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San Diego with a Toddler and Baby

We love San Diego! Visiting San Diego with a toddler and/or baby 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, and there’s plenty of California sunshine, 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. With so many kid-friendly things to do, it’s no wonder San Diego, California made our list of the Best Places to Travel in the US with a Baby or Toddler.

At the time of our San Diego family vacation, our toddler was 2 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 in San Diego for toddlers (and the baby too!)

A mom visits La Jolla, San Diego with toddler in her arms and a baby in a stroller.
We had a ton of fun with the kids in La Jolla, San Diego.

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We loved our family trip to San Diego! 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 Toddler (and Baby)

It’s easy to come up with a San Diego itinerary with kids which will please everyone in the family. Blessed with so many amazing attractions and locations, there are tons of things to do in San Diego for the adults (which are also kid-friendly). Likewise, you’ll have no trouble finding things to do in San Diego with a toddler, while babies are generally easy to please.

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

A toddler dances on the colorful tiles at the Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA.
Our daughter was very color coordinated with the flowers and tiles in Balboa Park.

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 at the zoo, like pandas, orangutans, polar bears, koalas and many more.

We list the San Diego Zoo as the best thing to do in San Diego for toddlers, as it meets the needs of everyone in the family. Babies love zoos and will stare at the new and interesting animals for hours. The zoo is also a great place to let your toddler get some exercise as they run excitedly from animal to animal.

An excited toddler and her mom run through the San Diego Zoo - an excellent attraction for kids of all ages.
Our toddler was so excited to be at the San Diego Zoo that we could barely keep up with her!

If you intend to visit here on your family trip, we have a ton of great information in our blog post about visiting the San Diego Zoo with a toddler. It’s the busiest zoo in America, so do yourself a favor and skip the long lineups by buying your San Diego Zoo tickets in advance.

2. La Jolla Cove & Children’s Pool

We had a wonderful visit to the San Diego seaside neighborhood of La Jolla. 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).

A Dad holds his toddler along the coastline in La Jolla, San Diego - a great place for an easy family walk.
Taking in the beautiful coastal scenery in La Jolla.

It’s easy to see all the best sights on a family-friendly La Jolla sightseeing tour.

3. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

We love hiking with our kids, so we took a short family 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 Torrey Pines Natural Reserve just outside San Diego.
Our toddler could easily walk the trails at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Don’t miss our posts on How to Hike with a Baby and our Resources for Hiking with a Baby or Toddler. We cover everything from hiking tips to the best baby 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 San Diego beach time near our vacation rental in Mission Beach. Some of the other best beaches in San Diego for kids include Coronado Beach, Torrey Pines, Moonlight Beach, Silver Strand and La Jolla.

A baby plays in the sand and a toddler fetches water on Mission Beach on a family trip to San Diego.
We liked taking our kids to Mission Bay as there were no waves.

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.

5. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Safari Park is one of the most exciting things to do in San Diego with toddlers as it recreates the experience of going on an African Safari. The Safari Park is a bit of a drive from central San Diego, but it’s worth the visit. Regain some of that lost driving time by buying your Safari Park tickets ahead of time.

a safari truck gets up close to a group of giraffes at the San Diego Safari Park.
Our kids loved the African wildlife at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

6. Birch Aquarium

If you are looking for things to do in San Diego with toddlers on a rainy day, check out the Birch Aquarium. 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.

If you are visiting San Diego with a baby, the Birch Aquarium is a must-do activity. Want to entertain a baby for hours? Let them watch fish… seriously – give it a try, babies love fish!

A baby fascinated by the fish at the Birch Aquarium Scripps in San Diego.
Our baby could sit and watch the fish at the Birch Aquarium for hours.

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.

We didn’t visit Legoland on our first family trip to San Diego, but we made sure to make room in our itinerary when we visited Palm Springs with kids. We had a ton of fun at Legoland!

a toddler is all smiles at Legoland - one of the best toddler activities in san diego, CA.
Our son loved visiting Legoland!

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 San Diego toddler activities which interest you most. Having a list of options prepared in advance 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 & the La Jolla 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.
Our kids loved the happy seals lounging around the La Jolla Children’s Pool.

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.
Our toddler loved climbing this interesting tree in Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla.

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 in San Diego with kids 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 with a toddler.

Enjoying Dreyer's ice cream while on a family walk along the Mission Beach Boardwalk.
Dad double-fisting waffle cones on the Mission Beach boardwalk.

Don’t miss our best travel gear for babies and toddler travel essentials.

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 to the zoo will likely take most of the day. There’s so much for your kids to see at the zoo, so save some time and buy your skip-the-line San Diego Zoo ahead of time.

Kids love watching the orangutans at the San Diego Zoo - the best thing to do on a San Diego trip with a toddler.
I’m not sure who loved the orangutans more – Dad or the kids?

Afternoon: Mission Beach Bay

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

a baby sits on the sand at Mission Bay in San Diego, California.
Our son loved his first visit to the beach.

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.

