Summer is officially over. But don’t put those boogie boards and beach toys away just yet. If you listen carefully, you can hear the welcoming sounds of the ocean waves calling you to visit sunny San Diego.
For the sixth year, “Kids Free San Diego” returns, offering special October deals at hotels, theme parks, restaurants and museums. All month, San Diego transforms into “Kid Kingdom,” where kiddos are given the royal treatment.
Many hotels offer kids-eat-free deals, and kids (typically ages 3 to 11) get free admission with a paying adult to some of San Diego’s best attractions. Visit sandiego.org for a complete list of deals and look for the “13 Realms of Kid Kingdom” downloadable map.
Here are five personal favorites to visit:
San Diego Safari Park
15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido
760-747-8702 • sdzsafaripark.org
Sister to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, this safari park — 30 miles north of San Diego in the San Pasqual Valley, near Escondido — is a wildlife sanctuary to more than 3,000 African and Asian animals. Families can watch rhinos, giraffes and antelope roam on open fields. Enjoy walking, or for an additional charge, take a thrilling safari tour. The park also offers animal encounters, where families can learn about Sumatran tigers from a keeper, or witness the fastest land mammal — the cheetah — do what it does best: run! Up to 10 children (ages 11 and younger) get free admission per each supervising ticketed adult this month at both the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park.
SeaWorld San Diego
500 SeaWorld Drive, San Diego
619-222-4732 • seaworldsandiego.com
The marine park that brought us Shamu is located in San Diego’s Mission Bay Park. SeaWorld’s new attraction, Ocean Explorer, includes three new animal encounters and five new kids rides. Enjoy the Tentacle Twirl swing and the Sea Dragon Drop or join a deep-sea research team aboard the Submarine Quest. Through October, kids ages 3-9 get free admission with a paying adult.
1549 El Prado, San Diego
San Diego is always proving learning can be fun, and Balboa Park is a great place to explore. In addition to beautiful gardens, the park houses more than 17 museums on 1,200 acres. Take dinosaur enthusiasts to the San Diego Natural History Museum, aspiring astronauts to the San Diego Air & Space Museum and budding athletes to the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum. This month, up to two children (ages 12 and younger) get free entry to the Fleet Science Center and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum at Balboa Park with one full-price adult admission.
parks.ca.gov • reservecalifornia.com
Although camping fees are not included in Kids Free October, there’s just no beating San Diego’s inexpensive camping experiences. Choose from mountain, desert, lake and beach locations and grab your tent, camper or RV to enjoy the outdoors. Amenities vary at each camp site, but all are guaranteed to make family memories. Visitors can reserve campsites and lodging six months in advance. San Diego County state parks with campgrounds include: Cardiff State Beach, Carlsbad State Beach, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, Palomar Mountain State Park, San Elijo State Beach, San Onofre State Beach, Silver Strand State Beach and South Carlsbad State Beach.
Moonlight State Beach
400 B. St., Encinitas
760-633-2740 • parks.ca.gov
A hidden gem along the historic highway 101, Moonlight State Beach is where families can go to feel less like a tourist and more like a local. This main beach of Encinitas offers a playground, snack bar, bathrooms and showers, fire pits and a volleyball court. Families can spend a whole day here, sun bathing, building sand castles and surfing.
Must-haves for the beach
I’m drawn to visual must-have lists in magazines with beautifully packaged products. But as a parent, I have to laugh at how impractical some of them are. Here’s the real scoop on what parents need:
• Two types of sunscreen: Lotion and spray. Before leaving the hotel, beach house or campsite, slather on a base layer of sunscreen lotion. When it is time to reapply, use spray sunscreen so the sand doesn’t irritate skin.
• Baby powder and diaper-rash cream. We spend a lot of time in the ocean, boogie boarding, surfing and making sand sculptures. Sand gets everywhere, and chafing can make or break a vacation. Apply diaper-rash cream before heading to the beach. Bodyglide anti-chafe balm works, too. Baby powder helps with removing sand from hands (and other areas) in a jiff. It’s also super helpful when changing a baby’s sandy diaper.
• Flip-flops or water shoes. Wet sand dries and can be rough on shoes, so leave the swanky sandals back at the hotel. Water shoes are always helpful if the beach is rocky.
• Pop-up tent or canopy. Shade is essential at the beach. We bring the portable canopy we use for outdoor sport season. It’s big and bulky and a pain to haul, but completely worth the effort to give kiddos a break from the sun.
• Laundry rack. This is a great alternative to hanging wet (sandy) beach towels and swimsuits in your nice hotel bathroom. Packing an inexpensive rack in the family car or grabbing one at a local store will guarantee a dry start to the beach the following day.