Trip Planning: Using Go Cards in Los Angeles

Posing at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Before our recent trip to Los Angeles I was contacted by Smart Destinations and offered a chance to test drive their Go Cards, which offer free admission to 40 different attractions and museums. I was intrigued by the idea of making one purchase and then having free admission to a number of museums and attractions.

What these cards offer is a certain amount of flexibility. I know that they would make me likely to check a museum or attraction out, even if it’s just for an hour, because I wouldn’t be worried about “wasting” the admission fee. In situations where there are three or four things you’d like to see that charge admission, are close to each other, and don’t take a lot of time to experience, the cards can save you money. They can also work if you’ve got one day where you visit one very expensive day-long activity and then spend the next visiting a couple of attractions, although the savings may not be huge. For example, in Los Angeles, you could purchase 2-Day Go Cards for a family of four for $340. If you spent one day at LEGOLand and then the next day visiting the Los Angeles Zoo and the Autry National Center of The American West (which are across the street from each other in Griffith Park) and then made the relatively easy drive down to the Hollywood Museum, by my calculation you’d save about $30. Obviously, the more you manage to pack into each day, the more you save. But in a city like Los Angeles, which is really spread out, this can be difficult to do.

You might also lose money if you find that your children are too tired or overwhelmed to take in more than one thing. We used our Go Cards to get into the Aquarium of the Pacific. I had thought that we’d also see the Queen Mary and maybe take a Long Beach Harbor Cruise – the cards offered admission to both. But the boys were so tired that we ended up having lunch, walking around the Long Beach waterfront, and calling it a day. If we had purchased the cards, we would have spent $220 just to go to the aquarium. And the tally for the three things I wanted to do was only $183, so the card would only have made sense if we’d also used it to perhaps do something that evening like visit the Santa Monica Pier where we could have ridden the rides at Pacific Park for free. On a different day we might have been able to do all of these things, but even if the kids weren’t exhausted it still would have been a lot to pack in.

For this reason I think that single-day cards don’t make sense for families with very young children (whose admission to museums and attractions may be free anyway) or on trips where jet lag is likely to be a big factor.

You’ll also want to make sure that the attractions you want to see are included with the Go Card; the Smart Destinations website makes this clear; the cards themselves also come with a booklet listing the included attractions. Obviously they are only a value if they get you into the things you want to do anyway. And if you’re not the type of person to do advance planning, they may not be the best investment for you, as my experience shows I think the best way to use them efficiently is to know at least roughly what you will do each day.

With all that said, I will definitely take a look at these cards when I’m planning future trips because now that the boys are getting older we do tend to fit more things into a day than in the past. However, I will be careful to compare prices and make a plan of what I realistically think we can see and do before I make a purchase. Smart Destinations sells cards in 14 locations in the United States and Canada; in some cities (New York and Boston included) they offer what they call an Explorer Pass. Unlike the Go Cards, which are good for admission to dozens of attractions but are limited to a certain time period, Explorer Passes let you purchase admission for anywhere from 3 to 10 specific attractions or museums and gives you 30 full days to see them – you can even customize which ones. If you’ve got three things you know you want to do (for example, in Boston we’d definitely do the Fenway Park Tour, the Museum of Science, and the New England Aquarium), the Explorer Passs could offer both savings and flexibility in terms of when you did what.

Looking for more travel planning tips? Check out this opportunity to download some free travel books – and help donate money to spread clean drinking while you do it. I’d also like to remind you that this week I’m offering a chance for one lucky reader to win a family vacation package in San Antonio, Texas. It’s super easy to enter, I promise. See this post for details.

Smart Destinations provided each member of my family with one 1-Day Go Los Angeles Card, with a combined value of $220.

Reader Responses

2 fellow travelers had this to say

  1. I’ve been wondering whether these cards were worth it. I didn’t seem to think so as a resident, but it’s nice to hear it from a visitor, too. Good info, so thanks for sharing!

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