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Best things to do in San Diego with Teens

  • 6 min read

Best things to do in San Diego with Teens

In a world where screen time and packed calendars often rule the day, connecting with teenagers might feel like a challenge. With experiences ranging from budget-friendly to bucket-list-worthy, San Diego is bursting with world-famous attractions, thrilling adventures, and local gems that meet a wide array of teen interests. Whether you’re planning a vacation or just filling an afternoon, take advantage of the nostalgic movie venues, savanna wildlife, beachside boardwalks, sky-high zip-lining, and clay throwing – it’s all here. So plot your next adventure using our carefully curated list of activities for quality time with teens.

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Spend a Day on Moonlight Beach

Named a century ago by local moonlight picnickers, Moonlight Beach stands out as one of Encinitas' finest coastal spots, with all the beach day amenities a teen could want. Volleyball and tennis courts are primed for some good-natured competition, while the shaded picnic areas are perfect for laid-back hangouts and barbecuing on the grills. If you don’t plan on grilling, Moonlight Beach Concession Stand offers a range of eats and drinks, from tacos to shave ice. And for those who prefer packing a lighter load, boogie boards, surfboards, and wet suits are available to rent onsite. Once the sun starts to set, light up one of the fire pits for some s’mores and take in the Instagram-worthy views. The beach and parking lot are open from 5am-10pm and they’re easily accessible from I-5.

Burgers Shake and Games

Corvette Diner is Liberty Station’s vibrant sock-hop-style eatery and arcade, where waitresses have been dancing to the oldies and serving up delicious burgers and shakes since 1987. Neon lights, poodle skirts, and a teal Corvette parked in the center of the restaurant are only part of what gives this place its vintage flair. As far as milkshakes, they've got the timeless classics you’d expect and deluxe flavors too, like Marshmallow Dream. Snag discounted gamer cards for the arcade room when you dine Monday through Thursday and play games like Pacman, Pinball and Alpine Racer.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

One of the planet's biggest ocean and earth science centers, the renowned Birch Aquarium at Scripps, is home to over 60 habitats showcasing plants, animals, and scientific discoveries right in La Jolla Shores. Exhibits are one of a kind, like The 100 Island Challenge, a working laboratory for coral research, or the world's tiniest penguins, the Little Blue Penguins. Not to mention the two-story Giant Kelp Forest. Explore living tide pools at Tide Pool Plaza to learn more about species that frequent San Diego’s waters – think stingrays, sea stars, young sharks, urchins, and anemones. Make sure to purchase your ticket in advance and check their daily schedule for shows and feedings. You can bring your own food with you or stop by the Splash Cafe for a bite to eat.

Drive-in Movie Night

Catch the latest films from the comfort of your car on a nostalgic, budget-friendly movie night. At South Bay Drive-in Theater, you can watch a single or double feature any night of the week for $10 a person. Parking is sloped on an incline for an unobstructed view of their three screens and attendants will tell you how to broadcast the audio through your FM radio. Since no teen movie night is complete without snacks, you can bring your own or hit the cash-only snack bar for an assortment of munchies from popcorn to churros.

Balboa Park Museums

So much more than one of San Diego’s top parks, Balboa Park is a collection of unique museums, performing arts venues, beautiful gardens, and scenic trails that even includes the iconic San Diego Zoo. It's a treasure trove of thought-provoking exhibits for teens. There are over 16 museums in the park, with subject matter spanning from culture and science to nature. Explore the Comic-Con Museum, Fleet Science Center, the Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego, or the Museum of Us – just to name a few. Save money on multiple museum admissions by purchasing their Explorer Pass.

Mold your Own Clay Creation

For an activity that’s just as fun as it is therapeutic, throw some clay around at Ceramic Heights in El Cerrito. All levels of experience are welcome, just bring an open mind and a willingness to get your hands dirty. For $30, you'll get two balls of clay, an hour of quality time with the wheel, and staff there to lend a hand as little or as much as you want while you shape your creation. Then the crew will glaze and fire your masterpiece so that it’s ready for pickup within four weeks. Classes are an hour long on Saturdays, and they fill up quickly, so we recommend reserving your spots in advance.

