11 Best Water Activities to Do with Kids in San Diego

Get ready to splash, swim, explore, and learn! Kids love these 11 must-visit water attractions and fun-filled activities designed for families in San Diego.
Todd Sarouhan
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How to Have the Most Fun in the Water with your Kids in San Diego

Mother and Daughter Snorkeling in a Kelp Forest at La Jolla Underwater ParkKids Love Playing in the Fountains at Waterfront Park

Southern California and San Diego are famous for their water sports and water activities. If you’re planning a vacation with your family, you’ll want to find fun and creative ways to stay cool as you explore famous neighborhoods like La Jolla, Mission Beach, and the rest of San Diego County.

Tour water-themed San Diego attractions that are ideal for kids, including some of the city’s best theme parks and waterparks. With the Go City San Diego pass, you’ll save when you bundle activities like full day snorkel rentals in La Jolla or 90-minute kayak rentals with admission to top kids’ attractions like the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park, and the museums of Balboa Park.

For the true themed waterpark experience, San Diego has you and your family covered! Two of our favorite water based theme parks, LEGOLAND® Water Park and Sesame Place San Diego (previously known as Aquatica), can be reserved in advance to make sure you’re planned out and ready to go when you arrive.

We love these parks because they offer wholesome fun for kids of all ages, including young children. You can expect shows, character meet and greets, water and splash areas and more!

Speaking of water activities, taking advantage of San Diego’s beaches, which become water parks for kids and adults alike, is an excellent choice. From Mission Bay to Ocean Beach, try out water sports with private lessons or beginner-friendly tours. Once kids know the ropes, you can rent a surfboard, kayak, or paddleboard and explore the ocean together.

Local Tips
Family Surfing Lessons at La Jolla Shores
Experience San Diego's surf culture at La Jolla Shores. Family-friendly lessons for all levels include safety and basics, offering a fun and educational time on beginner-friendly beaches. Get gear rental discounts with a Go City San Diego pass.

Since these activities all take place in or on the water, many of them are only suitable for children over 5 years old who are strong swimmers. Do keep in mind that some water sports like snorkeling tours and surfing lessons require all participants to know how to swim, and depending on the activity, you may need to wear appropriate safety gear.

However, not all water activities require kids to be skilled at swimming! Boat tours, such as whale watching and sailing around the bay, are fun for all ages and skill levels. Similarly, water parks offer another way to cool off that’s accessible to anyone, though certain rides and attractions may have height requirements.

San Diego’s 11 Most Fun Things to Do in the Water with Kids

Hit the beach, visit a water park, or tour the seas on a cruise. In San Diego, family-friendly entertainment is never far away, especially when it comes to activities in the water! Surf and splash your way down the coast at these top water activities designed for kids and their parents to enjoy.

Private Surfing Lessons
Private Surfing Lessons

1) Enroll in a Surf Lesson Class at La Jolla Shores

San Diego Tours: 5 Best San Diego Surf Lessons & Rentals

As one of San Diego’s most famous surfing regions, La Jolla is the perfect place for families to learn how to surf. Why not take a class right on a gorgeous beach? With a La Jolla: 1.5-Hour Surfing Lesson, you and the kids can learn the basics in a short lesson with friendly instructors.

Lessons are offered in both public sessions and private groups at La Jolla Shore. Beginners are welcome, and private lessons can be tailored to your experience level, so this is a great thing to do with kids.

Lessons begin with safety training before moving on to practice in the shallows. Learn how to tread water, recover from spills, and keep your balance on a wave, all the while enjoying the cool, clear waters of La Jolla’s best surfing beaches.

Want to keep surfing after your lesson? With a Go City San Diego pass, you can get discounts on surfboards, plus other beach gear like stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. Both regular passes and all-inclusive go passes are a great deal, especially with our discount code, GVSD5OFF!

