An Inside Look at the GO San Diego Card

GO Card for San Diego

GO Card  

The Go San Diego Card makes claims that are enough to make a person skeptical: "Save up to 55 percent" on lots of attractions, it advertises. 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. This will 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.

The Go San Diego Card

Think of Go Card as a volume discounter. The providers of the card 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 (called all-inclusive) covers all the card's offered attractions for a fixed price, valid for a maximum number of days that you choose. Buy more days, and the card costs more.
  • A build-your-own card offers fewer attractions and is good for 30 days after your first use, but you can choose only the attractions you want to visit. The more you choose, the greater the discount. You also can choose from pre-built packages for the most popular attractions.

How It 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.

Possible Savings 

The Go Card will probably save you some money, 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.

The Go San Diego Card will save money if you:

  • Buy a three-to-five day card and visit all the big-ticket attractions (Sea World, Legoland, San Diego Zoo, and Safari Park) or visit three or four 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 that are the top things to do in San Diego into three days, you could save almost 40 percent, 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 percent. Take seven instead, don't do anything else, and the savings fall to just 5 percent.
  • Choose the Go Select option: For all the Go Card activities that are top things to do in San Diego, you would save about 20 percent. 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 enjoy 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 (three 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.
    • 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 attractions require reservations: After you buy the card, you may need to make reservations for some tours. Read all the details so you aren't disappointed.

      How to Get a 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 Dec. 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?

      You can buy the Go Card online on the card's website. Buy the digital pass and either print it at home or download it to your smartphone.