13 Hidden Gems In and Around San Diego That Are Perfect for the Kids

stack of pancakes with fruit on top

Tired of all the tourist spots and the same old San Diego attractions crowded with families? There’s a lot more to see in and nearby the city, including some hidden gems that most people overlook! Next time the family is searching for something to do near Millenia, check out these family fun activities. There’s lots to do in San Diego with kids!

1. Bonita Museum & Cultural Center

This small museum is mostly dedicated to history and art and features exhibits that are sure to please anyone interested in local history. It’s worth keeping an eye on featured exhibits, as from time to time there are some special ones that delight kids of all ages. Recent exhibits include animal sculpture and collectibles and the work of local artists.

2. Franco’s Flapjack Family Restaurant

Right by the Bonita Museum, don’t miss this popular family restaurant serving up delicious breakfast and brunch dishes all day long. Open every day from 7 AM to 8 PM (3 PM on Sundays), this pancake house is the perfect treat on a family day out. But be careful: It’s so close to home and so highly rated that it may be hard to resist making repeat visits!

stack of pancakes with fruit on top

3. The New Children’s Museum

Kids in San Diego and Chula Vista love The New Children’s Museum™, a fun-packed place that’s full of imagination and creativity. The museum is centered around a series of interactive play and learning rooms, each based on different themes and activities. Art installations include a 20-foot-long mural, huge sandbox, and interactive art. There are also art studios, workshops, a garden project, and other hands-on activities designed to spark the imagination.

4. Balboa Park

There’s an almost limitless array of things to see and do at Balboa Park, and plenty to satisfy kids of all ages. There are:

  • More than 16 San Diego museums
  • Gardens and walking trails
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Performance venues
  • Picnic and play areas
  • And more

Kid-focused activities at Balboa Park include:

5. San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Many kids are fascinated by model railroads, and plenty of adults are too! The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is full of awesome exhibits, including scale replicas of local historic railways. There’s also a range of programs and activities, and a kids’ corner for those who prefer quieter activities. The museum’s website has a calendar of events, so you can plan your visit before you head there.

6. Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

This San Diego bridge is more than 100 years old, but it’s in great condition. Built in 1912 to connect neighborhoods on either side of Kate Sessions Canyon, it’s now a fun walk for adventurous families. Be warned, though! The bridge is 375 feet long and sways from side to side as you cross. It’s not for the faint of heart!

To find the Spruce Street bridge, drive west down Spruce Street from First Avenue until you see the bridge—you can’t miss it! The bridge crosses the Spruce Canyon Trail, so if you’re still up for adventure after the bridge, take a walk along the trail.

7. USS Midway Museum

For kids who are fascinated by ships and planes, the USS Midway Museum® is a real treat. Kids of all ages can walk around aboard the immense ship, see planes up close, and even sit in a cockpit for an imaginary flight. The museum hosts all kinds of amazing events too, such as overnight museum sleepovers, summer movie nights, and even family cruises.

8. SS Monte Carlo Shipwreck

There aren’t many places in the world where you can see a shipwreck without having to dive, but on Coronado, you can do just that. The SS Monte Carlo is visible at low tide at the south end of Coronado Shores Beach.

In the 1930s, the 300-foot casino ship was a Hollywood hangout, but it ran aground in 1937. The wreck was covered by the sand for decades afterwards, but a series of storms exposed it. Now it’s visible at low tide. But don’t wait to plan your visit because it may not stay that way forever! The shifting sands are likely to eventually cover the ship again.

child in red shirt stands on beach looking at ocean

9. La Jolla Tide Pools

The beaches and coves of La Jolla are home to some amazing tide pools. At low tide they make for fascinating study, places that many kids will enjoy investigating for hours on end! The best time of year for tide pooling is between December and March, as the tide is lowest during these months. Make sure to check tide charts before you go to ensure you’re there at the right time.

There are several different locations in La Jolla where tide pools can be found:

  • Dike Rock, just north of Scripps Pier – Walk north along La Jolla Shores to find these pools.
  • La Jolla Cove – At the northern end of the cove
  • Hospitals Reef – On Coast Boulevard, south of Wipeout Beach
  • Shell Beach – Ellen Browning Scripps Park, at the southern end
  • South Casa Beach – South of the Children’s Pool
  • False Point – At Sea Ridge Drive and Linda Way

10. Kayaking at La Jolla Cove

Kayaking is a popular way to enjoy the La Jolla coastline, and there’s plenty of stunning scenery and interesting spots to explore! La Jolla Cove is a great kayaking spot, with calm water that’s suitable even for beginners. There are several tour companies nearby that offer kayaking tours of the coastline. There are seven caves in the La Jolla Cove area, and since the coastline is protected, you can see plenty of animal and plant life. Several companies rent out single and double kayaks, so even younger kids can join in by kayaking with a parent or older sibling.

person kayaks at sunset

11. Sunny Jim Cave in La Jolla

Perhaps the most fascinating cave in La Jolla is Sunny Jim Cave. It has a long history, as well as the distinction of being the only sea cave in California that is also accessible by land. In fact, to get to the cave by land, you’ll enter via a small storefront that was built on top of the cliff! The walk includes 144 stairs, and the walk back to the store is steep. It may be a difficult climb for very young children. Anyone who wants to make the trip should be reasonably fit.

12. Kit Carson Park

There are lots of parks and green spaces in and around San Diego, but none quite like this! Kit Carson Park in Escondido is packed with fun, from gorgeous hiking trails to ponds, playgrounds, and picnic areas. There are also 12 acres of beautiful gardens, which house Queen Califa’s Magic Circle.

Queen Califa’s Magic Circle is a sculpture garden, and it lives up to its name. There are nine sculptures in the garden, all large, colorful works that capture the imagination of kids and adults alike. The garden is open every day, with free entrance on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and the second Saturday of every month.

child running

13. Annie’s Canyon

Annie’s Canyon is in the San Elijo Lagoon Reserve—a great place to visit in its own right, with miles of hiking trails, wetland areas, and a nature center. Annie’s Canyon was previously closed to the public but is now a popular trail for hikers in the know. The trail winds through sandstone cliffs and narrow canyons and provides some amazing views of the Pacific Ocean at the height of the climb.

Note: This one is best for families with older children, as there are some spots on the trail where a little climbing is necessary. The full trail is around 1.6 miles and of moderate difficulty.

Learn, Play, and Have Fun!

Whether your kids are water-lovers fascinated by tide pools or mechanically minded with an endless love of all things vehicular, there are activities in and nearby San Diego they’re sure to enjoy. And they’re all just a short road trip from Millenia!