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Planning a Trip to the San Diego Area?

I recently had the opportunity to take a trip down to San Diego with my family.  We wanted to get away for a little bit, do the tourist thing, see the beach, and have a relaxing vacation.  While that is a little hard to do with a three-year old in tow, we did have the opportunity to explore and see the sights.

1 Mission Beach

While everyone’s trip will be a bit different, here is what I found to be a good deal, a waste of time, nice amenities, and a waste of money.  Looking at a trip to San Diego?  Keep reading!

Determining Where to Stay in San Diego

To figure out the best place to stay in San Diego, I simply went to Google Maps and typed in “Hotels San Diego”.  This brought up a huge list, and we narrowed it all down with certain criteria.

These criteria narrowed things down to about half a dozen hotels.  So it was now a matter of viewing websites and determining which one looked the best.  A careful review showed that the Hyatt Regency on Mission Bay had a great looking pool area, and although they didn’t supply breakfast, they had a coffee shop on their boardwalk.  It looked good, so I set about finding the best price.

Hyatt Regency in Mission Bay
That’s the Hyatt down in the lower left corner.

I tried using sites like Trivago, but that didn’t really work out.  They didn’t have even as good a price as what was listed on Google.  I tried calling the hotel and explaining I found the room at the price listed on Google, and they weren’t able to match it.  Finally, I went through my LegalShield Member Perks.

If you’re not a member of LegalShield, I highly recommend it.  Head over to Mike Lee’s page, give him a call, and he can explain all of the details.  Using the perks of being a member, I saved over $120 on this trip alone.  That pays for 6 months worth of my membership.

Back to the hotel.  I booked the room (it came out to about $720 for 4 nights when all was said and done).  Not too bad since booking directly with the hotel would have been $760 plus taxes.  But the hotel comes with a laundry list of things that weren’t really to my liking.

First, when we arrived we were very early.  Check-in was at 4PM and we were there at 10AM.  I checked in and asked them to give me a call when a room was ready.  They said it shouldn’t be too long, and while we were at the beach it should become available.

At 12:30 I received a call to say that if we wanted a room with 1 bed it was ready, but if we wanted 2 queens it would be longer.  I said there were 3 of us, so 2 beds would be better.  When we got back to the hotel, around 1:30 I asked if a room was ready.  They said they were cleaning it now and it should be ready shortly.  We waited.  And waited.  At 2:30 I checked again.  At this point people were constantly coming through the front doors, checking in, and getting their room keys.  They told me again it was almost ready.  It wasn’t until 3:15, I was getting irritated, and I finally got the key to the room.

The room was a room.  It wasn’t really like it looked on the website, and while it wasn’t dirty it wasn’t very nice.  Drab appearance, nothing updated in the past 10 years, and not a lot of perks.  But we had our room.  Which we regretted come night.  The Hyatt saw fit to put a room directly behind the elevators.  For half the night all we heard was the elevator going up and down, sounds from the lobby, people talking in the courtyard outside, and overall we didn’t get much sleep.  First thing in the morning I asked for a new room, and the staff graciously complied.  If you choose to stay at this hotel, don’t accept room 2071.

Our new room was quieter, but still the same décor.  Since we have a three year old, we are back by 7:30 or 8:00 each night.  This leaves little to do except watch TV for a bit.  Which we did, and quickly found that the cable in the room is absolutely atrocious.  It cuts out every few minutes, and sometimes doesn’t come back on for 5 or 10 minutes.  We found that the pool area was great, and although it was too cold most of the time to swim there was a hot tub.  Except one evening when we went down there were no towels to be found.  Another evening the hot tub was cold.

The eating facilities left a bit to be desired.  The Red Marlin wasn’t bad, but 2 meals and 2 drinks came out to about $90 (that was with the kid’s meal being free).  Einstein Bros. Coffee, on the boardwalk, was a great little place.  But everything was more expensive there than it was at the Einstein Bros. Coffee in the airport.

Red Marlin dining in San Diego
The food was pricey, but it was nice.

Finally, if you stay anywhere in San Diego, do not stay within a few miles north of the airport.  Every plane taking off flies to the north, and all you hear, all day and night, is planes flying overhead.

Now the stay wasn’t all bad.  While I don’t recommend the Hyatt because of the issues above, I do recommend them because the staff was great.  Very friendly, courteous, and always helpful.  The only other perk: the Hyatt is only about a 20 minute walk from Sea World.


The Best Price on San Diego Zoo Tickets

One of the biggest attractions to San Diego is their world class zoo.  It’s huge, has awesome exhibits, and overall is an amazing place for kids and adults (although they could be better served with more play areas for those under 10 years old).

San Diego Zoo review
The Zoo is known for its flora as well as its fauna.

If you are planning to go to the Zoo, don’t pay the gate admission prices!  At the gate you will pay $50 for adults, and $40 for kids ages 3-11.  There are several ways to get cheaper tickets.

One way is with your LegalShield Member Perks (you are a member now right?)  Those discounts brought the price to $41.50 per adult and $33.50 for a child.  There is a cheaper way, but it depends on if you’re going to Sea World and the Safari Park as well.  Keep reading.

San Diego Zoo Panda
If you plan to see the panda, do that first thing when you arrive. The line gets HUGE in the afternoon! has the best prices if you’re doing the trifecta of attractions in San Diego.  For $130 for adults, and $105 for kids, you get admission to all three parks for 7 days.  You can go to any area as many times as you want within those 7 days.  Gate admission to all three would run an adult $180, so right off the bat you save $50.  Go more than once to each place, and you save even more.

