Planning a fall family vacation? Save money and add value by heading to San Diego during October, when kids ages 12 and under can often eat, stay, and play for free as part of the annual Kids Free San Diego promotion.
Multiple kid-centric attractions have always made San Diego County 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 discounts for kids. These are big-name attractions, too, such as SeaWorld San Diego, LEGOLAND California, and the San Diego Zoo, along with don’t-miss spots including Birch Aquarium, Maritime Museum of San Diego, and the USS Midway.
Explore the Best of San Diego
The program began in the 1990s when the San Diego Zoo decided to celebrate its birthday month by admitting children free throughout October. Then the San Diego Museum Council—made up of more than 100 museums—got on board, and these days there are more than 100 partners.
Indeed, the kids-free promotion makes it easy to check out San Diego’s deep inventory of excellent museums, many of which are very kid-friendly, such as the hands-on Fleet Science Center, the Museum of Photographic Arts, and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, which boasts the nation’s largest indoor model railroad exhibit.
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.
Book Your Hotel and Plan Meals Around the Deal
Hotels offer plenty of their own deals too. Kids ages 12 and under can eat, stay, and play for free at the Bahia Resort Hotel, on Mission Bay—including free meals at the hotel’s Dockside 1953 restaurant, a free ride on the historic Bahia Belle sternwheeler sightseeing cruises, or free paddleboard or kayak rentals (all with a paying adult). Make the most of special rates at the centrally located Town & Country Resort, or book a stay at the all-suites Ocean Park Inn in Pacific Beach, where kids get goodie bags and the whole family gets 15 percent off a stay of three nights or more.
Kid-friendly deals also offer easy entry into the city’s thriving culinary scene, from the tacos at Carnitas’ Snack Shack on the Embarcadero to the Samburgers in Little Italy to the classic Mexican cuisine at José’s Courtroom in La Jolla.
Cool offers are added every year, such as the Ghost Tour along the Embarcadero, a whale-watching cruise, or the two-hour Speed Boat Adventure.
Tips for Kids Free San Diego
• Check sandiego.org/kidsfree for details on all the offers. Every attraction has its own terms, so confirm any age restrictions or coupon requirements. Some deals are for kids 12 and under, while others max out at ages 11 or sometimes 9.
• Focus on outdoor activities on Mondays, when many museums are closed.
• Consider an attraction’s location when plotting 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.
• Don’t limit yourself to October. The San Diego Tourism Authority offers deals year-round, many catering to kids, and San Diego makes a great family destination during any month. Make the most of your trip with our tips for great San Diego boat rides, top spots for tide-pooling, and best beaches.