3 Day Itinerary: San Diego with Kids

Enjoy Fun in the Sun with the Whole Family on This 3 Day Laid-Back Seaside Escape to San Diego

Are you looking for a destination that offers great weather, a variety of family-friendly activities, and provides an eclectic culture to escape everyday life? It may sound impossible to find, but actually, this perfect vacation starts and ends in California’s bustling city of San Diego! 

Located in the southernmost region of California, San Diego is known for its incredible weather, vibrant sunsets, and endless opportunities for adventure. While someone could easily spend days in San Diego never repeating the same activity, this itinerary will take your family on a tour of San Diego’s highlights, offering unforgettable moments for every member, young and old!

Where to Stay in San Diego

Where to Stay in San Diego

The Gaslamp Quarter is described as the “historic heart of downtown San Diego,” and if possible, it is where I recommend that you book a hotel and stay.

Gaslamp Quarter is conveniently located for an easy walk to many popular attractions and restaurants (including some included in this itinerary). The streets of this neighborhood are lined with Victorian-era buildings and it is a great spot for shopping, dining, and people watching! 

The good news is that there is a place to stay for every budget in the Gaslamp District, so if you book early you should be able to find a room in this convenient and charming part of San Diego.

I’ve included my picks for the best hotels in every price range below: 

Hotel Booking Sites I Use & Recommend

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How to Get Around in San Diego

How to Get Around in San Diego

Due to the location of the Gaslamp District in relation to many of the attractions around San Diego, walking or biking will be the easiest method of transportation.

With all of the sightseeing spots located within about a 20-minute walk, this is a great way to exercise and enjoy the beautiful San Diego weather. You’ll also get to see and experience the city as the locals do!

Renting a car and/or using Uber services are usually unnecessary, but if you are tired or choose not to walk or ride a bike, it’s what I recommend. 

Do be aware that San Diego is a popular tourist destination, especially during the peak season between May and September.

This could cause some difficulty in finding parking places in and around the city if you are choosing to rent a car, so taking a cab or calling an Uber might be less stressful.

Day 1: Adventures in Balboa Park with the Kids

Pack up the family and head north-east from the Gaslamp District as you walk through the towering buildings of downtown San Diego.

Stop for breakfast at the local restaurant 7 Cafe (it’s amazing, you’ll probably decide to go every day) on your way to Balboa Park, the epicenter of family-fun in San Diego.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park in San Diego, California

Balboa Park is the go-to entertainment center in all of San Diego. It might be the best place you’ve ever visited with your kids.

They’re going to have a blast today (and you will too).

It is an almost 2-square mile park where nature and culture collide. The park itself is home to colorful botanical gardens, sputtering fountains, and enormous playgrounds for the children.

Located within the grounds are more than 17 museums! These cover topics like natural history, air and space, and even stage performances.

Map of Balboa Park
Map of the Attractions in Balboa Park, San Diego – photo courtesy balboapark.org

Spend your first day getting lost in this paradise nestled within the heart of San Diego. Some of my recommendations include:

San Diego Zoo

Voted the top zoo in the world, the San Diego Zoo is home to over 3,700 animals. You’ll marvel at the exquisite exhibits and environments.

Visit the San Diego Zoo

While visiting the zoo, you’ll tour the animal exhibits with your kids. You can participate in live animal shows. You’ll also learn how the San Diego Zoo is doing their part to assist animals in need all over the world.

Natural History Museum

Originally developed in 1874, the San Diego Natural History Museum is one of the oldest in the United States. More commonly known by locals as “The Nat”, this museum encompasses four floors of exhibits, has a 3D theater, and contains over 9 million artifacts. 

Japanese Friendship Garden

Japanese Friendship Garden, San Diego

This traditional-style Japanese garden lies in Balboa Park as a place to educate and inspire people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.

It was created as a symbol of friendship between San Diego and its sister-city of Yokohama. It is a 12-acre garden highlighting original Japanese architecture and gardening.

This is a great place for the family to go and relax after an exciting romp through Balboa Park. 

