• Fam Diego

45+ INSIDE Places for Kids to Play in San Diego


San Diego Air & Space Museum

(last updated 8/6/18)

Sure we've got perfect weather year round to run and play outside...but sometimes we want a break from the summer heat or when it rains once or twice a year. Here are some of San Diego's finest INSIDE play areas for kids!

Below is the master list. And below that, you'll find ALL of the DETAILS! Like hours, cost, toddler times, parking, deals and food options nearby with links to everything!

Balboa Park INDOOR Museums

(FREE on Resident Tuesdays!)

-San Diego Natural History Museum

-Fleet Science Center

-Model Train Museum

-Museum of Man

-Air & Space Museum (pictured above)

-Automotive Museum

BOWLING - FREE during the summer

SUMMER $1 MOVIES

INDOOR PLAY AREAS

-Kid Ventures (Liberty Station, 4S Ranch, Eastlake)

-The Playground (Grossmont Mall)

-Urban Jungle (Santee)

-FUNBelievable (Lakeside)

-Play City (Chula Vista)

-Gymboree (Clairemont, Poway, Carlsbad)

-Kidsville (Carlsbad)

-Play Kingdom (Oceanside)

TRAMPOLINE PARKS

-Rockin' Jump (Mira Mesa)

-Pump It Up (Poway, Chula Vista)

-Get Air (Poway, East County tba, Vista, Temecula)

-Sky Zone (Chula Vista, San Marcos)

-House of Air (Carlsbad)

-Altitude Trampoline Park (Vista)

-Jump Around Now (Chula Vista)

CHILDREN'S MUSEUMS

-New Children's Museum (downtown)

-SD Children's Discovery Center (Escondido)

FREE

-Balboa Park Museums on FREE Resident Tuesdays

-Bowling Kids Bowl FREE in the Summer

-Storytimes

-Libraries

-$1 Movies - basically Free!

-Pet Stores

-IKEA

-Indoor malls (see below)

RESTAURANTS w/ INDOOR PLAY AREAS

-Waypoint Public Brewery (North Park)

-Mountain Mike's Pizza (Clairemont, La Mesa)

-Corvette Diner (Pt. Loma/Liberty Station)

-Dave & Buster's (Mission Valley)

-Punchbowl Social (downtown)

-Chuck E. Cheese

(Oceanside, Vista, Escondido, La Mesa, College, Sports Arena, National City)

-John's Incredible Pizza (National City, Riverside)

-IKEA (Mission Valley)

-Ice Rink at the UTC Mall (La Jolla/UTC, inside the food court)

-Landon's Gourmet Kitchen (San Marcos)

INDOOR MALLS

(yes there are some in San Diego & some with FUN play areas)

-Parkway Plaza (El Cajon)

-Westfield Bonita (National City)

-->kids play area has a cool aquarium inside it + mini train ride around the mall!

-Westfield North County (Escondido)

-Westfield Carlsbad

-Southcoast Plaza (Costa Mesa)

BALBOA PARK MUSEUMS

There are SO many museums at Balboa Park that my kids love. But beware on extra hot summer days or rainy days, everyone else thinks of going there too...especially on the FREE Resident Tuesdays. That's a double whammy! So we actually avoid Balboa Park on a hot or rainy Tuesday.

PARKING TIP: Get there by 9:30am to grab a parking spot. Check out the museum that you want to see and look at the map online to find the nearest parking lot. You don't want to be trekking across Balboa Park in the scorching heat with toddlers or in the rain because you parked at the opposite end. ;)

Here are our favorite INDOOR museums at Balboa Park:

-Natural History Museum:

Features: This museum was made for toddlers! It's amazing. They can touch and open everything without having to worry if it's ok. It is! Let them touch everything. This is one of our favorites!!

Food: There's an onsite cafe, The Flying Squirrel, inside the museum. There are tables & chairs inside as well. They have coffee and kid-friendly food.

Parking: Uncovered parking lot is right outside just to the East of the building, so it's a short run in the rain if you get there early. If not, there's more parking a little bit north next to the carousel and it's not too far of a walk either, but maybe bring an umbrella if it's pouring.

