School’s out and the kids are ready to play, explore, and let loose. There are tons of activities, concerts, museums, theme parks, attractions, and events in North County San Diego that you and your kids can enjoy together. Most of them are affordable and even free.
1. The Beach
North County San Diego beaches provide an endless amount of entertainment. Take a dip into the ocean waves. Set up a good old fashioned bonfire and roast some marshmallows. Bring a healthy summer picnic and lounge while your kids play on the many kid-friendly playgrounds. Enjoy the perfect waves for bodyboarding and surfing. Make the beach your second home this summer.
- Check out these these North County beaches that are our favorites.
2. Movies Movies Movies
Lots of neighborhoods have free family movie nights throughout the summer.
- Flicks at the Fountain: Carlsbad Village shows free movies at The Fountain at Grand Avenue and State Street on Thursday nights from the first Thursday in July to the last Thursday in August. Website: Carlsbad-Village.com.
- Movies by the Pier: Oceanside will be showing Despicable Me (June 24) + Moana (July 22) + Finding Dory (August 25) at the Pier Amphitheatre south of the Junior Seau Beach Recreation Center and Oceanside Pier.
- Summer Movies in the Park: There are free family-friendly movies at parks all around San Diego throughout the summer. North County locations on the San Diego list include: Poway, Vista, Oceanside, Carlsbad, San Marcos, Escondido, Carmel Mountain, Rancho Bernardo, 4S Ranch, and more.
For a full list of movies in the park, click here.
3. Skate Parks
Many of the greatest skateboarders of our time grew up in Southern California. North County’s skate parks provide a safe and fun atmosphere for kids to master their trick on pools, ramps, and stairs and hang out with their friends.
- Website: SoCalSkateParks.com
4. Oceanside California Surf Museum
The California Surf Museum houses unique archive collections depicting the history of surfing from its infancy to modern day. Kids 12 and under get to enjoy free admission to witness how surfboards have changed since the first ones were made in Polynesia.
- Website: Surfmuseum.org
5. San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center
San Elijo’s nearly 1,000 acre lagoon reserve is a must-see coastal wetland. Bring the kids to go on a run, jog, walk, to check out birds, or paint the scenery. With more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, there’s plenty of natural wonder to experience.
6. Julian Gold Rush Days
Learn about what life was like in the early days. Enjoy historic comedy skits, historical encampments, gun fighting demonstrations, mock claim jumping, an old fashioned mining camp (free to kids under 12), and much more. Website:
Learn about what life was like in the early days. Enjoy historic comedy skits, historical encampments, gun fighting demonstrations, mock claim jumping, an old fashioned mining camp (free to kids under 12), and much more.
- Website: VisitJulian.com
7. Hit The Trails
We have an extensive guide to trails and walking paths in North County that include routes that are both stroller and wheelchair friendly, those that keep you in an urban setting, and those that allow you to explore the wilderness and get up close and personal with nature.
If you’re looking for a bit more excitement, try one of the many biking trails in North County San Diego.Trek through dirt and rocks in the midst of stunning views of native plants and rolling hills at places like Lake Calavera, La Costa Reserve, and Elfin Forest Reserve.
8. Splash Pads
Don’t have a pool and need to beat the heat? Good news – North County is full of public pools, splash pads, and even a couple of water parks.
9. Concerts In The Park
Summer concerts in the park are the perfect low cost (did we mention free?) night out with the family.
- For a full list of movies in the park, click here.
10. Pack A Picnic + Find A Park
Kids love to play in the park, especially with other kids. Luckily, North County San Diego parks feature large playgrounds, picnic seating, volleyball and basketball courts, and everything else you need to make memories this summer.
11. Go Grunion Running
If your older kids are night owls, why not head to the beach for a family grunion run? A number of runs are expected to happen through August. Summer is open season which means that if you’d like try to catch the fish, you may with a license (must be ages 16 and older). Check out this calendar for a full listing.
12. Rent a Crazy Bike
Groups of two to nine can ride the same bike together, like a surrey, down the Oceanside Strand’s paved path that runs parallel to the beach with spectacular ocean views (and people watching) along the way. Wheel Fun Rentals is next to the pier and has a variety of bikes and other gear to rent by the hour.
13. Go Fishing
It’s easy to drop a line the ocean as we recently mentioned in fishing in North County San Diego. If the kids don’t have the patience for an out-at-sea excursion, grab the poles and cast off of Oceanside pier. You may also fish from shore in the outer Aqua Hedionda lagoon or from Bayshore Drive access in the inner lagoon. Wherever you plan to fish, just be sure that you have a proper fishing license and gear.
