Best Free Things to do in San Diego

Your guide to the best free things to do in San Diego for families, couples and locals including neighborhoods & beaches with free activities & popular hikes!
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Your Guide to Free Activities in San Diego

Planning a vacation can be a lot of fun! Between picking out the best attractions to explore with your family, discovering new places to dine, checking out upcoming events and locating the perfect place to stay, organizing a trip is exciting! Visiting somewhere new means discovering all of the intriguing things that come along with it.

When it comes to planning a vacation, it’s pretty easy for it to become costly and blow the budget you had set for the trip. Without some free things to do, it can all start to add up very quickly!

While staying on budget during vacation can be tough, San Diego is the perfect destination for the budget conscious traveler as it features a variety of free things for visitors (and locals) to do!

San Diego is a family-friendly town full of free activities for the entire family, from outdoor enthusiasts to history buffs searching for the quintessential San Diego museum. The free family fun you are looking for will definitely be found in the area.

For couples visiting San Diego and locals alike, there's an abundance of free activities that will make for the perfect date day or date night! Whether you are searching for a romantic activity to celebrate an anniversary like a stroll through the historic Gaslamp Quarter, a birthday of window shopping in Downtown San Diego or a free stroll on one of the 78 beautiful beaches in San Diego just because, there’s a free activity waiting for you.

San Diego is also well-known for its mild temperature and blue skies, perfect for going on a free hike at one of the many parks throughout the area. Get the family, a small group or go as a couple and get some fresh air while exploring nature and hopefully enjoy an incredible view during your hike! Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Mission Trails Regional Park are two fan favorites in the San Diego area we cover below!

Start by exploring our tips on how to get heavily discounted admission to the most popular attractions in town so that they are ‘almost free’. Next, explore our list of budget-friendly hotels so you can stay-and-play on a tight budget. Finally, explore our list of the best free things to do in San Diego!

9 Best Free Things to Do

From beach activities like swimming and sunbathing to exploring a historic neighborhood like Old Town or the Gaslamp Quarter to going on a hike at one of the dozens of San Diego area parks, there is something ‘free’ that everyone will enjoy!

1) Spend a free day at one of San Diego’s Popular Beaches

One of the best free San Diego attractions is none other than the visiting one of the beautiful area beaches. There are several beaches to choose from in San Diego with some of the most popular being La Jolla Cove, Mission Beach, Coronado Central Beach, Ocean Beach Pier & City Beach and Pacific Beach.

A family beach day is always a great way to create memories! Families can spend time together building sandcastles, swimming, surfing or just have a meaningful chat while sunbathing. Let's just say, a free day at the beach can be just as good as the most expensive San Diego attraction you can find!

2) Bike Rides around Mission Bay

Neighborhood: Mission Bay Park
Address:
3220 Bayside Walk San Diego, CA 92109

Another great free activity for families, couples and anyone looking for a fun activity is going for a bike ride around Mission Bay. The Mission Bay bike path is a paved trail that loops around the bay. It's a great option for families who want to get outdoors, exercise and get some fresh air!

The bike path is anywhere between 3 miles and 19 miles depending on which route you choose to take. While riding through Mission Bay, there will be views of the aquatic park, palm trees and of course, the bay.

3) Visit the Seals at The Children's Pool in La Jolla

Neighborhood: La Jolla
Address:
Village of La Jolla, CA 92037

The Children's Pool in La Jolla is another popular, free activity where families can spend a day enjoying sunshine and the area's wildlife. This unique San Diego attraction dates back to 1932 when a seawall was built to protect the shore from oncoming waves, making it the safest place for children to swim.

Now, the Children's Pool is popularly known for the abundance of harbor seals and sea lions that can be found bathing there. For those interested in witnessing wildlife firsthand, Children's Pool in La Jolla is the perfect choice.

Do keep in mind that although swimmers are allowed, it is highly discouraged due to concerns about water quality and safety.

4) Explore Old Town

Neighborhood: Old Town San Diego
Address:
4002 Wallace St. San Diego, CA 92110

For families searching to get a piece of southern California history, spend an afternoon exploring the state's birthplace, better known as Old Town San Diego. There are a variety of preserved historic buildings that will take visitors back to when the town was first created in the 1820s.

Old Town also features a haunted history! Visitors can take a ghost tour to hear the ghost stories or checkout one of the other most haunted places in San Diego for even more paranormal fun!

Old Town State Historical Park will give you a glimpse into San Diego's past through its collection of 19th century businesses and homes. There's also the Whaley House Museum which has been designated a haunted house in the state of California - enter if you dare!

Those are just a few options of places to visit in Old Town and there are plenty more for the budget conscious traveler to explore!

5) Watch a Sunset on the Beach

What better way to have a romantic evening than watching the sunset on the beach? Pacific Beach and La Jolla are ideal locations to spend an intimate evening with your significant other as you watch the setting sun over the ocean.

To make the night even more special, pack a dinner or some snacks to enjoy with each other, all for free as San Diego’s beaches are all free for the public to explore. Many beaches also have free parking to make sure your adventure doesn’t come with any unexpected costs!

