Free things to do in San Diego for families
By Mimi Slawoff
SeaWorld San Diego (Flickr: Felipe Valduga)
Pssst, in case you don’t know, October is the best and most affordable time of year for a family vacation in San Diego. That’s when the annual Kids Free San Diego program kicks in, offering children ages 12 and younger free or discounted rates to major attractions, hotels and restaurants. Find over 14 amazing deals that include transportation, restaurants, attractions and lodging.
And the best part? October is still warm but summer crowds have diminished, making it an ideal time for an exciting family vacation in sunny San Diego.
All aboard! Amtrak is offering one child, ages 2-12, a free ride with one paid adult rail fare aboard the Pacific Surfliner route from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.
Sail away on a one- or two-hour, kid-friendly harbor tour. Hornblower is offering two kids ages 12 and younger a free cruise per each full-price paid adult admission, while Flagship offers one child per paid adult.
Old Town Trolley Tours of America and San Diego SEAL Tours Sea and Land Adventures
One child, age 12 or under, rides free per one paid adult on these on- and off-boarding tours.
Top Kid-Friendly Attractions
San Diego Zoo (Courtesy San Diego Zoo)
San Diego Zoo
Free admission! That’s right, all kids, ages 10 and younger are invited to visit the zoo for free. The zoo is home to 3,700 rare and endangered birds, mammals and reptiles, and the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo Safari Park, houses Tiger Trail, featuring a forested habitat for the park’s Sumatran tigers.
SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego is offering one child, ages 3 to 9, free admission with one full-paid adult admission. The same offer is valid at Dine with Shamu. Kids, ages 10 to 13, can participate for free in SeaWorld’s Dolphin Encounter and Dolphin and Beluga Interaction Programs with one paid adult participation (kids must be at least 48″ tall to participate).
LEGOLAND® California Resort
Explore the park’s LEGO-themed attractions and the onsite SEA LIFE™ Carlsbad Aquarium with this whopper of a deal that offers a free one-day Child Hopper Ticket for one kid, age 12 and younger, with purchase of a full-price one-day Adult Hopper Ticket.
More than three dozen museums are offering free admission to kids ages 12 and younger. Here’s a sampling.
Balboa Park (Flickr: Steve Bremer)
Kids learn about aviation history from first flights to space travel at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. At the San Diego Automotive Museum, check out classic automobiles and motorcycles on display. Lovers of toy trains can see the largest indoor model railroad display in the world at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.
New Children’s Museum
Located in downtown, the museum features hands-on exhibits and art making activities.
Kids can get a glimpse into the music products industry, play on dozens of hands-on instruments in the museum’s unique Innovation Studio and explore music from around the world on a state-of-the-art touch screen.
Adventurous Kid-Friendly Activities
Up to four kids can cruise for free with every paid adult couple. Glide through the scenic canals and waterways of the Coronado Cays aboard an authentic and luxurious Venetian-style gondola.
Soar over La Jolla Cove, Petco Park, Balboa Park, the Coronado Bridge and other famous San Diego landmarks in a helicopter. For every paid adult 30-minute tour, one child flies free.
Kids get a free guided and narrated San Diego Harbor Tour aboard their own mini speedboat, with a paid adult tour.
Paradise Point Resort & Spa (Courtesy Paradise Point Resort & Spa)
Downtown San Diego
Kids eat free at a variety of hotels including the vintage Horton Grand Hotel in the historic Gaslamp Quarter, the luxurious Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina located along San Diego Bay, and the Manchester Grand Hyatt.
Amenities for kids include a $50 credit that can be applied towards bike or paddleboard rentals, miniature golf, ice cream or any of the resort’s many other kid-approved amenities.
Ages 12 and younger enjoy free cruises aboard the Bahia Belle, a 1860s-era sternwheeler that tours the bay and offers transport between the two resorts. Kids must be accompanied by a paid adult hotel guest.
Barra Barra Saloon & Restaurant
While parents unwind with a margarita and some traditional Mexican fare, kids can enjoy a free meal from the kids menu with every paid adult entrée.
Soak up stunning bayside views from the Coronado Ferry Landing over a meal. Kids enjoy a complimentary meal with every paid adult entrée.
Union Kitchen + Tap
Youngsters can select their favorite item from the kids menu while mom and dad peruse the extensive list of local craft beers on tap; children will receive one free kids’ meal for every two paid adult entrées.
Mimi Slawoff of Planetfamilytravel contributed this to MiniTime. She is a Los Angeles-based journalist and a seasoned family travel expert who explores the world with her three children and writes about their journeys.