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Free Things for Families in San Diego’s Balboa Park

Free Things for Families in San Diego's Balboa Park

Free things for families to do together is always great, right? And in a location with a 100+ year history that’s full of outdoor hiking trails, culture, playgrounds, museums, art, music and dancing? It’s the perfect place for learning and exploring…or even just a simple picnic and a nap on the grass!

Check out my top 21 things to do in San Diego’s Balboa Park that are completely free. Please stop over at TravelingMom to find out more!

Kids FREE in San Diego for October!

Head West for the autumn and take advantage of all that’s available for kids, free in San Diego for October! Take advantage of 100+ free activities and deals for kids in the month of October throughout San Diego county! October is a great time to visit San Diego. The summer crowds have thinned, the weather is still quite warm and of course, all the fun, free things for kids that are being offered in the San Diego area for the entire month.

Find out What's New at LEGOLAND California, including the innovative NINJAGO World

Legoland CA (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Legoland California)

Kids Free in San Diego

From free restaurant dining, free museum visits, free amusement park tickets, free whale watching to free transportation, there’s enough here for a month of fun!

Please note that I use affiliate links in my post. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you!


BUY ADULT TICKET AND THE KIDS TICKETS ARE FREE!

Book your San Diego vacation directly through my affiliate Get Away Today and save even more!! You can even purchase your adult tickets on the site and the kid’s tickets are free.


What’s FREE for Kids in San Diego?

We are talking big deal savings here (click the links to read one of my personal posts with tips about each attraction)

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

SeaWorld San Diego (including their Halloween Spooktacular event

LEGOland California

Birch Aquarium

New Children’s Museum

Cabrillo National Monument (see this post about Point Loma that also includes a review of restaurant Officine Buona Forcetta, offering kids free ice cream in October)

Balboa Park attractions and Museums, including the Japanese Friendship Garden, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and Model Railroad Museum.

Downtown San Diego itinerary attractions, including the U.S.S. Midway.

Seaport Village restaurant kid meal at Buster’s Beachhouse

Fishing at H&M Landing

Free Play & Rides at Belmont Park

Old Town attractions, including free Old Town Trolley Tours and kid’s meal at Casa Guadalajara.

100+ free kids attractions, theme parks and dining in San Diego for the month of October.


How to Get Your Tickets

You can purchase adult tickets for the following attractions at Get Away Today and one child’s ticket per paying adult will be included for free!

LEGOLAND California

SeaWorld San Diego

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Safari Park

U.S.S. Midway

Old Town Trolley Tours

Kids free in San Diego?! 100+ free kids attractions, theme parks and dining in San Diego for the month of October.

 

Disney for free?! Don’t Spend a Penny Inside the Parks…Here’s How!

Everyone’s heard how Disney vacations are expensive! But once you have your Park tickets and are inside the gates, you have a choice how much you’d like to pinch pennies or break the bank. What if I told you that you could have an entirely cost-free day inside the Parks?  Essentially a day at Walt Disney World or Disneyland for free? These are tried and true insider tips from someone who’s gone to the Parks many times on a dime!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links. Clicking through and making a purchase through these links helps me in a small financial way, so thank you!

Read on for my helpful tips about taking on Walt Disney World and Disneyland for free!

Disneyland for free?! Don't Spend a Penny Inside the Parks...Here's How!

Getting into the Park – Money Saving Tips & Discounted Tickets

Sorry you can’t jump the fence, you’ll still need to buy your tickets! I recommend doing so upfront to save time at the gate. Follow these rules to buying tickets and still save a few dollars.

  • Do not be tempted to purchase from Ebay, on Craigslist or from a seller on the side of the street! Sellers might offer you the extra days left on their multi-day passes but this is a risky move that might cause a loss of your money so don’t do that!
  • Park tickets should only be purchased from the Disney Parks website, Costco, trusted travel agent or through CityPass. I like Get Away Today because you can save several dollars on the cost of each ticket as well as knowing you are buying from a reliable seller. You can also use their layaway program, letting you save for a vacation.

Purchase discount Disneyland tickets and vacation packages from my affiliate Get Away Today.

