I think we need to have a post dealing with travel hacking our way to San Diego! When I was young, our family drove almost every summer from Mesa, Arizona to San Diego, California. I loved it so much that I always dreamed of someday living there! Northern California was my home for 40 years, but it’s definitely not the place that dreams are made of, like San Diego. A family trip to San Diego is a great place to build vacation memories!
When we went to San Diego, we always spent time at a beach, Sea World, and Disneyland. No wonder I loved it so much!!
We would always drive there because it was so close. The best airport to fly into is San Diego Airport (SAN). Other options are John Wayne in Long Beach (SNA) or Los Angeles Airport (LAX).
Southwest is a great option to fly into San Diego. I plugged in the dates of June 10-14 wanting to book a long weekend. I also like to book nonstop when possible and found this option for arrival and departure:
From Salt Lake City to San Diego, it will cost me 13,001 points per person, which is a great deal. It helps that Southwest will let us check baggage for free also. For a family of four, that means we can pretty easily all get there and back with one credit card signup. The usual signup is for 40,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards. When you add on your minimum spend, you’ve got the 42,000 points needed for your flights.
You can travel for even less if you have the Southwest Companion Pass. Many other airlines frequently fly to San Diego, and costs are usually relatively low for cash or points. A family can take a trip to San Diego with points easily.
Each of the four major hotel chains has options in San Diego. You can find some nice places to stay depending on what hotel chain you like and what credit cards you have (or want to get). Let’s concentrate on family hotels with free breakfasts, and luxury stays for when you want to go that route.
This hotel, the Hyatt Place San Diego-Vista Carlsbad, is a really economical choice. At only 8,000 Hyatt points per night and free breakfasts, a family could stay six nights with just one World of Hyatt card signup. Hyatt Places are excellent choices for families! This hotel is close to Carlsbad Beach, a fun beach for the family to explore.
If you’d like a more luxurious stay, here is another option. The Manchester Grand Hyatt will cost 15,000 points a night, and it looks gorgeous! Waterfront views and the convenience of downtown sounds perfect!
I like a Marriott Residence Inn for family travel because you get a full kitchen. You can save some costs by cooking some of your meals or at least having snacks available when you stay there. I picked out this new (who doesn’t like new?) Residence Inn, located just 6 miles from Sea World. Check out the new Residence Inn Chula Vista. Better yet, if you book for 5 nights, you only pay for 4 if you do an award redemption. They have a great breakfast at Residence Inn and snacks in the evening on weeknights. When my children were young, those snacks were often enough for dinner because they sometimes served pasta or pizza.
To stay here for five nights, you will need to sign up for one of the Marriott credit cards, refer your spouse, and have him/her sign up too.
I love a Westin Hotel for luxurious Marriott stays. You can stay in the Gaslight District, a great San Diego area, for 168,000 Bonvoy points for 5 nights. Remember, you get the 5th night free on award stays! The Westin San Diego Gaslight Quater looks perfect to me!
Staybridge Extended Suites is another family-friendly brand. I chose the Staybridge Suites San Diego-Carlsbad for its full kitchens, beautiful pool, free breakfast, and proximity to beaches. IHG also offers the 4th night free on award stays, making this hotel a great deal! A four-night stay here can be booked with points to spare if you get one of the IHG credit cards.
Again, if luxury is your jam, IHG has you covered. The San Diego Intercontinental covers luxury to me. With views of San Diego Bay and a beautiful room, it can be booked for about 50,000 points a night. Remember, IHG award stays to get the fourth night free!
Hilton hotels are another option. You could stay at the Homewood Suites by Hilton for about 50,000 points per night stay. You would get a 2 queen bed Bedroom Suite with Sofa Bed, free made-to-order full breakfast, and complimentary evening reception at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Carlsbad North San Diego County. Having that full kitchen is a game-changer for families wanting to save costs! There are several other Homewood Suites in the area too.
Getting just one American Express Hilton Credit Card will let you stay 3+ days in San Diego at a Homewood Suites. Hilton Credit Cards usually offer great signup bonuses.
The Carte Hotel San Diego Downtown Curio Collection by Hilton is a nice luxury option. It is 70,000 points a night, so you may need to get a couple of cards for this one! Refer your spouse/partner and get those referral points too.
No matter which hotel chain you prefer to stay at, there will be multiple family and luxury options that you can book with points. Check several out, see where they are located and what amenities they offer, and pick the best one for you. These are just ideas to get you started.
There is so much to do in San Diego that you will have to pick and choose. Luckily, because we have saved you so much money on flights and hotels, you have more money for fun!
There are just so many beaches in the San Diego area! I have always loved La Jolla Beach, Carlsbad Beach, and Oceanside Beach. Here is a great article about the 20 Best San Diego Beaches. Which ones do you suggest?
Who even plans a family trip to San Diego without visiting the San Diego Zoo? Lions, Tigers, and Bears, oh my! And it is much more! An adult pass is $65 for those 12 and older and $55 for 3-11 years of age. One-day passes include a guided bus tour and the Kangaroo Express hop on/hop off the bus, unlimited rides on the Skyfari aerial tram, and all regularly scheduled shows. Plan on quite a bit of walking and spending a good part of the day there.
There is also the San Diego Zoo Safari Park located adjacent. This takes a different ticket, although the prices are the same. Here you will find the animals in a more natural habitat.
Located only 20 minutes north of San Diego, Universal Studios Hollywood is fun for all ages. Rides and attractions are based on many popular movies. I still remember going on a ride based on the Jaws movies when my children were young. These days rides are based on The Fast and Furious, Despicable Me, and Harry Potter, to name a few. Cheap it is not, as it will cost $109-$129 to attend. Check here to see if there are any discounts.
My grandchildren say that Legoland is the place to be! They are ages 4-8 and love going there. Located North of San Diego, in Carlsbad, it is a world of fun for young children. There are over 60 rides, shows, and attractions, including a water park. My grandkids brought mini-figures, and they could exchange them with the workers – they loved it!
Although it is 90 minutes away, we often went to Disneyland during our stay in San Diego. It certainly is the happiest place on earth, and I feel that way still as a grandma. Be sure and read Alex’s post on Disneyland to see how you can travel hack ticket costs here.
For other ideas, read this article about attractions in San Diego. There is a multitude of things you can do.
San Diego is the perfect destination to create family memories. With travel hacking, you can pay for your flights and a hotel leaving more money for food and attractions. Let us know if you plan a trip to San Diego – we’d love to post about it!
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