6) Spend a Day at Balboa Park

Neighborhood: Balboa Park
Address:
1549 El Prado San Diego, CA 92101

Balboa Park is an urban cultural park that boasts over 1,200 acres. Visitors will have access to free amenities and attractions like: hiking trails, dog parks, interactive sculptures, museums, park tours and gardens.

In addition, there are free seasonal activities such as: the Annual Ethnic Food Fair in spring, Chinese New Year in spring, summer movies in the park, twilight in the park during summer, and kids free October and December nights.

While not completely free, heavily discounted admission to the world-famous San Diego Zoo as well as many of the more than a dozen Balboa Park museums located in the park can be had when you purchase a San Diego Go pass in advance of your travels. Save even more when you stack our additional savings on top of the discounted rates!

Balboa Park truly offers it all and will easily be an entire day filled with fun.

7) Stroll through the Embarcadero

Neighborhood: Embarcadero San Diego
Address:
1600 Pacific Highway and Harbor Drive

One of the best places to spend the day exploring in San Diego is the Embarcadero. Embarcadero is a Spanish word that means "the landing place" and in San Diego county, it is just that! This San Diego attraction is home to the USS Midway, Seaport Village and is also the San Diego cruise terminal.

Spend time walking around Embarcadero to see some of the best sights San Diego has to offer along the San Diego Bay. A few notable areas include: Seaport Village which is a waterfront marketplace that features restaurants and shopping and Embarcadero Park South where you can catch the symphony playing during the summer.

8) Explore Torrey Pine State Natural Reserve

Neighborhood: La Jolla
Address:
12600 N. Torrey Pines Rd. La Jolla, CA 92037

Torrey Pine State Natural Reserve is home to over 3,000 of the nation's rarest pine trees and is 2,000 acres of coastal state park. Head to Torrey Pine State Natural Reserve to explore eight miles of trails and witness beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

The reserve features hiking trails for every experience level. There are family-friendly hiking trails and more advanced hiking trails for the ultimate outdoor enthusiasts. No matter the experience level, Torrey Pine State Natural Reserve in La Jolla, California will make for a noteworthy hiking encounter.

9) Hike at Mission Trails Regional Park

Neighborhood: Mission Valley
Address:
1 Father Junipero Serra Trail San Diego, CA 92119

Mission Trails Regional Park, also known as the third Jewel in the City of San Diego Park System, is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and is the home to numerous popular hiking trails including: Cowles Mountain, Kwaay Paay Peak and Old Mission Dam Historic Site. There are around 65 miles of trails and over 7,200 acres where hikers and mountain bikers can go to spend their day making memories.

The Mission Trails Regional Park not only offers visitors a variety of hiking trails, it also has a notable history dating back to 1974 where it was used by the Kumeyaay Indians to store water for the Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Head out to this popular hiking trail for a fun filled day of history, fresh air and wildlife!

Trolly Ride with Go Pass!
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Hop-on Hop-off San Diego Trolley
Using your Go Pass, grab a 2 day Hop-on Hop-off San Diego Trolley. The trolley tour takes you through all the most popular areas of San Diego. It's a great way to start your trip and you'll learn where everything around the city is located.
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Local Tips
How much can you save by using the Go Pass?

The Go San Diego Pass is the perfect way to explore more attractions and activities that the area has to offer, all while being cost-efficient.

With the Go San Diego Pass, you can save up to 55% off admission fees at some of the area’s most popular attractions.

Tips on Saving on Attractions & Hotels

Big Discounts to Popular Attractions

While San Diego is chalked with free events and activities everyone can enjoy, some very popular attractions unfortunately don’t have free options but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in! What they do offer for those in the know is heavily discounted admission prices and gear rental prices on the standard rates perfect for the budget-friendly vacationer!

Pick up a Go San Diego pass in advance and save up to 55% on standard admission prices at top attractions like the world-famous San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND California and the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Combine a bike rental in Mission Bay with an afternoon at SeaWorld San Diego and if you purchase using our link you can get an additional stacked discount to save even more!

Stay in San Diego on a Tight Budget

San Diego features hotel options for all types of travelers including those on a budget. Consider the Ocean Beach Hotel which is located right on Ocean Beach and perfect for surfers and sunsets. The hotel also has free self-parking!

The Pearl Hotel is another excellent choice for travelers looking to spend more time ‘out and about’ and less time in their hotel rooms. This boutique hotel offers clean rooms, free WIFI and a pet fish in every room for a truly unique experience.

The hotel does charge $20 per day for parking so if this is the hotel for you, consider using one of the many excellent public transportation options to get around the city and save even more without the expense of a rental car!

For a complete list of great hotels that won’t break your bank, check out our article on the Best Budget-friendly Hotels in San Diego!

Popular Activities

The World Famous San Diego Zoo
The World Famous San Diego Zoo
Discounts Available
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USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
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Cosmopolitian Hotel
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The Cosmopolitan Hotel is a historic landmark located in downtown San Diego. Complete with vintage furniture & timely details, the hotel has a haunting charm.
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Tours & Adventures
The World Famous San Diego Zoo
The World Famous San Diego Zoo
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USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
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