San Diego On A Budget


Our kids had several days out of school for President’s Day.  It seems like the opportunities to take family vacations are few and far between without having to miss school, so we felt like it would be a shame to not do something fun over this break.  However; this was not in our plan and we hadn’t budgeted to do a large vacation.  We have spring break coming up and didn’t want to break the bank, but also wanted to get away for a few days.  One of the benefits of living in Las Vegas is that the beach is only a few short hours away.  So we loaded up our vehicle and we were on our way!

Here are a few tips and tricks that allowed us to save money and enjoy San Diego on a budget.

  1. Plan Ahead
  2. Hotel with Free Breakfast
  3. Enjoy the Beach
  4. Season Passes at Sea World
  5. Dining Passes at Sea World

Plan Ahead

I knew that in order to make this trip economical, that a little planning ahead would go a long way.  I made a trip to Walmart ahead of time and stocked up on all of the snacks and drinks that we normally grab at the gas stations when we travel.  I also got bags of chips and the bulk candy at Sam’s club.  I bought peanut butter and jelly and fruit.  I also grabbed some beach toys for $10 and one of those cute velcro catch games for $3.88.  I snagged bubbles for $.97.  We purchased Boogie Boards at Sam’s Club for $25.  They were good quality and much better than the cheap ones they sell by the beach.  I spent a few hundred dollars but I felt like we saved so much by being prepared and thinking ahead.  It eliminated all purchases on our drive and saved us quite a bit once we arrived in San Diego.

Get a Hotel with a Free Breakfast

We are big proponents of The Holiday Inn Express.  We have the IHG Credit Card and are always happy with the service that we get at their hotel line.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Chula Vista.  It was right off I-5 and convenient to lots of things.  The front desk staff was extremely friendly and the pool and hot tub were not crowded and provided a nice start and end to our day.   We have stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Sea World Area in the past and we would probably stay there the next time we go because it is SO convenient to the beach we like and to Sea World.  Either way; not having to buy breakfast for our family of 5 saved us a good chunk of change!  That is a win for me!

 Enjoy the Beach

With this not being a planned vacation; we didn’t have a huge agenda.  It was really nice not having a set schedule and not feeling like we to had to cram 50 things into each day.  We got up in the morning and enjoyed the pool, then headed to Mission Beach for the day.  My friend who grew up in San Diego recommended this beach and it has become one of our favorite spots.  There is free parking close by.  I packed a little tote filled with all of our beach toys, towels, and snacks.  It was a quick walk to the beach.  The waves are perfect for boogie boarding and there are local shops and food places close by if you decide you need something.  One local place called Hamel’s has rentals of just about anything you need and they have all kinds of things for purchase as well.  Abigail rented a surf board for $20 for the day to give surfing a shot.  I checked on Amazon for a cute game called Smash Ball.  It was $13.99 so I expected to pay twice that at this shop.  They had it for $10!  I was so surprised!  If you are looking for a new fun game, you should totally check it out!  You can get it on Amazon for $13.99 or drive to San Diego and you can get if for the bargain price of $10!

The kids had a blast just playing in the waves, making sand castles, playing catch, and playing Smash Ball.   We enjoyed having our beach blanket to lay on and soaked up the sun as much as we could! It was so relaxing and such an affordable way to spend the day!  We had our PB&J sandwiches and Capri suns for lunch and everyone was happy! I may or may not have spent $5 on a box of Samoa Girlscout Cookies that some little girl drug dealer forced on me!

 Season Passes at Sea World

I always search online to see what deals I can find.  I am also getting great at finding Groupon’s when we travel and even in our own city.  I try and find the best deal and my hubby has a love hate relationship with it.  He likes the saving money part, but I also think it drives him crazy sometimes!  I noticed that Sea World San Diego was having a sale on their 2018 Fun Card.  Essentially you pay the price of a single day admission and you can go unlimited time for the rest of 2018.  If you buy their Sea World Annual Pass for $20 more you get all of these great benefits!

Get unlimited admission to SeaWorld San Diego during the initial 12 month commitment and any renewal period, with no blockout dates plus free parking, discounts and more.

  • FREE general parking (save $20 per visit).
  • 2 FREE guest tickets during specified event dates only.
  • Discounts on in-park food & merchandise and select park upgrades including tours, interactions and more.
  • Exclusive Member events and rewards.
  • Your visit helps support SeaWorld’s animal rescue and conservation efforts.

We purchased two of the annual passes to take advantage of the dining discounts, free tickets, and the free parking!   We got the Fun Cards for the kiddos since we are planning another trip here with the grandparents over Spring Break.

Having the season pass was so nice because we went for a few hours each day we were in San Diego.  That way no one was super tired and cranky, we avoided the crazy busy hours, and we were able to enjoy the beach each day as well.

I also think that we will take advantage of only being 5 hours away when the Las Vegas heat hits us this summer.  We may have a few more trips coming up if we can figure out this San Diego On a Budget thing!!

 Dining Pass at Sea World

One of the best ways that we saved money on this trip was taking advantage of the Sea World All Day Dining Pass.  Here are the deets!

Eat all you want at SeaWorld San Diego all day long for one low price. Pass Members save 10%.

  • Get 1 entrée, 1 side or dessert, and 1 non-alcohol beverage as often as once every hour during 1 day’s visit.
  • Participating restaurants include Shipwreck Reef Café®, Calypso Bay Smokehouse, Mama Stella’s® Pizza Kitchen, Explorer’s Café, Pineapple Pete’s Island Eats and Flatbreads & Fry Cones. Restrictions may apply.

We decided to just purchase one dining pass for the whole crew.  San Diego on a budget was the goal! Cory would take the kids and go and get in line for the next ride or attraction.  I would go and grab food and then bring in to the group.  You can get one drink, entree, and dessert or side once every hour, so this kept us quite full and allowed us to just snack throughout the day.  I priced things out as I went and it was over $100 worth of food that we got for the bargain price of $32.  Since we had eaten breakfast at the hotel and had some snacks at the beach that we had brought with us; we essentially fed our entire family for one full day of vacation for $32.  Not bad!!


Overall, this was a fantastic spur of the moment trip.  We got some sun, enjoyed family time, relaxed, got in a few thrills, and we all still love each other.  Our kiddos are at THE BEST ages for travel.  Everyone can dress themselves, no one is in diapers, we don’t have to have a stroller, and they get along quite well.  You can check out some of my tips for packing with kiddos here.

I got a little over confident in my children’t ability to pack for themselves.  We travel enough that I kind of felt like they could do it themselves with no problem.  This was such a spur of the moment trip; we literally grabbed stuff the night before and we loaded into the car the next morning.  I rattled off a list to the kids and asked them each about 3 times if they had a jacket.  Other than that; I just ASSUMED they were good to go.  Word to the wise…….7 YEAR OLDS SHOULD NOT PACK 100% ON THEIR OWN.  Brady didn’t bring underwear, socks, a toothbrush, or jacket!  He essentially got a swimming suit and a few pairs of shorts and a few shirts.  In his mind; that is really all he needed.  We survived!!  We learned a few lessons and overall I think we nailed visiting San Diego on a Budget!  Until next time So Cal…….