Mari's Moments

Kids can stay, play and eat for free in San Diego

La Jolla is a seaside community just north of San Diego.
La Jolla is a seaside community just north of San Diego. SanDiego.org

As a family of four, we’re always looking for ways to save money.

In Texas, I’ve become a master of finding deals in which kids can eat and play for free. So, it was with great pleasure that I found that an entire city devotes a whole month for kids to eat, stay and play for free.

Each year, San Diego organizes free deals for children for the month of October. More than 100 restaurants, venues and hotels participate, which means big savings for a family vacation.

Gathered from past jaunts to the San Diego area and a recent trip to La Jolla, here are my ways to get super savings during Kids Free San Diego month.

Where to stay

The Grande Colonial Hotel is in the heart of La Jolla, a seaside community just north of San Diego. It’s perfectly situated for families to enjoy a stroll through the bustling nightlife that includes art galleries, museums and restaurants.

On an evening stroll, we found the Legends Gallery, which houses original and rarely seen artwork from the popular children’s book author Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Seuss Geisel. In 1948, Geisel purchased an observation tower in La Jolla, which became his primary residence for the remainder of his life.

Inside the gallery, where admission is free, you’ll see some of the original artwork from Geisel’s beloved children’s tales as well as some “secret art” from the Seuss archives that includes whimsical depictions of La Jolla socialites.

Aside from the proximity to the La Jolla nightlife, the Grande Colonial offers luxurious rooms with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

Did I mention the hotel may be haunted? Established in 1913, it is the oldest original hotel in La Jolla, and there have been rumors of paranormal sightings from guests and staff.

During our stay, we found a direct path to the lobby that felt like we were going through a secret passageway, down a flight steps, past the kitchen and through a barn-type door. Unfortunately, we didn’t encounter any ghosts, just spirited staff members.

Where to eat

The Grande Colonial also offers a great dining experience. Zagat-rated Nine-Ten restaurant has a children’s menu that will appeal to all budding palates.

My 6-year-old ordered the chicken sandwich with fruit and had to fend off his 15-year-old brother, who ended up finishing off the huge sandwich. The well-seasoned chicken breast, on a house-made roll, was plump and juicy.

The children’s menu also includes a half-pound burger with house-made pickles, lettuce, tomato and mustard aioli. For $2 more, the burger can be served with truffle fries. During Kids Free Month, children 12 and younger get one complimentary child’s entree with each adult entree purchased from the regular menu.

Speaking of the regular menu, my teenager and husband had the delectable jerk chicken, a nod to executive chef Jason Knibb’s Jamaican roots. The chicken was surrounded by fresh vegetables including carrots, maitake mushrooms, Bloomsdale spinach, scallions, sweet habañero relish plantain, and yuzu puree.

I chose the pumpkin seed and sage crusted beef short rib, a delicious fall concoction tastefully served with a mixture of shredded and crispy Brussels sprouts, roasted pear, huckleberry gastrique and kabocha squash puree.

For casual fare, visit Old Town San Diego and dine outside in the courtyard at Casa Guadalajara. With purchase of an adult entree, kids can choose from Mexican fare that includes a bean-and-cheese burrito, cheese quesadilla or rolled taco.

Where to play

My 6-year-old loves heading out to Grapevine to play at Legoland Discovery Center. So, it’s no wonder that his first request when traveling to San Diego is to visit the “Big Legoland.” Plus, kids get in free with each paid adult admission during October.

At Legoland California, a quick 20-minute drive from San Diego to Carlsbad, there are more than 60 rides and a water park. The recently opened Ninjago land and ride let ninjas-in-training test their skills at climbing, balance and fighting.

The 3-D Ninjago the Ride is a high-tech version of the shoot-em up Kingdom Quest Laser Ride in Grapevine. Instead of guns, you use hand movements to defeat the bad guys. It’s an aerobic workout, for sure, and a great way to have some good, competitive family fun.

The new Star Wars: The Force Awakens Miniland model display includes new scenes and characters from the blockbuster film. Is that Rey rescuing BB-8? Why, yes, it is.

For big families, the San Diego Zoo deal during Kids Free San Diego beats them all. Up to 10 children get in free per each paid supervising adult admission. Families can explore the award-winning zoo, which is celebrating its 100th year, with a special Centennial Treasure Hunt that calls for listing all of the zoo’s wildlife treasures for a prize.

You can also upgrade your child’s experience for $12 to get the guided bus tour, kangaroo bus and Skyfari aerial tram.

The aerial tram is my 6-year-old’s favorite form of transportation at the zoo with its bird’s-eye view of nearby Balboa Park. It’s a nice respite for exhausted parents, too.

Maricar Estrella: 817-390-7720, @maricare

How Kids Free San Diego works

1. Go to the sandiego.org Kids Free page: http://www.sandiego.org/promotions/kids-free

2. Browse through the offers.

3. Find the offer you want and click on the coupon. Print, save and use.

Kids Free San Diego offers

Where to stay offers:

  • Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa, 1775 Mission Bay Drive, San Diego. Kids receive a free welcome gift.
  • Paradise Point, 1404 Vacation Road, San Diego: Must be 12 and younger. A $50 activities credit will be applied at checkout. A child dines free in the Tidal restaurant with purchase of adult entree.

Where to eat offers:

  • Grande Colonial Hotel, 910 Prospect St., La Jolla: Children 12 and younger eat free from the designated kids menu with a paying adult at Nine-Ten Restaurant. Offer provides one complimentary child’s entree with each adult entree purchased from regular menu.
  • Casa Guadalaraja, 4105 Taylor St., San Diego: Kids can eat free from the kids menu at Casa Guadalaraja with the purchase of an adult entree.

Where to play offers:

  • Legoland California, One Legoland Drive, Carlsbad: One complimentary child ticket with each paid adult ticket.
  • Belmont Park, 3146 Mission Blvd., San Diego: One free wristband per child with purchase of adult unlimited ride wristband. One free unlimited laser tag wristband per child with purchase of adult’s unlimited laser tag wristband. One free cotton candy with the purchase of an ice cream cone at The Sweet Shoppe.
  • San Diego Zoo, 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego: Maximum 10 children free per each supervising ticketed adult at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Valid for children 11 and younger. Coupon not required for free kids entry.

For more information, go to sandiego.org

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