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.
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 U.S.S Midway aircraft carrier floating museum. And don't forget public art displays and Seaport Village, from which you can see the Coronado Bridge.
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.
Wander Around Balboa Park
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, or let the kids romp at the Pepper Grove play area, hike along the miles of Balboa Park trails or enjoy free classical concerts at the outdoor Organ Pavilion. And don't forget Free Tuesdays, where museums open their doors to residents and military personnel for free every Tuesday (on a rotating basis). Both recreation and culture can be found for free in Balboa Park.
Window Shop in Seaport Village
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.
Take a Trip to the Past at Old Town State Park
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 and you can typically 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
See the Historic Gaslamp District
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.
Play or Picnic in 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.
Spend Some Time in La Jolla
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 free.
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.
Spend the Day at the Library
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.
Visit Some of California's Best Tide Pools
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 tides and a slide program is shown daily at the Cabrillo Park Visitor Center.
Hit the Trails in Mission Trails Regional Park
Centrally located and only 8 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.
Taylor Guitars makes some of the finest acoustic guitars around, and they are manufactured right here in El Cajon. Known for their meticulous craft, Taylor Guitars offers guitar fans a free guided tour of the Taylor factory every Monday through Thursday at 1 p.m. (excluding holidays). The Taylor Guitars Factory Tour takes guests through the steps of guitar construction, from wood selection to final assembly. No reservations are required and you can just check in at the receptionist desk in the lobby of Taylor Guitar's main building by 1 p.m. to register for the tour.