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Taking the Kids: San Diego where kids are free all month!

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

What should we do first? Commune with penguins or pandas; take a surfing lesson or try an electric bike? Maybe you'd rather explore a museum, sample thrill rides or spend the day tinkering with LEGOS. There's always the beach -- miles and miles. Maybe you'd rather stop and smell the roses -- 200 different kinds!

Welcome to San Diego, considered California's birthplace, and one of the most kid-friendly cities in America with Sea World (have an up-close encounter with penguins and plenty of Halloween fun) the world-famous San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park (besides the always popular pandas, the newest exhibit is Africa Rocks, highlighting Africa's biodiversity) and miles of beaches and boardwalks. LEGOLAND California is in Nearby Carlsbad.

San Diego Zoo Global is asking for help to reach the "1 million goal" for conservation -- by joining in the online crowdsourcing "1 Million Photo Challenge" to give conservation researchers 1 million volunteer-reviewed trail camera photos typically only seen by researchers by June 2018 to identify images to track giraffes and other wildlife throughout northern Kenya.

You'll find all those beautiful roses downtown in Balboa Park, home to the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, as well as the San Diego Zoo, 15 museums and more.

The best part: For the sixth year in a row, Kids Free San Diego means families really don't have to worry about exceeding their vacation budget. More than 100 San Diego hotels, restaurants, attractions, museums and transportation companies are offering "kids free" deals all month, including the city's top family attractions like Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND California and Belmont Park amusement park in Mission Beach. (Check out the Giant Dipper roller coaster or play mini golf!)

I wish every city offered such a program that encourages families to explore without emptying their wallets. The Kids Free October campaign has had a positive impact on the destination, specifically on the arts, museums and attractions, San Diego tourism officials report.

At the same time, nearby Carlsbad, California, has launched a new Kidifornia tourism campaign offering special hotel deals and inviting kids to apply to the Carlsbad, Kidifornia "cabinet," potentially winning prizes. (To run for mayor, kids will be asked to upload a one-minute video on social media highlighting why they love the city. One winner will be chosen by Visit Carlsbad to be the mayor of Carlsbad, Kidifornia, from videos submitted under #MiniMayorCarlsbad.)

For once, parents don't have to utter the dreaded "NO" on vacation. In fact, with so many free options of things to do, there may be extra money for souvenirs (from more than 50 stores along the waterfront with items from Mexico or Seaport Village), a special attraction like a penguin encounter at SeaWorld, the Brick-or-Treat Party night at LEGOLAND or a special meal.

Let each child in the family choose an activity!

Explore along the Pacific Coast on electric bikes with San Diego Fly Rides.

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