San Diego on a Budget

Saving Money on Your San Diego Trip

••• Use These Tips to Save Money on Your Trip. Juhamatti Niemelä/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Smart travelers always find San Diego travel deals, and they don't have to sacrifice quality to do it. Here's how to enjoy San Diego on a budget:

Consider All the Costs

When you're planning your vacation, don't be short-sighted. The hotel rate that looks the lowest may come with a hefty daily parking fee, internet charges and other fees. The the place with a slightly higher daily rate may provide free breakfast, free internet and free parking.

On the other end of the spectrum, that great-looking deal on a swanky hotel may include a lot of extras you won't use.

Where you stay may also influence how much you spend on food, with more inexpensive restaurants located around Hotel Circle than in other areas. Add it all up to be sure your choice is really the cheapest all around.

San Diego Travel Deals on Hotels

The average price of a San Diego hotel room climbs every year, and occupancy is high. You can roll back the prices with these ideas:

  • Visit off-season: Hotel rooms are cheaper in January, February, March, October and November. You'll also find more package deals when things are slower.
  • Think small: San Diego hotel tax is 2% lower for properties with less than 70 rooms.
  • The San Diego Hotel Guide will help you find the best hotels and learn how to get them for the best possible rates.
  • The simple guide to finding the best San Diego hotel rates can help you get a nice hotel for the price of a "cheap" one.

    Sightseeing Deals

    • Free Stuff: Try our list of fun Things to Do in San Diego for free.
    • Cheap Tix: See our tips for saving money on tickets to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.
    • Park Pass: If you plan to visit the Balboa Park museums, you can get a pass that includes admission to many of them during a one week period. The Passport to Balboa Park is available at the park Visitor Information Center or any of the participating museums.
    • Multi-Attraction Passes: If you're planning on visiting a lot of attractions, you'll find more varieties of them than the giraffes in the zoo have spots.
    • Great Discounts in San Diego - and at Home: For deep discounts on bay cruises, guided tours and lots of entertainment and performances, see how we use Goldstar to save money.
    • DIY Discount Coupons: Go to the San Diego Visitors Bureau website before you go and check for discount coupons that you can print at home.
    • Last Resort: Pick up the guides available in hotel lobbies. Their coupons can save you at least a few dollars at each stop.

    Car Rental

    Read our guide to getting around San Diego to see how much of it you can cover without having a car, then rent for just a few days to see the sights you can't get to any other way. You may save money on rental, gas and parking and avoid traffic hassles, too.

    Eating

    • Find a hotel whose room price includes breakfast.
    • San Diego has lots of good medium- to low-priced restaurants. Use them to offset the cost of more expensive meals. You'll also find less expensive restaurants in the Hillcrest area, around 6th and University.
    • If you want to try an expensive restaurant, go for lunch. You get the same excellent food at a lower price.

      Little-Known About Airfare

      An admonition to shop around for airfare is trite - but true.

      What you may not know is that Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue don't participate in any of the fare-comparison sites. Check their prices separately by going directly to their websites. 

      You may have read that Google Flights promises to find the lowest fares, and they’ll even tell you when to buy to get the best deal. Here’s the dirty little secret: they don't check Southwest Airlines. I made a random check on a round trip flight from San Jose to Burbank, about a month in advance, traveling from Sunday through Thursday. The best Google Flights fare was $350, which included a stop in Phoenix or Portland and took five hours or more — for a trip you could drive in that amount of time. Going direct to Southwest’s website, The lowest fare was $158, with a travel time of an hour.

      What to do is already a no-brainer decision, but add to that the fact that your first checked bag flies free on Southwest. And in case your plans change, Southwest doesn’t charge change fees (although the base fare may go up).