Best Kids Parks in San Diego

Finding a nearby park is easy. Trying to find one that checks all the boxes for kids can be another story. I have three that I love, and I think these are some of the best kids parks in San Diego. 

So what makes a great kids park in San Diego?

As I have continuously looked for the best kids parks in San Diego, there were specific criteria I felt had to be met, both for the kids and the adults. For the kids, the things I want are:

  • Lots to do to keep them active and engaged
  • A popular park, with tons of other kids
  • As wide a variety of things to do as possible (like a playground AND a beach for example)

As the adult in the equation, what I look for is things like:

  • Safety
  • Plenty of parking
  • Facilities like water fountains and bathrooms
  • An area that is big enough but still makes it easy to keep an eye on little ones (especially if you have more than one)

Now to be fair, I have certainly not visited every park in San Diego County, so this is just based on the parks I have experienced. Having visited quite a few, I think I have some recommendations that are worthy of a visit. Also, since having kids, I have lived in central San Diego and the east county, so my experience is mainly limited to these areas.

In a city like San Diego where parks can be a year-round activity, they truly become a staple of a child’s enjoyment, socialization, physical activity, and overall development. That is why I think it so vital for parents to be able to find the best kids parks in San Diego.

Best Kids Parks In San Diego List

  1. NTC Park
  2. Mission Bay Park
  3. Pioneer Park

So taking your kids to the park can be equal parts exciting and terrifying (sounds like a lot of things you do as a parent, huh?). There is nothing better than seeing them run amok and make new friends while pushing the boundaries of how far you will let them run and take chances.

I look for parks that are great for them and easy for me because it means we ALL want to keep coming back! That is what makes all the parks on this list some of the best kids parks in San Diego.

Best Kids Parks in San Diego

NTC Liberty Station Park

Website

My list of the best kids parks in San Diego starts with what my kids call the “movie park.” Why do they call it that? Because it is a park we stumbled upon after I had just taken my kids to The Lot Movie Theater in the same NTC complex.

There is a lot to love about this park:

  • Lots of parking
  • Huge open area with trails
  • Playgrounds for both little and bigger kids
  • A wide array of activities in each playground

The only downsides I have found here:

  • You are quite literally right under the takeoff path at Lindbergh Field. Planes are passing only a few hundred feet overhead so it can be quite noisy. Upside?? Kids love seeing the planes that close up
  • Seating is awful! Mostly concrete benches that are not very comfortable. That is OK though, just go play with your kids instead of sitting!!
  • Not a ton of shade areas

Parking

The first thing you will notice as a parent are two large parking lots adjacent to the park. I have never seen these both full even though there is a ton going on at the park every weekend. If by chance these are full, there are plenty of other lots right across the street. Long story short, parking should never be an issue. Oh, and it is all free!!

First thing you see

You are first greeted by huge open grass areas. This is a popular area for kids parties complete with all manner of bounce houses. Folks also enjoy all manner of small sports out here (frisbee, kids soccer games) but nothing big and nothing that would ever be a danger to your kids (huge football game for example).

The park also has a ton of concrete trails that are perfect for bikes and scooters. Be forewarned that there are a lot of electric scooters always available here so keep an eye out for crazy adults tear-assing around (but I would never do that myself….).

Playgrounds

There are two playgrounds here. One built for smaller kids and one for the larger kids. There is nothing that stops the kids from mixing (other than the parents) but just because of the makeup of each, the kids tend to stay in their age groups. 

best kids parks in san diego

The little kids park includes:

  • Swingsets
  • A mini sit-on excavator (my youngest loves this and is mad when it is occupied-see example above!)
  • A climbing fort with bridges, slides, and ladders
  • A balance beam

The whole area is surrounded by sand or rubber matting so falls most likely will not hurt. There is a lot of seating surrounding this area so parents can easily watch the little ones have a blast.

The bigger kids park includes:

  • Slides
  • Bridges
  • Ladders
  • Monkey Bars
  • A “Track” Monkey Bar (Kids hold a ring on wheels that is in a track suspended in the air and can “glide” from end to end
  • Ring Bridge
  • Small Rock Wall (About 6 feet high)

So as you can see, this is a much more advanced park for kids with more size and strength and as such, all the elements are taller and steeper. Same as the other park, the whole thing is surrounded by sand and rubber mats to safeguard kids against falls.

This is a great, large park with plenty to do for kids and plenty of parking for parents. There are also “city park” type industrial bathrooms and two water fountains.

Mission Bay Playground 

Website

Next on my list of the best kids parks in San Diego is the one my kids call the “dinosaur park.” Why? Because the main climbing feature in the park is shaped like a dinosaur of course!

The best part of this park is its location right on Mission Bay. This means that kids can dip in the water and build sandcastles of the bay on top of goofing around in the playgrounds.

