Free Things to Do in San Diego

Seaport Village in San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

San Diego has a slew of attractions that are free. Here are some ways to be entertained while spending time in San Diego without having to spend a fortune.  

01 of 13

Explore the Murals at Chicano Park

Colorful mural of a bridge over bay in chicano park

Barry Winiker / Getty Images

San Diego, CA 92113, USA

San Diego is home to the largest collection of outdoor murals in the U.S. More than 80 of them can be found within the eight-acre Chicano Park, under the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in Barrio Logan. This region is heavily influenced by its predominant Chicano and Mexican population. The murals reflect that, too, depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe, Aztec warriors, the Mexican Revolution, and more. Don't miss the homage to celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and the iconic Niños del Mundo painting, featuring the two heads of Quetzalcoatl.

Some of the murals have been there since the '60s. The San Diego treasure was named a National Historic Landmark in 2017.

02 of 13

Tour an Olympic Training Center

Aerial view of the Olympic tracks at the training center
Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images
2800 Olympic Pkwy, Chula Vista, CA 91915, USA
Phone +1 619-656-1500

The Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center spans 155 acres in metro San Diego's second largest city. It has helped spawn a multitude of Olympic and Paralympic track and field athletes, archers, rugby players, BMX riders, and tennis champions. Take a free self-guided tour of the training fields, athlete dorms, and Otay Lake Reservoir any day of the week and you might just catch Erica Bougard throwing the javelin, Beatriz Hatz practicing her 100-meter dash, or Keyshawn Davis throwing punches.

03 of 13

Bird Watch at San Diego's Wetland Reserves

Bridge over palm-dotted coastal wetlands near San Diego

Jason Finn / Getty Images

The Southern California coast contains thousands of acres of salt marshes and mudflats that myriad bird species frequent to rest, breed, and feed, especially during the spring and fall migration periods. San Diego is conveniently located on the Pacific Flyway migration path and has been called the "birdiest" county in the country, according to the San Diego Tourism Authority. More than 500 species have been observed—pelicans, egrets, herons, swallows, skimmers, raptors, warblers, and beyond.

Some of the best places to see wetland birds include the Tijuana River National Estuarine Reserve, Kendall-Frost Marsh Reserve, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and Chula Vista Marina.

04 of 13

Take in the Sites Along San Diego Bay

A park along San Diego Bay

TripSavvy / Sharyn Amaña-Angers 

San Diego Bay, California, USA

A San Diego Bay walk provides you with million dollar views, and it'll cost you nothing but a willingness to spend some time exploring. San Diego Bay has many different areas and sights. Harbor Island gives you some of the best panoramic views of the city skyline while a stroll along the Embarcadero gets you near the historic Star of India tall ship. You can also see larger ships, such as gigantic ocean liners making a port of call or the famous USS Midway aircraft carrier floating museum. And don't forget public art displays and Seaport Village, from which you can see the Coronado Bridge. 

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05 of 13

Enjoy an Organ Concert in Balboa Park

The Botanical Building at Balboa Park, San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

San Diego, CA, USA
Phone +1 619-239-0512

Balboa Park is the jewel of public open space in San Diego and is cherished by anyone who appreciates its natural beauty as well as all the recreational and cultural activities offered within its vast acreage. Pack a lunch and head over to stroll along the picturesque El Prado museum row, let the kids romp at the Pepper Grove play area, or hike along the miles of Balboa Park trails.

One of the more unique things to do here is enjoy free organ concerts at the outdoor Organ Pavilion when the weather's nice. If you're a resident or military personnel, you can also participate in Free Tuesdays, when certain museums offer free entry.

06 of 13

Window Shop in Seaport Village

Seaport Village in San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon

849 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Phone +1 619-530-0704

Seaport Village is a shopping and dining complex near the marina. It doesn't charge admission, and there are no fees to admire the street performers or walk along the oceanfront path. Beware, though, that the shops here—largely local, like Village Hat Shop and San Diego Surf Co.—are exceedingly tempting. You might wind up spending some money if you start shopping and snacking.