Use the Promo Code REWRITTEN and receive an extra $10 off any 2-night or longer Southern California package. (Hotel and 2 ticket minimum purchase to qualify for the discount). 

  • Note that the multi-day passes save overall as the price per day is lower. If you plan on a longer visit or will be visiting more often than once a year, consider an Annual Pass. Annual Passes also have the option of pay-per-month installments.
  • Keep in mind that if your child is 2 or under, they don’t require a Park ticket so their entry is free!
  • When my family asks me, “What do you want for your birthday?” or “What do the kids want for Christmas?”, request Disney gift cards! They can be used at Walt Disney World or Disneyland towards Park tickets, dining and souvenirs. You can even buy personalized cards online with the recipient’s photo on it.
  • Did you know that you can use your Target Red Card to save an additional 5% off the price of your Disney gift cards?!

  • Get a Disney Visa credit card. We have one that we use for all expenses from household bills to groceries and pay it off in full each month (important if you’re trying to save money to NOT be paying interest fees!) We are rewarded with points that are placed onto a Disney Rewards Redemption card that can be used towards tickets, hotel, food and souvenirs in the Parks. On a recent trip we used our rewards points and that paid for all of our meals and a few souvenirs for the kids. There are also additional perks with using the card in the Parks, including meal and shopping discounts and a free photo.

Now that you’re in the Park, the rest of the Day can be FREE!

Mickey's Toontown for Preschoolers - A Guide on What to Do, See & Eat!

Pack in a Picnic

Obviously unless you plan on fasting all day, you’ll need a bit of advanced planning when it comes to eating in the park all day. Here are the things that should be planned ahead of time!

You can bring in your own food to the Parks but there are a few rules.

  • Meals and snacks should be packed in a soft-sided cooler or backpack with a chill pack inside (no hard-sided coolers or wagons allowed).
  • No glass allowed in the Park.
  • Bring bottled water or juice boxes. You can also request ice water for free from any walk-up dining location.
  • Keep in mind that you’ll need a chill pack to keep items cold.
  • Avoid bringing in a bunch of plastic tubs that will add weight. Pack in zip-close disposable bags and bring disposable flatware. Or you can grab flatware from any quick service location.

Good Foods to Pack –

  • Sandwiches (with ingredients that won’t spoil without refrigeration)
  • Green salads in zip-close disposable bags (put the dressing in a snack bag) You’ll need to bring your own fork or grab one from a quick service location.
  • Cold pizza
  • Whole fruit (like apples, oranges or bananas) or cut-up pieces of fruit (like melons & berries) in plastic bags
  • Crunchy granola bars (none with chocolate)
  • Cheese sticks
  • Trail mix (without the chocolate bits)
  • Pre-cut veggies (like carrots, celery or cherry tomatoes)
  • Sturdy chips or crackers (we like Wheat Thins, Triscuits or Goldfish crackers).
  • Juice boxes, sports drinks in plastic bottles, water bottles or refillable water bottles with drop-in flavored powders.

Bad Foods to Pack –

  • Anything with mayonnaise because of the chance it will spoil.
  • Anything that will melt, like chocolate.
  • No glass; you’ll be asked to trash it when passing through security.

For a little money –

You can store your food inside a pay-for-the-day locker if you don’t want to tote it around but we just keep ours in the lower basket of the stroller or in my husband’s backpack.

Disneyland for free?! Don't Spend a Penny Inside the Parks...Here's How!

I have my stroller, hat, glasses and snack…I’m ready to hit the Parks!

Bring It With You

Resist the temptation to buy in the Park…bring these things with you

  • Stroller for your young one. I even recommend strollers for kids up to about 5 years old (all that walking around makes even bigger kids grumpy and tired). Park strollers are notoriously uncomfortable. Consider renting one: I recommend Amusement Park Rentals & have used their services several times at Walt Disney World.
  • Plenty of baby supplies (food, diapers, wipes, disposable bibs). You can purchase these things inside the Baby Care Center but prices are at a premium. You can however use the services at the Baby Care Center for free, including microwaves to warm baby food, highchairs, changing tables and tiny potties. Read about what I pack in my Disney diaper bag.
  • Accessories like hats and sunglasses
  • Sunscreen and Chapstick
  • Jacket and/or rain poncho, depending upon the weather
Disneyland for free?! Don't Spend a Penny Inside the Parks...Here's How!