The highlights of the park include:

  • A huge main playground with two smaller playgrounds
  • Plenty of park space around the playground including BBQ areas and concrete tables, some of which are in the shade
  • The main playground is all sand to protect little ones
  • Access to the bay to swim or play in the sand
  • Generally, cool temperatures in the summer since it is right on the water

The downsides of this park include:

  • While there is a small parking lot located adjacent to the park, this can fill up quickly on weekends. There is a great deal of street parking, but this may mean a bit of a walk to the park
  • The playground is quite “dated” with only one of the smaller playgrounds having just undergone a renovation
  • Since there is a wide variety of activities available here, the park can be crowded and noisy at times
  • Seating is all concrete. Bring a folding chair!

Parking

While there is ample parking near this park, most is located up and down the street that runs in front of the park. The actual lot itself only holds about 20-30 cars and on a weekend it can get full pretty quickly.

The good news is that people tend to come and go from the park quite frequently, there is always a good chance you will find one open spot when you arrive.

kids on teeter-totter

First thing you see

The first thing you will notice is that this park is divided into three areas:

  1. The Main playground that has several climbing and swinging features and has a sand floor for protection
  2. A smaller playground/fort that is located beyond the main playground that has a lot of climbing and bridges to explore. This has a wood chip floor (not as easy on little feet as sand-shoes recommended)
  3. The “new” playground also has a fort-type structure and also has the wood chips. Was recently remodeled (although it is hard to tell exactly what was “improved”)

My kids (and most of the kids there) seem to gravitate to the main playground. That is probably due to:

  • Sand on their feet
  • Overall size
  • Wide assortment of things to do

This area has a HUGE swing set. Once kids learn to swing on their own, this is something they will come back to time and again. If your child cannot swing on their own, convince them to watch (and talk to) another kid that can swing. They will not only learn faster, but it will be easier for you and they might make a new friend!

Beyond the swing set, there are:

  • A smaller swing set complete with a tandem swing for an adult and a little one
  • A “jungle gym,” a metal half-circle that kids can climb all over
  • Rings that can be traversed by hanging/swinging
  • A four-person teeter-totter!! (A Big Hit)
  • A spinning cup. A kid sits in the cup and an adult (or another kid) can spin them
  • A few other slides, climbing features

The really cool part: the beach

So what I love about this park is that it is just like most parks, but it has the added benefit of a beach!! My kids love to go down and make sandcastles, dip their feet in the water, and generally run wild.

I have never had them swim there, but it is definitely possible. It is a bay so I doubt there is any issue with rip tides (or certainly waves) that may be an issue at a beach at the ocean. Be advised there are no lifeguards here so you must keep an eye out yourself.

My only concern here is that the bay is “unlimited” as compared to the pool. There are no sides to hold onto so if you do let the kids swim, probably best to be out there with them or keep a very close eye.

Lot’s of stuff to see

This park is located right across from Fiesta Island. With that location, there is always quite a bit to see on the water and across on the other beach.

best kids park san diego
best kids parks san Diego
jet skis on fiesta island

This is a park that maybe has more variety of things to see and do than any other park I visit. It is definitely a park that can keep kids happy for quite some time.

Pioneer Park

Website

Last on my list of the best kids parks in San Diego is Pioneer Park which is the one my kids call the “school park.” Why? Because it is right next to a school (the same elementary school that I went to as a child-CRAZY!!) This may be the real epitome of a “neighborhood” park.

It is located in a quiet area of Mission Hills. There are two public tennis courts across the street. The playground is not all that big, but it has a good variety and the grass area is huge plus there is a bike/scooter trail that circles the park.

best kids parks in san diego

It seems as if the city has taken to calling this Mission Hills Park, but it will always be Pioneer Park to me! The park also features a “city park” type industrial bathroom and two water fountains plus a hand-washing station!

Parking

In the image above, you see the parking lot for the park. This lot is at the opposite end of the park from the playground and is about 100 yards distance away. There is also plenty of street parking along the east side of the park and in the surrounding neighborhood in a pinch, but I have rarely found that parking is an issue here.

Pioneer Park Playground

The playground

This is not a huge playground yet it packs a lot of punch in a smaller size. Like a lot of playgrounds, it is split into areas for smaller and bigger kids. There is also a small climbing wall and a few swings. The entire area is surrounded by sand so again, pretty good protection from falls.

best kids parks san diego
Pioneer Park Trail

The trail

One of the things I love about this park is the cement riding/walking trail that makes a loop through the entire park. What is great about this is:

  • Long trail that kids can bike/scooter on
  • Even if they veer off, it is surrounded by grass so a fall here should be OK (not so much on the concrete though…)

The problems:

  • It winds through the park where you will lose sight of kids for a time
  • There is a rather steep up and down section so be aware before you let little ones take off unaccompanied

Of the three parks I have reviewed here, this is the most “neighborhoody” of them all. It is quiet with plenty of open space and lots to do especially given the small size of the playground.

Any added tips?

Well now that you mention it, yes. This is the perfect example of where I use my Jiobit. Let your kids run free (while you keep a virtual eye on them).  At all these parks, it can be easy to lose sight of your kids (especially if you have more than one!). A Jiobit is not a substitute for diligent parenting, but it is an added layer of security.

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