San Diego Zoo Giraffe
The San Diego Zoo’s giraffe was born in December, 2015.

There is another way to get a great deal if you’re not planning to do multiple trips to each destination.


The Best Price on Sea World Tickets

When choosing where to go and what to do in San Diego, naturally Sea World came up as one of the attractions.  After going, however, I can say that I wouldn’t return.  It’s not that it wasn’t a fun place to visit, it just wasn’t all that spectacular (the zoo was much better).

Sea World Orca Show
The orca show was fun, but not as amazing as I expected.

Through LegalShield, you can get tickets to Sea World for $79.  But that’s the same price as gate admission, so how is that a deal?  The deal is that these tickets come with what is called an All Day Dine pass.

Sea World sells these passes for $35 for adults, and $19 for children.  With an All Day Dine bracelet, you can get a free entrée, side, and dessert or appetizer every hour that you’re in the park.  You go through the line, they scan your bracelet, you walk off without paying a thing.  During our visit to Sea World, I added up what would have been spent on food and came to the conclusion that we would have spent $160 on food alone.

Sea World Sea Lion Show
Sea Lions Live! was a much better show. The animal and human actors were amazing!

Options for the zoo and Sea World break down like this for each adult:

Buy at Gate:  $50 zoo, $80, Sea World, $35 All Day Dine = $165

Costco: $130 admission tickets, plus $35 All Day Dine = $165

LegalShield: $41.50 zoo, $79 Sea World, $0 All Day Dine = $120.50

Obviously when you factor in the Safari Park or a return visit to any of the places, the prices change.  But if you are scheduling your trip with just the zoo and Sea World, the LegalShield option is the cheapest route.

Sea World Sesame Street
If you have a child, hit up the Sesame Street area at Sea World.


Where to Eat and Play

There is far more to San Diego than just these two major attractions!  While we weren’t able to do everything that we wanted, we did have some fun.

We spent a lot of time on Mission Beach.  It was less than a mile from the hotel, and there were a number of attractions that we could visit (aside from the beach itself).

Mission Beach in San Diego
Mission Beach stretches for miles and has great surf.

Belmont Park is a great area to spend some time with the kids.  There is a big arcade, a number of rides (including a wooden rollercoaster), treats, and everything else you would expect to find at a carnival.  It’s not overly big, so you don’t have to spend more than a few hours there.  For lunch on one of the days we ate at The Draft, a nice little brewery/restaurant located on the boardwalk that had great Mac & Cheese.

Belmont Park Carousel
The carousel was high on the list for our 3 year old.

The boardwalk runs for a number of miles along the beach to La Jolla.  From there you get into the cliffs areas, some of which have stairs going down to rocky tidepool areas.  You can admire the views, visit the water, or just walk the streets near the expensive homes.

La Jolla near San Diego
The cliffs of La Jolla

Along Mission Blvd. there are a ton of shops and restaurants.  Lunch another day was spent at The Olive Café.  A little coffee shop founded by a local resident that has wonderful sandwiches.

Olive Cafe
The Olive Cafe was a great little spot to have a relaxing and delicious lunch.

My recommendation, find some local restaurants and branch out.

Because we had our three year old in tow, we weren’t able to make it around the city quite as much as we would have liked.  It’s hard travelling with a car seat, especially if you are going downtown.  While we really wanted to visit the Gas Lamp district and take in some live music, we had to pass on that opportunity.  We would also have liked to tour around on Point Loma and visit Coronado Island.  I suppose that will have to wait until the next trip.


How to Get Around

San Diego is a big city.  And it takes a long time to get anywhere.  But Uber is a great service and can get you wherever you need to go.

When you arrive from the airport, keep in mind that Uber can’t pick you up at the baggage claim!  They have to go into Short Term parking, and meet you there (there are signs showing you where rideshare cars can pick you up).  If they are in and out in 10 minutes, there is no charge.  If you go over, it’s an extra $2.  From the airport to the Hyatt the Uber fare came out to $11 and some change (plus the $2 parking fee, plus $5 tip).

If you have a child and need a car seat, you have to pay a little extra for transport.  The concierge at the Hyatt called a flex van for us.  They come equipped with a car seat and offer transit at least to and from the airport.  It was nice to have it all arranged, but it was a bit pricey.  The 10-15 minute trip cost us $30 each way.

Bike Rental
The rental place is actually called Cheap Rentals.

If you’re spending most of your time on the beach, or nearby, you have other options.  I found Cheap Rentals located on Mission Blvd. (near The Olive Café), and we rented bikes.  2 bikes, one with a kid’s seat, was $35 for 24 hours of rental (the best deal I could find).  We were able to cruise up to La Jolla and experience a police man-hunt (we actually saw the guy run by after committing a burglary), and cruise down the boardwalk stopping and taking in sights as we went.  Our original plan was to visit the La Jolla Cove and see the Sea Lions, but it proved to be too long of a ride, especially with a toddler.

Finally, if you are travelling with a little one, strollers are recommended.  But it’s a pain to pack one from home, so why not just rent one?  There are multiple sites that rent strollers; we decided to go with Baby’s Away.  The total was $88 for the week, and they delivered it and picked it up from our hotel.

Baby's Away
These guys are awesome!

Planning Your Trip to San Diego

Our trip was a lot of fun.  We saw the sights, played in the water, visited the tourist areas, and saw a police man-hunt.  If we had to do it again, there is quite a bit that we would change.  So hopefully when you are planning your trip to San Diego, you read this review, and don’t make the same mistakes as we did.

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