Dec 19 2011

Saving Money on Southern California Attractions Tickets

I’ve spent a lot of time planning for our upcoming trip to California.  A lot.  This will be the first time our kids have flown, the first time they’ve seen an ocean and a desert, and the their first Disney park experience.  Because this trip is a big deal for us, I’m determined to find the best combination of activities for us to do when we’re in southern California, while hunting down the most reasonable prices for our lodging, attractions, and other trip components.

I provided insight into our hotel planning process a while ago, and today I’ll pull out a few pages from my trip folder and tell you how I’m trying to find the best prices for the places we’ll visit while in California.

For this vacation, we’re planning to visit several theme parks, as well as some cultural and historical landmarks.  We’re going to squeeze in as much as we can — with a combination of educational stops and places that are just for fun — while trying to get the best value for our dollar.  These are the things we want to do.

  • Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, 3 days
  • Universal Studios Hollywood, mostly for the backlot tour. It’s the only movie tour I can find that allows kids.
  • See the desert (by request of our 5-year-old); planning to drive to Joshua Tree National Park
  • Go whale-watching and spend some time on a beach (though probably not IN the water in February!)
  • Visit a Presidential Library (either Reagan or Nixon)
  • Visit San Diego’s Balboa Park
  • See Old Town San Diego, Cabrillo National Monument, and the USS Midway
  • Go to Legoland (9-year-old’s top priority)
  • Visit other historic sites or museums
  • Go to Sea World
  • Visit the San Diego Zoo, and/or the San Diego Safari Park if we can get bargains on admission.

I know that’s an ambitious list, and it won’t be cheap for six of us.  On this trip, I’m expecting admission prices to be about 1/3 the cost of the trip, hotels another 1/3, and meals/rental car/gas/other to be the remainder.  (We’re flying with vouchers and points so we don’t have an airline expense, thankfully.)

Let’s take a look at some of the prices.  Keep in mind that these are for our family of six, with kids aged 6-11 when we travel.

For our 10 days in California, that’s a grand total of $2551 without the Zoo or Safari Park.  Yikes!

Let’s see if we can get it to come out any better.

The first thing I found that will help our costs a lot is the Southern California CityPass*. For 2012, the CityPASS includes the following: 3-day Disneyland Park Hopper, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Sea World.  It’s $279 for ages 10 and up, and $239 for ages 3-9.  Grand total for our family:  $1554. I can either buy it on-site at one of the parks, or order it ahead of time and skip the ticket lines in the parks.  It’s also refundable if we have to cancel the trip for some reason.  I asked fellow family travelers if it was too good to be true, and they said no.  It’s one of the best bargains out there for southern California theme parks.  (CityPASS* also has combo passes for attractions and museums in other cities like Chicago*, Houston, Boston, Seattle, and Atlanta.)  With CityPass*, I’ll save $468 over the individual prices of Disneyland, Universal, and Sea World.  That’s a good start, but let’s see what else we can do.

My kids subscribe to the free Lego Club magazine, and over the years I’ve noticed BOGO coupons for Legoland, so I’ve been keeping my eyes open for them.  We hit the jackpot in the latest issue, with a coupon for a free child ticket with paid adult hopper ticket.  I’ll have to upgrade to the combo ticket, and pay for one child as an adult in order to get three free (Legoland confirmed that I can do this), but it will bring the total to $243 instead of $374, plus we can walk through the SeaLife Aquarium at no additional charge.  Savings: $131 from a free magazine.  That’s good.

SmartDestinations offers two choices for San Diego*: a multi-day card where you can see everything on the list on those days, or a Go Select card where you choose the attractions you want to visit.  Using the Go Select card for the USS Midway, Japanese Friendship Garden, and Model Railroad Museum nets us a total of $88.28 for the three attractions as opposed to the $111 cost if purchased separately.  If we want to add the San Diego Zoo, it would be an additional $173.56 for our family, instead of the regular price of $200.  If we didn’t have the Legoland tickets, I’d be putting Legoland on the Go Select card as well (at $296.52 instead of the regular $374).  Like CityPass, SmartDestinations offers a money-back guarantee on its cards, and has cards available for Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Franciso, New York City,* and more.  In general, the more attractions you put on your GoSelect card, the more you’ll save, and if you’re visiting southern California, you can buy tickets for San Diego and Los Angeles attractions in the same transaction.

There are some other museums we can visit in Los Angeles and San Diego at no charge because of our museum memberships with ASTC and ACM reciprocity.  I’m also looking at the February “museum month” promotion in San Diego.  Since our timing is good, we can receive 50% off admission for people with a free pass we’d pick up at a San Diego-area Macy’s store.  Because the USS Midway and Model Railroad Museum are participating, our cost for those plus the Japanese Friendship Garden would be $74.  Since we’ll be there during Museum Month, that’s even better than the Go Select card for our planned attractions.  At other times of the year, or for other attractions, the Go Select card is definitely worth looking into.

I’ve also signed up for Groupon and similar sites in the areas we’ve been visiting, and I scour the offers in my inbox daily.  Most are for places we won’t visit, but occasionally something good pops up that we can use.  I used Mousesavers to get more ideas for saving money, from car rental discount codes to information about a Disney souvenir outlet store.  For San Diego’s Balboa Park, be sure to check out their deals page to see if there are any coupons available.

After all of this, I’ve reduced our projected admission costs from $2551 to $1923.  I’ll keep looking for better deals until we leave on vacation, but for now I’m pretty happy that by putting some time into planning and research I’ve been able to save nearly 25% over what we would have paid by purchasing tickets for each attraction individually.  For those who like to see the numbers, here’s how it looks.

Location Regular Price Deal (if any) Deal Price
Disneyland 3-day $1146 SoCal CityPASS $1554
Universal Studios $454
Sea World $414
Joshua Tree Nat’l Park $15 Joshua Tree Nat’l Park $15
Reagan Library $32 Reagan Library $32
Japanese/Model $35 Museum Month $74
USS Midway $76
Legoland $374 Legoland coupon $243
Cabrillo $5 Cabrillo $5
Regular Price $2551 Deal Price $1923

If you’re planning to visit southern California, I hope I’ve helped you find ways to save some money yourselves.  If you’ve already been there and know of ways I can pinch a few more pennies, I’d love to hear them.

*CityPass and SmartDestinations links provided are affiliate links; if you purchase a product after clicking on the link, I will receive a commission on the sale.  I requested to become an affiliate after doing the math and finding that these are excellent potential money-savers when visiting southern California and other areas of the U.S.


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4 Comments to “Saving Money on Southern California Attractions Tickets”

  1. [...] Saving Money on Southern California Attractions Tickets [...]

  2. [...] your magic mornings. If you buy a 3-day or longer Park Hopper (or combo pass like a CityPASS), you’ll get “Magic Morning” admission on one day of your choice.  This allows [...]

  3. [...] your magic mornings. If you buy a 3-day or longer Park Hopper (or combo pass like a CityPASS), you’ll get “Magic Morning” admission on one day of your choice.  This allows [...]

  4. [...] your magic mornings. If you buy a 3-day or longer Park Hopper (or combo pass like a CityPASS), you’ll get “Magic Morning” admission on one day of your choice.  This allows [...]

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