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How to Save Money on Your San Diego Family Vacation

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We all know a family vacation can be pricey, especially when visiting a popular destination like San Diego. Airfare and hotels often eat up much of your budget before you even add in entertainment and eating out. I am happy to report that you can find dozens of free and discounted things to do with your kids in San Diego – everything from museums to amusement parks can be enjoyed at a fraction of the cost, if you know where to look.

Woody and Buzz Lightyear at Disney's Hollywood Studio

You can find discounts for San Diego’s most popular attractions, like the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, if you know where to look!

Free things to do with kids in San Diego

* It’s always free to wander through San Diego’s famed Balboa Park with its numerous trails, gardens and playgrounds. San Diego residents and military can gain free entrance to select Balboa Park museums every Tuesday. Admission to the Timken Museum of Art is free every day. Need to go on a weekend?  Your family can listen to a free outdoor concert at the beautiful Organ Pavilion, offered many Sundays throughout the year.

* The New Children’s Museum located in downtown San Diego is free every second Sunday thanks to the good people at Target. Your kids will have a blast creating, playing and learning here but it gets very busy as the day goes on. Go early!

* The California Surf Museum is a fun and inexpensive museum in Oceanside (about 45 minutes from downtown San Diego). This museum is free every Tuesday.

* The Oceanside Museum of Art is free every Tuesday thanks to the Oceanside Charitable Foundation. Take budding artists here to get a taste of modern and contemporary art in over 4,500-square-feet of exhibition space.

* The first Tuesday of every month you can enjoy free entry to the San Diego Botanic Garden. If you arrive with four or more people in your car, you receive free parking too. This is a beautiful spot to take a family hike and play at two incredible children’s gardens.

* The San Diego Zoo and its sister property, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, are world famous for their vast array of wild animals like lions, elephants, polar bears and giant pandas. Purchasing an annual membership may be a good deal for your family, even if you only visit the parks on a couple days. You will gain entrance to both parks, get discounts on select food and merchandise, and bonus discounted admission tickets. Plus, membership is tax deductible.

* For any trip, make use of discount membership cards you already have. People tend to take advantage of these membership discounts at home, but often forget to use them when traveling. For example, AAA offers discounts on many hotels, restaurants and car rentals. If you’re a Costco member, swing by a local store to look for discounted tickets to such attractions at LEGOLAND California and SeaWorld San Diego.

Purchase discounted LEGOLAND California tickets now. Scroll down to learn more about saving money on your LEGOLAND California vacation with a special Travel Mamas discount!

* Check out San Diego daily deal sites.  Sites like Groupon and Living Social can save you big bucks on dining, entertainment, and more. Most deals are a minimum of 50% off. Planning ahead is the key to nabbing deals from these types of daily deal sites. My family has used daily deal certificates for San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets, LEGOLAND admission, and museums in San Diego.

Links to all these sweet deals and dozens more can be found on the San Diego Deals and Steals FREE Events Calendar.

What’s your favorite free or inexpensive thing to do with kids in San Diego? Let us know in the comments!

Kate Hamernik lives in sunny San Diego with her Mr. Deals & Steals, their three kids, and one naughty cat. She is passionate about adoption and saving money. She operates San Diego Deals and Steals, where she blogs about both. 

About Kate Hamernik, Travel Mamas Guest Blogger
  1. Kate SD Deals n Steals says

    Thank you so much for sharing our article!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Thank YOU for sharing your expertise on how to find a good deal in San Diego, Kate! I have never visited the California Surf Museum or the Oceanside Museum of Art before. Guess I should get on that, huh?!

  2. Kate SD Deals n Steals says

    Yes! They are great! North County has lots of little hidden treasures =-)

  3. Great ideas! I am going to bookmark and make sure to use your tips the next time we are in San Diego.

  4. I heard you can find discounts on the parks through eBay although I’ve never bought that way. Your Balboa Park suggestion is a great one…I used to take my daughter there virtually every Saturday. For just a few dollars you can ride the old fashioned carousel and the train and the rides last a long time. Plus, they have a huge rose garden. Thanks for your post!

  5. These are really great tips, thanks for sharing! It’s nice to know that you can still take a family vacation in San Diego, have fun, and not break the bank. Money can be tight these days, but it’s still important to get away with the family.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Janette – Glad to know you found the tips helpful! San Diego is such a fun place to visit with kids too!

  6. I live in San Diego and earned a few things, thanks!

  7. I am heading to Diego next month and this of your post with so amazing information will help me a lot.

  8. Does anyone have advice on what area or hotel to stay in San Diego. My hubby & I are taking our 2 boys (8 & 6). Something that doesn’t break the bank but nice, safe & clean.

  9. My kids love wandering around Balboa Park – it is so lively on Sundays. They love riding the free green tram around the park – liked it better than Legoland!! Make sure to visit the International Cottages for free/by donation yummy desserts from around the world.
    A great free activity we love to do at the coast is to go tide pooling. Young kids delight in discovering critters in the pools! We went to Cabrillo ($5 entrance, good for a week) … So not totally free, but close!

  10. April Yap says

    Our kids had a blast! Beautiful zoo, animals have plenty of space in most of the exhibits. Most of the area you walk through looks & feels like walking through a jungle. Gorilla family looked very well adjusted and happy with babies and young ones with the adults. It’s really fun and educational!

  11. Amanda Keeley-Thurman says

    We love visiting San Diego and there are always great deals to be had. One way we save is taking the RV out for the weekend at Mission Bay RV Resort. Such a great location for the price.

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