San Diego with a Baby and a Toddler

Traveling to San Diego with a baby and/or toddler is a great idea for a family vacation. There are so many kid-friendly things to do in San Diego, it’s easy to get around, there’s plenty of kid-friendly places to eat and stay.

Family vacations in San Diego provide a good balance for all family members, keeping everyone happy. Babies and toddlers need mental and physical stimulation to stay happy while continuing their normal development. There’s plenty of world-class indoor and outdoor things to do in San Diego which will entertain kids and parents alike.

At the time of our San Diego family vacation, our toddler was 2.5 years old and our baby was 9 months old. In addition to the things the adults enjoyed doing, there were so many great things to do with a baby in San Diego.

La Jolla in San Diego with a baby and toddler

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Here are the many reasons we recommend you visit San Diego with a toddler and/or baby:

Top 7 Things to do in San Diego with a Baby and Toddler

It’s easy to come up with a San Diego itinerary with kids which will please everyone. There are tons of things to do in San Diego for the adults (which are also kid-friendly). You’ll have no trouble finding things to do in San Diego with a toddler, while babies are generally easy to please.

We love animals and outdoor activities, so it was easy to find things to do on our family vacation in San Diego.

The Spanish Village Art Center is found in Balboa Park San Diego

1. San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is world famous for a reason – it’s huge and it’s so much fun! There are so many big-ticket animals to see here, like pandas, orangutans, polar bears, koalas and many more.

The San Diego Zoo is great as it meets the needs of everyone in the family. Babies love zoos and will stare at the new and interesting animals for hours. It’s also a great place to let your toddler get some exercise; just make sure you keep up as they run excitedly from animal to animal.

We have a ton of great information on visiting the San Diego Zoo with a baby in our blog post. It’s the busiest zoo in America, so do yourself a favor and skip the line by buying your San Diego Zoo tickets in advance.

2. La Jolla Cove & Children’s Pool

La Jolla is a beautiful seaside neighborhood of San Diego. There are parks for the kids to crawl and run around in, oceanfront walks and family-friendly restaurants. But most of all, visit La Jolla to see the playful seals who love to lounge around on an old seawall (known as the Children’s Pool).

It’s easy to visit on a La Jolla and Beaches tour.

3. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

We love hiking with our kids, so we took a short road trip out to this beautiful ocean-front natural reserve for a few kid-friendly hikes. Get more information on this and other family-friendly walks in San Diego.

A father with his baby and toddler enjoy a fun walk at the Torry Pines Natural Rreserve just outside San Diego

Don’t miss all our Resources for Hiking with a Baby or Toddler. We cover everything from hiking tips to the best carriers for hiking.

4. San Diego Beaches

There are few places on earth that babies and toddlers love more than the beach. We spent most of our beach time near our vacation rental in Mission Beach. Some of the other best beaches for kids in San Diego include Coronado Beach, Torrey Pines, Moonlight Beach, Silver Strand and La Jolla.

Before heading to a San Diego beach with your kids, be sure to pack the beach essentials for toddlers. If you are traveling to San Diego with a baby, we have a full list of baby beach essentials.

San Diego Beaches with a baby or toddler

5. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park recreates the experience of going on an African Safari. This unique experience is another excellent toddler and baby activity in San Diego. It’s a bit of a drive from San Diego, but it’s worth the visit. Regain some of that lost driving time by buying your Safari Park tickets ahead of time.

6. Birch Aquarium

Want to entertain a baby for hours? Let them watch fish… seriously – give it a try, babies love fish! There’s plenty of fun stuff for adults and toddlers at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla. We especially enjoyed the interactive exhibits and tide pools.

A baby fascinated by the fish at the Birch Aquarium Scripps in San Diego

7. Legoland

Located less than an hour away from San Diego, Legoland is a magical place for small kids. It has tons of rides and activities with no height restrictions, ensuring your toddler will have the time of their life. Legoland California also offers a Parent Swap program. One parent waits with the baby, then switch places when the first ride is over.

Legoland tickets are available online.

6-Day Itinerary for San Diego with a Toddler and Baby

To create a fun, balanced and manageable itinerary for your San Diego family holiday, we recommend two things:

  1. Create a list of the baby-friendly San Diego things to do which interest you. Having a list of options prepared helps as travel plans with a baby or toddler invariably change.
  2. Build a San Diego itinerary which respects your baby or toddler’s sleep schedule. Skipping naps or napping on-the-go may work some days, but it’s not sustainable.

Inspired by our own San Diego family vacation, here is a 6-day itinerary for San Diego with a baby and toddler:

DAY 1 – LA JOLLA AND MISSION BEACH

Morning: La Jolla Cove & La Jolla’s Children’s Pool Seals

Visit the trendy San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla. Enjoy the scenery with an oceanfront walk to see the La Jolla seals and sea lions. Your chances of seeing seals at the La Jolla Children’s Pool are particularly good here as the seals enjoy relaxing on a partial sea wall not far into the ocean.

Happy seals lounge around at the the La Jolla Children's Pool in San Diego

At the end of your morning walk along the Pacific Ocean, stop and let the kids play at the Ellen Browning Scripps Park.