Enjoying hiking with your kids? Don’t miss our list of the best toddler and baby-friendly hikes in the USA or the best family-friendly hikes around the world.

DAY 4 – SAN DIEGO SAFARI PARK

A toddler watching giraffes at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park during her family trip to California.
Our daughter was captivated by the giraffes at the Safari Park in San Diego.

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… you’ll want to spend as much time as possible inside the park, so do yourself a favor and buy your skip the line Safari Park tickets in advance.

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 holding a doll runs across the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge near Balboa Park, San Diego.
Just look at the smiles on our daughter as she runs across the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge.

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.

A toddler plays at the colorful sixth avenue playground in Balboa Park, San Diego, California.
Our daughter loved the 6th Avenue playground in Balboa Park.

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

a mom, toddler and baby pose in front of the humpback whale sculpture at Birch Aquarium Scripps - one of the most fun things to do in san diego with toddlers.
Holding my kids in front of two humpback whales outside the Scripps Aquarium.

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 in the family will enjoy this outing.

A toddler touches a sea cucumber at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla.
What a thrill for our toddler to get to touch a sea cucumber at the Birch Aquarium.

The San Diego Weather is Perfect for Family Vacations

San Diego weather is great for family vacations throughout the year. Families will 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 trip with a toddler 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 when traveling to a hot destination with a baby and toddler. 

If it been really hot each day on our family trip, 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 summer months, read these 8 Sun Safety Tips for Babies to protect your baby from the sun and keep them cool at the beach.

a mom plays with her young kids on Mission Beach on a family trip to San Diego, California.
Enjoying some fun with my kids on Mission Beach.

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. 

If you are considering renting baby gear for your San Diego trip, there are baby equipment rental companies that will deliver right to the Airport Rental Car Center at the airport.

In our case, 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 with our kids. Having a good, central place to stay will reduce your daily travel time in the rental car.

A toddler is excited to see an elephant at the San Diego Zoo.
Just like me, our toddler loves the elephants 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 many of the things we wanted to do on our San Diego itinerary with kids. It had lots of kid-friendly restaurants and was super close to some great beaches. 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 or toddler.

Vacation rentals have many big advantages for family vacations. Eating out 3 meals a day with little kids is unhealthy and, quite honestly, very tiring. With a vacation rental, you can cook your own meals and pack your own lunches. Having laundry facilities is another 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 which met all our criteria, just steps away from Mission Bay. 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.
Dad enjoying the California sunshine on our vacation rental patio.

We have a great system for picking the best hotel for a baby, but if you’d like to save time, we have prepared some links to find the best places to stay in San Diego with kids:

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

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 family trip to San Diego.

6 Toddler & Baby-Friendly Restaurants in San Diego

All of 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. The staff at the Mission Restaurant 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.
Our toddler rips into her blueberry pancakes at the Mission Restaurant.

2. ROSARIA PIZZA

We ordered take-out lunch from Rosaria Pizza twice, but ironically, never tried their pizza. I loved their Nam Dip (the same idea as a beef dip, but with Vietnamese grilled pork) and ordered it both times. My husband had the Meatball Sub the first day, which was also good, but we switched to the (superior) Nam Sub the second time. To this day, when we travel with kids, pizza is always a great choice for eating out with kids.

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.
Enjoying some takeout from the Olive Cafe on Mission Beach.

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 San Diego 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 kid-friendly San Diego restaurant 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.

a very kid-friendly lunch at Cheesy Express in Mission Beach, San Diego, CA.
Can you think of a more kid-friendly lunch than this?

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.

A baby eyes a huge burrito at the Playa Taco Shop - a kid-friendly restaurant in San Diego, CA.
Look at the size of that burrito compared to our baby’s head! haha!

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

A Kid-Friendly San Diego Attraction Pass

We don’t typically recommend multi-attraction passes for families travelling with small kids. Between naps, it’s hard to see enough attractions to offset the cost of the pass. But there is an attraction pass which works very well for families visiting San Diego with a baby or toddler. It saves you time and money, with no time pressure.

The Go City San Diego Explorer Pass allows you to buy admission passes for up to 7 specific attractions you want to visit in San Diego – no more, no less.

With a this digital San Diego attraction pass you’ll save time at your attractions – all you need to do is show your app at each attraction to enter.

The Go City San Diego Explorer Pass can also save you a lot of money. Depending on which kid-friendly San Diego attractions you pick, the savings can easily be 50% or more off the regular ticket prices!

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San Diego with a Baby and Toddler

This post was written & edited by:

info@babycantravel.com | Website | + posts

Celine Brewer is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's helped millions of new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade. In addition to writing on her baby travel blog, she has shared her expertise on traveling with a baby or toddler by contributing to articles about traveling with a baby with the Washington Post, USA Today, the Lonely Planet magazine and Pregnancy & Newborn magazine.

Celine also writes about family travel on the site FamilyCanTravel.com, which she co-owns with her husband. Being from the Canadian Rockies, she shares her passion about her home and travel to Banff National Park and area on their site TravelBanffCanada.com.

Read more about Celine Brewer.