The first thing we do when we start looking into a destination is to take a look at the types of activities available to ensure there is enough to interest us for a week. We want our travel activities to be well-rounded to accommodate everyone in our family, balancing activities for the adults and the kids. Lucky for our kids, our preferred choice of activity is being active outside, so that usually ends up being pretty kid friendly too.
To create a fun, balanced and manageable itinerary for your trip San Diego trip, we recommend two things:
- Create a list of potential activities with any necessary details (i.e. parking, buying tickets in advance, etc.). This will make sure you always have options available, as you will likely switch things up or change your mind about what you want to do as the trip progresses.
- Build an itinerary which works for your baby or child's sleep schedule. Skipping some naps or doing naps on-the-go may work some days, but you probably don’t want to do this every day. Trust us, we know from experience how bad skipping naps for an entire week can turn out in the end, so we recommend planning around it. If you are well prepared, this still leaves plenty of time to be out exploring. The key is to get prepared while your children are sleeping, so you can get out the door shortly after they wake.
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We usually have a discussion before the trip about current sleep schedules and how we can fit in what we want to see. For our trip to San Diego, we had a plan for which days our 9 month old would have a nap on-the-go and which days we could afford to give him more sleeping time at our rental house. As plans with babies typically go, he had other ideas... all week long he decided to get up extra early (i.e. 5:30AM!!), which actually worked well because we were able to give him a nap in the morning while the rest of us finished up breakfast (and coffee!).
With that in mind, here is a balanced itinerary for one week in San Diego which the whole family will enjoy. This itinerary would work equally well for older kids, you just get to spend more time doing each activity!
Day 1 - Travel Day
Check in to your accommodations, get organized for the week by unpacking and getting groceries. If time permits, head to the beach to get your kids excited about being in San Diego.
Day 2 – La Jolla & Mission Beach
AM: La Jolla Cove & La Jolla's Children's Pool Seals
Walk the oceanfront trail to see the La Jolla seals and sea lions. This small stretch of beach is protected by a partial sea wall that the seals took over.
At the end of the trail, stop to enjoy some time at the nearby park then have lunch at one of the many great restaurants in La Jolla.
PM: Belmont Park & Mission Beach Boardwalk
Belmont Park is a historic oceanfront amusement park. From there you can walk along the Mission Beach boardwalk or spend time on the beach playing the surf.
Grab an ice cream to keep cool while you walk along the boardwalk!
Day 3 – San Diego Zoo & Mission Beach
AM: San Diego Zoo
Spread over 100 acres, the San Diego Zoo houses over 3,700 animals. It’s so big that this one activity will be enough for the day.
You can maximize your time at the zoo by skipping the ticket line. At a minimum, download tickets straight to your phone. However, if you are visiting more than one attraction while in San Diego, we recommend you buy a 'Build Your Own' San Diego Attraction Pass (see why this pass works for parents with a baby at the bottom of this page).
PM: Mission Beach
If you have any time or energy left after a long day at the zoo, head to Mission Beach to go play in the tranquil bay side water before dinner. This became our favourite late afternoon activity during our week there.
Day 4 – Torrey Pines Natural Reserve
The Torrey Pines Natural Reserve is home to many wonderful, short hikes your family will enjoy. Two hikes that can easily be paired up are the Razor Point and Guy Fleming to create a 3.3 mile hike with some spectacular views. There are many other hikes to choose from to extend this outing.
Make sure to pack snacks and a lunch to keep energy high for hiking!
Day 5 - San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Housed on 1,800 acres, the San Diego Safari Park is one of the largest tourist attractions in the San Diego area. Similar to the San Diego Zoo, it’s large and far from downtown, so don’t plan for any other activities this day.
Same advice here as the zoo... you can maximize your time at the safari park by skipping the ticket line. At a minimum, get tickets delivered to your phone. However, if you are visiting more than one attraction while in San Diego, we recommend you buy a 'Build Your Own' San Diego Attraction Pass (see why this pass works for parents with a baby at the bottom of this page).
Day 6 - Spruce Street Suspension Bridge and Balboa Park
Touted as a hidden gem, the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is a fun little outing that won’t take more than 20 minutes. Given the proximity to Balboa Park, it is a natural pairing.
Balboa Park has so much more than the zoo. There are 15 museums to visit, as time permits, and miles and miles of pathways to explore. We recommend parking near the 6th avenue playground so the kids can have time to play either before or after your walk through the park. We enjoyed our walk that took us through the museums and the Spanish Village Art Center.
Day 7 – Birch Aquarium at Scripps
The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a small aquarium in La Jolla that kids will love. With interactive exhibits, tide pools, the kelp forest and the very popular seahorse exhibit, everyone will enjoy this outing. It can get busy very quickly with school groups so aim to be there early.
This is also a great time to squeeze in another afternoon on the beach.
Build Your Own San Diego Attraction Pass
If you have read any of our travel guides, you know we don't typically recommend multi-attraction passes for families travelling with a baby - the amount you need to see & do in a given day is more than most families with a baby can actually do with naps, etc. But in this case, there is a San Diego attraction pass which actually works very well for families with a baby. It saves you time and money, but doesn't have the time pressure of a typical multi-attraction pass.
The Build Your Own San Diego Attraction Pass allows you to buy admission passes to the specific attractions you want to visit in San Diego - no more, no less. The benefits of this digital pass are:
- Instant delivery - it is delivered right to your phone with no waiting.
- You will save 20% off the regular admission prices (*Passes including Universal Tickets save 10%). If all you do is buy tickets to the Zoo and Safari Park, this will save you $20 per person vs buying your ticket at the gate.
- Choose from 41 attractions.
- Skip the ticket booth and go straight to turnstile with Digital Pass at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Safari Park.
- You get 30 days to use the pass after your first attraction visit, so there is no rush to see everything in a single day.
- Along with your admission passes, you'll receive information with hours, maps, and instructions for getting in to each attraction.
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