Climbing on trees is a fun activity for a toddler in Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla, San Diego

End your morning with lunch at one of the many kid-friendly restaurants in La Jolla.

Afternoon: Mission Beach Boardwalk

Continue enjoying your first day near the ocean with a visit to Mission Beach. Babies and toddlers love playing in the sand – just make sure you bring some simple beach toys.

Grab some ice cream at Dreyer’s Ice Cream and take a family walk along the Mission Beach Boardwalk; a great way to finish your first day in San Diego.

Enjoying Dreyer's ice cream while on a family walk along the Mission Beach Baordwalk

DAY 2 – SAN DIEGO ZOO & MISSION BEACH

Morning: San Diego Zoo

Spread over 100 acres, the San Diego Zoo is home to over 3,700 animals. It’s so big that your visit will likely take most of the day.

Save time and buy your tickets ahead of time. Consider saving 20% with a ‘Build Your Own’ San Diego Attraction Pass (more on this below).

Kids love watching the oranguatans at the San Diego Zoo

Afternoon: Mission Beach Bay

If you have any time or energy left after a long day at the zoo, head back to Mission Beach to let the kids play in the tranquil bay-side water before dinner.

Beach with a Baby in San Diego

DAY 3 – TORREY PINES NATURAL RESERVE

The Torrey Pines Natural Reserve is home to many scenic kid-friendly hikes your family will enjoy.

Combine the Razor Point trail and the Guy Fleming trail to create a 3-mile toddler-friendly hike with some spectacular ocean views.

A family hug while on a kid-friendly hike in Torrey Pines Natural Reserve

Pack a good lunch and some snacks to keep your toddler’s energy up and you may be able to enjoy even more kid-friendly Torrey Pines hikes.

Enjoy even more great family friendly walks around San Diego in this post.

DAY 4 – SAN DIEGO ZOO SAFARI PARK

A toddler watching giraffes at the San Diego Safari Park

If your baby or toddler loves animals (especially African animals), don’t miss a trip to the San Diego Safari Park. Plan on spending a full day here as it’s really big.

Same advice here as the zoo… do yourself a favor and buy your tickets in advance. You can save 20% with a ‘Build Your Own’ San Diego Attraction Pass (details below).

DAY 5 – SPRUCE STREET SUSPENSION BRIDGE & BALBOA PARK

A hidden gem, the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is a fun little toddler-friendly San Diego attraction that won’t take more than 20 minutes. Given the proximity to Balboa Park, it is a natural pairing.

A toddler runs across the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge near Balboa Park, San Diego

Balboa Park is home to the San Diego Zoo, but it has so many additional things to do with a baby or toddler. There are 15 museums to visit and miles of kid-friendly walks to explore.

sixth avenue playground in San Diego California with toddler

We recommend parking near the 6th Avenue playground so your kids can have time to play after your family walk through Balboa Park. If you are near, swing by the Spanish Village Art Center as toddlers love the colorful tiles.

DAY 6 – BIRCH AQUARIUM AT SCRIPPS

Whale sculpture at Birch Aquarium Scripps San Diego

Babies and toddlers will love watching the fish at this small La Jolla aquarium. With interactive exhibits, tide pools, the kelp forest and the popular seahorse exhibit, everyone will enjoy this outing.

A toddler touches a sea cucumber at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla

San Diego Weather is Perfect for Family Vacations

San Diego weather is great for family vacations throughout the year. Enjoy average highs between 48-64°F (9-18°C) in the winter and 66-77°F (19-25°C) in the summer.

For our San Diego family vacation in May, we had a mix of some warm afternoons and some cooler days. Those cooler days can seem disappointing, but in reality they are perfect for traveling with a baby and toddler. 

If it been really hot each day, we may have chosen to spend more days on the kid-friendly San Diego beaches and less time out exploring. Also, when the days are too hot, we are more cautious about how much time our kids spend in the sun.

If you are going to San Diego during the hot months, read these 8 Sun Safety Tips for Babies to protect your baby from the sun and keep them cool at the beach.

Mission Beach in San Diego with a baby and toddler

Getting Around San Diego with a Toddler and Baby

Being a large, sprawling American city, you’ll need to rent a car when visiting San Diego with kids. 

There are baby equipment rental companies that will deliver right to the Airport Rental Car Center at the airport, so we chose to rent car seats over bringing our own on the plane. Not only did we have less luggage to manage, we didn’t have to worry about our car seats getting damaged on the plane. Before your trip, be sure to think about these things before taking your car seats on an airplane.

Overall, we found it easy to get around San Diego. Having a good, central place to stay will reduce your daily travel time in the car.

A toddler is excited to see an elephant at the San Diego Zoo

Where to Stay in San Diego with a Toddler and Baby

We’re pretty picky when choosing a place to stay with our kids. It must be central, but not too noisy. We want lots of space with separate bedrooms for the kids. A spot to hang out while our kids are sleeping is nice. We don’t want to worry about our crying baby disturbing other people in the middle of the night. On the flip side, we don’t want late-night partiers waking our baby in the middle of the night.

