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Are you planning a San Diego family vacation and looking for ideas on what to do during your San Diego family vacation itinerary?
In this post, you’ll learn all about what to see and do, where to stay, and how to create the absolute best 5-day San Diego vacation itinerary!
An area jammed-packed with fun things to do, San Diego has so much offer if you’re looking for beautiful weather and endless family entertainment!
With this San Diego family vacation itinerary, you’ll have plenty of time to experience the best that a family vacation to San Diego has to offer.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. For more info, see disclosure.
San Diego Family Vacation: Best Time to Visit
San Diego is located in the southwestern corner of California on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
The beauty of a San Diego family vacation is that it can be enjoyed year-round and is visited by thousands of vacation-goers throughout every season.
The best time to visit San Diego is from the months of March through May when temperatures are in the mid to upper 60s. Though temps are not the warmest during these months, prices and crowds are less.
July, August, and September are also great months to visit San Diego as temperatures are at their peak in the upper 70s. Expect lots of tourists and crowded coastlines during these months, however.
The winter months of December-February are the coolest months, so don’t go during that time if you’re looking for a beach vacation. Though hotel rates are the lowest during these months, rain showers can also be frequent then.
San Diego Family Vacation Itinerary Ideas
San Diego happens to be one of my favorite US cities due to its high volume of beaches and family-friendly attractions.
There is literally so much to do in the U.S. state of California with kids!
Below you can find suggested San Diego vacation itinerary ideas from one to six days. The itinerary suggestions are based on our personal experiences and filled with insider tips for visiting San Diego for the first time.
Our itinerary includes a day at Legoland, SeaWorld, LaJolla, Moonlight State Beach, and a tour of Downtown San Diego and Coronado Island, among others.
No two San Diego family vacations will be exactly the same, however, so use these itinerary suggestions as a guide.
You’ll need to adjust your itinerary as needed to account for weather, where you stay, how much time you spend at each attraction, and the varying interests of your travel party.
Additional planning tip: Amazing scenery and breathtaking coastal views are sprinkled in all throughout this epic itinerary! Because of this, y
*All of our top recommended restaurants, landmarks, and attractions are bolded. Their physical locations fit into the flow of this itinerary. If you choose to substitute a restaurant or attraction in their place, be sure to adjust the timing of your itinerary accordingly.
San Diego Family Vacation: Day 1
- Lunch at Corvette Diner close to the San Diego airport.
- Drive and check-in to Legoland Hotel.
- Enjoy the Lego-filled atmosphere and activities at Legoland Hotel.
- Eat dinner at Bricks Family Restaurant onsite.
Arriving in San Diego
We decided to fly with the kids and took a direct flight to the San Diego International Airport from our home state of Minnesota.
Once there, we rented a car to use for the week, as we planned to tour both the city of San Diego and its surrounding beach communities.
Our first stop upon arrival was the much-talked-about Corvette Diner – which did not disappoint!
The Corvette Diner is a popular family-friendly eatery that is an easy 2-mile drive from the San Diego airport.
Known for its 1950s-styled waitresses with beehive hair-dos, the Corvette Diner was a great way to kick-off the start of our San Diego family vacation!
Burgers, shakes, balloon animals, an arcade, and servers that sing and dance – this place is a hoot!
After getting our bellies full, we loaded up and drove north 32 miles to our first destination, Carlsbad, California.
Drive to Legoland Hotel
Located just 45 minutes from downtown San Diego, Carlsbad is home to the Legoland theme park and Legoland California Resort and Castle Hotel.
This is where we spent the first two nights of our vacation.
Check-in to Legoland Hotel was a breeze and the kids were immediately immersed in literally ‘all-things Lego’!
From Lego building in the lobby to mini-figure character visits, to evening entertainment at the Lego Castle, every
Located at the entrance of Legoland theme park, Legoland Hotel features adventure, pirate, or kingdom-themed rooms that all have a separate kids’ sleeping area with bunk beds.
We stayed in an adventure-themed room in which the kids got to open up an in-room treasure chest each morning to receive a new Lego toy.
Additional planning tip: This property caters to parents with 2-to 12-year-olds, so guests should be prepared for some noise and occasional messes. (We did not find this to be an issue!)
San Diego Family Vacation: Day 2
- Spend the entire day at Legoland California theme park.
- Have lunch at Ninja Kitchen (try the Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwiches).
- Take a break from the rides and visit the adjacent SeaLife Aquarium.
- Follow your nose to Knight’s Smokehouse BBQ in the park for dinner.
Our visit to Legoland was definitely the main highlight of our family vacation to San Diego.
