44 Unique Kid-Friendly Adventures in San Diego
We've already made a post about the top kid-friendly hikes in San Diego, but what about those days when you don't want to hike? San Diego County is just brimming with unique places to explore, although not all are considered kid-friendly.
This list is obviously not just for children but for everyone that lusts for some of the more unique experiences that our city has to offer. With that said, here is our list of Unique Kid-Friendly Adventures in San Diego!
1. Alta Vista Botanical Garden
The Alta Vista Botanical Garden is an interactive botanical garden that uses up-to-date technology in an interactive atmosphere. This a place that all ages can appreciate.
There are different zones such as sub-tropical, an herbal labyrinth, the Children’s Musical garden. ponds, prehistoric gardens and more. It truly is a treat here, especially for the price! Rather than taking the conventional approach of creating another living plant museum, this garden has become a gathering place for the community.
2. Bates Nut Farm
Bates Nut Farm is a 5 generation family farm located in Valley Center. The property is open to the public where you can enjoy the farm animals, a sunflower maze, pumpkin patch and wonderful shop filled with all sorts of homemade goodies such as fudge, hot sauce, teas, nuts and so much more! This is also a great spot for photoshoots, weddings and all other events.
3. Belmont Park
It’s pretty incredible to get to visit an amusement park in our city that is almost a century old. There are rides, games, an arcade, laser tag, zip line, restaurants, food booths, shops and not to mention it is literally right next to the beach. Since this is not a gated-in park, you can easily go back and forth between the beach and park all day long if you wanted.
4. Boulder Park
Across the parking lot from the Desert View Tower is a jumbled mass of boulders just aching to be scrambled. Random faces and animals are waiting to greet you at every turn. Certainly not easy for the claustrophobic. Boulder Park has been a fixture in the desert since the early 1930s.
5. Boulevard KOA
For outdoor enthusiasts looking for a truly unique lodging experience, I highly recommend staying at the Boulevard KOA! They have both camping and cabin options as well as a ton of fun outdoor activities including scenic hiking trails.
But what truly sets them apart are the TON of animals they have here just waiting to be pet and loved on. Hang out with llamas, ostriches, pigs, ponies and more! This is a wonderful, family-friendly getaway and it is the perfect time of year to visit!
6. Briercrest Park
Briercrest Park is a small yet lovely park located near the Grossmont Healthcare Center in La Mesa. I was originally drawn towards this park when I learned that James Hubbell and the Hubbell & Hubbell architecture studio had designed multiple features in the park including a mosaic butterfly along one of the pathways, a labyrinth as well as some mosaic pieces on the bathroom walls.
7. Butterfly Farm
The Butterfly Farm was a California nonprofit organization in 2013 out of concern over the general decline of pollinators. The centerpiece of the property is a 2,000 square foot “vivarium,” an enclosed structure which resembles a greenhouse. It is home to numerous butterfly species including Monarchs, Cloudless Sulfurs, Cabage Whites, Painted Ladies, Gulf Fritilaries, Anise Swallowtails and many others.
8. Chicano Park
Murals fill every inch of Chicano Park, which is actually the bottom/beginning of the Coronado bridge! The creation of the park started as a source of contention between the City of San Diego and the local Chicano community.
The murals here are amazing. There are plenty of them scattered throughout the park. Take your time when you visit, really soaking up each and every pillar. They all tell stories. There is a statue of Emiliano Zapata, a leader and hero of the Mexican Revolution that occurred during the 1910s. There’s also playground area for the kids and of course public restrooms for men and women.
9. Children's Nature Retreat
The Children’s Nature Retreat is an amazing animal sanctuary located out in Alpine. This ranch-style retreat has over 20 acres of land and is home to over 190 animals, both domesticated livestock and exotic animals from all over the world.
Each animal comes with its own story and all are either rescues or born on the property. The retreat is specifically designed to help children develop a sense of wonder for nature and its inhabitants through unstructured exploration and learning. Fun and educational `interactive encounters’ are available for everyone to learn and foster an appreciation for animals, nature, sustainable farming and the ecosystem.