14. Take the Dog to the Beach
Bring your four-legged child to Dog Beach (29th Street to the Solana Beach border) in Del Mar. Sure, dogs must be leashed between June 16 – Labor Day but why not grab the family for a leisurely sunset beach walk?
15. Go to the Fair
San Diego County’s largest annual event is already here. Take the kids to enjoy carnival rides, educational exhibits and, of course, “interesting” fair food. Kids ages 12 and under are admitted for free on one Kids’ Days this year: June 27. These days will feature more robust contest and kid-friendly offerings aside from the usual Family Funville in the infield and much more.
16. Family Weekends at the Races
Every Saturday and Sunday between 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. there is basically a big family party on the infield. Free activities here include pony rides, inflatable games, magic shows, face painting, jockey stilt walkers, and a giant scramble slide and obstacle course. Tickets for adults are $6 while children receive free admission during this timeframe.
17. Play Mini Golf
Another fun way to enjoy San Diego sunshine is by spending a few hours on a miniature golf course. Pelly’s in Del Mar has its own parking lot so not to worry about fair and racetrack attendees. They have two 18-hole courses: Ocean Adventure and Surfing Safari.
18. Race Go Karts
Stop into K1 Speed Carlsbad to test out the Arrive & Drive package where you can show up without a reservation to drive an all-electric kart (it is first come, first serve). Junior drivers must be at least 48″ tall and every driver goes through a mandatory safety briefing. Adults must be less than 7′ tall and 300lbs to race. Junior karts reach speeds of up to 20mph while adult karts reach speeds of up to 45mph. It’s a great place to break from the sun.
19. Play a New Instrument
The Museum of Making Music is an awesome place for kids to explore a variety of common instruments like a variety of drums, guitars and pianos as well as those that are a bit more exotic. The massive Innovation Room houses hundreds of instruments that they can actually play. Parents will get a kick out of creating new tunes, too. Don’t worry, there are headphones to contain sound!
20. Take a Safari at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
North County San Diego’s attractions often offer unique experiences that require advance booking (and extra fees) but will provide an entirely different look at something familiar. Ages 7 and older can participate in the Jungle Ropes Safari which is comprised of three courses that have participants safely navigate the park by rope bridges, aerial tightropes, and moving platforms. Other safaris include behind-the-scenes looks at the animals and actually spending the night (gear is provided).
21. Book a Staycation
Maybe a far-flung vacation is too much effort or you’d like to explore a new part of town. San Diego is one of the best places in the world to take a staycation. Take a look at our staycation options for North County San Diego that are geared toward different travel styles to help narrow down your options.
22. Bernardo Winery
A winery? Yes, for the times when another kid’s gym is going to send you over the edge, stop into Bernardo Winery. San Diego’s oldest continuously operating winery has a tasting room with a lovely al fresco patio, shops, Cafe Merlot and a coffee shop in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Fridays are particularly kid-friendly with a lovely Farmer’s Market and occasional (check the calendar) performances by the local kid-favorite, Hullabaloo.
23. Take a Cooking Class
Kids 8-12 can participate in cooking classes at Sur La Table in the Forum Carlsbad while you shop around. The Summer Cooking Series offers classes such as Science in the Kitchen and Baking Around the World, both for kids.
24. Hit the Spa
Well, maybe this one is more for the parents, but with each 60-minute spa treatment booked at The Grand Del Mar kids ages 5-12 can play in the amazing, supervised Explorer’s Club for two hours. If on the weekend, stay for their glorious afternoon tea.
25. Free Flight Bird Sanctuary (Del Mar)
This little exotic bird sanctuary, allows guests the opportunity to interact with birds and even feed some resident fish. You’ll spend maybe an hour at the most at Free Flight Bird Sanctuary, but it’s worthwhile for the small fee of $5 for adults and $2 for kids.
26. Watersports in the Carlsbad Lagoon
The Carlsbad Lagoon is full of family fun for residents. Rent jet skis, kayaks, ski boats, aqua cycles and more from California Watersports. They even offer a summer camp for kids.
27. Leo Carrillo Park
Designated a Historic National Landmark in 2003, the former working ranch of actor Leo Carrillo is now open to the public. You may enjoy the adobe buildings and native landscaping but the kids will love the resident peacocks that roam the property. Learn more about Leo Carrillo Park visiting hours and information.