Book a Surf Lesson
Man on Stand up Paddleboard at Sunset
Man on Stand up Paddleboard at Sunset

2) Paddleboard in La Jolla and Watch the Sunset

San Diego Activities: Paddle Boarding in San Diego

If surfing isn’t quite your speed, what about paddleboarding instead? Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) in La Jolla has become incredibly popular on the West Coast, especially around La Jolla and Mission Bay. Beaches with the best conditions for paddleboarding include La Jolla Cove and Sail Bay in Mission Bay, as well as Santa Clara Point also in Mission Bay.

In addition to La Jolla’s beaches, there are plenty of great spots on San Diego’s shores that are well suited to paddleboarding. One popular area for paddleboarding is Coronado Central Beach on Coronado Island. The calm waters of this beach make it ideal for stand-up paddleboarding plus other beach activities like swimming and snorkeling. It’s also a great family beach with plenty of sand to stretch out on.

Consider renting a paddleboard from a surf shop right along the beach. The Go City San Diego pass lets passholders enjoy discounts on paddleboards and other beach gear, so take advantage of this great deal during your visit!

Rent a Paddleboard in La Jolla
Snorkeling Amongst Kelp Near the Seven Caves in La Jolla
Snorkeling Amongst Kelp Near the Seven Caves in La Jolla

3) Go Snorkeling at La Jolla Cove - #1 Spot to go Snorkeling in San Diego

Beach: La Jolla Cove

Much of San Diego’s coastline borders beautiful swimming beaches with access to the Pacific Ocean. Given the variety of marine life that calls these waters home, it’s no surprise that snorkeling is a popular activity here.

If your little one loves the aquarium but wants to see these sea creatures out in the wild, snorkeling is a great way to do so. The clear waters of La Jolla Cove make it the best beach for snorkeling.

Additionally, the protection of the cove means there are minimal currents. This makes the beach a good pick for young kids who may not yet be skilled swimmers, though they should always be supervised while snorkeling.

Among our choices for the 4 Best San Diego Kayaking & Snorkeling Tours is the La Jolla: Guided Snorkeling Tour, where you can see fish, dolphins, and sea turtles in their natural habitats. Another excellent pick is the La Jolla Underwater Park: Kayak and Snorkel Tour, which offers tour goers 2 hours to explore this unique underwater preserve.

Book a Snorkeling Tour at La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Caves Kayaking
La Jolla Caves Kayaking

4) Kayak the Sea Caves in La Jolla

San Diego Tours: 4 Best San Diego Kayaking & Snorkeling Tours

The famous Seven Sea Caves in La Jolla's Ecological Reserve are natural caves carved in the rock by the ocean waves. Explore these caves on the La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaking Tour With Guide, which is a 1.5-hour tour. In addition to kayaking through the caves, look out for seabirds and marine life like sea lions and seals.

These kayak tours are extremely well-suited for families, as even younger children can share a kayak with parents and have a fun and safe trip through the caves. As a way to explore these stunning natural landmarks for all-ages, kayak tours rank among the Best Things to Do with Kids in San Diego overall.

Like many of the previously mentioned beach activities, kayak tours are offered at a discounted rate through the Go City San Diego pass. Check out our picks of the Best San Diego Kayaking & Snorkeling Tours for suggestions about where to set sail.

Book the La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaking Tour
Legoland Waterpark Waterslide
Legoland Waterpark Waterslide

5) Go to LEGOLAND® Water Park

San Diego Attractions: LEGOLAND® Water Park

Kids can exercise their creativity with LEGO-themed games, rides, and shows at LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad. While exploring the park is fun, and also happens to be one of the benefits of picking up an All-inclusive Go Pass, there’s a whole other side of the park that’s just as much fun for families: the water park!

LEGOLAND Water Park is the ideal way to spend a hot day in San Diego, and the city’s sunny weather and warm climate ensures there will be plenty of hot days during the park’s seasonal operations. Gates open at 10:30 am and close at 5:30 pm from March 26 to October 30.

