Planning a fall family vacation? Save money and head to San Diego, where kids eat, stay, and play free throughout October.
Multiple kid-centric attractions have always made San Diego one of the best spots for a family vacation, but October comes with an extra incentive for parents: For the whole month, more than 100 attractions, restaurants, and hotels offer free admission or deals as part of Kids Free San Diego.
The program began 30 years ago when the San Diego Zoo decided to celebrate the month it was founded by admitting children free throughout October. Four years ago, the San Diego Museum Council—made up of more than 30 museums—got on board, and now there are 120 partners, including Seaworld San Diego, LEGOLAND California, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and other major attractions.
“If you’re a family planning to come to San Diego and you want to go to a few parks, it’s such a big money saver,” says Candice Eley, the director of public relations for the San Diego Tourism Authority.
Beyond the must-see attractions like Seaworld San Diego (insider tip: Take advantage of the Dine with Shamu attraction, which is included in the deal), Eley recommends a few standout museums that are particularly kid-friendly. San Diego History Center currently features a Dr. Seuss exhibit, San Diego Railroad Model Museum boasts the nation’s largest indoor model railroad, and Fleet Science Center offers many hands-on science activities.
Looking for a lesser-known attraction your creative kids will love? Go to the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad (30 miles north of downtown) for a fully interactive experience of playing a variety of instruments.
Several hotels got creative when putting together amenities for kids, such as offering welcome packages with games or stuffed animals. Paradise Point Resort and Spa is giving kids an “island allowance,” a $50 gift card that can be spent on ice cream, bike rental, or a toy from the gift shop.
Exciting adventures and tours are added to the list every year. New for 2015: gondola rides through caves in Coronado and a 30-minute helicopter ride over the city.
Although the deals are all about the kids, parents don’t have to give up on eating and drinking well while in San Diego. Coronado’s seafood-focused Peohe’s is the perfect waterfront Happy Hour spot, and kids dine free. Don’t fret if you have antsy little ones; there are puzzles on the menu, fish tanks, and an outdoor space where they can run around. And you can’t leave San Diego without a pint or two of local craft beer—go to Draft in Mission Bay at sunset, where you can sip seasonal local brews on the boardwalk.
Tips for Your Visit
• Check sandiego.org/kidsfree for details on all the offers. Every attraction has its own terms, so there may be age restrictions or coupon requirements.
• Focus on outdoor activities on Mondays, when many museums are closed.
• Consider an attraction’s location when plotting our your itinerary: Both LEGOLAND California and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are about 30 minutes north of downtown by car.
• Plan accordingly for Halloween weekend, when the major parks have special events and tend to be busy.