My family, in their pre-bought themed shirts from the Disney Store

Pre-Buy Souvenirs 

You’ll have some mighty cranky kiddos at the end of the day when you pass by the souvenir cart as you exit the Park and they’re empty-handed! We very rarely purchase souvenirs in the Park because we plan ahead and buy something for the kids beforehand. It’s nice to have a little something to hand them as you pass through the exit to soften the end of the day.

  • A  t-shirt or hat from the Disney Store to wear for the day.
  • A battery-powered personal misting fan if you’re coming during hot weather
  • Plush characters are much cheaper brought from home than at the Parks
  • I love 99 cent store glow-sticks to wear during evening parades and fireworks (makes it a lot easier to keep track of your kids after dark too!)
  • For those trinkets that you present to the kids just before leaving, think tiny, since you’ll be toting these treats around all day: Tsum-tsum, costume jewelry, die-cast car or Vinylmation.
  • Pajamas in a Disney theme! This might seem strange but we have our little kids change into their PJs before leaving the Park at the end of the night, especially if we have a long drive ahead of us.

  • A toddler will be happy with a cheap bottle of bubbles to blow from their stroller as you swiftly exit the Park (I am the Queen of Distraction!) Just bring them a pair of clothes or pajamas to change into afterwards because you know bubbles always spill (but it’s better than a temper tantrum, in my book).

Here are a few other DISNEY SOUVENIRS TO BUY BEFORE YOUR TRIP.

Other FREE Things in the Parks

  • Celebration buttons – Pretty much whatever you’re celebrating (birthday, anniversary, first trip), Disney has a free button for that! Request one at Guest Services when you enter the Park and be showered through out the day with well-wishes.
Get a free Happy Birthday button at Disneyland, read more to find out how! {Saving up for Disney}

Happy Birthday buttons don’t go unnoticed by Cast Members.

  • Hand your camera over to a Disney PhotoPass photographer – Yes, they not only take pictures with their camera (which you can purchase online) but they’ll also take complimentary photos with your own camera as well! (more details about getting the best family photos).
  • Sweet and savory bites – At Disney California Adventure, swing back into the Pacific Wharf area. The Boudin Bakery will give you a free sourdough bread sample and the Ghiradelli shop hands out a square of chocolate to each Guest. At Club Cool in Epcot at Walt Disney World, you can have your tastes of soda flavors from around the world.
Disneyland for free?! Don't Spend a Penny Inside the Parks...Here's How!

Club Cool at Epcot

  • Bring something from home to collect autographs from the Characters. I’ve heard of people using a fabric marker and a pillowcase or t-shirt. I love the idea of a photo frame mat for Characters to sign around and then include a photo of yourself with one of them inside the picture frame, clever! I met this woman at Walt Disney World who was collecting her autographs in a book that featured all the characters! (I found it online, it’s called Disney Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters). So clever and you’ll have all your autographs in one place.

Free things to do inside the Disney Parks - Collect Character Autographs in a book you bring from home!

  • Do you have a Disney Visa credit card? – You can get a private meet n’ greet with a surprise character. Just check the website beforehand to find out the location and more details.
Disneyland for free?! Don't Spend a Penny Inside the Parks...Here's How!

Image Credit: Jeff Holz

The great thing about Disney is that once you have your ticket in hand you are completely free to explore the entire Park without any additional costs if you wish. If you are planning a trip to Disney like this budget guide that includes packing in your own meals and not shopping for souvenirs inside the Park, be sure to let your family know ahead of time what to expect. This will eliminate any unhappy surprises once you’re on your trip. I’ve found that as long as everyone knows what’s happening ahead of time this really helps make the day at the Happiest Place on Earth, well…happy!

Tons of tips on discounted tickets, what to bring & free things in Disneyland and Walt Disney World parks.