10. Civita Park
Civita Park is Mission Valley's new public park that is just brimming with imagination and fun things to do. An underground tunnel painted with beautiful murals, a seasonal waterfall created from storm water run-off, a scavenger hunt, outdoor living rooms, community garden, a splash pad with 48 jets and so much more!
11. Dave's Rock Garden
As inspirational as it is quirky, the rock garden was begun by Encinitas resident Dave Dean, who began painting rocks to place among the succulents on his property. Although he initially encountered resistance from the city, the garden has since enjoyed immense popularity. It’s a great place for entertaining kids, and dogs are also welcome. It’s free to roam around the grounds.
12. Desert View Tower
On this road alone you will find this tower, a boulder park with carved animals, a UFO repair stop, hot springs and endless abandoned homes/buildings. It is a truly unique experience. The desert tower exceeded all of my expectations. Inside is like an oddities shop.
You will want to spend a decent amount of time here so plan your day accordingly. Pay the $2 so you can walk the 4 or 5 stories to the top (this also gets you access to Boulder Park). It’s completely worth it. Each floor has more oddities and unique artwork.
13. Eagle & High Peak Mines
For anyone interested in getting an authentic sense of what mining looked like in the 19th century, I highly recommend a visit to Julian to tour the Eagle Mine & High Peak Mine. Although they are now joined deep in the mountain behind the town, they were originally two different mines that were registered in 1870.
They merged after World War I when demand for gold stimulated a renaissance in mining and motivated mine owners to burrow ever deeper into the mountain.
14. Exotica Rare Fruit Farm
If you are a plant-lover and have a special spot in your heart for exotic fruits like I do, then Exotica Rare Fruit Farm will be heaven on earth to you. Set on 4 acres, the owner of this nursery originally began planting what now looks like a tropical paradise over 30 years ago.
There are over 1,000 varieties of fruit trees here, including 200 pomegranate varieties, 10 banana varieties, 7 different passionfruit, 20 different guava trees and so much more! They even have a fruit-tasting table where you can sample the fruits that are currently in season. Get ready for an adventure because you’ll certainly want to explore!
15. Fort Cross Olde Timey Adventures
Fort Cross Old Timey Adventures offers a ton of fun activities for all ages! Navigate through their (literal) lilac maze and go from station to station learning about San Diego's colonial days and different needed skills.
The owners have done a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the old times with a variety of booths that will satisfy people of all ages. We learned how to make homemade apple cider & candles, throw tomahawks, shoot arrows & slingshots, vegetable gardening & composting.
16. Galleta Meadows
For those of you whom are art lovers and have not yet ventured out to Galleta Meadows, prepare yourself for a stunning experience unlike anything else in our city. This amazing site is home to nearly 200 metal sculptures depicting prehistoric creatures that once roamed the earth.
Keep your eyes peeled because these gigantic installations are scattered across 3,000 acres. Each sculpture is the product of the artistic genius of sculptor Ricardo Breceda.
17. The Heritage Ranch
The Heritage Ranch is home to the San Dieguito Heritage Museum which was founded in 1988. The museum’s goal is to help preserve the history of Leucadia, Encinitas, Olivenhain, Cardiff, Solana Beach, Del Mar, and Rancho Santa Fe.
You will get the opportunity to explore several historic homesteads, view ancient artifacts from the Kumeyaay and see old belongings once owned by early pioneers. The Heritage Ranch is open for private event rentals such as birthday parties and weddings!
18. Phap Vuong Monastery
I first learned about this monastery when there was a traveling jade Buddha being displayed here with festivities open to the public to celebrate it. The Buddha is made of a rare, dark jade that was harvested near the Yukon border. It was created by master sculptors and took 5 years to create. The statue is valued at over $5 million and has made appearances all over the world!
