Josie and I have been lucky enough to go to quite a few museums, parks, aquariums, and more thanks to free passes gifted to us from our good friends Birgitta and her son, (and Josie’s boyfriend in my mind) Axel. She is guest posting for us with lots of easy ways to save money and get many attractions for FREE!
Money Saving Tips for San Diego Attractions
by Birgitta Dubova
San Diego is an amazing place to raise a family. People come from all over the world just to spend a few days or weeks vacationing here. Unfortunately, many of the wonderful opportunities come at a cost. Below, I will share many of the money saving tips I’ve learned to make the best of enjoying San Diego on a budget.
• The library offers free passes to the New Children’s Museum and the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center. If you already have a library card, you can get on the wait-list for passes on your computer at home. Just type “New Children’s Museum” or “fleet science center” into the search box, click “place hold” on the item, type in your library card number and password, (last four digits of your phone number unless you changed it), and pick which library you would like to pick it up at. The New Children’s Museum passes wait-list may take a few weeks, while the Science Center pass may take several months to become available. You should receive an email when it arrives telling you how long you have to pick it up. Once you check it out, the New Children’s Museum pass is good for 10 days for two adults and all children living in one household. The Rueben H. Fleet Science Center pass is good for 14 days for two adults and 6 children, (if I recall correctly). You can also use the New Children’s Museum pass for a discount on parking, which is only five dollars. Depending on how long you plan to stay, street parking may be a better deal. Also you can use The New Children’s Museum pass for a discount on membership.
• Balboa Park offers Resident Free Tuesdays. Each Tuesday, San Diego residents can get into a different set of museums for free with an ID. http://www.balboapark.org/visit/tuesdays
• The New Children’s Museum downtown offers free admission on every second Sunday of the month, (12pm-4pm), sponsored by Target. http://www.thinkplaycreate.org/visit/visit-target.html
• The San Diego Botanic Gardens are free every first Tuesday of the month. You do need to pay for parking, however. (If you haven’t been there, I highly recommend bringing your children. There is so much more than just plants.) http://www.sdbgarden.org/faq.htm
• A Bank of America Credit card will get you into a few places free for the first full weekend of the month. As I write this, (July 7th, 2013) this includes Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Museum of Photographic Arts, and the San Diego Museum of Art. http://museums.bankofamerica.com/
• Flying Leatherneck museum is always free, (donations welcome). http://flyingleathernecks.org/
• Libraries offer many free programs from families, including family yoga, baby sign language, music, story time in multiple languages, etc. To find out about library events, you can click on “event calendar” on the San Diego Public Library webpage, find your local library’s “friends of the library” webpage, pick up a flyer in the library, and/or “like” your local branch on facebook.
• Serra-Mesa Kearny Mesa branch library also offers two huge boxes of big soft blocks to build with right out back, and North University Library offers a child size kitchen, plus wooden toy train tracks and trains.
• Here is a link to more freebies, but watch out for parking prices. http://www.sandiego.org/campaigns/summer-in-san-diego/summer-free-things-to-do.aspx
• Some memberships allow you to get into another place for free for one month. Model Railroad Museum, New children’s Museum, and Rueben H. Fleet Science Center, and Living Coast Discovery Center are part of this deal. I don’t have all the details about which memberships get you in where, but here are a few I am aware of:
Your Model Railroad Museum membership should get you free into the science center for a full month. You might find that one month is enough for the year, when there is so much else to do in San Diego. Single membership at the Model Railroad Museum is only $25, (kids under 6 free). Just going once to the science center with a 3 year old may cost $23, so for two more dollars, get the Model Railroad Museum and get in free all month at the science center and all year at the railroad museum, and a whole month at the New Children’s Museum, (normally $20 for two over age 1)! (In the past, they have let me into the Science Center and New Children’s Museum with my son even though my membership at the Railroad museum was only for one.)
Also, the New Children’s Museum membership gets you into the Model Railroad Museum, The Living Coast Discovery Center, and The Rueben H. Fleet Science Center. http://thinkplaycreate.org/support/support-membersonly.html
• The San Diego Museum Council currently offers coupons on different museums each month. http://www.sandiegomuseumcouncil.org/coupons/
• Every February, the San Diego Museum Council teams up with Macy’s to offer half off many museums and other attractions. You just need to pick up a pass at Macy’s, free. http://www.sandiegomuseumcouncil.org/museum_month/
• A free publication called “101 things to do in San Diego“ includes a coupon for 50% off admission to the Botanic Gardens for up to four people, with no expiration date, amongst other deals. You can find this publication at touristy places. (I’ve found copies at The Birch Aquarium and the Commuter Terminal at the airport.)
