Where to stay in San Diego for families with kids: 6 Best areas

Hi guys, on my website, I already wrote an article about San Diego without a car (I will put the link to it at the end of this article). In today’s article, I will help you to find the best places to stay in San Diego for families with kids.

I will share with you what I believe are the best areas to stay in San Diego for families, along with a helpful map. I’ll also share where I stayed in San Diego and recommend some of the best family-friendly hotels for visitors with various budgets.

Before going into the main topic of this article, let’s look at some facts about San Diego.

San Diego is the southernmost city in California located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean and is adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border. It is known for its pleasant Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers.

The city also attracts visitors with its beautiful beaches, world-class zoos and aquariums (such as the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld), historic sites, and cultural attractions. Balboa Park is a famous cultural park that houses many museums, gardens, and the San Diego Zoo.

San Diego has a significant military presence, with several naval bases, including Naval Base San Diego and Naval Air Station North Island. The military plays a crucial role in the local economy.

You can enjoy a wide range of outdoor recreational opportunities, including hiking, surfing, and sailing. The region is also known for its scenic beauty and has many parks and nature reserves.

Is San Diego a good place to visit with family?

Yes, I believe that San Diego is an excellent destination for family vacations. Your family can explore the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, embark on interactive adventures at LEGOLAND California, or discover marine life at SeaWorld. 

Balboa Park offers museums and gardens, while the USS Midway Museum provides an educational experience aboard a historic aircraft carrier. From hiking in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve to enjoying the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego caters to diverse interests. 

Where to stay in San Diego for families with kids?

The best areas to stay in San Diego for families with kids are Downtown San Diego, Little Italy, Mission Beach/ Pacific Beach, Old Town, La Jolla, and the LEGOLAND California area. These areas offer a variety of family-friendly accommodations and attractions for children of all ages. 

Downtown San Diego is a vibrant and bustling area with a variety of attractions and amenities that is a great choice for families with kids, especially if you want a central location and enjoy a more urban environment.

Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are excellent choices for families with kids who want a beach-centric vacation, easy access to family-friendly Belmont Park and SeaWorld San Diego. 

Old Town is a historic neighborhood where you can explore San Diego’s past. It offers a taste of Mexican culture and has attractions like the Old Town State Historic Park and various Mexican restaurants.

If you’re primarily visiting LEGOLAND, staying in the Carlsbad area is a convenient choice. If you prefer a more upscale, tranquil experience, La Jolla is a good option.

During my trip to San Diego, I stayed in the Downtown area at the 4-star Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego. It has a super central location, very close to the Seaport Village, Petco Park, And Gaslamp District. You can choose rooms with the views of San Diego Bay.

Below is a map of the popular areas in San Diego for families. You can scroll down to view the live map.

Map of the best areas to stay in San Diego for families with kids
Map of the best areas to stay in San Diego for families with kids

Let’s get into the details of the recommended areas to stay in San Diego, especially for families. I’ll provide you with some suggestions for the best places to stay in each area, catering to every budget. 

All hotels in San Diego have been carefully selected by me, with guest review scores of at least 8.0 or higher at the time I chose them. If you don’t like my suggestions (perhaps they don’t suit your budget or preferences), you can click the “MORE HOTEL DEALS” button where you can choose your own hotel.

6 Best areas to stay in San Diego with family:

1. Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego is a convenient base for exploring the city’s cultural attractions and is a good choice for families who want to be in the heart of the action and enjoy the vibrancy of an urban environment. 

Downtown offers easy access to several family-friendly attractions, including the USS Midway Museum, San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and New Children’s Museum. You can also explore the Gaslamp Quarter for dining and entertainment options.

Downtown is home to cultural institutions like the San Diego Symphony, the San Diego Opera, and the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. These can offer enriching experiences for families interested in the arts.

The downtown area features several parks and green spaces, including Waterfront Park, which has a playground and picnic areas. These provide opportunities for outdoor activities and relaxation with your family.