LEGOLAND’s themed attractions make it especially enticing for kids. Families with little ones can stretch their mental muscles with water games at the Imagination Station, play pirates at Pirate Reef, and fly down the Crooler's Twist water slide. Extend your trip with a visit to the SEA LIFE Aquarium, or stay at the park’s LEGOLAND Hotel right next door!

Buy Ticket to the LEGOLAND Water Park
Kids Love Sailing in San Diego Bay
Kids Love Sailing in San Diego Bay

6) Sail in San Diego Bay

Neighborhood: San Diego Bay

Looking for a way to travel around the bay in comfort and style? Look no further than the San Diego: San Diego Bay Sunset & Daytime Sailing Experience. Embark on a yacht and sail Mission Bay, San Diego Bay, and Oceanside Harbor on a 2-hour tour.

Not only is this a fun water activity to do with kids, but it’s also one of the best ways to watch the sunset in San Diego. There’s nothing like kicking back on a sailboat and watching the clear blue water of the bay turn orange in the fading sunlight. Be sure to take plenty of commemorative photos, as the sunset makes for an excellent backdrop.

Look out over the bay and take in the view as you survey nearby landmarks like North Island Coronado Naval Station, USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, and the skyline of Downtown, which looks especially stunning once the sun goes down. There’s also a chance to see marine life like dolphins and sea lions, as well as pelicans and other sea birds. You might even spot the illusive green sea turtle!

Book Your San Diego Bay Sailing Experience
Garibaldi Fish while Scuba Diving in La Jolla
Garibaldi Fish while Scuba Diving in La Jolla

7) Scuba Diving at San Diego - La Jolla Underwater Park

Beach: San Diego - La Jolla Underwater Park

Snorkeling is an accessible way for young kids to discover marine life in the shallows, but if you’re looking to go a little deeper, try scuba diving. Rent scuba gear and take the family on a fun-filled tour of the coastal Pacific waters, or take a more laid-back approach and go on a self-guided excursion.

The San Diego - La Jolla Underwater Park this the best place for scuba diving, the waters are typically calm and there is a lot of marine life to see. Look for tropical fish, sea turtles, mollusks, and even sharks and keep an eye out for the Orange Garibaldi, California’s state fish.

You can enter the La Jolla Underwater Park via the La Jolla Cove or via La Jolla Shores.

At both the La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores you won’t have to worry about strong surges, though some beginner surfers like to try their luck further to the north at La Jolla Shores.

These peaceful waters offer a water activity that’s both fun and educational for families.

Big Bird at Sesame Place San Diego
Big Bird at Sesame Place San Diego

8) Go to Sesame Place San Diego

San Diego Attractions: Sesame Place San Diego

Sesame Place San Diego is best known for bringing Sesame Street’s cast of colorful characters to life. Kids can walk down a recreation of Sesame Street, meet all their favorite friends, and watch live performances both in the theater and on the street during the parade. There are dozens of child-friendly rides as well!

In addition to the rides and shows on dry land, there are also plenty of water rides and games. Sesame Place is situated on the former site of Aquatica San Diego and is partnered with SeaWorld San Diego in nearby Mission Bay. The current park incorporates many water slides and water play areas.

Explore and play at The Count’s Splash Castle, swim in the wave pool at Big Bird’s Beach, and kick back as you float in an inner tube down the Rambling River. Other rides include both enclosed and open-air slides.

Sesame Place welcomes kids of all ages, but some rides have height requirements for safety reasons. Be sure to check these requirements before you go.

Buy Sesame Place Tickets
San Diego Harbor Cruise on the Spirit of San Diego
San Diego Harbor Cruise on the Spirit of San Diego

9) Go on a Relaxing San Diego Bay Harbor Cruise

San Diego Tours: 13 Best San Diego Harbor Cruises & Boat Tours

There are few water activities more relaxing than taking a cruise around San Diego Bay. While some cruises are designed for drinking and dining, making for a romantic couples’ activity, others are midday cruises designed to be interesting and informative for all ages.