-The Fleet Science Center:

Features: KidCity is an awesome playroom upstairs for kids 5 & under. The rest of the exhibits usually hold interest for my toddlers too. We also love the little playroom tucked behind the elevator and conveniently next to the lesser known bathrooms. That little playroom has some wood sticks and blocks for building and a cool gear chain reaction course that kids can "steer". Their IMAX shows are usually 25-40 minutes long and are just long enough for my kids to sit still through them. Currently we love their Myth Busters exhibits upstairs (extra fee) and the Taping Shape exhibit (included) is always their most requested stop.

Food: There is an onsite cafe, Craveology, that serves up some pretty good & kid-friendly foods, coffee too. The only seating is outside though, so find one in the shade or take your food to find lots of other shady spots nearby. Or if it's raining you may need to run over to the nearest covered hallway and grab a bench or sit on the ground to eat.

Parking: Uncovered parking is just south of the building. If you get there early you could snag an upper lot parking spot or else you can find some in the lower lots. Bring an umbrella if it's raining out.

-Model Train Museum:

Features: Mac's Kids Corner is now downstairs (it used to be upstairs). Once you enter the museum, turn right and it's down at the end of the hallway. It has a train table with lots of tracks, trains and books about trains! My kids can play here for a solid hour without even realizing I'm still there.

Food: There is a cafe nearby called Cafe in the Park and is one of our favorite places to eat at Balboa Park. It's in the same building so you don't have to go outside to get there. Just head outside the museum and it's at the top of the stairs. Or take the elevators up. The food is good and they have coffee, smoothies & kid-friendly options too. There are tables & chairs there too.

Parking: Uncovered parking lot. There's a small parking lot that's usually filled up, but it's the closest to the Train Museum. Go to the end of Space Theater Way to find it, and you walk up the back trail next to the Zoro Garden. It's usually filled up, so you'll have to park in one of the other lots off of Space Theater Way. You can still walk over there up through Zoro Garden if you like. Bring an umbrella if it's raining.

-The Museum of Man:

Features: Lots of different exhibits that are kid-friendly. There's an Egyptian play room upstairs that kids like.

Food: There's no cafe onsite here.

Parking: Uncovered parking. The closest parking spot is off of Balboa Drive or Sixth Ave. just west of Cabrillo bridge. Watch the parking signs to make sure you can park there at that time due to street sweeping or some don't allow parking before 10am, etc. It's a bit of a walk so bring the stroller and your umbrella.

-The Air & Space Museum (pictured above):

Features: There's a kids Action Aviation Hanger playroom for kids (I believe it's closed on the Free Tuesday), there's an interactive flight simulator and a 3D/4D Theater that plays short films continuously during the day. These films are about 10-20 minutes long and they usually have a really cool kids film. Most of the planes are roped off for "no touching", but some have stairs that you can walk up and see inside the cockpit. There is 1 helicopter that kids can climb inside and you can take a really cute picture of them "flying the helicopter".

Food: There is an onsite cafe, The Flight Path Grill (only open on weekends Sept-May), and it's outside. But get it to go and find the large covered rotunda in between the two Air & Space buildings. There's lots of seating and tables there so it's the perfect spot to eat.

Parking: Uncovered parking lot, but it's right in front of the building so it's a short walk if it's raining.

Tip: The Auto Museum is right next door and makes for a good visit if you check out both of these at the same time. We can usually see both of them in about 2 hours.

-The Automotive Museum:

Features: Most of the cars and motorcycles are roped off and they have strict "no touching" rule. Sometimes it's hard to keep my kids' hands to themselves unless they're contained in a baby carrier or a stroller (which they don't allow inside on a Free Resident Day). Since my kids love cars, we come here on occasion, but not often because it's not very "toddler friendly".

Food: There is no food onsite here.

Parking: Uncovered parking lot, but it's right in front of the building so it's a short walk if it's raining.

Tip: The Air & Space Museum is right next door and makes for a good visit if you check out both of these at the same time. We can usually see both of them in about 2 hours.

Outside of Balboa Park, here are our other favorite indoor places to let the kids run and play:

BOWLING

If you're going during the summer, sign them up for the Kids Bowl Free Program! This is a nationwide program across the USA and Canada. You’ll have to pay for shoe rentals and you may need to bring cash for this.

Beyond the ball ramps & bumpers, do you know what size ball to use? Or which lane would be best for stroller access? Check out my 13 Tips for Bowling with Toddlers.