While Downtown San Diego is not right on the beach, it’s still relatively close to some of the city’s beautiful coastal areas. You can easily drive or take public transportation to beaches like Coronado Beach, Mission Beach, and Pacific Beach, which are great for family outings.

Best places to stay in Downtown San Diego for family with kids:

  • Luxury ($$$): Pendry San Diego, great 5-star family-friendly hotel centrally located in Downtown San Diego, featuring an Outdoor swimming pool and spacious family rooms. Its location offers easy access to lots of restaurants, Petco Park, New Children’s Museum, as well as a short uber to airport and Coronado island.
  • Mid-range ($$): Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, popular 4-star children-friendly hotel conveniently located in the waterfront area of Downtown San Diego, a short walk from Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village, and USS Midway Museum.
  • Budget ($): Staypineapple, Hotel Z, Gaslamp San Diego, great 3-star kid-friendly and pet-friendly accommodation in central San Diego, a short walk from  Horton Plaza Shopping Center. The hotel welcomes children of all ages. Children 18 years and above will be charged as adults.

2. Little Italy

Little Italy is a charming neighborhood in downtown San Diego known for its Italian heritage, vibrant atmosphere, and culinary delights. It’s a great area to consider for families with kids who want a blend of culture, dining, and a walkable neighborhood. 

Little Italy is renowned for its numerous Italian restaurants, cafes, and gelato shops. It’s a great place to introduce your kids to delicious Italian cuisine, from pizza and pasta to pastries and ice cream.

The neighborhood is very pedestrian-friendly, with sidewalks lined with trees and outdoor seating areas. You can easily explore the area on foot, making it convenient for families with strollers.

Little Italy hosts a popular farmers’ market called the “Saturday Mercato.” It’s a great place to find fresh produce, artisanal goods, and even some live entertainment. Kids can enjoy trying samples and experiencing the lively atmosphere.

Little Italy is within walking distance or a short drive from family-friendly attractions like the Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, USS Midway Museum, and the New Children’s Museum.

Best places to stay in San Diego in Little Italy with family:

  • Mid-range ($$): Homewood Suites by Hilton San Diego Downtown/Bayside, 4-star family-friendly hotel, featuring spacious family rooms, a year-round outdoor pool, and a complimentary continental breakfast. Close to Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market and Waterfront Park.
  • Budget ($): La Pensione Hotel, 3-star children-friendly accommodation, located on West Date Street, a short walk from the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Also easy access to San Diego Zoo and the Coaster Santa Fe Rail Station for train service between San Diego and Oceanside.
  • Budget ($): Residence Inn by Marriott San Diego Downtown/Bayfront, 3-star accommodation that features family rooms, and outdoor swimming pools, as well as free bikes, a 24-hour front desk and an ATM.

3. Mission Beach/ Pacific Beach

Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are neighboring coastal communities in San Diego known for their beautiful beaches, family-friendly atmosphere, and a wide range of outdoor activities. These areas are popular among families with kids, and they offer a laid-back, beachy vibe. 

The main draw of these neighborhoods is, of course, the beaches. The long sandy stretches and calm waters make them ideal for families with children. Kids can play in the sand, swim in the ocean, build sandcastles, and enjoy water sports like boogie boarding and paddleboarding.

There’s a scenic Boardwalk that runs along the oceanfront, providing a great place for family walks, bike rides, or rollerblading. You can rent bikes and other equipment from shops in the area.

Belmont Park is an iconic amusement park located in Mission Beach. It features a historic wooden roller coaster, arcade games, carnival rides, and an indoor play area for kids. It’s a must-visit for families.

You’ll find plenty of opportunities for water activities, such as jet skiing, kayaking, and parasailing. Mission Bay, which is right next to Mission Beach, offers calmer waters for younger children.

The beaches and boardwalks are generally safe for families, but it’s always important to keep an eye on your children, especially when they are near the water.