 

SoCal Guide – Budget-Friendly Winter Fun in San Diego

Image from San Diego.org

Looking for Winter fun in San Diego? Pull out your calendar and fill it in with these budget-friendly family ideas. Some start as early as this weekend!


Balboa Park December Nights

Image from A Plus Limos.com

Friday Dec 5th from 3-11pm

Saturday Dec 6th from Noon-11pm

The 37th consecutive year of San Diego’s largest free community festival! Participating Balboa Park museums open their doors free of charge from 5-9 pm both evenings. This is always a busy event so arrive early!

Enjoy food from around the globe at the International Christmas Festival at the House of Pacific Relations Cottages. Watch the traditional Santa Lucia Procession at the Plaza de California. Gift shop at the museum stores and Spanish Village. There are also musical and dance presentations from the San Diego Junior Theatre, San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, Del Cerro Baptist’s Christmas Story Tree.

New this year is the “December Flights” Zipline. Take a two hundred foot Zipline ride past the historic and beautifully lit Moreton Bay Fig Tree!


Viejas Outlets Presents…Winter Wonderland

Image from Red Tri.com

December 5-7th at 6pm

Exclusive viewing of the movie Frozen will take place at the Viejas Ice Rink. Plus, the Snow Queen and Snow Princess will visit the Outlets on Friday, December 5, from 5:30pm to 8:30pm!

Guests can skate at the rink (for a fee) from November 1, 2014 through January 4, 2015.


Together: A Holiday Spectacular  – The Viejas Outlets comes alive with Holiday Spirit

Image from Viejas.com

Opens November 21, 2014
Every 15 Minutes, 5pm – 10pm, 7 Days a Week

Enjoy enchanting holiday vignettes that combine fire and snow, water and light. The show features water fountains, lasers, fire cannons, pyrotechnics and state-of-the-art special effects, all choreographed to best loved Christmas music!


La Mesa Village Christmas in the Village

Image from KPBS.org

Friday, Dec. 12, 2014  5pm-10pm

Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014  5pm-10pm

Pre-Parade starts at 4:30 with our Salute to America. Holiday Parade starts at 5pm both nights.

Santa will be at the Goodwill Plaza this year at 8250 La Mesa Blvd. Come and see Santa right after the Parade to 10 pm. (No charge to see Santa)

The Village is transformed into a Victorian Wonderland complete with strolling minstrels, carolers and street entertainers. Live Music is featured in a number of stage areas. There will be carnival rides, ponies and puppet shows for the kids. Warm up at one of the many bonfires that fill the Boulevard and enjoy the shop, boutiques and restaurants that stay open late during event.


Old Town Holiday in the Park & Las Posadas

Image from Old Town Mexican Food.com

December 13th & 14th from 6pm – 9pm

Museums, historic homes, stores and restaurants in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park will be open late and richly decorated in period holiday adornment (admission fees still apply to some locations). Enjoy special holiday treats, activities and extended shopping hours, along with strolling carolers and do some holiday shopping at the same time.

63rd Annual Las Posadas re-enactment begins at 2:30pm on December 14th. This centuries-old tradition is a re-enactment of the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph through the town of Bethlehem. The event begins at 2:30 PM with carolers and children’s choirs in the state park, with the live theatrical procession starting promptly at 5:00 PM. A piñata party for all the children follows the parade.


North Park Toyland Parade & Festival

Image from La Jolla Bluebook.com

Saturday, December 6th

Parade 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Festival 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

All day parking will be available at the North Park Parking Garage for $1.

For the 51st year, this joyous holiday parade marches through the historic neighborhood of North Park From University Avenue between Utah and Iowa Streets, the parade includes marching bands, dance groups, vintage cars and of course, Santa Claus will be riding atop a red fire engine!


La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival

Image from LJParade.com

Sunday December 7th, 1:30pm

The event through downtown La Jolla includes marching bands, floats, equestrian units, vintage automobiles and an appearance by Santa Claus. The theme for this year’s parade is “Spirit of Christmas – Peace on Earth.”


