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A family on a San Diego County beach
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Kids Free San Diego

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. These are big-name attractions, too, such as SeaWorld San DiegoLEGOLAND California, and the San Diego Zoo, along with don’t-miss spots like Birch AquariumMaritime Museum of San Diego, and the USS Midway.

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. Then the San Diego Museum Council—made up of more than 30 museums—got on board, and now there are 120 partners. 

“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, Eley recommends a few standout museums that are particularly kid-friendly, such as the San Diego History Center, the hands-on Fleet Science Center, 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.

Hotels often get creative when putting together welcome amenities and packages for kids: The Pendry in the Gaslamp Quarter offers a movies-and-candy-fuelled sleepover package for families during October (and anytime, you can also borrow a swanky UPPAbaby stroller), while Paradise Point Resort and Spa has been known to give kids an “island allowance,” a $50 gift card that can be spent on ice cream, bike rental, or a toy from the gift shop.

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 locally-sourced, seasonal cuisine at The Patio in Pacific Beach.

Cool offers are added every year, such as a ride-everything wristband at Belmont Park, surf lessons in La Jolla, or up-close interactions with dolphins at SeaWorld.

Tips for Your Visit

• Check 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 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.