9 Places for Learning in the Great Outdoors

Park Ranger Programs San Diego

Ready to head into the great wide open for educational experiences your kids will love? Regardless of the season or month of year, San Diego has heaps of spots to enhance their knowledge, enrich their education and bring joy to the family in informal settings. Whether you’re partial to coastal spots, hiking trails, animal interactions or a starry night sky – we’ve got you covered. Read on to see where to put on your thinking caps on your next adventure.

photo: Clark via Flickr

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Cabrillo National Monument
Wander the lighthouse to check out history, get your exercise on with a short hike complete with fabulous downtown views, enhance your exploration credentials with a statue viewing and video showing and head down to the tide pools to bring out your inner marine biologist. Keep in mind that during winter months you can park yourself ocean side and search for whales. Fees are $15 (or the annual national parks pass) and the park closes at 5 p.m.

1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr.
San Diego, Ca 92106
Online: nps.gov/cabr/index.htm

photo: Kevin Baird

Balboa Park
Spend the day or evening at San Diego’s epic Balboa Park. Check out the music of the World Beats Cultural Center, head down on a Sunday to experience the national tastes and traditions of the International Cottages, learn about the flora and fauna at the Japanese Friendship Garden and check out the free summer concerts to bring out your inner musician at Spreckels Organ Pavilion. If kinesthetic learning is your thing, let the kids run free and get their steps in at the array of grassy spaces. See our guide to exploring Balboa Park with your kids here.

Online: balboapark.org

photo: Jake Kokot via Unsplash

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center – Star Viewing
The first Wednesday of every month, Fleet astronomers narrate a tour of the sky for you and your awestruck stargazers. After the shows, the San Diego Astronomy Association provides free telescope access to check out the dancing lights of the sky. Take in The Sky Tonight Planetarium Show at the Science Center to explore a new topic on the cosmos each month.

1875 El Prado
San Diego, Ca 92101
Online: rhfleet.org/events/sky-tonight

photo: Maritime Museum of San Diego

Maritime Museum of San Diego
Has your young sailor been wondering what it’s like to sail the seas aboard a historic ship? Or questioned how to navigate the waters by using the stars? Bring your entire family to explore the outdoor museum complete with more than ten ships to discover. If you love it, head back for their front row access to San Diego’s 4th of July fireworks spectacular. Opening Memorial Day weekend, the new Man-of-War: Adventures Aboard a Fighting Ship is an interactive exhibit that will whisk visitors back in time to two centuries ago. Your kids will learn what it was like to live aboard the HMS Surprise in various roles from cabin boy to captain, while getting a taste of the drama that took place on the high seas! Ahoy!

1492 N. Harbor Dr.
San Diego, Ca 92101
619-234-9153, ext. 101
Online: sdmaritime.org

photo: Javier Armstrong via Flickr

USS Midway
One of the country’s longest serving aircraft carriers sits in San Diego Bay as a floating museum. Explore the decks, learn the jobs of the flight crew, speak to veteran volunteers, test your pilot skills on the simulators, listen to the self-guided audio tour, check out the amazing aircrafts and find out what it was like to live and work aboard this massive structure.

910 N Harbor Dr.
San Diego, Ca 92101
Online: midway.org

photo: Leah R. Singer

Old Town
Watch the rolling of handmade tortillas, tour the first schoolhouse, test your skills at candle making, listen to the sounds of mariachi music and taste authentic Mexican food at the first settlement and mission in San Diego. Head back in time and grab a photo on a stagecoach or do it up in a photo session in proper old school attire. Your trip through history can include traditional wares and end with fried churro goodness!

4002 Wallace St.
San Diego, Ca 92110
Online: oldtownsandiego.org

photo: Ed Slater

San Elijo Nature Trail
A quick drive up the road from downtown lies the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy. Equipped with an ADA accessible loop trail and a vibrant nature center, this trail is a perfect spot to enjoy the great outdoors, get your bird watching on and give those first time hikers a 1-mile journey to shake out that ever present energy. First Sundays of the month are free family fun days at the Nature Center–– go be a part of the excitement.

2710 Manchester Ave.
Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Ca 92007
Online: sanelijo.org/naturecenter

photo: Beth Shea

San Diego Zoo & San Diego Zoo Safari Park
If you’re looking to see orangutans in action, hang with koalas, feed giraffes, watch cheetahs run and even sleep beside the lions – the Zoo and Safari Park are for you. Those young in age and young at heart will smile and awe at the animals while learning from keepers and interacting with creatures of all sizes. If you’ve got a budding zoologist at home, an annual pass might be for you.

Read our guide to the San Diego Zoo here and our guide to the Safari Park here.

2920 Zoo Dr.
San Diego, Ca
Online: zoo.sandiegozoo.org

15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
Escondido, Ca
Online: sdzsafaripark.org

Where do you like to take your kids to learn in the outdoors? Share in the comments below!

––Stacey Ebert


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