07 of 13

Journey Through the Past in Old Town

Old Town San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

Old Town, San Diego, CA 92110, USA

Old Town State Park is one of San Diego's most popular attractions, and because it's a tourist stop, locals sometimes forget that it is a genuine historical center and not something that has been fabricated. You can take part in free educational tours during which park aides lead informative and friendly tours around Old Town State Park. Reservations are taken, though they're generally not necessary. Just show up at the Old Town Visitor’s Center at the Robinson Rose building on the plaza before the scheduled tour time, which you can find out by calling.

08 of 13

Peruse the Historic Gaslamp District

Gaslamp District in San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, CA 92101, USA

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.

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09 of 13

Soak up Sunshine in La Jolla

Kaykers in La Jolla

TripSavvy / Sharyn Umaña - Angers

La Jolla, San Diego, CA, USA

In Spanish, La Jolla means "the jewel," and it's a particularly appropriate name for this gorgeous little seaside town. Walks along the clifftops and down to the cove to admire tidepools and scarlet sunsets are free (except for the small amount you might have to pay for parking). The shops in town are expensive, but don't let that deter you from window shopping and gallery gazing.

10 of 13

Go Stargazing at the Fleet Science Center

Fleet Science Center in San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon

1875 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101-1625, USA
Phone +1 619-238-1233

At dusk on the first Wednesday of each month, following the monthly "Sky Tonight" planetarium show in the Space Theater, members of the SDAA set up telescopes on the north side of the Fleet Center building by the large fountain in Balboa Park for free public sky viewing. Though the sky is not as dark and clear as one might hope, viewers can enjoy a variety of sights, from the moon and planets to the brighter stars.

Additionally, you can get into the Science Center for free on the first Tuesday of the month if you're a San Diego county resident, a local college student, or active-duty military. That night, the museum also offers discounted Heikoff Giant Dome Theater show tickets.

11 of 13

Spend the Day at the Library

Glass walls of San Diego's Central Library

TripSavvy / Sharyn Umaña-Algers

330 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Phone +1 619-236-5800

San Diego's local neighborhood library branches offer up numerous free events and activities on a weekly basis. Whether it's storytelling for children, or book clubs, or lectures, or film screenings, the San Diego city and county libraries provide lots of activities to keep you occupied and interested.

12 of 13

Look for Critters in Some of California's Best Tide Pools

Wide shot of waves rolling up to the rocky cliffs

TripSavvy / Sharyn Umaña-Angers

Lands End Road, San Diego, CA 92106, USA
Phone +1 619-557-5450

Because of their protected status, some of the best tidepools in California can be found right at Cabrillo National Monument. On the western side of Point Loma lies the rocky intertidal zone, a window into the ocean ecosystem that lies along San Diego's coast. During low tide, pools form along this shore in rocky depressions. Since the tide pools are within the Cabrillo National Park, it is patrolled by park rangers. Ranger walks are available during most low-tide times, and a slide program is shown daily at the Cabrillo Park Visitor Center.

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13 of 13

Hit the Trails in Mission Trails Regional Park

Visitor Center Loop Trail
LifeImagesbyGloria / Getty Images
1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119, USA
Phone +1 619-668-3281

Centrally located and only eight miles northeast of downtown San Diego, Mission Trails Regional Park provides a quick, natural escape from the urban hustle and bustle. If you like hiking, there are 40 miles of challenging trails, including the popular trek up Cowles Mountain, giving you a spectacular view of the city. You can explore the Old Mission Dam, which the Kumeyaay Native Americans built to provide water for the San Diego Mission. There are also miles of biking trails to explore. If you haven't been, you'll want to start at the Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center at One Father Junipero Serra Trail.

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Free Things to Do in San Diego