Editor’s note: We’re making every effort to provide options for responsible outdoor recreation. Please remember to follow social distancing guidelines, wear masks when required and pack water, hand sanitizer and plenty of snacks when you head out. Public restrooms may not be available, and the majority of playgrounds are currently closed at all parks (at time of this story’s publication). Call your destination ahead of time to plan your visit to make sure you’re up to date on current information and guidelines. Stay safe and healthy!
If your kids like to live on the edge, they can try out these adrenaline pumping experiences. From the coastal waters of La Jolla to the Big Bear forest, these heart-racing activities are unique to SoCal. Some of these places are where Olympian and championship winners even got their start! Read on for the details.
Surf's Up! San Diego’s ocean waves are world-renowned surfing spots and people come from all over to surf them. It’s no wonder there’s an abundance of surf schools for kids. Most surf schools start around age 5 and have a swim test to pass before they’ll take them out. Kids will learn so much more than just how to surf; they’ll learn patience to wait for the right wave, taking turns, better balance, and coordination and it will boost their confidence when they catch their first wave. Some good surfing spots for kids with soft rolling breaks can be found at La Jolla Shores, Pacific Beach, Tourmaline Beach, Ocean Beach and Oceanside.
Minimum Age: 5 & up, may have to pass a swim test
Know Before You Go: Check the local surf reports before you head out to make sure the conditions are safe.
Born to skate? Boasting one of the best skate parks in the world, San Diego is renowned as a skate boarding hot spot! When the waves were flat, surfers turned to skate boarding in the streets, empty reservoirs, undeveloped housing tracts and empty swimming pools. Now there are over 10 well-developed skateparks all over San Diego for beginners to rippers. Some of them are where local and world legends even got their start...Hall of Famer Tony Hawk, first female Hall of Famer Patti McGee and Olympian Shaun White grew up skate boarding here. What a thrill to skate at the parks where all the pros learned to skate!
Minimum Age: comfortable on a skateboard
Know Before You Go: Check the park’s hours, cost (many are free) and skill level before you go; some are perfect for beginners while others are more advanced.
Parent’s Tip: The YMCA Krause Family Skatepark (aka Clairemont Skatepark) has a parent’s lounge outside where you can chill and watch your budding boarder.
YMCA Krause Family Skatepark
3401 Clairemont Dr.
San Diego, CA 92117
Kayaking with Leopard Sharks
Doo doo, doo doo doo doo! You can sing it if you want to while kayaking over them, but the Leopard Sharks that come to La Jolla Shores every summer are harmless to humans. They’re quite skittish of humans actually and frighten away easily. Maybe it’s their mama instinct, because most of them are pregnant and are there to incubate. For some extra excitement, from July-September you can rent a kayak, swim or even snorkel with them. Birch Aquarium offers 2 hour snorkeling tours or you can take a kayak tour from Hike Bike Kayak or Everyday California; which includes kayaking through the super cool sea caves!
Minimum Age: Kids must be at least six years old for a tandem kayak with an adult.
Fun Fact: Their “leopard” skin pattern is unique to each one, just like our fingerprints.
2300 Expedition Way
La Jolla, CA 92037
Hike Bike Kayak
2222 Avenida de la Playa
La Jolla, CA 92037
2262 Avenida de la Playa
San Diego, CA 92037
Up, Up and Away! By far the most heart-pumping activity that anyone can do is to run and jump off a cliff. Literally! That’s what paragliding is all about, but you’ll be fully strapped into a tandem jumpseat with a highly experienced professional. You’ll soar through the wind above the beach at the Torrey Pines Gliderport and land in the same place where you launched from. No reservations are accepted because it depends on the wind conditions for the day when you call that morning to find out. Talk about excitement!
Minimum Age: They’ll take “any age” with a tandem instructor, but our guess is when you’re brave enough to let your child do it.
Know Before You Go: There’s an on-site restaurant, but you can also BYO food.
Insider’s Tip: Anyone is welcome to come hang out and watch the paragliders take off. There are some hiking trails nearby that you can explore while you’re waiting for the wind to be just right for a launch.
Torrey Pines Gliderport
2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr.
La Jolla, CA 92037
Jumps & Pumps! Bike park heaven can be found at the brand new Sweetwater Bike Park that just opened Jan. 2020. It’s a large dirt park with several different zones to work on your skills, jumps or just take the flow trails down, like my boys kept doing over and over and over. There’s a large open space at the entrance that’s perfect for meeting friends or padding up. From there, you can view the map and choose which zone you want to ride in, but they all connect together easily with the large perimeter trail. The best part for little kids is the kid’s pump track located near the entrance. It’s a great place for littles to practice before they head out to the open tracks if they’re ready.
Minimum Age: As long as they can ride a bike, with or without training wheels
Know Before You Go: There are port-a-potties at the entrance, but no other services are nearby.