Finish the Day with Dinner at Panama 66

Also located inside of Balboa Park, Panama 66 is a great choice for dinner. Your kids will be able to run around and play at the sculpture garden while parents take a much-deserved rest after a full day.

With great food options for the young ones in your party and adult-friendly food and drink choices as well, this will be the perfect spot to reminisce on your busy day in Balboa Park.

Dine al fresco in the open-air courtyard before heading back to your hotel.

Day 2: Day Trip to Coronado Island

Pack some sack lunches, grab a bite to eat at the Gaslamp Breakfast Company, and head towards the water for today’s adventure. This 15-minute walk will take you to the shoreline where you will find the ferry station for your ride across the water!

Ferry to Coronado Island

Sail across the bay from the mainland to Coronado Island.

The Shore of Coronado Island in San Diego - Your Destination on Day 2 of Your 3 Day Itinerary San Diego

Taking the ferry is a fun and convenient way to reach the island while being able to view the San Diego skyline from the water. This short, 15-minute ferry ride will be a new and exciting way to transport around the city. 

Coronado Island 

Beach at Coronado Island with the Hotel in the Background

Coronado Island is located just off of the shore of mainland San Diego.

Offering renowned beaches and a quaint downtown area, this destination will make you feel as if you have left San Diego for another vacation altogether.

This island is car-free, so after stepping off the ferry, rent a bike to explore the area on your way to Coronado Central Beach.

Splash in the waves and make a few sandcastles before heading to see the Hotel del Coronado. This historic hotel on the island is pictured in the background in the photo above. 

Dinner at Clayton’s Coffee Shop

While not an actual coffee shop, Clayton’s is located inside of a traditional building. This retro diner has been a local favorite since 1941. It is a great place to grab a seat on a bright red stool while chowing down on a burger and milkshake. 

Head Back to the Gaslamp District

Return the way you came by hitching a ride on the ferry across the bay. While you may be leaving Coronado Island behind, the memories will stay forever. 

Day 3: Exploring San Diego’s Seaport

San Diego Seaport

Get the family up and moving for a mouth-watering breakfast at Black Bear Diner before setting off.

Today, head back to the same location where you picked up the ferry to Coronado Island yesterday. Except today, something exciting on the mainland is going to be your destination. 

No trip to San Diego is complete without a visit to the amazing …

USS Midway

Step back in time to honor the USS Midway. This was the longest-serving aircraft carrier throughout the 20th century that has since been transformed into a museum. This impressive museum has over 60 exhibits that span from the captain’s deck to the engine room.

USS Midway - San Diego Carrier Museum

Adults and children alike will enjoy exploring the depths of the ship. Pretend to be a soldier in the Battle of Midway, the ship’s namesake! 

Seaport Village

San Diego Seaport Village - Part Of Your 3 Day San Diego Itinerary

A 10-minute walk will show you to Seaport Village, a small area nestled along the coastline of San Diego.

Stroll along the waterfront, shop until you drop and watch live action street performers.

Stop for lunch at the San Diego Pier Cafe for traditional American cuisine with views of the ocean.

Seaport Village is an excellent place for the whole family to enjoy, wander, and fuel up. Take time to linger here and enjoy your delicious lunch before taking off on the next adventure on your 3 day San Diego itinerary. 

Seal Tour

This 90-minute tour starts near Seaport Village (perfect, you’re already here!). You will load up in a vessel that begins on land and ends in the water.

A Seal in San Diego

An educated tour guide will explain the history and ecology of the San Diego waters. For the grand finale, glide past some of San Diego’s residents who live on the beach, the sea lions! 

Dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory 

Founded in 1969, this traditional Italian restaurant is still family-owned and operated. With every meal delivered in three courses, there will be something for everyone to enjoy. This dinner will feel very high-end to your kids. But don’t worry, your final meal of the trip will be affordable here!

After all of the walking and exploring you’ve done during your 3 day trip to San Diego,you deserve a break. End with some fine Italian comfort food before the return flight. This is a great way to conclude your 3 day San Diego itinerary.

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