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Inexpensive San Diego Family Vacation Ideas

It’s no secret that vacations can be very expensive, especially vacations with the whole family. The travel cost, whether it’s flying or taking a road trip, plus exploring the dining scene, and entertainment all add up quickly. The anticipated costs of a trip can easily scare away many people, especially those who don’t have much trip planning experience. That said, a bit of research before a trip can ease your mind, save you money, and put less stress on your family.

The first step in planning a budget friendly vacation is choosing an affordable destination. While San Diego might seem out of budget, it’s actually possible to plan an inexpensive family vacation here. If you decide to drive, the highway from the north makes for great views off the coast. On the other hand, coming from the east is an easy, fast drive from many eastern states. Inexpensive flights from most major cities to San Diego often go on super sale! The best time to buy tickets is about six to eight weeks in advance.

San Diego, California is an ideal vacation destination for many reasons, but one of the biggest is its accessibility. With flights from major cities like Denver, Chicago, and Houston available for under $200, flying is an economical option. San Diego is less than six hours by car from Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas, making it a great spot for even a long weekend trip.

A beach vacation can be expensive but packing up the family for a San Diego vacation is more than possible. Check out these inexpensive San Diego family vacation ideas!

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is one of the city’s top attractions and for good reason. It’s a gem in the San Diego area and is considered one of the most photographed beaches in all of Southern California. The clear blue water makes it a great spot for snorkeling and swimming. The waters and the animals in the area are protected. In fact, the entire cove is included in the San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, so fishing and seashell collecting is prohibited here. This extra protection makes it a great place to find the ocean’s amazing creatures like dolphins, seals and whales. It’s also incredibly safe, as it’s always looked over by a San Diego lifeguard.

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San Elijo State Beach

Just a 30-minute drive north of San Diego is San Elijo State Beach. It’s a wonderful, inexpensive day trip to take near San Diego and entrance to the area is only $15 per car. The cliff-lined beach makes for a picturesque setting that parents will enjoy, while offering a day of beach fun for the kids.

The area also has plenty of campsites, but make sure to reserve it ahead of time to ensure a spot. There are numerous campsites that are great for both RVs and tents. While at San Elijo, entertainment options are extensive. For those with children, the park offers a Junior Ranger program designed to both educate and entertain kids. The Eli Howard Surf School offers overnight surf programs for the adventurous type. This is a great activity for the whole family, and it’s possible to reserve group lessons so everyone can learn together! San Elijo is a great, affordable option for anyone checking out the San Diego area. Grab your swimsuits and hit the sand!

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Sports, Zoos, and Events

While most major U.S. cities offer an abundance of attractions, the city of San Diego has some very unique features. The city is home to the San Diego Padres, a major league baseball team. Unlike other major professional sports in the US, it is still very affordable to attend a baseball game. Tickets can be purchased for under $20 for many of the team’s home games. Kids love the experience and most parents love the game!

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The city is also home to the world-renowned San Diego Zoo. Home to over 3,700 animals of 650 different species, the zoo is unlike any other. As a pioneer in the zoo industry, it's known for innovative ideas, like open air cages and creating very realistic artificial animal habitats. The San Diego Zoo is certainly one of the top attractions in the city. Admission starts at $44 for children and $54 for adults and includes a full day of activities making this a great bang for your buck option. In October, admission is free for children under the age of 11!

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San Diego’s event calendar is packed full of inexpensive and sometimes even free events! From holiday-specific events, to attractions that offer steep discounts at certain time of the year, there’s always a unique activity. Halloween is a great time for kids and parents to dress up in costumes and head to the free Trick-or-Treat on India Street. Balboa park is always featuring a fun event, like the free Balboa Park December Nights, which welcomes in the Christmas cheer.

Another top draw for many visitors to San Diego is the Natural History Museum. At only $12 for children and $19 for adults, admission here is well within budget and there are plenty of exhibits to explore. Known as “The Nat”, this museum has many great attractions with some of the favorites being dinosaurs and Southern California Geological history.

San Diego is a top vacation destination for many thanks to its great weather and variety of attractions. It’s a dream vacation for both parents and children alike. You can stay for weeks at a time and just barely scratch the surface of things to do. Don’t let the anticipated costs of a vacation scare you off, spending time here is very possible with some good planning and preparation. Enjoy your vacation!

Don't forget to let Sitterwise take care of all your vacation childcare needs. Whether you need a sitter at your hotel or private residence, we can help! For San Diego beach photography, be sure to check out Amy Gray Photography. 


lekor adams
lekor adams
4 days ago

For a touch of relaxation, consider day retreats at local wellness centers offering affordable packages. These retreats can provide a refreshing break from your adventures, ensuring everyone in the family has a rejuvenating experience.


Albert Dexter
Albert Dexter
May 31

If you're planning an inexpensive family vacation in San Diego, consider renting a car to explore all the beautiful sights and attractions. I found some great deals on where you can find affordable vehicles, perfect for a budget-friendly trip. Having your own transportation can make it easier to visit places like Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, and the stunning beaches, ensuring you get the most out of your family vacation without breaking the bank.

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