Go to the Beach
The best things in life are free, or so they say. If you're visiting San Diego, you can find a lot of things to do for free, starting with a trip to the beach.
San Diego is famous for its beaches, and it has 70 miles of them to back up that reputation. Most of them have no admission fees, and parking is often free, too.
For a fun walk through a seaside community, try Mission Beach where you will also find a seaside amusement park. For tidepools, you can't beat lovely La Jolla, where the pools are easily reached from the shore.
Except for the cost of the wood (and the makings for s'mores), beach bonfires are free. La Jolla Shores Beach and the jetty at Mission Beach are good places to go to enjoy a California tradition.
America's largest urban cultural park has more than 25 museums and attractions, from astronomical to horticultural. As a public service, park organizations offer free Tuesday admission on a rotating basis for San Diego residents only. The Timken Museum of Art is always free.
The park also offers quite a few free guided tours. You can also listen to a free organ concert for free at the Spreckels Organ Pavillion.
Seaport Village is a shopping and dining complex near the marina. They don't charge admission, making it a free attraction. There's no charge to watch the street performers that often show up there or to walk along the oceanfront path, but you will spend money if you start shopping and snacking.
You can guess what Old Town is about. It's the older part of San Diego, dating back to the earliest days of Spanish colonization. You can walk around to see the well-preserved remnants from the days when San Diego was a frontier town and take a free tour. Shopping and dining are going to cost you, though.
The so-called Gaslamp District got its name back when the street lights were gas-powered. That gives you a hint that it's also a historic district from San Diego's early days. It still contains many well-preserved buildings from its days as the growing city's commercial center.
The Gaslamp is also a popular destination for evening dining and entertainment, which of course are not free.
Mission Bay Park
San Diego has some of the best urban parks in California. A natural complement to the amazing Balboa Park museums is Mission Bay Park, which has no less than 27 miles of coastline to explore around the bay. Some things to do in Mission Bay have a price tag, like renting jet skis and boats, but you can also bring a homemade kite to fly, have a picnic or just play on the beach or in a shaded, grassy spot.
In Spanish, La Jolla means "the jewel, " and it's a particularly appropriate name for this gorgeous little seaside town. A walk along the clifftops, a trip down to the cove to look at the tidepools and the scarlet sunsets are all free (except for the small amount you might have to pay to park your car while you're doing those things). The shops in town are expensive to buy from, but window-shopping and gallery-gazing are also free.
More Things to Do for Free in San Diego
We're not out of ideas yet. Try one of these:
- Walkabout International offers lots of fun, free walking tours all around San Diego.
- Did you know that Olympic athletes train in San Diego? You can visit the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center for free and take one of their tours.
- The photo above was taken at Chicano Park in Barrio Logan, where you can see some amazing mural art for free.
More Things You Can Do in San Diego
There's a lot more to do in San Diego, rain or shine, even if you have to pay for some of it.
You may want to start by finding out why you should skip some places you've heard about. If you're a contrarian traveler who seeks out the undiscovered spots, then don't miss off-the-beaten-path activities.
If you're traveling with kids, you'll definitely want to check out the best places to take kids in San Diego.
Even though the San Diego weather is mostly sunny, it might rain in the winter. No worries, there are fun things to do when those raindrops start falling on your head. And if it's summertime when you visit, you'll definitely want to know what to do on a summer night in San Diego.