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13 Things to Do in San Diego For Free
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13 Things to Do in San Diego For Free

Did you know that there are a ton of things you can do in and around San Diego without spending a single buck?

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5 min read

August 25, 2021

Contrary to popular belief, having fun in America's Finest City doesn’t mean breaking the bank. Sure, a slice of paradise full of theme parks, fine dining, and multi-million dollar homes can sound exclusively fit for those with heftier wallets, but we’re here to let you in on a little secret—San Diego’s most renowned attractions are more than just affordable. In fact, there are a ton of things you can do in and around the city without spending a single buck. So without further ado, join us on an exploration of all the things to do in San Diego for free. Pro tip: don’t forget your camera.

The Best Free Things to Do in San Diego

California sea lions can be found in La Jolla Cove hauling out, temporarily leaving the water to rest on its beaches, cliffs, and bluffs.

1. Visit the La Jolla Cove 

Center stage to the most spectacular natural wonders, La Jolla Cove is a San Diego staple. This small deep water bay is flanked by sea caves accessible to adventurers both on kayak and on foot. Walk down a series of caves to reach the cove, find a cozy spot, and relish in the dazzling views unfolding all around you. Ask anyone about free things to do in Southern California, almost all of them will tell you that La Jolla Cove is worth paying a visit. 

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2. Get Lost in Balboa Park

Looking for a creative free date idea in the Golden State? Take your significant other to San Diego’s pride and joy—the one and only Balboa Park. Make use of the park's variety of offerings such as checking out all 17 museums, going on free tours of the park, attending public organ concerts on Sundays, and, of course, strolling along the lushest and most ravishing gardens you've ever seen.

Old Town is the location of the first European settlement in California and the oldest neighborhood in San Diego.

3. Go Back in Time in Old Town San Diego

Learn what life was like in Mexico and Alta California in the 1800s in Old Town San Diego. Here, you can truly feel the old-timey air hanging over every attraction, trinket, and store you walk past. If you’re unable to resist checking out the quirky shops, don’t worry—shopping here is one of the cheapest things to do in San Diego.

4. Marvel at Sunbathing Seals at Children’s Pool

Famous for its adorable seal sightings, the Children's Pool in La Jolla invites you to mix splashing around with close-up wildlife watching. These clumsy creatures will often claim a spot on the beach to sunbathe, making for the coolest photo ops ever. Just picture it: you and a fellow seal, basking in the sun, living your best life—we can already see a ton of likes rolling in. As far as fun activities in San Diego go, this is probably the cheapest. 

There is an urban legend that in the 1930s, a group of little people came to San Diego and built miniature houses on Mount Soledad.

5. Drive to the Top of Mt. Soledad 

For breathtaking and totally free 360-degree views of San Diego, drive atop Mt. Soledad in La Jolla. The gently curving road will already have you in for fantastic vistas, but it’s not until you reach the very top that the coastline and Mission Bay reveal themselves in full sparkling glory. Still looking for fun things to do in San Diego? You know what to do now. 

6. Hike at Torrey Pines State Reserve 

Perched high above the ocean, Torrey Pines State Reserve is an ideal spot for your next adventure. Hiking here is like getting private access to the best cliffside hiking trails in SoCal while surrounded by the whisking views of the Pacific. And what's even better is that you might not be hiking alone—swifts, thrashers, and woodpeckers are known to traverse the area.

San Diego's 59-mile scenic drive loops its way through the city's charming neighborhoods and reveals its unique attractions and natural wonders.

7. Go on the 59-Mile Scenic Drive 

A place like San Diego is bound to make any drive scenic. But the 59-mile drive is truly one-of-a-kind, mainly because of the sheer amount of things you see along the way—the sparkling coastline, yacht-dotted bay, and downtown skyline, just to name a few. Loop through the city's charming neighborhoods and feast your eyes without paying a buck.

8. Stroll through the Gaslamp Quarter 

The 16-block Gaslamp Quarter rarely needs any introduction. Visiting this place is one of the top free things to do in San Diego, tailor-fit for memory making. Stroll down the renovated turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture, launch kites into the bay breezes, or window shop at a countless number of boutiques—the world is your oyster.

Mission Bay Park is the largest aquatic park of its kind in the country, consisting of over 4,235 acres in roughly equal parts land and water.

9. Explore Mission Bay Park

4200 acres, 27 miles of sparkling shoreline, the most renowned sandy beaches on the whole West Coast—it's beginning to sound a lot like Mission Bay Park. Here, you'll find yourself smack-dab in the middle of all the fun activities you can think of in San Diego; volleyball, picnicking, wakeboarding, bird watching, and even overnight camping (need we say more?).

10. Picnic Under the Stars at Moonlight State Beach

Transport back to simpler times where all you needed were a date, the stars, and a picnic at Moonlight State Beach. Fun fact: that's actually how the name for this gem originated—residents simply couldn't help rolling out a blanket and picnicking under the shimmering cosmos, and you totally should too.

San Diego's Embarcadero is a testament to the region's colorful maritime history complete with historic ships, museums, harbor tours, and more.

11. Wander through the Embarcadero

Looking for laid-back and cheap things you can do while in San Diego? Opt for the Embarcadero for an evening filled with free entertainment, plenty of wandering, and million-dollar views. The area is a testament to a rich and colorful history of maritime, and you can still see it in motion several times a day. Lay in the grass and watch the yachts and ships pass by, or take in the same sights from a handful of bay-view eateries.

12. Experience Natural Wonders at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

For desert mirages and a rainbow of wildflower blossoms, a visit to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is an absolute must. The 600,000-acre beauty is one of the largest state parks in the United States and also a great free thing to do while in Southern California. Don't miss out on a chance to see roadrunners, golden eagles, kit foxes, mule deer, and other animals unique to the region.

Established by Chicano activists in 1970, Chicano Park serves as a major public art site for mural paintings of Mexican and Chicano history.

13. Check out the Murals at Chicano Park

The geographic and emotional heart of Barrio Logan—Chicano Park—is located in San Diego's oldest Mexican-American neighborhood. This is where you can see the largest concentration of Chicano murals in the world; seven acres dotted with more than 80 colorful, beautiful, and thought-provoking works of art. Need convincing to visit? That’s what we thought. 

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