In fact, it is the one place that our kids constantly ask to return to!
With over 60 rides, shows, and attractions, Legoland California is a fun and colorful theme park dedicated to Lego bricks.
We love Legoland so much that we included it in our article as the #1 pick for the best amusement parks for toddlers in California!
Though theme park admission is not included in the room rates at Legoland Hotel, guests do get early morning access.
From 9:30-10:00 AM, hotel guests get exclusive access to the rides before the park opens to the general public at 10:00 AM.
We took full advantage of this and were the first ones in line to enter the park! Our early advantage was well worth it as we were able to ride all of the 3 major roller coasters with little to no wait.
At the heart of Legoland is MiniLand U.S.A. Imagine the landmarks of Washington D.C., New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and New Orleans all made of Lego bricks. Yep. Awesome!
For Star Wars fans, journey through 7 different Star Wars scenes, made of more than 1.5 million LEGO bricks.
Star Wars MiniLand features a scene from each of the six Star Wars movies.
Sea Life Aquarium
We upgraded our Legoland tickets to include a tour of Sea Life Aquarium for $25.00 each.
It is located right next to Legoland and can be accessed from either inside or outside of the theme park.
This chain of aquariums is located all throughout the U.S., but the Lego models inside of the tanks make this destination unique.
The facility also features a shark tunnel,
Because the aquarium is not huge, you can tour it in 1-2 hours. We did so mid-day during our day at Legoland in order to take a quick break from the rides.
Sea Life was a nice addition to our day, and I would recommend including it in your Legoland experience.
San Diego Family Vacation: Day 3
- Check into a hotel, resort, or one of the top-rated Airbnbs in San Diego.
- Head to the Moonlight State beach!
- Grab lunch at The Taco Stand (Local favorite; 1 block off of the beach!)
- Have dinner at Union Kitchen & Tap located 5 minutes from the beach.
San Diego Vacation Rentals
After considering the differences between Airbnb and VRBO, we opted to stay in an Airbnb with the goal of staying close to a beach.
After analyzing all of the tips for choosing the best vacation rentals in the San Diego area, we ultimately decided to stay in Encinitas, California for the remaining 5 nights of our trip.
Located only steps from Moonlight State Beach, our San Diego family vacation could not get any better!
Moonlight State Beach
Our rental home was within 2 blocks of the beautiful Moonlight State Beach. We could not have been more in love with this beach and in staying in such close proximity to the ocean!
Moonlight State Beach is a large family-friendly beach with 3 sand volleyball courts and a large grassy park with a kids’ playground. The slope of the beach is gradual which makes playing in the surf more fun and extremely safe.
Lifeguards have a significant presence here too.
Our favorite thing about Moonlight State Beach was the excitement of watching surfers! This is something we just don’t get the thrill of seeing in Minnesota!
Building sandcastles and picking seashells (lots of them!) is also a treasured memory.
Additional planning tip: Traveling with teens on your San Diego family vacation?
Older kids love the San Diego beach culture and spending a day at one of its many beaches is one of the best things to do in San Diego with teens!
San Diego Family Vacation: Day 4
- Spend an entire day riding the rides, seeing shows, and visiting the animals at Sea World San Diego.
- Grab pizza for lunch at Mama Stella’s Pizza Kitchen inside the park.
- Consider a Dine With the Orcas dinner for a chef-crafted meal on a private poolside patio next to Sea World’s Orca whales.
Sea World San Diego
We spent day 4 of our 6-Day San Diego family vacation at Sea World!
Sea World provides the perfect combination of entertaining shows, thrill rides, and marine life encounters and exhibits.
For this reason, Sea World is a must-see attraction when visiting the city of San Diego.
It’s hard to explain exactly why we love Sea World with kids so much!
The park is a beautifully landscaped oasis and does not have the typical hectic theme-park atmosphere.
There’s just something so special about being up close to the beautiful sea animals and brilliant blue water. In addition, the dolphin and sea lion shows are thoroughly enjoyable and keep the whole audience engaged and smiling.
(I have memories from childhood of my own trip to Sea World, and our kids continue to report how much they loved it too!)
San Diego Family Vacation: Day 5
- Tour the entire Downtown San Diego via the Hop-on-Hop-off San Diego Trolley.
- Check out Cafe Coyote for awesome Mexican food and ambiance in Old Town.
- As one of your stops, take the Hop-on-Hop-off Trolley to the iconic Coronado Island.
- Be sure to dip your toes into the water before re-boarding the trolley to your final destination.