Port of San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade

Image from The Log.com

December 26th at 3pm

Free street-side viewing or purchase a seat in the grandstands for $20, here.

This is “America’s Largest Balloon Parade”! World-class marching bands, magnificent floats, drill teams, and a procession of enormous balloons (more than any other parade!) This parade is broadcast to a nationwide television audience.


San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Image from SD Parade of Lights.org

Sunday December 14th & Sunday December 21st

The procession will start at 5:30 p.m. and will follow the predetermined parade  route.

More than 80 boats lavishly decorated according to a new theme each year (Theme for 2014 is Children’s Stories). The parade takes approximately one  hour to one and a half hours to pass any given point along the parade route.  The approximate arrival time of the parade at various locations are:

  • Shelter Island (start of parade) -5:30 p.m.
  • Harbor Island                             -6 p.m.
  • The Embarcadero                       -6:30 p.m.
  • Seaport Village                            -7 p.m.
  • Ferry Landing on Coronado       -7:30 p.m.

Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights

Saturday December 13th from 6pm – 9pm

Dozens of vessels take to the water for the annual parade. The boat parade starts at Quivira Basin. Best viewing is from Crown Point, the east side of Vacation Island or the west side of Fiesta Island.


Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights

Image from Visit Oceanside.com

Saturday December 13th from 7pm -9pm
Fishing boats, sail boats, yachts, kayaks and dingys dressed up in holiday swag circle the Oceanside Harbor. One of the best viewing spots is along the side of the Oceanside Harbor near the fishing dock and police station.


Holiday Wonderland at Petco Park

Image from NBC San Diego.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open for 12 nights in December.

Event hours are 5-10 pm.

Adult admission is $15 and child admission is $10. Kids under three will be admitted free of charge. Military, group and event discounts are available.

Walk through the magical lighting displays, ride Polar Express trains, explore Candyland, feed live reindeer, take a photo with Santa near a 40′-tall Christmas Tree, enjoy the festive fare and so much more!  Parking will be available in the Lexus Premier Lot, Padres Parkade and Tailgate Parking Lot for $10.


Holidays at the Del

Image from Hotel Del Coronado.com

It was at the Hotel Del Coronado in 1904 that America experienced the first electrically-lit outdoor Christmas tree! This year’s holiday theme is “Building Seaside Memories”. The resort’s lobby Christmas tree will be decorated in an elegant ocean theme. Stop by to admire the holiday decor, book a Sunday brunch with Santa or the Holiday Tea, purchase tickets to see An American Christmas performed by Lamb’s Players Theatre and enjoy outdoor Ice Skating at Hotel Del Coronado Skating by the Sea.


Garden of Lights at the San Diego Botanic Garden

Image from San Diego Botanic Garden.com

December 6th – 30th from 5 pm to 9 pm (Closed on December 24-25)

Price: Members – $8
Non-members Adults – $14
Seniors, Active Military & Students – $10
All Children 3-12 – $6
Children 2 and Under – Free

The Garden has been transformed into a dazzling winter wonderland with over 100,000 sparkling lights. Activities include horse-drawn wagon rides, holiday crafts, marshmallow roasting, visits with Santa, live music, refreshments and hot mulled wine (on select evenings). Some of these activities are included, others are an added cost. Snow also ‘falls’ on select nights!


 

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Saving Money at the County Fair

Saving Money at the County Fair

A day at the fair could end up costing the same (or more!) as a day at Disney, but if you plan ahead and do a little research your day at the fair could be a lot of fun for cheap!

I’ve only been to one County Fair but I’ve been nearly every single year, the San Diego County Fair (aka: Del Mar Fair). I’m going to venture that most county fairs are the same if not very similar to our large fair so I think these tips could be applied most anywhere. Here are my tips on how we save money at the county fair:

FAIR1


Tickets

Full cost: $14 per adult, $8 per child, Free for kids 5 and under.

My cost: Free. My husband’s grandmother works at the fair so she was able to give us free tickets. Savings of $30 for me and my two ten-year olds. The toddler was free. Even if you don’t have “connections” you don’t have to pay full price for fair entry. Some grocery stores, military bases or employers sell discounted tickets. Kids can often get free entry from their school for reading books. Some of the competitive one-day contests allow for free entry.