Ride the Waves at a Surf Lesson

It doesn't matter if you're a newbie or already have a bit of surf swagger – lessons with Pacific Surf will be tailored to your needs and are offered at multiple San Diego surf spots in Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla. Learn how to read surf conditions, safety tips, and standard surf etiquette before hitting the waves with your instructor. You've got choices: private, semi-private, or group lessons ranging from $98-$150, seven days a week all year round. Just pack your sunscreen, a towel, and some water, and you're good to go. Surf instructors are professionally certified and have CPR and lifeguard certifications as well, so you can feel more at ease during your lesson.

San Diego Zoo

What teen wouldn’t love a close-up animal encounter or a tour of baby zoo animals? Get wild exploring these special experiences at the famous San Diego Zoo, a nonprofit dedicated to animals, where every dollar contributes to their well-being. They’re known for their open-air environments designed to replicate the natural habitats for some of their 700 animal species. Watch the Pygmy Hippos forage the floor of The Lost Forest while Wolf’s monkeys tag along on their backs. Head over to the underwater pool at Polar Bear Plunge, where they just might swim up to you from behind the glass. Don’t miss the guided double-decker bus tour or a ride on the scenic Skyfari Aerial Tram, both included with the ticket price. To enhance your visit further, download the San Diego Zoo app to help navigate your park experience with maps, transportation information, and more.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Located about an hour north of the San Diego Zoo, you'll find its sister park, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. This expansive wildlife sanctuary is spread across 1800 acres, providing ample space for their African and Asian savanna animals to roam. Because it’s so vast, you should be prepared for a good amount of walking. You can take a load off on the Africa Tram, an open train car experience included with admission, that takes you through the African Plains for close-up sightings of rhinos, giraffes, elephants, and more. Teens looking for a sky-high thrill can zipline 130 feet above the ground for a stunning aerial perspective on the Flightline Safari.

san diego safari park

Belmont Park

Belmont Park is Mission Beach’s ultimate blend of thrilling attractions and beachfront amusements and for teens. One of the United States’ oldest roller coasters, the Giant Dipper, opened in 1925 and still takes riders on a journey of exhilarating drops, sharp turns, and ocean views. Brave tight ropes, ziplines, and obstacles from two stories high at Sky Ropes. Then test your skills at mini golf, laser tag, and carnival games. When you're ready to wind down, the boardwalk is lined with delicious options for food like Dole Whip, Dippin' Dots, tacos, hot dogs and burgers.

Bake like a Pastry Chef

Known for their irresistible European-style pastries, Oh My Cake in Hillcrest, takes you on a delectable journey diving into the art and science of baking like a pastry chef. Craft perfect cinnamon rolls, master macaroons, add your flair to cake decor, or bake one from scratch, all with premium ingredients and minimal food coloring. They offer a variety of classes that range in length from 2.5 to 4 hours. Take your delicious creations home or enjoy them picnicking in Balboa Park, just a ten-minute walk from the bakery.

Indoor Go-Kart Racing

Speed enthusiasts can cruise up to 45 miles per hour on professionally designed tracks indoor go-karting at K1 Speed – no license necessary. Victory goes to the driver who completes each 12-lap race first with special safety barriers lining the track to protect you all the way to the finish line. For groups fewer than 8 people, reservations are first come first serve, which means wait times can vary. You can keep the competitive juices flowing by playing air hockey, foosball, and arcade games prior to your race. If hunger strikes, grab a bite to eat at the Pit Cafe or the Padlock Lounge.

Catch a Padres Game

Root for the home team at a Padres game in downtown San Deigo. Tickets range in price – from as low as $20 – depending on which game you see. Aside from the game, teens can stay entertained at Petco Park’s other popular attractions, including the Padres Hall of Fame and a number of legendary Padres player statues. Fill up on locally based San Diego food options like fish tacos, spicy chicken sandwiches, and carnitas nachos. Picnic with your snacks while watching the game on the big screen at Park at the Park, a grassy area just outside the outfield. If you go on a Tuesday, expect to celebrate with a variety of vendors selling discounted tacos for Taco Tuesday.