Insider’s Tip: It’s best to go weekday mornings when it’s less crowded. If your little kids want to do the flow trails, let the more advanced riders go down first so they’re not being held up.
Sweetwater Bike Park
6057 San Miguel Rd.
Bonita, CA 91902
Stand Up Paddleboarding
What's SUP?! Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is great fun for the whole family, and San Diego has lots of calm water that makes it easier for kids. There are many places where you can rent a SUP, but if you have your own, then you can launch where it’s less crowded. The best calm water spots for kids to SUP are at Mission Bay, Shelter Island and Harbor Island Marinas in Point Loma, in front of Liberty Station NTC Park in Point Loma, Tidelands Park in Coronado, Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Oceanside Harbor, Lake San Marcos and Hodges Reservoir in Escondido.
Minimum Age: Make sure they can swim first, but I’ve seen parents baby wearing while on a SUP!
Know Before You Go: Stand up paddle boards are considered a vessel by the U.S. Coast Guard, so everyone will need to wear a life jacket when using them.
Insider’s Tip: The waters are most calm weekday early mornings just after sunrise or evenings at sunset, when there’s less boat traffic on the water.
All Aboard! If you’ve ever been on a boat, you’ve never been on a boat like The Patriot Jet Boat before. Feel the wind (and water!) in your hair while zipping around the San Diego Bay. The Patriot zooms up to 50 mph while doing spins and fast turns all to some rockin’ tunes blasting over the speakers. In between the thrills, you’ll enjoy a narrated tour of the Big Bay going all the way down to the Coronado Bridge and back to the Embarcadero. Water ponchos optional!
Minimum Age: 4 & up, must be 40” tall to ride with an adult
Insider’s Tip: Ponchos are provided
990 North Harbor Dr.
San Diego, CA 92101
Fly Like a Bird! Experience flying like never before! Try indoor skydiving at iFly for your next adrenaline rush. After a brief instruction, you’ll suit up and then have an experience like never before. For your first flight, the instructor will hold onto your suit to help you find your wing position as you spin inside the wind tunnel. On your second flight, you’ll have the option to fly all the way up to the top, with your instructor of course. Or try a STEM field trip to watch math and physics come to life inside the wind tunnel.
Minimum Age: 3 & up
Insider’s Tip: Anyone can go inside to hang out and watch the other fliers. Instructors often times show off their flips and tricks in between groups and that alone is worth it to go watch.
3178 Vista Way
Oceanside, CA 92056
iFly Mission Valley
2385 Camino Del Rio N
San Diego, CA 92108
Worth the Trip: Big Bear Mountain Resort
For SoCal parents looking to plan the perfect summer adventure for their kids, Big Bear Mountain Resort's basecamp area is open and offers a lineup of activities perfect for little explorers and thrill-seekers, including a 30-foot climbing wall, Euro Bungee trampoline, Quick Jump free fall, zip line, Summit Mining Co. and Grizzly Ridge Tube Park.
Whether you already have plans to be up in Big Bear for a few days or you are planning a day trip escape from the city, Big Bear Mountain Resort is the perfect family activity. The resort has also been quieter during the week days.
The Safari Park Flightline Safari is temporarily unavailable. Click here for status.
Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah! If soaring 130 feet above wild animals while suspended from a rope will give you a thrill, you’ll want to take a ride down the zip line at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. There are two zip lines next to each other, so you can go at the same time as your child and watch them squeal with excitement as they soar over the rhinos. Another fun place in San Diego to zip line is down the “Adrenaline Zone" at Belmont Park in Mission Beach. You’ll reach speeds of 15 mph down the short Zipline Tower, but each rider gets two rides.
Minimum Age at the Safari Park: kids aged 8-15 must be accompanied by a paid parent/guardian; kids aged 16-17 may zip line alone but must have a parent/guardian present at time of check-in
Minimum Age at Belmont Park: riders must be 46” tall and weight at least 50 lbs.
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd
Escondido, CA 92027
3146 Mission Blvd.
Temporarily closed. Click here for status info.
Climb to the Top! Lace up your sneakers and head to Balboa Park for the quintessential San Diego activity! The Tower Climb at the Museum of Us reopened after a year long retrofitting project and it’s something every San Diegan and visitor alike should experience. The tower is a San Diego landmark and was built in 1915 for the Panama-California Exposition, so it’s a real treat to be able to climb inside and see the history. Half way up the 125 steps to the 8th story balcony, you’ll see the actual carillon keyboard that plays the songs broadcasted throughout Balboa Park every day at noon. Grab a bite to eat before or after your climb at nearby Panana 66, then stroll through the secret sculpture garden at the San Diego Museum of Art.
Minimum Age: 6 & up, but children must be able to climb on their own and cannot be carried
Insider’s Tip: Try to book your climb tour to meet the sunset for stunning views out to the ocean.
Tower Climb at the Museum of Us (formerly the Museum of Man)
1350 El Prado