The San Diego Harbor Cruise is a 1-2-hour cruise complete with a professionally narrated tour. Climb aboard a luxury ship with 3 different levels, including an interior deck and a top deck with open-air seating. Look out over landmarks around the bay including the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier and Coronado Bridge as you learn about their importance from your captain. The ship is also equipped with drinks and a snack bar, and kids under 3 can ride for free.

Pair your trip around the harbor with a visit to nearby Little Italy, a cute walkable neighborhood with plenty of locally-owned businesses. Tour the shops, pick up a few souvenirs, and stop for lunch at a sidewalk cafe.

Book a Harbor Cruise
Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise Spots a Gray Whale
Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise Spots a Gray Whale

10) Go Whale Watching in San Diego

San Diego Activities: Whale Watching in San Diego

San Diego’s aquariums are a great way to introduce children to the underwater ecosystem, but the fun doesn’t have to stop there. For kids who have visited the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and just can’t get enough, why not elevate the experience with a real whale watching trip?

Book your voyage on the 4-hour San Diego Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise. In the spring, you’ll have a good chance of spotting gray whales, while blue whales migrate through the area during the summer months. Other species to look out for include fin, humpback, and minke whales, as well as various kinds of dolphins, fish, and seabirds.

Whale watching is one of our picks for the Best Things to Do with Kids in San Diego. Not only will kids make unforgettable memories looking for whales and other marine life on the boat, but they’ll also get to learn about the importance of conservation for marine mammals and their habitats through first-hand experience. There’s no better way to encourage a love of nature in your kids!

Book a Whale & Dolphin Watching Tour
Fountains at Waterfront Park in Harborview
Fountains at Waterfront Park in Harborview

11) Enjoy the Waterfront Park in Downtown San Diego

Neighborhood: Harborview

You don’t have to travel to the beach to cool off in San Diego. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the Downtown area! Waterfront Park is a public venue right in the heart of the city, which makes it a convenient choice if you’re staying in a family-friendly hotel just a short distance from the Embarcadero.

Waterfront Park is open daily from 6 am-10 pm. During operation hours, the park runs spray fountains that kids can run through to keep themselves cool. It also features wide, grassy stretches that are perfect for picnics and playing lawn games. There’s also a children’s water games zone and playground equipment that invites kids to climb, slide, and get active.

The park is a venue for many special events and celebrations throughout the year. These include farmer’s markets, festivals, food truck gatherings, and other events that are typically free and open to the public. Check the official calendar on San Diego’s Parks and Recreation website for more information on these events.

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Kids looking at knight at LEGOLAND California
Visit LEGOLAND California!
Create family memories at LEGOLAND California! Admission is included with your All-Inclusive Go City pass - enjoy over 60 rides and attractions! Bundle admission with Birch Aquarium at Scripps or the Safari Park for the ultimate day of savings!
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What attractions are included with a Go City San Diego pass?

Attractions that you can visit with a Go City San Diego pass include:

The San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, SeaWorld, Safari Park, LEGOLAND, Harbor Cruise, USS Midway Museum, the NAT Museum, Whaley House, PETCO Park Tour, iFLY San Diego and many, many more!

Want to save more? Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra 5%!

Make Your Water Filled Family Vacation the Best Ever With These Tips

San Diego offers fun water activity options for kids of any age. Younger kids will enjoy attractions like Sesame Place and LEGOLAND, as well as taking a boat tour.

Other activities - like paddleboarding (SUP), surfing, and scuba diving - are better suited for older kids who are proficient swimmers.

Where are the Best Family-Friendly Beaches?

Looking for beaches that are popular with families, such as Mission Beach, the State Beach at Torrey Pines, and Pacific Beach? If so, check out our list of the Best Beaches in San Diego for Families.

Where Can You Stay Nearby?

San Diego is filled with hotels that appeal to adults and kids alike. For excellent options, see our lists of the Best Family-Friendly Hotels in San Diego and the Best Hotels on the Beach.

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