These neighborhoods are also conveniently located near popular SeaWorld San Diego. Known for its marine animal shows, SeaWorld also has exciting rides and interactive exhibits for kids to enjoy.

Best places to stay in Mission Beach/ Pacific Beach with kids:

  • Mid-range ($$): Paradise Point Resort & Spa, 4-star family-friendly hotel, located in Mission Bay, welcomes children of all ages. Children 18 years and above will be charged as adults. It is only a short Uber ride from kid-friendly SeaWorld San Diego.
  • Mid-range ($$): The Wayfarer San Diego, great 4-star oceanfront hotel, located on Pacific Beach Drive, Mission Beach, featuring an oceanfront pool and bike rentals. It is a short ride from SeaWorld Park and University of California. You can enjoy bicycling, surfing, tennis and shopping in its surroundings.
  • Budget ($): The Dana on Mission Bay, 3-star accommodation, located next to Mission Bay within a few mins drive by car from SeaWorld San Diego and Mission Beach. It has two outdoor pools and waterfront restaurants. The hotel offers Bike hire and car hire services.

4. Old Town

Old Town San Diego is a historic neighborhood with a rich cultural heritage and a charming atmosphere. It’s an excellent choice if you want to immerse your family in history and culture while still having easy access to other San Diego attractions and the beautiful California coastline.

Old Town is known for its well-preserved historic buildings, including adobe homes, museums, and the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Families can explore the area and learn about the city’s history.

The neighborhood boasts numerous shops selling Mexican handicrafts, clothing, and souvenirs. There are also Mexican restaurants and eateries where you can enjoy traditional cuisine.

The state park is the heart of Old Town and features several historic buildings and museums. It’s a great place for a leisurely walk and educational experiences. The park often hosts living history demonstrations and interactive exhibits.

Consider taking a historic trolley tour of Old Town and other San Diego attractions. It can be a fun and informative way for families to explore the area.

Old Town is centrally located and provides relatively easy access to other San Diego attractions, such as Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, and downtown San Diego.

Best places to stay in San Diego Old Town with children:

  • Mid-range ($$): Courtyard San Diego Old Town, 3-star hotel located in San Diego Old Town, close to train and bus stops, featuring family rooms, outdoor swimming pools. It has an on-site café serving Californian cuisines.
  • Budget ($): Old Town Inn, popular 2-star hotel welcomes children of all ages, located on Pacific Highway, in the light industrial Midway area, a few minutes’ walk from Old Town. It has an Outdoor swimming pool, 24-hour front desk, free parking, and BBQ facilities.
  • Budget ($): Kings Inn, 3-star hotel centrally located in Mission Valley, a short ride from San Diego International Airport, Old Town, as well as family-friendly SeaWorld, Balboa Park and the Zoo. 

5. La Jolla

La Jolla is a picturesque coastal area and is  a wonderful destination for visitors of all ages. It’s known for its stunning natural beauty, upscale neighborhoods, beautiful beaches, and a range of cultural and recreational attractions.  

La Jolla Village is the heart of La Jolla features upscale shopping, dining, and art galleries. It’s a great place to explore on foot, and you can find boutique shops and world-class restaurants.

Your family can go swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving at the La Jolla Cove, a small, protected cove, is famous for its clear waters and abundant marine life. The surrounding cliffs offer great views, and you can often see seals and sea lions basking on the rocks.

La Jolla Shores, a family-friendly beach with gentle waves, making it ideal for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. The long sandy shoreline is perfect for sunbathing and picnicking.

Other popular beaches in the area are the Shell Beach and Seal Beach, great for tidepooling and offer opportunities to observe seals and sea lions up close. Windansea Beach is popular among surfers and photographers, known for its unique surf break and picturesque scenery.

Located adjacent to La Jolla, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve features beautiful coastal hiking trails with stunning views of the ocean and unique Torrey Pine trees.

A part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Birch Aquarium at Scripps showcases marine life from the Pacific Ocean and offers interactive exhibits and educational programs for visitors of all ages.

