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Visit California
Plan a San Diego trip around these only-in-October freebies, from theme parks to museums to hotels

Photo: Courtesy SeaWorld


Autumn is a best-kept secret in Southern California, and especially San Diego. Days are sunny and warm, while the beaches and theme parks take on a mellow vibe. And best of all, excellent deals abound.

Case in point: the San Diego Tourism Authority offers a Kids Free San Diego program every October, which includes more than 100 deals related to attractions, hotels, and restaurants. Do your kids get any fall break at school? Plan a quick trip. If not, a weekend getaway may still work. And if your kids aren’t old enough for school yet, this is the perfect excuse for a longer vacation.

The deals are significant and showcase many of the most popular attractions, including the county’s theme parks, zoos, and aquariums. Each deal has its own terms and age guidelines, with the definition of a “kid” being 9 and under at some attractions, or even 17 and under at another. Some deals allow one kid freebie per paying adult, while others allow five or more kids per adult.

Here are 12 ways that you can plan a trip around a deal, and rack up both value and priceless memories.


Go Brick-or-Treating at LEGOLAND California

With a paying adult, kids ages 3–12 get free admission at LEGOLAND California. Just choose a hopper ticket that includes the theme park plus either the SEA LIFE Aquarium or the LEGOLAND California Water Park, which are both part of the Carlsbad resort. You can also use the tickets to experience the park’s Brick or Treat festivities (on select Saturday and Sunday evenings in October) with candy, live shows, and strolling characters.


Check out the New Play Area at SeaWorld San Diego

Kids ages 4–9 get in free at SeaWorld San Diego all month when accompanying a paying adult (kids 3 and under always get in free). If you’re coming Friday through Sunday, arrive in costume for the not-scary Halloween Spooktacular event with dance parties and treats. On any day, check out the new Rescue Jr. play area with a huge play structure, little-kid-friendly rides, real SeaWorld Rescue Team vehicles, and occasional meet-and-greets with rescued animals.


Take Photo Ops with Elmo at Sesame Place San Diego

Break out the costumes and go to Chula Vista, where a child age 3–9 can get into Sesame Place San Diego free with a paying adult in October (kids under 3 are free anyway). This time of year, The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular invites guests to dress in their Halloween best and join the Costume Parade, chase down clues in a scavenger hunt, or boogie down at dance parties.

Kids Free San Diego, California

Courtesy San Diego Zoo

See All the Creatures at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park

In October, you can take a whole flock of kids to the famed San Diego Zoo and its sister property, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The original zoo’s Kids Free deal allows up to five kids (ages 11 and under) free admission per one paying adult, and their tickets include the guided bus tour, kangaroo bus, and the Skyfari aerial tram. Stay into the evening so you can enjoy the lights and performers at HalGLOWeen at the San Diego Zoo. Kids 11 and under likewise need no ticket this month to enter the sprawling San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido.


Get a Hands-On History Lesson at the USS Midway Museum

Kids love exploring the USS Midway Museum—the historic aircraft carrier with climb-in aircraft, flight simulators, ejection seats, and either guided or self-guided audio tours. With the USS Midway’s Kids Free deal, two kids ages 6 to 12 can get in free per paying adult.


Climb Aboard at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

The Maritime Museum of San Diego is a floating museum in San Diego Bay that is comprised of vessels ranging from yachts to large sailing ships. The Maritime Museum’s Kids Free offer extends to one kid, age 12 and under, per paying adult. Be sure to check out the cool cruise line memorabilia in the new exhibit, Steam and Splendor: Treasures from the Ocean Liner and Cruise Ship Ephemera Collection, staged on a Victorian-era steam ferry.

It’s easy to include a few more museums in your trip too, such as The New Children’s Museum and the (possibly haunted) Gaslamp Museum. Both offer free admission for one child age 12 and under per paying adult.


Ride All Day at Belmont Park

Admission is already free to Belmont Park, the amusement park in Mission Beach that dates back to 1925. But riding the Giant Dipper coaster, the tilt-a-whirl, bumper cars, and more requires either per-ride tickets or a day-pass wristband. The park’s Kids Free deal is a BOGO—buy one adult wristband, get a kids’ Jr. combo wristband for free, for ages 12 and under or under 48 inches in height. The park’s Fall Festival, which runs all month, features trick-or-treating, a Pumpkin Pop-Up, live music, and a treat for grown-ups by way of seasonal beers on tap.


Explore the Tide Pools at Cabrillo National Monument

See the national monument that marks the spot where Juan Cabrillo became the first European to set foot on the West Coast in 1542. The Kids Free deal grants free admission to kids ages 12 and under when they accompany a paying adult to San Diego’s only national park facility, which has a lighthouse, historical exhibits, and acclaimed tide pools. During October, kids can also get a free sticker from the Cabrillo Store inside the visitor’s center. (If you have a fourth grader in the house, sign up for the free California State Park Adventure Pass or the Every Kid Outdoors National Park Pass, both good through next August.)


Behold the Tiny Penguins at the Birch Aquarium

The Birch Aquarium in La Jolla—part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego—has perhaps the widest age range for Kids Free San Diego: Two kids up to age 17 can get in free with a paying adult. Along with seeing the loggerhead sea turtles, octopi, and seadragons, this is a great opportunity to check out the aquarium’s newest exhibit, Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins, featuring the world’s smallest—and quite possibly cutest—penguin species. 


Embark on a San Diego Bay Cruise

Take the kids on a City Experiences cruise with this offer that includes free tickets for up to two kids ages 12 and under with a paying adult. The 90-minute harbor tour passes 50 landmarks along its 13-mile route—including Seaport Village, Shelter Island, and cool shipbuilding facilities. It also offers plenty of chances to see marine animals and sea birds.


Eat Free and Enjoy Freebies at Hotels

More than 25 hotels are offering Kids Free deals this month—not just staying free, but often eating free, a value that quickly adds up. Check out offers such as the Kids Allowance Deal at Paradise Point, which includes a $50 resort credit, or book a stay at the Catamaran Resort, where the Kids Free deal includes 25 percent off your rate, a free ticket for the Bahia Belle sightseeing cruise, and a free paddleboard or kayak rental. Foodie families will love the deal at the Pendry San Diego, where kids 12 and under get a free kids meal with each adult entrée at the hotel’s Provisional Kitchen.


Make the Most of Free Kids Meals

Some San Diego restaurants offer deals in areas you’ll likely be visiting anyway, like the free kid’s meal deal at Casa Guadalajara in Old Town, or the free kid’s meal at Samburgers, the burger joint in Little Italy helmed by chef Sam “the Cooking Guy” Zien. Most free meal passes just require that you show the specific deal’s web page on your phone.

Oct 05, 2023

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