Since then, I have visited this monastery on numerous occasions and have only experienced kindness and grace from the people. Although small in comparison to Deer Park Monastery, which is also located in Escondido, this spot is packed with with so much beauty.
19. La Jolla's Caves, Coves and Tidepools
San Diego's coast is filled with many amazing tidepools and caves. This page is specifically dedicated to the caves and tide pools in La Jolla. These are low tide adventures, which often happen in the winter when the tides are super low during the day! La Jolla's coast is large so you will probably need multiple trips to explore it all. It is amazing how many new opportunities sprout up when the tide goes down though.
20. La Jolla's Troll Bridges
As a teenager I used to follow online chat groups discussing the munchkin homes and noticed many users would talk about the “troll bridges” you had to drive under in order to find them. Unlike the munchkin home myth, these bridges DO exist, although I highly doubt you’ll find any trolls living beneath them!
These bridges are a great way to become better acquainted with Mt. Soledad, as you will have to drive around the winding roads in order to find them! The homes and views are stunning and this is definitely a unique slice of the city!
21. Leo Carrillo Ranch
If you grew up in the 1950s, chances are you watched a western television show called “The Cisco Kid,” which featured a character actor named Leo Carrillo as Cisco’s sidekick Pancho. Carrillo was born in Los Angeles in 1881 who traced his American roots back several generations. He was seventy when he landed the television role of Pancho for which he is most remembered. While Carrillo pursued his acting career, he was simultaneously building a working ranchero and personal retreat in Carlsbad.
The 27-acre ranchero lies in a canyon near the intersection of Poinsettia Land and Melrose Drive, and contains beautifully restored adobe buildings, antique windmills, a reflecting pool and other structures that call up memories of California history.
22. Luiseño Park
Luiseño Park is one of the most unique parks in San Diego, created as a replica of an ancient Luiseño village. We walked around the entire perimeter of Luiseño Park and almost like a scavenger hunt, kept finding more and more plaques with mind-blowing Native American replicas based off of actual artifacts which have been found in this area.
The artifacts of the park include both replicated petroglyphs and pictographs, bedrock mortars, a shaman rock shelter, roasting oven and more! You can also enjoy the regular amenities which include softball fields, tennis courts and a playground.
23. Beach 1
This is a beach that I have been going to since I was a child. My grandpa would take my mom and her siblings there when they were children because of the strange rock formations. Part of the reason that this beach is so hidden and secluded is because it is difficult to get to.
This beach is for those who prefer seclusion, enjoy tide pools and the smaller details that the ocean shore can offer. There is an over-abundance of interesting things to do and see in this area and there is a little something for everyone.
24. Oceanside's Heritage Park
Oceanside’s Heritage Park is a representation of what the area looked like over a century ago. The park contains well-known Oceanside landmarks, such as Libby Schoolhouse, “The Blade Tribune” newspaper printing office, and the train depot with an impressive model railroad. There is also an old jailhouse you can visit. Interior tours are offered during the weekends on a volunteer basis.
25. Pacific Southwest Railway Museum
I supposed this type of trip isn't for everyone but I personally found it fascinating. I love trains though. I've always had this great fantasy of taking a long-distance trip in a fancy train where we can sleep, lounge and dine. Some of these old carts look exactly how I always imagined my trip to look. Do fancy, old trains even offer services like that anymore? I have no clue!
There are SO many old trains to explore, all in various conditions and each has its own charm. There is also a train ride you can take which will take you on a short trip around the area. This is a great self-guided museum for families and train enthusiasts alike! I would also think this would be a fantastic area for photo shoots.
26. Palomar College Arboretum
Wander through 5 acres of forests and rare plants. One of the most exciting things for me to stumble upon was a James Hubbell sculpture! I was NOT expecting this at all! It was originally built around 1964-65 and then cut in half and moved to Palomar campus in 1971. This is definitely one of the most beautiful San Diego gardens!
27. Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle Garden was created by the late, internationally famous Niki de Saint Phalle. It is one of the four large-scale sculptural environments designed and built by the artist and her studio collaborators, and the only one located in the United States.