28. Mission San Luis Rey
Mission San Luis Rey offers a blast to the past to North County residents. Children under five years old can enter for free and see original art and artifacts from the Mission era. Make sure to visit North County’s oldest cemetery while you’re there.
29. Geocache the San Dieguito River Park (And Elsewhere)
While there are geocaches all over San Diego, this one is new. Geocaching uses a GPS device to find hidden treasures or caches hidden by other players. What kid doesn’t love a treasure hunt? Except, this worldwide game is played by all ages. Download the Geocache app to your smart phone to get started.
30. Tour Palomar Observatory
Have an astronomy buff on your hands? Though it’s owned by California Institute of Technology, the public is welcome to visit the Palomar Observatory. Here, scientists look for near-Earth asteroids and study galaxies far, far away with many telescopes. The observatory is subject to closure periodically so call in advance before going.
31. Go to Red, White, and BOOM!
“Red, White, and Boom!” is LEGOLAND’s family festival held to celebrate U.S. Independence Day. Enjoy a family day of musical performances, picnic games and of course, fireworks, which take to the sky at 8:30 p.m. Designed with a classic American-style picnic vibe in mind, games like water balloon tosses and sack races will abound, and don’t miss the Uncle Sam on stilts.
32. Get Out into Nature
It’s sure to be hot this summer, but hike in the cooler early morning is a great way to start the kids’ day off. Try family-friendly trails like those marked at Los Peñasquitos Canyon near Rancho Peñasquitos. Those 4,000 acres of trails also boast 500 plant species, 175 types of birds, and a huge variety of wildlife for nature lovers. For amazing views, try Torrey Pines Natural Reserve and take the “beach trail” for a winding walk down to the ocean, where you can set up camp and spend the rest of the day.
For a closer look at San Diego’s amazing sea life, plan a tidepooling day at one of our beautiful beaches at low tide (check the paper or online for tide tables) and glimpse sea creatures such as shore crabs, anemones, and more. Cardiff State Beach boasts some great tidepools and so does Swami’s, where the kids might even see an octopus or two.
33. Nighttime Zoo
This is a big year for the San Diego Zoo. It is celebrating its Centennial year with a big summer long event. From June 18 – September 4, the San Diego Zoo will be buzzing with musical entertainment throughout the park, special shows including a moving puppet processional that depicts the San Diego Zoo’s 100-year history, guest artisans, 4-D movies, and so much more. Summer hours are 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
34. Roar & Snore Safari
Did you know that you can spend the night at Safari Park? Absolutely. There are three tent options starting at $140 per person with the ultimate glamping experience going for $220 per person. All sleepovers include camp activities, an after-hours look at the wild life of our animals, guided walks, a campfire program, dinner, an evening snack, breakfast, and a Park souvenir.
35. Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum
Kids six years old and under get free admission to check out exhibits showcasing American life from the late 1800s to the 1960s. If your kid is a history buff, they’ll appreciate the antique steam engines, blacksmithing tools, and other farm equipment that our ancestors used.
36. Crusin’ Grand
Cruisin’ Grand is a North County institution offering people of all ages a glimpse into the world of cars and hot rods every Friday night during the summer. Bring the kids to see as many as 500 cars in downtown Escondido and meet other car enthusiasts. It’s a great way to explore Escondido and spend some quality time with other families during the summer.
37. Cardiff Dog Days of Summer
Who wouldn’t want to spend their summer days with man’s best friend? Bring your kids and pets to the Encinitas Community Park on August 13, 2017 to this free event featuring live music, artisan vendors, adoption clinics, and contests to see who the cutest puppy is and which dog looks most like their owner.
38. The Latino Book & Family Film Festival
This promises to be “the largest gathering of authors in North San Diego County history.” Kids and adults alike can come to support multicultural literacy by attending adult and kid-friendly workshops, panels, and storytelling. The event is set to take place on August 12, 2017 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Miracosta College.
39. Oceanside Independence Day Parade
Dress up in red, white, and blue to show your spirit. Bring your entire family to see the patriotic floats, walking groups, marching bands, decorated cars, and more on July 1, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in downtown Oceanside.
40. Queen Califia’s Magical Circle
Step into the magical world of mosaic patterns, fantastical sculptures, and colorful maze walls which your kids can explore. Sculptures take inspiration from Native American, Mexican, and Pre-Columbian symbols along with a dose of magical realism.