For our family trip, we determined the best place to stay in San Diego with kids was Mission Beach. It was centrally located to the things we wanted to do on our San Diego itinerary. It had lots of kid-friendly restaurants and was super close to the beach. We loved the idea of having the ocean nearby to explore in the afternoons after naps.

San Diego Hotel vs Vacation Rental

When traveling with a baby and a toddler, you can’t beat the convenience of a vacation rental. You only need to spend one night huddled quietly in a dark hotel room to realize the benefits of having a separate bedroom for your baby.

Vacation rentals have many advantages for family vacations. You can cook your own meals and pack your own lunches. Having laundry facilities is a big benefit when traveling with messy babies and toddlers. You can pack less clothes and not have to worry about dirty clothes.

We found a cute little house on VRBO just steps away from Mission Bay, which met all our criteria. It was spacious inside with an outdoor patio to hang out on. We were close enough to play on the beach almost every day after nap time, which our baby and toddler loved.

We loved our patio in our vacation rental in Mission Beach San Diego

To save you time, we have prepared some links to find the best places to stay in San Diego with kids:

  • Family-friendly San Diego vacation rentals on VRBO and Airbnb
  • Family-friendly San Diego hotels on Booking.com

New to Airbnb? Sign up with our link for a $35USD credit towards your first stay.

Eating with Kids in San Diego

Let’s face it – eating at restaurants with toddlers and babies isn’t a lot of fun. The best strategy for families with babies or toddlers is to get a vacation rental and self-cater breakfast and lunch. 

Babies and toddlers get up so early, making it easy to have breakfast at the kitchen table before heading out for the day. 

Packing a lunch allows you to get your kids a second healthy meal. As a bonus, you won’t waste an hour sitting in a restaurant in the middle of the day. Sometimes, we will cook a simple dinner for the kids then one of us will run out and buy some delicious take-out for us to eat while the kids are sleeping.

Given we had a rental car, it was easy for us to pick up groceries for our week in San Diego with kids. Eating out is a fun part of travel, so we did eat at restaurants a few times during our stay.

6 Toddler & Baby-Friendly Restaurants in San Diego

These kid-friendly restaurants in San Diego, with the exception of one, are in Mission Beach.

1. THE MISSION RESTAURANT

A San Diego institution, the Mission Restaurant was named one of the “Top 25 best breakfast spots in the country” by USA Today.

It’s easy to find kid-friendly food on a breakfast menu. They were happy to offer smaller versions of menu items for us. For our meals, we highly enjoyed the Rancheros Verde and the Mission Chilaquiles.

A toddler enjoys blueberry pancakes for breakfast at the Mission Restaurant, San Diego

2. ROSARIA PIZZA

We ordered take-out lunch from Rosaria Pizza twice, but ironically, never tried their pizza. Celine loved their Nam Dip (the same idea as a beef dip, but with Vietnamese grilled pork) and ordered it both times. I had the Meatball Sub the first day, which was also good, but I switched to the Nam Sub the second time. Pizza is always a winner with picky eaters.

3. OLIVE CAFÉ

All-day breakfast? That’s always a winner in our books!

The Olive Café has extensive breakfast and lunch menus. It was the perfect place to grab take-out for an impromptu picnic on the beach. Our picky toddler devoured her cheese quesadilla.

A family picnic on Mission Beach with food from the Olive Cafe

4. PUESTO

After seeing the La Jolla seals, we asked a local to recommend a baby-friendly restaurant. He recommended Puesto, a taco restaurant a few blocks off the tourist track.

Although Puesto is a bit of a higher-end taco place, with many creative & gourmet tacos on offer, it’s still a family-friendly restaurant. The staff happily parked the stroller for us and offered great menu suggestions for the kids.

The tacos were amazing! We highly recommend going for the “mix & match” tacos. It was hard to pick our favorite, but the Filet Mignon was a top contender!

5. CHEESY EXPRESS

What kid doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich? Cheesy Express is the perfect place to have a quick, extremely satisfying lunch. Trust me, you won’t leave hungry!

The prices were reasonable and the sandwiches were amazing! We shared the BBQ N Mac and the JD’s Melt. We agreed the JD’s Melt was the winner. Cheesy Express also has a kids’ meal.

6. LA PLAYA TACO SHOP

The La Playa Taco Shop is a simple family-friendly restaurant which is perfect after a day at the beach. The food is fast, inexpensive, and comes in large portions – all very good points when you are eating out with kids.

Do you have a portable high chair for your trip yet?

A Family-Friendly 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. Between naps, it’s hard to see enough attractions to offset the cost of the pass.

But there is a San Diego attraction pass which works very well for families with a baby or toddler. It saves you time and money, with no time pressure.

The Go San Diego – 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:

  • Save time: Tickets are delivered right to your phone with no waiting. Skip the line at many attractions including the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park.
  • Save money: Get 20% off the regular admission prices (*Passes including Universal Studios Tickets save 10%). Even if all you do is buy two adult tickets to the Zoo and Safari Park, you’ll save over $40!

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San Diego with a Baby and Toddler
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