The garden is a joint effort by Saint Phalle, who financed the sculpture project, and the city of Escondido, which acquired the land and is responsible for landscaping, maintenance and operation.
28. Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center features more than 100 interactive science exhibits in eight galleries, as well as major traveling exhibitions. Visitors can create colored shadows, design images with a sand pendulum, examine the vibration of guitar strings and get their hands on a variety of intriguing scientific phenomena.
29. Salt Mines
The Salt Mines, also known as the South Bay Salt Works, are the 2nd oldest business in San Diego. The oldest business in San Diego is the Union Tribune. Records date salt mining business starting in 1871, since the city first experienced the Industrial Revolution.
In the late 1800’s, the salt works were the only company producing salt in the U.S. and supplied salt to all of Southern California. In the 40’s, approximately 40k tons of salt were harvested annually from the company.
30. San Dieguito County Park
San Dieguito County Park is a beautiful park located in Del Mar, just a stone’s throw from the ocean. The park offers a ton of recreational activities which include over 5 miles of unique hiking trails, 5 playgrounds, a wedding gazebo, butterfly park, 2 duck ponds picnic area, suspension bridges a basketball court and more!
Discover picturesque views from Activity Hill – complete with 10 fitness stations, three hillside ladders and lookout platforms, two suspension bridges, and two track trails for kids with nature-themed scavenger hunts to win prizes online.
31. San Diego Botanic Garden
The San Diego Botanic Garden offers four miles of garden trails, enjoy restful vistas, flowering trees, majestic palms, and the nation’s largest bamboo collection. Thanks to our mild climate, plants from all over the world thrive here.
Our diverse topography provides a variety of microclimates giving the visitor a sensation of going from a desert environment to a tropical rainforest, all within 37 acres.
32. Secret Pyramids of Scripps Ranch
Until recently, these pyramids were a complete mystery as to who built them and why. As the legend goes, 7 pyramids were constructed at least 60 years ago and placed in various parts of the woods in Scripps Ranch. Although some have since been destroyed, at least 3 still stand today.
This is not a crazy adventure by any means, so don't plan a full day of crazy hiking and bravery in order to find them. They are hidden and camouflaged though and quite fascinating as to why they were built. They are pretty large and each have their own character.
33. Secrets of UCSD
UCSD has an impressive collection of art sprawled across the 1,200 acre campus, with pieces dating back as early as 1982. The goal of the of the Stuart Collection is to “to enrich the cultural, intellectual, and scholarly life of the UCSD campus and of the San Diego community by building and maintaining a unique collection of site-specific works by leading artists of our time.”
These are some of the most interesting and compelling art installations I’ve seen in San Diego. I feel a bit foolish not knowing about this earlier or if I did, I must have brushed it off and forgotten about it. Bottom line: get out there art-lovers, trust me!
34. La Jolla Secret Swings
The Secret Swings were originally put up by UCSD students. That does not surprise me as UCSD is filled with arty, hidden gems! We have also found unique “yeti huts” as I am calling them, which are built from the eucalyptus branches which have fallen all around.
Unfortunately the swings are at a constant battle with the city. The city tears them down, the people put them back up. For this reason, do not be surprised if the swings have been torn down if you visit. Give it another shot another day and they might already be back up!
35. SS Monte Carlo
This is an extreme low tide adventure and will only show up maybe for a day or two throughout the entire year, but if you can make it out to see Coronado's sunken ship, I highly recommend the outing!
This ship is a concrete oil tanker launched in 1921 under a few different names, eventually taking the mantle “SS Monte Carlo” when it became a gambling and prostitution ship off the coast of Coronado in 1932. The ship was anchored 3 miles off Coronado in international waters outside the jurisdiction of local and federal laws. During a storm in 1937, its anchor lost its hold and drifted onto the beach where nobody claimed ownership of the vessel due to the ship itself being illegal.
