Fun Free Kid Activities in San Diego (Besides the Beach!)

Tide pools are one of many free kid activities in San Diego.
••• Tide pools are one of many free kid activities in San Diego. HeroImages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Those living in San Diego are lucky that they have an easy, free thing to do with kids nearly every day of the year thanks to the weather – just take them to the beach and let them run around! As wonderful as the beach is, though, you and your kids may still need a change of pace every now and then so here are some other free kid things to do in San Diego, most of which still get you outside and having fun.

Tide Pools

This may be a bit like going to the beach due to the proximity to ocean waves, but it’s a different experience from the sandy coastline of San Diego, and can even be an educational one. San Diego has tide pool locations that are easy to get to whether you live south or north in San Diego County thanks to large ones in Point Loma (by the Cabrillo National Monument), La Jolla (by the cove) and Carlsbad (below Shore Drive). Visit the tide pools while the tide is out and search for sea creatures trapped in small pools of water until the tide comes back in.

Kids will delight at finding little crabs, fish, sea urchins, and even possibly an octopus or spiny lobster.

Old Town

Have you been to Old Town lately? Locals sometimes overlook it due to it being on the tourist path, but the historic buildings can be surprisingly crowd-free at times, particularly if you visit during the week in the winter months. Kids will delight in the covered wagons, colonial home recreations, old school house, and stables – all of which are free to walk through.


San Diego is home to dozens of hiking trails and you can get your kids happily exercising by taking them to one that is also entertaining. The trails of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve often come with views of nearby paragliders above and wildlife around – you may even see whales migrating in the ocean if you time your hike right. (Note: Torrey Pines does cost money to park onsite unless you have a park pass.) If you want one that won’t cost money to park, head to Lake Hodges, which has a free a parking lot and an interesting change of view for San Diego kids who are more used to seeing rushing waves than a placid lake surface.

Hot Air Balloon Launch Watching

San Diego’s temperate weather makes it an ideal place for hot air balloon rides. Though the idea of taking your kids up in one may be enough to send your anxiety through the roof, you can still use the balloons for an out-of-the-ordinary experience by taking younger children to the launching platform in Del Mar. Though the exact location of departure can differ depending on weather conditions, the balloons often take off from the field at the intersection of Encinitas Boulevard and Rancho Santa Fe.

You can park next to the field and watch as the balloons are blown up and then take-off in time for sunset.

Free Museum Tuesday

On the first Tuesday of every month, many museums in San Diego are free to locals. Take your kids to gorgeous Balboa Park where they can choose to learn more about physics and chemistry at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center or dream about space travel at the Air and Space Museum. Afterward, let them get some energy out running around the trails and green space winding all throughout Balboa Park.