Not all parks are created equal—these parks in San Diego are hiding some of the best kid-friendly activities and we’re spilling the beans
Playgrounds and parks can quickly run their course which is why we’re dishing about these 7 parks with hidden gems around San Diego where your kids can up the ante on playtime. From a musical garden with real xylophones to volcano hiking and nature scavenger hunts, here’s where you can discover new adventures for kids both big and small.
1. Musical Garden at Briercrest Park in La Mesa
Bring music to your ears during a visit to this sensory park at Briercrest Park. You’ll find four mallet percussion instruments that have the sound quality worthy of an orchestra. This park also has a cute mosaic butterfly labyrinth for kids to follow, an herb garden, frog and lizard sculptures to climb on, and our favorites: the bridges and gently rolling grassy hills to run on.
9001 Wakarusa St.
2. Volcano Hiking at Lake Calavera in Carlsbad
If you’re looking for a little more adventure, take a hike on a volcano. Don’t worry though, it’s considered extinct as it last erupted over 20 million years ago. There are lots of easy and well-maintained trails crisscrossing all over this volcano. The loop trail up and around the lake and over the dam is almost 2 miles, but getting up to the top might be a bit too much for little legs to do on their own. Consider an out-and-back trip that starts on the easy flat foothills. The main entrance is on Tamarack where the bathrooms are and quick access to take the trail over the dam.
Secret Tip: If you get to the top, you’ll see a chain link fence, and just beyond that is a really cool rock labyrinth and other rock art that others have left behind.
Tamarack Ave. near Strata Dr.
3. Pump Track at Pacific Highlands in Carmel Valley
Pump it up at this rad pump track. It’s open to all wheels, so bring scooters, skateboards, and bikes to roll over these bumps. Don't forget the helmets and pads! There are two tracks, the one on the right is a bit easier for littles or beginners since the one on the left has slightly deeper dips to get up and over. Both tracks have a one-way route that is clearly marked so everyone rolls in the same direction. Bathrooms are about a 5-minute walk across the soccer fields, so plan ahead.
Good to know: It’s a little tricky to find once you’re at the rec center. Park in the smaller lot closer to the main street on Village Center Loop Road. Walk towards the left of the soccer fields where you’ll find the exercise stations, then walk all the way down towards the bike park.
5977 Village Loop Rd.
4. Fishing at Santee Lakes
You don’t need a boat to take the kids fishing here. There are seven different lakes to choose from but most fish from the shoreline. You’ll need to buy a fishing permit from the Gatehouse as you enter or from outside park staff. No fishing permits are needed for children under 7, but they must be with an adult who has one. Check the website for details about other ages and permits, as well as fishing limits and catch & release rules.
9310 Fanita Pkwy.
5. Skateboarding at Linda Vista Skate Park
Grab the boards and your little skaters and head to the skate park. There are so many skate parks in San Diego that I’m sure you’ll find one in your neighborhood. The Linda Vista Skate Park is the largest and one of the newest in San Diego. There are plenty of areas for all skill levels to practice tricks or just to learn how to ride.
Good To Know: Helmets and knee & elbow pads are required at all skate parks. Some have a nominal entry fee, while others are free.
7064 Levant St.
6. Splash at the Waterfront Park in Downtown San Diego
Splish splash the day away at the always fun Waterfront Park downtown. Kids love to frolic through the fountains as they spray into the pool area. This is great for littles because it has a zero entry and the depth is just a couple of inches. There’s a playground just behind the splash area and a large grassy field for kids to run around. Sometimes the snack shop is open and there are bathrooms closer to the playground. There's no shade so bring your own tents or pop-ups as there’s plenty of grassy areas to set them up.
Insider’s Tip: There are actually two splash areas. The main one is in front of the playground on the South side of the County Administration Building, but if you walk North of the building you’ll find another large splash park that’s usually less crowded.
1600 Pacific Highway
7. Nature Scavenger Hunts at San Dieguito County Park in Del Mar
Just one more reason to love San Dieguito County Park are all the interactive self-guided kids programs they have. Once you pass the entry ranger station, look just beyond the booth and you’ll find a little information stand. It’s filled with pamphlets to grab for Scavenger Hunts, Nature Hide & Seek and a Sensory Challenge. You’ll find this cute Butterfly Garden to the right of the entry ranger booth next to the bathrooms. When you’ve found everything on your scavenger hunt, head over to Activity Hill where you’ll find the most amazing swinging bridges, climbing walls and staircase lookouts.
1628 Lomas Santa Fe Dr.