Go San Diego Card

A Critical, Inside Look at a Popular Discount Card

Let's Take a Look at the GO Card for San Diego
••• Let's Take a Look at the GO Card for San Diego.

The Go San Diego Card makes claims that are enough to make a person skeptical: "Save up to 55%" on lots of attractions. It almost sounds too good to believe, so we set out to find out the truth about the smartphone discount card.

We poked, prodded, clicked and peered at the fine print. We even made a spreadsheet to calculate the savings - all of that so you don't have to. Now we can help you figure out whether it's a good idea for your vacation.

If you're prone to losing things (or forgetting to take them on a trip), the Go Card may not be for you. Lost cards are not replaceable or refundable.

Go San Diego Card: What Is It?

Think of Go Card as a volume discounter. They negotiate with local tourist attractions for discounts and sell them as card-based packages.

You can choose from two types of Go San Diego Card:

  • The basic version (which they call All-Inclusive) covers all their offered attractions for a fixed price, valid for a maximum number of days that you choose. Buy more days, and the card costs more.
  • Build Your Own offers fewer attractions and is good for 30 days after your first use, but you can choose only ones you want to visit. The more you choose, the greater the discount. They also offer some pre-built packages for the most popular attractions.

How the Go San Diego Card Works

Using it is simple. Just take your printed or mobile Go Card to any included San Diego attraction, present it at the ticket window, and you're in.

After it's used the first time, the card is good for the number of days you chose, but those must be consecutive days. If you skip one because you're tired, you don't get a refund - or an extension.

Except for the rare multi-day pass, you can visit each attraction only once.

Will the Go San Diego Card Save You Money?

The short answer: Probably yes, but for most people, it won't be as much as the ads claim.

The only way to know for sure: Add it up. Only you know which attractions you want to visit and how much you're willing to rush them to pack everything in. A quick way to get all the prices you need for that is to use the Go Select page, where they show current prices.

A quick answer that's correct most of the time: The Go San Diego Card will save money if you:

Buy a 3- to 5-day card and visit all the big-ticket attractions (Sea World, Legoland, San Diego Zoo and Safari Park) OR visit about 3 to 4 of the smaller attractions per day.

Get realistic about how much you can do. According to the Go Card website: "people tend to visit fewer attractions each day than they expect." The big attractions will each take a full day and some are far apart. For other attractions that take less time, there may be significant travel time to get from one to another. If you pack your schedule too tightly and get too pooped to finish them all, your savings will plummet.

Group your Go Card activities: You can use the rest of the trip for doing other things. If you crammed all the Go Card activities in the Top Things to Do in San Diego into three days, you could save almost 40%, but you'd be so rushed you wouldn't have much time to enjoy them. Extend that to a more-reasonable five days and you'd save about 20%. Take seven instead, don't do anything else and the savings fall to just 5%.

Choose the Go Select option. For all the Go Card activities on our Top Things to Do in San Diego, we estimated 20% savings. And because it's good for up to 30 days, you have a lot more days to do everything in.

Inside Look at the Included Attractions

Of all California's top tourist destinations, San Diego has the most attractions that charge high admission fees, with five of the top dozen attractions charging well more than $50 per adult ticket, and three others requiring an admission fee. Those attractions are why most people visit the city, and if you plan to "do" them all, you'll probably use your Go Card a lot. However, not everyone wants to see the top sights, and these insights may help you make sense of it all.

Some attractions offered may not interest you. For example, if you don't like to go to museums, that takes about 20 attractions off the list. If you don't like guided tours, that eliminates another half dozen. If the list of things you want to do becomes too small, the card might not save you money. However, some people say it introduced them to enjoyable activities they might not have found on their own. And once you break even, you'll save on every little thing you do after that.

Only longer-duration cards include Sea World (3 days or more)

Take a closer look at that long list: You'll see that some attractions are not in San Diego, but in Anaheim, Orange County or even Hollywood You would have to go there to enjoy them - which may or may not be part of your vacation plan.

So, a museum-hating, guided-tour-avoiding vacationer who isn't going to leave San Diego is left with about two dozen attractions to choose from.

Some require reservations: After you buy the card, you may need to make reservations for some tours. Read all the details so you don't get disappointed.

How to Get a Go San Diego Card

You can't buy a Go Card at the attraction box offices, so you need to plan ahead. But not too far. Cards expire on December 31 of the year following their purchase, whether they were used or not. You can return unused cards for a full refund for a year after purchase, but why not just wait until you're sure about your trip dates?

Visit the Go Card website, where you can make the purchase online. Buy the digital pass and either print it at home or download it to your smart phone.

Alternatives to the Go Card

The Go Card is one of quite a few options for saving money on the most popular attractions in San Diego. Check them all in the San Diego Discount Card Guide

More Ways to Save Money in San Diego

If you're trying to keep your San Diego vacation spending under control, check these 7 Ways to Get Bargains, learn how to Find the Best Hotel Deals and take a look at all the Things You Can Do for Free.