36. Summers Past Farms
This is one of my absolute favorite nurseries in San Diego aside from Exotica Rare Fruit Farm in Vista. It is so much more than a nursery. They also have a café with delicious coffee, cute boutiques and various classes held throughout the year. Pure magic!
37. Sunny Jim Cave
The Sunny Jim Cave got its name from 'Wizard of Oz' author Frank Baum, who remarked the cave's silhouette had a striking resemblance to Sunny Jim, the British Force wheat cereal's mascot in the 1920's. The tunnel has quite a history, being dug by two Chinese laborers under the guidance of Gustav Shultz, a German engineer and professor of philosophy.
Although a quick adventure, this is still something everyone should experience at least once, if not for the history alone. I like to bring people who have never come here before. It is always a fun time.
38. Sunset Cliff's Caves, Coves & Ravines
Sunset Cliffs has some of the most picturesque coastlines in all of San Diego. People flock to this area to marvel at the rugged cliffs, sea caves and all-around beauty. Although it is extremely enjoyable from above, the real adventures begin from below! Please note that the tide greatly determines if you can get into the sea caves. You cannot access them during high tide.
39. Suspension Bridge
I have been going to this bridge since I was a child when my mom would take my brother and I. It is a sentimental area to me for this reason. This bridge is rather scary, especially if you’re afraid of heights. It is very high up and sways as you enter the middle.
Usually there are people trying to scare their friends by rocking the bridge so be ready for that. The view is beautiful and there is a fun canyon you can hike below! If you *really* explore down there you will find a little hut made out of sticks. Fun exploring!
40. Tijuana River Valley Regional Park Bird & Butterfly Garden
The Tijuana River Valley Regional Park, located in Imperial Beach, is a wonderland in itself with over 1800 acres and 22.5 miles of hiking trails. This specific page is for their butterfly and bird garden which has multiple trailheads attached to it. The garden itself is only a few acres but still quite beautiful.
This area is AMAZING for bird watching. Over 340 native and travelling bird species have been spotted here. I have visited here a couple times and two of the rarer birds I was able to identify were a Black-throated Magpie-Jay and a Cardinal. It was a very special experience to get to see these birds in the wild.
41. Harper's Topiary Garden
Harper’s Topiary Garden was created by a Mission Hills couple who wanted to turn their front yard into a masterful work of art that everyone could enjoy and appreciate.
Gawk at over 50 life-sized figurines all trimmed by hand. About fifteen years ago their front garden consisted only of basic shrubs. The owners decided to find a shape for each plant and they began to sculpt the trees inspired by travels she and her husband have taken. They have chosen ideas gleaned while traveling through Asia, Europe, North Africa, Hawaii, and throughout North America.
42. Balboa's Trees for Health
‘Trees for Health’ was originally created in 1993 as a way for the San Diego Herb Club to map and identify medicinal trees in Balboa Park. Eventually the project received a permanent space where we can now enjoy over 3 1/2 acres and 70 medicinal trees and shrubs.
The plants are maintained by volunteers and used as an educational space for the public to identify and learn about the healing power of plants. Take note of the “5 Flavors Tour” plaques which touch on different tastes such as bitter, spicy and sour.
43. Water Conservation Garden
The Water Conservation Garden is a wonderful and exciting addition to some of the lovely public gardens in San Diego. It carries nearly 5 acres of interactive and educational exhibits, including themed gardens and amazing classes and events throughout the year.
Their mission is to educate the public on innovative and sustainable ways to conserve water. They have done a fantastic job doing so. Navigate your way through the different displays and grab many beautiful photos along the way!
44. World Beat Cultural Center
The World Beat Cultural Center is one of Balboa Park’s most treasured spots. It is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote, present and preserve both African and Indigenous cultures. They do this through unique events surrounded by music and dance, educational classes, delicious food and displays within the center.
The World Beat’s goal is to help raise the collective conscious throughout the community to help promote peace. They have a fantastic garden with programs aimed towards educating the youth and feeding the community. Their main goal is to create unity within diversity.