Parking

Full Cost: $10 per car

My cost: Free. We park off-site and take a free shuttle. Savings $10. Check your county fair website and see if off-site parking is available.


Food

Full Cost: Dependent upon what you eat, but of course fair food is pricey and over sized. One family’s meal could easily cost $50+. The cost of those weird specialty snacks could cost you upwards of $10 each.

My cost: $30. Packing lunch and snacks in was allowed (no glass bottles or containers). I brought in snacks for us so we wouldn’t be tempted to buy $8 chocolate covered bacon! We had a big bag of kettle corn from Sprouts for $1.99, half-pound of trail mix with M&Ms and nuts for $2.00, and a bag of Twizzlers for $1.00. I did splurge and buy us lunch (because we very rarely eat out, this was a treat). A half-lb burger with waffle fries, two large hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and three drinks set us back $25. I knew that some of the vendors were offering a kids meal for $5.25 so that’s what I bought them. Some other vendors were selling kid’s meals for $9.00 so just shopping around saved me $7.50 on the two meals. We were so full from our big lunch that we only had a light snack at home for dinner.


Rides

Full Cost: Depending upon how many you purchase upfront, the cost per ticket for our fair is between 50 cents and 75 cents; Each ride takes between 3-10 tickets.

My cost: Free. My husband’s grandmother gave us a sheet of 40 ride tickets. That sheet (which allowed 5 total rides) would have cost us $20.

Plan upfront how much you want to spend on tickets and stick with it. Prepare kids ahead of time by letting them know how many rides they can go on. Kids can then choose to be more selective with the tickets they have and decide which rides are most important to them (as in, is that House of Mirrors really worth my $3.00?) Some fairs offer a Ride-for-One-Price wristband which offers unlimited rides on certain days of the fair.

Budgeting for a Day at the County Fair

Yes, my daredevils are on this ride!


Shows Pig Races, Demolition Derby, Buggy Races, Magic Shows, Hypnotist, Live Bands & Concerts.

Print out the daily schedule before your visit and highlight the top attractions you’d like to hit. You won’t be able to see it all in one day. Get input from the rest of the family (take a vote) on which shows are a “must”.

We arrived just in time for my daughter to be the volunteer in a magic show. She was inside this box stuffed with umbrellas (what the illusionist was calling the Mary Poppin’s Box of Doom!).

Cheap fun at the Fair - www.savingupfordisney.com


Attractions, Exhibits & Demonstrations Petting Zoo, Wood Carving Demo, Gem exhibits, Home & Garden area, Butterflies, Arts & Crafts.

We saw big cows, had butterflies land on our shoulders, made a craft and watched a pottery show (and got a free vase from the potter). The toddler rode a little tractor and the big kids watched the wood carvers (who gave them each a free puzzle). All free stuff!

Budgeting for a Day at the County Fair


Souvenirs

I had no intention of shopping but my son had a $5 bill burning a hole in his pocket. He found a booth selling cheap jewelry, three pieces for $4.99 and that satisfied the souvenir itch. If you know your kids are going to want to leave the fair with something have them bring a small amount of their own money and plan what they would like to buy in advance.


Competitions

A few years back I entered my Summer Pasta Salad recipe in a contest and won a second prize ribbon. Another year my son brought art painted in a specific theme and won a first place ribbon.

This year my kids were looking forward to trying one of the one-day competitions. My son was all about the Pie Eating Contest. He loved it and received a participant ribbon!

My daughter is the champion ice cream speed eater in our house so she was excited to enter the Ice Cream Eating Contest. She would have won too, if she’d not been picking around the pineapple in her banana split!

Budgeting for a Day at the County Fair

They both had fun and it was a free treat for them both!


Bottom Line: Do your research and plan ahead how much you intend to spend. This day could have easily cost us $150 or more. Instead I paid a total of $30 for our meals (and that could have been reduced as well, if we’d decided to pack in our lunch). Enjoy all the unique and free things that the fair has to offer!

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