chance to explore San Diego’s unique maritime heritage.  

Kids of all ages delight in San Diego’s beloved Waterfront Park – 12 acres of greenery with an updated playground and irresistible splash pad. Bring your suits for water play! The whole family will enjoy seeing the various watercraft anchored in the harbor. While the USS Midway is an undeniable gem, don’t look past the Maritime Museum of San Diego, where you can explore historic vessels such as a replica Spanish galleon, two submarines and a merchant ship.  

Elementary-age kids and tweens can get an experience on the water with a two-person speedboat ride across 13 miles of San Diego Harbor via Speedboat Adventure Tours. Get up-close time with sea lions, aircraft carriers, Navy ships and the historic Maritime Museum vessels.  

Balboa Park  

The cultural heart of the city, the park inspires, entertains and educates with gardens, museums and trails.  

Toddlers and elementary-age kids can roam the May S. Marcy Sculpture Court & Garden at the San Diego Museum of Art while parents enjoy a light meal and craft drinks from Panama 66, the adjoining open-air restaurant. Ask for a serape from the bartender to make it a picnic.  

Elementary-age kids and tweens can visit working artist studios at the quaint Spanish Village Art Center. Visit Studio 39 to make and bring home a ceramic family totem.  

Kids of all ages can feel immersed at a Reuben H. Fleet Science Center IMAX movie, ogle the aircraft at the San Diego Air & Space Museum or discover the natural world at the San Diego Natural History Museum. The Timken Museum – San Diego’s “jewel box” of fine art – is always free and a great way to commune with fine art.  

guide to san diego

See the fun sights around San Diego Harbor on Speed Boat Adventure Tours. PHOTOS BY ELISA PARHAD

Liberty Station  

The former Naval Training Center in Point Loma has new life as a family-friendly destination with eateries, retail and sprawling lawns. While you’re outdoors, look up! With the airport nearby, Liberty Station is a great place to watch the planes buzz in and out of the city.  

Elementary-age kids and toddlers love to climb atop the John Deere tractor and wooden boat outside the Liberty Station Public Market – a must stop for any brood of mismatched eaters.  

Elementary-age kids and tweens can have their fill of arcade games, rock ‘n’ roll and burgers and shakes at the 50s-themed Corvette Diner. Celebrating a special occasion? Make a memory with the outrageous cotton candy cake. After you eat, satisfy the ComicCon itch at the Comic Arts Gallery, which provides some backstory on the genre. Then stock up on books and memorabilia at Comickaze Comics, Books and More.  

Little Italy  

This thriving urban neighborhood offers updated old-world flavors. Families gather at the Piazza della Famiglia to soak up the scene and enjoy dining at the new Little Italy Food Hall, where a broad array of meal choices await.  

Toddlers and elementary-age kids will get an eyeful of vintage firefighting equipment and memorabilia at the San Diego Firehouse Museum – a great spot to explore before a meal at the quaint New Zealand-inspired eatery, Queenstown Public House.  

Elementary-age kids and tweens can create their own sweet treats at iDesserts, where iPads are used to order customized crepes, sundaes and milkshakes.  

For families navigating food allergies, Pappalecco Caffe offers a good selection of Italian gelato, pastries and sandwiches that are clearly labeled “vegan,” “dairy free” and/ or “gluten free.”  

guide to san diego

Waterfront Park boasts 12 acres of greenery with an updated playground and irresistible splash pad. PHOTOS BY ELISA PARHAD

Old Town  

This part of San Diego is alive with living history, hands-on activities and Mexican flair. Find good food and festive atmosphere at Mexican restaurants such as longtime favorite, Casa Guadalajara.  

Toddlers will love climbing in and out of public safety vehicles at the Sheriff’s Museum and watching miniature trains roll by at the Model Railroad Depot.  

Elementary-age kids and tweens can keep their hands busy by creating their own bath salts, dipping candles or panning for gold at various shops and museums in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, which is free and open to the public.  

Tweens will shudder at the ghost tour of the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park’s Whaley House, considered to be the most haunted house in the United States.  

In need of a snack? Grab two hot, handmade tortillas for a dollar at the Cafe Coyote street counter off San Diego Avenue.  

Major Attractions  

Need a new reason to visit a favorite attraction? There are many!  

Old Town San Diego is alive with living history, hands-on activities and
Mexican flair. PHOTO BY ELISA PARHAD

Toddlers and elementary kids can hunt for treasure on an underwater vessel at Legoland’s new Deep Sea Adventure, while kids of all ages can explore the exotic animals of Australia and Africa at the Safari Zoo’s new Walkabout Australia exhibit and San Diego Zoo’s latest Africa Rocks exhibit.  

Do your tweens and teens love thrills? They’ll find their bliss at SeaWorld’s Electric Eel – the tallest, fastest and newest roller coaster in San Diego.  

Elisa Parhad is a writer and photographer based in L.A. with a focus on travel and lifestyle. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Delta Sky magazine and Faces (a Cricket magazine for kids). 

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