Hop-on-Hop-off San Diego Trolley Tour
Because we wanted to experience a little bit of everything that the city of San Diego has to offer, I felt the best way to do so was via the Hop-on-Hop-off Trolley Tour.
Voted “The Best Way to See the City,” the trolley(s) have a continuous 25-mile loop with 10 designated stops.
Guests can choose whether or not to get off at a designated stop and spend as much time as they want to explore that particular area.
Once done exploring, simply make your way back to the trolley stop and board an oncoming trolley. While traveling between stops, the tour is fully narrated by expert tour conductors.
We absolutely loved this comprehensive tour, especially riding over the bridge to Coronado Island and spending time at the beach!
The other stops that we spent time at included Old Town Market, the Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park, and Little Italy.
San Diego Family Vacation: Day 6
- Go hiking at Torrey Pines State Reserve (no food or drink here except for water).
- Spend the afternoon and evening in La Jolla. Visit La Jolla Cove and photograph the sea lions.
- Grab a burger, onion rings, and a milkshake at Burger Bar in La Jolla.
Torrey Pines State Reserve
We’ve already done 2 theme parks, a beach, and a city tour…now it’s time
I can not think of a better way than by adding in a hike at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. It is an absolute must in your San Diego itinerary with kids!
Located in La Jolla, California, Torrey Pines State Reserve is located on the cliffs above Torrey Pines State Beach.
The reserve is dedicated to preserving its namesake, the Torrey Pine tree, and other indigenous wildlife in its native environment.
Its series of well-kept hiking trails wind along gigantic cliffs, in turn, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
With both easy, family-friendly paths and more advanced trails, the park provides a great hiking experience for all levels.
Do not miss the opportunity to bring your family here to experience the California coastline from this perspective – you will not regret it!
Additional planning tip: For additional outdoor adventure, consider visiting one of California’s National Parks when you’re in the area. One of our personal favorites is Joshua Tree National park which is located 2 hours north of San Diego.
La Jolla Cove
Continuing on with outdoor explorations in La Jolla, you absolutely need to head on over and find a parking spot on La Jolla Coast Boulevard for your next big surprise.
La Jolla is home to one of the most famous resident populations of wild seals and sea lions both of which are readily found along the La Jolla coastline.
We spent most of our time admiring the seals in the Children’s Pool area at Casa Beach. It is here that a large sea wall protects a small sand beach that dozens of seals and sea lions use for lounging.
As you can see from the photo that I took below, you literally cannot miss them!
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San Diego Family Vacation: Getting There
San Diego International Airport (SAN) is conveniently located near downtown San Diego and is easily accessible via public transportation and shared ride services.
All major rental car companies are available at the airport and airport shuttles run regularly from the airport terminals to various points around the city. Such shuttles can be booked in advance from your point of stay.
How to Get Around
I recommend having a rental car to get around San Diego because everything is so spread out and there is so many beautiful surrounding areas to see.
The city of San Diego itself, however, has accessible and affordable public transit systems that include trolleys, buses, trains, and shuttles.
A tourist (and our personal) favorite, is the San Diego Old Town Trolley. The Old Town Trolley offers a narrated hop-on-hop-off experience for one daily rate and includes 10 popular spots sprinkled throughout the city.
This is a great idea if you’re sightseeing or are interested in learning about all of San Diego’s unique downtown neighborhoods.
Where to Stay When Visiting San Diego
Due to the vast number of unique neighborhoods and varying interests in what you may be looking to do, selecting where to stay in San Diego is difficult.
Many visitors choose to stay on Coronado Island in order to have direct access to a beach, while others prefer to stay downtown where they are close to the action and can walk from place to place.
Another popular option is to stay outside of the city limits in a beachside community and simply travel into the city to the various sights and attractions on your San Diego itinerary.
For families, popular choices include:
- Paradise Point Resort & Spa (bay views, five pools, tropical feel)
- Hotel Del Coronado (Beachfront, family activities, luxurious)
- Embassy Suites by Hilton San Diego | Downtown (3-miles from the airport, free breakfast and happy hour, 2-room suites, pool)
- Bahia Resort Hotel (oceanfront, close to Mission Beach, seal sanctuary, pool, family-friendly)
San Diego Itinerary: Conclusion
Our San Diego family vacation was one of our most memorable family vacations and we look back on it with happy hearts.
Hopefully, these ideas can provide fun inspiration for your next San Diego family vacation so that you can have the same amazing experience!
Let me know in the comments what you are most looking forward to in a San Diego family vacation. Is this a San Diego family vacation itinerary that you think would work for your family?Jen
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