You can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which features contemporary art exhibits and is known for its collection of works by regional and international artists.

A historic pier used for scientific research, Scripps Pier is also a popular spot for photographers and beachgoers.

Perched atop Mount Soledad, Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial provides 360-degree views of San Diego and honors veterans from various branches of the U.S. military.

Located at Torrey Pines, the Gliderport offers tandem paragliding and hang gliding experiences, providing breathtaking views of the coastline.

Best places to stay in San Diego in La Jolla with family:

  • Mid-range ($$): Inn by the Sea, La Jolla, 3-star family-friendly hotel, short walk from the ocean, featuring family rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, 24-hour front desk, and laundry services.
  • Mid-range ($$): La Jolla Riviera Inn, great beachfront accommodation located within a short walk from La Jolla Shores Beach, a short drive from Birch Aquarium and University of California.
  • Mid-range ($$): Holiday Inn Express and Suites La Jolla – Windansea Beach, and IHG Hotel, 2-star beach hotel, located on La Jolla Boulevard, 20 minutes’ walk to Coast Boulevard Park Beach. It has spacious family rooms and an outdoor swimming pool.

6. The LEGOLAND California area

LEGOLAND California Resort is a popular family-friendly destination located in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego. The resort is centered around a LEGO-themed amusement park but also includes a water park and a LEGO-themed hotel. 

The heart of the resort, LEGOLAND California Theme Park offers a variety of attractions and rides, all with a LEGO twist. Some of the highlights include:

  • Miniland USA
  • LEGO-themed Rides
  • LEGO Star Wars Miniland 
  • LEGO Ninjago World 
  • LEGOLAND Water Park 
  • SEA LIFE Aquarium
  • LEGOLAND Hotel
  • LEGOLAND Castle Hotel:

Throughout the resort, you’ll find various dining options, from quick-service restaurants to sit-down eateries. Additionally, there are numerous shops selling LEGO sets, LEGO-themed merchandise, and souvenirs.

LEGOLAND California often hosts live entertainment, including character meet-and-greets, shows, and special events. Check the schedule for any seasonal offerings during your visit.

LEGOLAND California hosts seasonal events, such as Brick-or-Treat during Halloween and Holiday Snow Days during the winter months. These events offer additional activities and entertainment.

Best places to stay in LEGOLAND California with kids:

  • Mid-range ($$): LEGOLAND California Hotel and Castle Hotel, popular children-friendly hotel located in Carlsbad, featuring more than 60 rides and shows. This theme park is home to SEA LIFE Aquarium and LEGOLAND Water Park, and also close to Carlsbad Flower Fields.
  • Budget ($): Grand Pacific Palisades Resort, 3-star family-friendly accommodation located in Carlsbad, features a kids’ interactive pool, on-site games room, and an Outdoor swimming pool.
  • Budget ($): Carlsbad Seapointe Resort, great 3-star kid-friendly accommodation located right on the beach, only 10 mins drive from LEGOLAND California, South Carlsbad State Beach, Flower Fields, and California Surf Museum.

In conclusion, Downtown, Little Italy, Mission/Pacific Beach, Old Town, La Jolla, and LEGOLAND California are the best places to stay in San Diego with family. These are all popular tourist areas, so you will have easy access to many kid-friendly activities and amenities in San Diego.

You can continue reading about San Diego in these articles:

There you have it, my recommendations for the popular areas and neighborhoods that you can stay during your family trip to San Diego. I hope you found my article helpful and enjoy your holiday!

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Your feedback is invaluable and helps me continue to create more quality travel guides.

About Author: Ocean Cameron

I'm Ocean, founder and main editor of travelhotelexpert.com. I’m a passionate traveler who specializes in uncovering the best hotels and locations in every city, especially for first-timers, all without the need for a car.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means that, at absolutely no additional cost to you, I'll earn a small commission if you click through and purchase something I've recommended. I only recommend products that I use myself or firmly believe in. Thank you!

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