Here are the local bowling alleys:

Kearny Mesa Bowl

Aztec Lanes at SDSU

Mira Mesa Lanes

Fun Bowl, Poway

Parkway Bowl, El Cajon

Surf Bowl, Oceanside

Temecula Lanes

Bowlero (Chula Vista)

Blacklight Bowling, Arcades, food & drink delivered to your lanes. (Not part of the Kids Bowl Free Summer Program).

HOURS: Mon-Thur 12-11pm, Fri 12pm-1am, Sat 11am-1am, Sun 11am-11pm.

SUMMER $1 MOVIES

Go ahead and let the kids eat popcorn for breakfast while you relax and enjoy some AC for the morning! These are usually first thing in the morning either every weekday or select weekdays. Theaters often have a kids pack for a reduce price that include a drink, popcorn and a snack or candy. Get there early to get a good seat!

Here are the local Summer $1 movie theaters:

UltraStar Movies at Hazard Center (Mission Valley): schedule

Regal Entertainment: schedule

Reading Cinemas: schedule

INDOOR PLAY AREAS

These are set up just for little kids and vary in their offerings. Some have onsite cafes, jumpies, super slides, obstacle courses, climbing walls and more. Prices can be a little steep, so you'll want to make the most of it and spend as much time there as you can. You may want to see if they have a punch card or a limited membership, like a monthly pass or a 3 month pass, that you can use during the rainy months or hot summer time.

Some require a waiver so try to fill it out online before you go if possible, that way you're not trying to manage the kids while doing paperwork... Socks are usually required, so make sure you have them with you. I like to bring a 2nd pair of clean socks to put on afterward and throw all the dirty socks into a plastic bag for washing. ;)

Kid Ventures

LIBERTY STATION HOURS:

Mon 9:30a-4p, Tues-Fri 9:30a-5:30p, Sat 9a-Noon

*Add’l weekend hours available based on party schedule.

4S RANCH HOURS:

Mon-Fri 9:30a-5:30p, Sat 9a-Noon

*Saturday afternoons and Sundays are reserved for private parties.

EASTLAKE HOURS:

Mon-Fri 10a-6p, Sat 9a-Noon

COST: $18/kid, $9/sibling, $5/under 1 or Free w/ paid sibling, Parents are Free. SAME Day RE-Entry.

DEALS:

-Punchcard 8 for $95 (1 per visit), for that location only where you bought it.

-Military/1st Responders Heros (military, police, fire fighters, ambulance, border patrol) $14/kid, &7/sibling.

-Happy Hour: 50% off during the last hour and members can bring a friend for FREE.

MEMBERSHIPS: $50/mo, $80/mo, add sibling for $20/mo. 10% military discount.

GOOD TO KNOW:

*Socks are required for kids & adults

-Kids drop off available for Parents’ Night Out!

-Onsite cafe serves healthy snacks & sandwiches w/ hot & cold drinks incl. lattes & smoothies.

-No Outside Food is allowed to help maintain Cleanliness and Safety so they “can minimize risks to those families that have severe food allergies. While we do carry some nut-based products, we do not sell peanut-based items and constantly evaluate our product offerings to accommodate families with food allergies.”

The Playground (La Mesa, Grossmont Center Mall) HOURS: Mon-Thur 10a-6pm, Fri & Sat 10a-8p, Sun 11a-6p

COST: $15/child, $12/sibling. SAME Day Re-Entry. 2 adults per child are free, $5 for 3+ adults per child. Infants 0-6 months are free w/ paid admission; Non-walking babies 6+ months are $11.

DEALS:

-Mon & Wed $11/child

-10 visits for $100, never expires

MEMBERSHIPS: $56/mo 1 child, $50/mo sibling

GOOD TO KNOW:

*Socks are required for kids & adults

-Onsite snack bar

-Outside Food is allowed

Uurban Jungle Fun Park (Santee)

HOURS: Sun-Thur 10a-8p, Fri/Sat 10a-9p

COST:

1 hour: Mon-Fri $10, Sun/Holidays $12

90 min: Mon-Fri $12, Sun/Holidays $16

2hrs: Mon-Fri $14, Sun/Holidays $18

Parents play for 1/2 the price, if you don’t play then you don’t have to pay.

DEALS: Follow their socials to find discounts on Facebook, Instagram or sign up for their email list.

GOOD TO KNOW:

-Grip socks required, they sell them for $2.50.

-Only kids over 45lbs can use the rock wall.

-Parent lounge w/ Free Wi-Fi.