41. Alley Art Festival
Come support local artists display their work on September 10 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Downtown Vista’s offbeat art walk. Enjoy free live entertainment like puppetry, interactive art activities, music, a fashion show, poetry, slam poetry, and more. Also, come see Randall Art Ranch put up a steampunk time machine in downtown Vista, the fifth of their sculpture collection there.
42. inBloom Playhouse Auction & Festival
Explore five different interactive playhouses for kids, each designed by local architects on July 23 and 30 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m at the Flower Hill Promenade. You can even bid on one of the playhouses as you enjoy live music, petting zoos, pony rides, face painting, and balloon animals.
43. LeucadiART Walk
This art walk has fun for the entire family. Enjoy live music, free trolley rides from Encinitas City Hall, dance performances, and a Children’s Art Pavilion for the kids. They can partake in tons of art-related projects arranged by local non-profits. The event is one August 27, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
44. Carlsbad Music Festival
If it’s anything like its previous iterations, the Carlsbad Music Festival promises to bring an eclectic and talented lineup of musicians to the coast from August 25 to 27. With a motto of “adventurous music by the beach,” you’re sure to see the best of the best in Carlsbad Village with your kids.
45. Farmer’s Markets
North County San Diego is full of popular farmer’s markets across that feature homemade artisan crafts, locally-sourced food, gourmet eats, baked goods, and sometimes some local musical talent to enjoy while you and your kids munch on your farm stand fruit or snacks.
46. Supergirl Pro Surfing Competition
Watch over 100 female surfers compete to win the Supergirl Pro title. Live concerts and half-pipe skateboarding will keep you entertained during the downtime, while you wait for the results or in between heats. Bring your beach chair and suntan from July 28 to 30.
47. Surf-Themed Movie
There’s no better time to watch a surf-themed movie than during the summer and in southern California of all places. The Cardiff-by-the-Sea library will host a weekly movie showing starting on Saturday, July 1st and ending on Saturday, August 5. Movies start promptly at 2 p.m.
48. The Amazing Dana Magic Show
As part of their Summer Club Reading series, the Del Mar and Solana Beach library will feature the Amazing Dana perform his magical comedy stylings to your children on July 5 at 10 a.m. and 6 at 10:30 a.m., respectively. Mixing goofy humor with elusive magic tricks, your kids will be in stitches.
49. Hullabaloo Concert
Visit your friends at the Encinitas and Solana Beach library branch to watch Hullabaloo perform their country-folk kid-friendly music. Both kids and adults can enjoy their original music and sing along. Performances start on July 29 at 12 p.m. in Encinitas and August 3 at 10:30 a.m. in Solana Beach.
50. Pig’s Eye Puppet Show
Free family entertainment doesn’t get better than a ten-marionette performer, circus-themed puppet show. From the flying trapeze artists to the musical-playing rodent, you and your kids will be wildly entertained during this quirky show. The event is on July 11 at 10 a.m at the Vista library, July 26 at 10 a.m. in Del Mar, and August 10 at 10:30 at the Solana Beach branch.
51. Lake Calavera
Put on some high SPF sunscreen and bring your kids on the Lake Calavera hiking trail which sits on top of a now extinct volcano. Adjacent to the lake, the trail offers stunning views of the wildlife and plants native to the region.
52. Pacific Animal Productions
Pacific Animal Productions houses over 200 exotic animals on their 4-acre Fallbrook residence. Their edu-tainment theme keeps children entertained and informed about their conservation process and how to be kind to our nearly-extinct wildlife. Head on over the the Vista library on August 1 at 10 a.m. to learn more.
53. Dixon Lake
Come during the week for free parking and enjoy a nice summer day on the campgrounds. Bring some snacks and your camera to take pictures of the natural wildlife and hike through the rustic hiking trails or rent a boat to relax on the lake.
54. Oceanside Pier
Kids love to walk up and down the extensive Oceanside Pier, which is one of the longest piers on the west coast. Enjoy the coastal air as you and your children march up and down the pier. Grab a bite at Ruby’s at the end as a reward.
Tumbles gives your child a free introductory class to develop their physical, social, and cognitive skills. Kids can jump, stomp, wiggle, wobble, crawl, and even perform gymnastics. Take a proactive approach to your kid’s growth development with an array of classes.
56. Gymboree Classes
The Solana Beach location offers a seven-level program to get your kid started on the right foot. Classes range for toddlers up to 36 months old. Games and toys help them discover the world and enhance their imagination.
