5 Family-friendly activities in North County San Diego

I can’t be everywhere to discover new things to do with my kids, no matter how much I wish I could. I’ve asked a few friends to jump in with what they love to do in their cities. Debra Schroeder from Traveling Well For Less is sharing her favorite spots in North County San Diego to explore with kids in tow. 

More than 33 million people visit San Diego each year and while October is not the height of visitor season, it should be the month traveling families consider. That’s when kids get free admission to more than 43 attractions, museums and activities.

Many visitors rarely venture farther than Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Legoland. Yet San Diego County, which extends from the Mexican border up to Orange and Riverside counties, offers a plethora of activities your family is bound to enjoy. Best of all, they’re either free or easy on the wallet!

Here are five family-friendly, fun activities in North County San Diego.


California Surf Museum

Where else can you find an entire museum dedicated to the history of surfing? Only at the Carlsbad Surf Museum in Oceanside, California. You’ll see wooden surfboards from the 1900s to today’s foam and fiberglass boards. The permanent exhibit includes the surfboard and swimsuit pro surfer Bethany Hamilton was riding and wearing when she was attacked by a shark and lost her left arm.

The California Surf Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and until 8 p.m. on Thursday. Kids under 12 get in free; adults pay $5. Admission is free on Tuesday.

Grab more info on SoCal Beaches


Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park

If you have time to explore and want the little ones to run off some of their tireless energy, stop by Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park in Carlsbad, California. Formerly owned by actor Leo Carrillo, the Leo Carrillo Ranch is a designated Historic National Landmark where peacocks freely stroll among the landscape.

You can watch a short movie about Leo Carrillo Ranch in the Visitor Center theater before you start your self-guided walking tour. You can’t see the interiors of the buildings unless you take a docent-led free guided tour. 

Guided tours are 90 minutes long and offered at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays and noon and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is free.


Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum

What kid can resist trains, tractors and steam engines? Mine couldn’t and yours won’t be able to either. Good thing, the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in Vista, California is hands-on. Unlike other museums, all equipment at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum is in working condition. Your kids (even big kids, like dad) can wander and play to their heart’s content. Consider bringing a picnic lunch and making a day of it.

Come on a Saturday to watch weaving, learn blacksmithing, and let the kids operate the Short Track Railroad. The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for kids 6 to 12, and free for children 5 and younger. The Short Track Railroad is open on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Photo courtesy of the City of Escondido

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle

Imagine a sculpture garden of mythical creature totem poles covered in thousands of pieces of hand-cut colored and mirrored glass and ceramic and stone mosaic tiles encircling a queen standing on top of a giant eagle. That’s what you’ll get at Queen Califia’s Magical Circle.

Like wandering through a surrealist dream, the entrance of the sculpture garden is guarded by a wall topped with two mosaic serpents. Before you can reach the center of the garden you must navigate a 3-foot maze made from black and white tiles. Having reached the center, your quest is rewarded with the discovery of Queen Califia’s Magical Circle.

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is the only American sculpture garden created by French artist Niki De Saint Phalle. You’ll find this unique place in the Iris Sankey Arboretum in Kit Carson Park, Escondido, California. Escondido gets hot and the tiles conduct heat so take care when visiting on a hot day. Admission is free.


Bates Nut Farm 

Bates Nut Farm, a family-run farm in Valley Center, California, began as a walnut farm and has grown to include nuts, chocolates, homemade fudge, picnic areas, a store, and a petting zoo. Kids can feed the many animals including goats, llamas, pigs, sheep and chickens. Special events are held year round including an Easter egg hunt, arts & crafts fairs, and the largest pumpkin patch in San Diego County. Bates Nut Farm is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Debra Schroeder is a globetrotting mom, with a talent for finding the hidden gems in every city. She how to find the value in quality travel by getting the most from your travel dollar and maximizing airline and hotel points at TravelingWellForLess.com. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter,.

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1 thought on “5 Family-friendly activities in North County San Diego”

  1. Sara

    Thanks for your suggestions! I live in north county SD and didn’t know about many of these attractions! 🙂

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