• Clipper Magazine comes free in the mail and often has great deals, such as buy one get one free at the Birch Aquarium and the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center, for example.
• The latest Lego catalog, (which you can find at the Lego store in Fashion Valley), has a coupon for free Legoland child ticket with an adult ticket, (as of July, 2013).
• Another free publication, “San Diego Family”, also offers deals on places like the Scripps Aquarium and the San Diego Zoo. “The San Diego Reader” might likewise be worth checking. Both can be found at each library branch as well as many other places around town.
• You can get a discount on membership at the New Children’s Museum by showing your pass from the library.
• Costco sometimes carries discounted SeaWorld membership, as well as other memberships to other places.
• Subscribe to Living Social and Groupon for occasional great deals.
• Google the place you’d like to go alongside the word “coupons”.
• “Like” local pages on facebook and follow news feeds. (I once scored free tickets to Legoland by wearing a costume to the UTC Westfield mall, which I “liked” on facebook.)
• Many membership deals will allow someone to bring a guest. Take advantage! Team up with a friend or join a group of local moms or create your own group. (I recommend joining a group on meetup.com, or create your own group on facebook.) If a meetup group is going to the zoo, for example, you could post on the meetup page that you are interested but don’t have membership. Someone may volunteer to let you in. If you have a membership somewhere that lets you bring a guest, offer to bring a friend.
• When choosing membership options, think out of the box. If you are married, does your spouse have time and interest to go with you? If not, consider the single person membership or consider counting your child as a second adult rather than getting the family membership.
• When renewing Zoo membership, be sure to check out the flyer they send in the mail to see what date you need to renew by to receive free guest passes.
• If only you and your child will be going to the Zoo and Safari Park, consider getting the Diamond Membership with your child as the guest, (or as the second adult, if they let you). If you are renewing, it will cost the same as getting a separate general membership for each of you, but with the advantage of free parking at the Safari Park, (and if you are renewing on time, 2 free guest passes to Safari Park and 2 free guest passes to the zoo.) If you do chose this option, you will not be getting the publication the zoo sends just for kids and your child will not be able to get in without you. However, if a friend comes to visit, you can ask them to invest in membership for your child at almost the same cost as a single day ticket. Then you can let this friend in for free as your guest, and let others in for free in the future.
• SeaWorld offers a deal where you can get in free for the rest of the calendar year, (with several blackout dates), for the cost of a one day ticket. However, parking can add up at each time, so consider membership. If you don’t mind missing black-out dates, you can get membership just for yourself and the one day pass for your child. Also, if you really do plan to only go one day, you can get a single day pass for $15 cheaper (for adults) and $7 cheaper, (for children), online. http://seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-sandiego/Book-Online/Tickets/MostPopularSoCalResident?from=Top_Nav
• Consider in advance if you want to spend money on toys, food, etc. at the Zoo, SeaWorld, Safari Park and Legoland, and then decide exactly what your spending limit will be. Over time, the costs can really add up, easily exceeding the cost of membership. Bring your own food and be sure to include a special treat to compete with all the churros and ice cream and popcorn. Keep in mind that SeaWorld doesn’t allow outside food, and they check bags at the entrance. (When I hand them my backpack, they always take a quick peek and leave my stroller alone.) Legoland has a similar policy. Also bring a frozen drink or a wide mouthed water bottle and ask for it to be filled with ice water later in the day when the cold overpriced drinks look tempting.
• Don’t forget to bring sun block, hats, sunglasses, sweatshirts, swim gear, towels, ponchos, a change of clothes, and anything else you might suddenly need and end up buying on the fly. (Safari Park, Legoland, and SeaWorld all have water play, so be prepared. And SeaWorld has rides and shows that can get you wet, as well.)
• Protect your valuables. Keep credit cards, car keys, phones, and cameras on your person. (I use a fanny pack.) Consider a lock for your stroller, or buy a cheap stroller you won’t mind losing, (such as a $15 umbrella stroller or a used stroller), or purchase stroller insurance. Instead of buying a costly stroller lock, you can use a luggage lock you already have with a long cord, sold at REI. I wrap my cord through my stroller wheel and handle bars. If you lock your stroller, make sure you are parked in an appropriate place and not blocking any other strollers.
My final advice: pace yourself. If you purchase too many memberships at once, you might not have time to get your full money’s worth or to enjoy the many free parks, beaches, libraries, and more. Also, be sure to share deals you hear about with The San Diego Kid, and I’m sure will share great deals on her blog as well. Enjoy!