57. Yoga at the Library
The Encinitas and Cardiff-by-the-Sea libraries will host a toddler, storytime, and yoga class that combine yoga poses with nursery rhymes for the kids. Both parents and their your tykes can enjoy a physically invigorating class with engaging children’s stories. Check out their event calendar for exact dates.
58. Learn to Play Chess
Chess is a great way to keep the mind young and healthy. Whether you’re a first-time player or an expert, you can come and enjoy the company of other chess enthusiasts. Let others teach your kids the finer points of this mind-challenging game at the San Marcos library on July 11, 18, and 25 at 3:30 p.m.
59. John Abrams Animal Magic
The Del Mar library will host John Abrams’ Animal Magic on July 12 at 10 a.m. Come witness exotic animals, wacky comedy, and upbeat music in one of Southern California’s finest children’s shows. Kids will love being able to participate in the show and see everything from chinchillas, chickens, doves, tarantulas, snakes, and flying squirrels.
60. Bubblemania and Company
Give a kid a bubble maker and they’ll be entertained for hours. Bubblemania takes bubbles to a whole different level. Come to the Encinitas library on July 3 at 2 p.m. to see what a bubbleologist does. Every kid gets to be inside a giant bubble, which is reason enough to attend.
Partake in this centuries old art of folding paper with the whole family. Surprise yourself with how easy it is to create an object with your hands and a piece of paper. Check out the San Marcos and Solana Beach libraries event calendar to find out exact dates.
62. 3D Design and Printing Workshops
3D design and printing is the future. Get your tech-savvy kids on the cutting edge of technology by attending the San Marcos’ library free workshop. Kids between the ages of 6 and 12 can learn to use “TinkerCAD” to create their very own design and print it. Register on the their website to guarantee your child a spot.
63. Lego Madness
Instead of stepping on your kid’s legos all the time at home, bring them over to the Vista library branch every Friday at 3:30 p.m. Kids ages 5 and up can lets their imaginations soar as they gather all the necessary pieces to build and play with others.
64. The Miniature Engineer Craftsmanship Museum
If you’re kid is into science, math, and engineering, they’ll love this museum. With over 500 miniature engines, model airplanes, cars, and buildings, this museum features tons of pint-sized engineering marvels.
65. Bug House Workshop
Register your child to attend the Bug House workshop at your nearest Home Depot on July 1, 2017 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Kids get to build, paint, and keep their own bug house to use in their own backyards. They also get a free certificate of completion, an apron, and a pin.
66. Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens
Kids will get a kick out of the koi fish and intricately manicured premises of the gardens. While kids run around the densely covered gardens, you can breathe in the fresh air and let your mind wander in this inspirational setting.
67. Key’s Creek Lavender Farm
Come during the week for free parking. Step into an idyllic and serene lavender farm. Take photos, buy a plant, purchase some essential oils, and take in the colorful rows of lavender with your children.
68. Free Bowling
Select bowling facilities like the Surf Bowl in Oceanside on Coast Highway and the Poway Fun Bowl are offering 2 free games per day all throughout summer if you register your child online. Up until August 31 from noon to 5 p.m., your kids can enjoy free bowling in an effort from the facilities to give back to the community.
69. Michael’s Kids Classes
While it isn’t free, for just two dollars, you can sign up your child to participate in fun activities such as creating a “slime jar” with Sprout characters, creating mermaid-themed crafts, and so much more.
70. Barnes and Noble Storytime
On July 1 starting at 11 a.m. you can bring you child to a reading of Be Quiet!, a book starring Rupert the Mouse who only wishes to make a wordless children’s book, but his friends won’t be quiet. It’s fun, hilarious, and entertaining all at once.
71. Apple Store Workshops
Your kids can learn how to create music on Garageband. Whether they’re into rock, hip-hop, or the Wiggles, your kid can find out how easy it is to create music on the iPad. Other events include learning how to code for kids. Your kid can design mazes for robots to go through. These events are recommended for kids six through 12 years old. Sign up before spots fill up.
72. The League of Extraordinary Scientists and Engineers
Vista library hosts an event to promote a child’s interest in science. Kids from kindergarten to fifth grade can learn how fun STEM can be. Come on over on July 25 at 10 a.m. to get your kid loving interested in how the world works.
73. Literature Comes to Life
Have your kid immerse themselves in a fairy tale as they play a storybook character from an award-winning story. From 10 to 11 a.m. on August 8 at the Vista library you can see your kid’s imagination run wild.
Share free Summer events you have found for your family.