Traveling with children can be wild, wonderful or woefully misguided, depending on the destination and the kids. For the first five years of our marriage, my wife and I took advantage of being dinks (dual-income, no kids) and traveled across the world sans children.
When we became pregnant last fall and realized we had a few months before life as we knew forever changed, we decided to travel somewhere special for the ultimate Valentine’s Day getaway. Our destination? Sunny San Diego.
We enjoyed a spectacular week hiking, sailing, fishing, whale watching, paddle boarding, swimming and relaxing on the beach. In short, it was the perfect destination for our final romantic getaway pre-kids. But we also realized how ideally suited San Diego is for families. All the activities mentioned above––not to mention our day feeding giraffes and rhinos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park––provide awesome experiences for children and adults alike.
Not only was San Diego the spot we wanted to visit for our last trip before kids, it is also the first place we want to visit after we have kids old enough to travel.
I cannot think of a city in America that’s a better place to bring your kids for a family vacation–– a reality that makes the upcoming “Kids Free San Diego” event this October the perfect proposition.
During the entire month of October, more than 90 San Diego hotels, restaurants, attractions, museums and transportation companies offer families with children special deals, so you can enjoy San Diego without emptying your wallet.
Here are some of the best deals:
Tour & Transportation Deals
- Amtrak is offering one child, ages 2-12, a free ride with one paid adult rail fare aboard the Pacific Surfliner route, servicing San Luis Obispo to San Diego. Stops en route include the Santa Ynez Valley, Carpinteria, Ventura, Oxnard, Van Nuys, Burbank, Glendale, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Orange, Santa Ana, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and more.
- Hornblower Cruises & Events and Flagship Cruises & Events are offering kids, ages 12 and under, a free ride on their popular 1- and 2-hour harbor tours along picturesque San Diego Bay. Hornblower's offer is good for two kids per each full-price paid adult admission, while Flagship offers one child per paid adult.
- One child, age 12 or under, rides free per one paid adult on the entertaining, on- and off-boarding Old Town Trolley Tours of America and the thrilling San Diego SEAL Tours Sea and Land Adventures.
- San Diego Speed Boat Adventures, Incis offering kids a free guided and narrated San Diego Harbor Tour aboard their own mini speedboat, with a paid adult tour.
Deals at Major Family Attractions
- Home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego, LEGOLAND® California Resort and the historic Belmont Park, San Diego is offering substantial savings this October with free kids' admission to local attractions.
- All kids, ages 10 and younger, are admitted free into the San Diego Zoo, home to 3,700 rare and endangered birds, mammals and reptiles, and the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which is now home to the Tull Family Tiger Tail, featuring a new forested habitat for the Safari Park's Sumatran tigers with up-close views of the critically endangered species.
- Click here to read about my trip in February to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park––we got to feed giraffes and rhinos.
- SeaWorld San Diego wants families to join in the celebration of their 50th anniversary by offering one child, ages 3 to 9, free admission with one full-paid adult admission. The same offer is valid at Dine with Shamu, and 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, featuring 128 acres of LEGO-themed fun and more than 50 interactive attractions, and SEA LIFE™ Carlsbad Aquarium,with 36,000 sq. ft. of play zones and marine exhibits including the new Jellyfish Discovery, are offering a free one-day Child Hopper Ticket for one kid, ages 12 and under, with purchase of a full-price one-day Adult Hopper Ticket.
- Belmont Park, a turn-of-the-century-style seaside boardwalk and amusement park in Mission Beach, offers kids, ages 12 and under, free rides, meals and treats with adult purchase of the same offering. Kids can play unlimited laser tag or ride for free on the park's 11 ticketed rides, including the National Historic Landmark "Giant Dipper," one of only two remaining beachfront wooden roller coasters on the U.S. west coast.
- More than 30 hotels across San Diego, ranging from budget to luxury, are rolling out the welcome mat this October for kids. Kids can eat free at many hotels or receive special welcome gifts upon arrival at others.
- Kids can eat free at a number of family-friendly properties, including the luxurious Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego along San Diego Bay and The Westin San Diego in the historic Gaslamp Quarter. At the family friendly Paradise Point Resort & Spa on Mission Bay, kids will be able to play for free on land and sea with free bike, kayak and SUP rentals for children. The offer is limited to one rental per room.
- Families staying at the Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa and the Bahia Resort Hotel along scenic Mission Bay can enjoy free rides for kids, ages 12 and under, aboard the Bahia Belle, an 1860s-era sternwheeler that tours the bay and offers transport between the two resorts. Click here to read about my stay at the Catamaran Resort this February.
- Kids staying at the Tower23 Hotel,located just off the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, can enjoy a complimentary milk and cookies amenity as well as a free movie rental. The offer is valid for two children per paid adult guest.
- After a day around the city, parents can have a taste of San Diego's emerging culinary scene while kids eat free at participating family friendly restaurants.
- After exploring the historic sites of Old Town San Diego, parents can unwind with a margarita and some traditional Mexican fare at Casa Guadalajara, while kids enjoy a free meal from the kids menu with every paid adult entrée. Inspired by the late singer-songwriter Jim Croce, Croce's Park Westin Banker's Hill offers parents a classy and cozy atmosphere where they can dine and relax to the sounds of jazz, while kids enjoy a complimentary meal.
- Kids can munch on a grilled Italian-style sandwich or a flat-bread pizza while parents savor one of many Tuscan-style entrees at Pinzimini in The Westin Gaslamp Quarter, where up to two kids can eat for free per paid adult.
Cool and Unique Deals
- During October, kids can enjoy a variety of unique free activities, from learning to ride the waves of the Pacific Ocean, to visiting a local farm and harvesting organic veggies to take home.
- With a purchase of one adult surfing lesson or session, one child, ages 6-12, receives a complimentary surfing session or lesson from the Surf Diva Surf School in La Jolla, the world's first all-woman surf school.
- At H&M Landing, kids can adventure into the ocean and experience the thrill of catching their own fish. Kids fish for free with every paid adult, and reservations are required. With the purchase of a paid adult public harvesting tour, kids can enjoy a free tour of Suzie's Farm, which is located thirteen miles south of downtown San Diego. During the 90 minute tour, families can learn the history and operations of the 140-acre USDA-certified organic farm and will have the unique opportunity to harvest veggies to take home.
- Kids can embark on a free sailing excursion of the Pacific Ocean and learn about San Diego's wildlife aboard one of Sail San Diego 's three hour tours. Guests can choose to take the wheel or sit back and enjoy the sights of San Diego. One child sails free per adult reservation.
Our son just turned one month old, and I already find myself thinking about future trips I will take him on. I know San Diego will be a special one, someday.
Ironically, my wife and I found out the joyous news of our pregnancy in October, so it seems fitting that some October, years from now, we take advantage of the annual deal and bring our son to San Diego––the last destination we ever visited before he was born.
A complete listing of "Kids Free San Diego" Month participants and their special offers is available at SanDiego.org/KidsFree.