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25 Fun & Free Things to Do

On a budget? No problem!

Having fun in San Diego doesn’t mean spending a lot of money. In fact, lots of things to see and do here are absolutely free! With 70 miles of beautiful beaches, near-perfect weather year-round and a variety of magnificent settings countywide, San Diego is a bargain getaway that promises fun for kids and adults any time of year. 

Browse through this list to help you plan the perfect San Diego itinerary.

  1. Head to San Diego's many beaches, which are consistently ranked among the top in the nation. The beaches are all free to the public, to swim, body surf or hang ten. Build a sand castle, relax with a good book or just bask in the sun – you won't be disappointed.
  2. Visit La Jolla Cove and witness magnificent sunsets over the ocean. The Cove, a spectacular pocket beach nestled into La Jolla's rocky bluffs, was ranked No. 9 in Tripadvisor's Best Beaches Awards for 2022. Or stretch out on the expansive golden sands of Coronado Beach, flanked by the elegant Hotel del Coronado and the glittering Pacific. The gorgeous setting earned Coronado a No. 15 ranking on Tripadvisor's Best Beaches list.
  3. Stroll along San Diego's Embarcadero for hours of free entertainment, shopping and more. Enjoy a laid-back day of hanging out in the grass and watching the many passing yachts and ships on picturesque San Diego Bay, or take in the sights from one of the many bay-view benches and walkways. And don't miss the numerous public artworks — including the towering and playful "Embracing Peace," which sits just south of the massive USS Midway Museum. It's all part of The Wonderfront, San Diego's "largest attraction," with 27 miles of bayside parks, marinas, shops, restaurants, promenades and bikeways.
  4. Explore the sprawling Gaslamp Quarter, a nationally recognized historic district and the lively epicenter of San Diego's Downtown. Check out such landmarks as the Davis-Horton House, the area's oldest surviving structure, which was brought around Cape Horn from Maine in 1850 and reassembled here. Take time to admire what the Gaslamp Quarter Foundation calls the largest collection of restored Victorian office buildings this side of the Mississippi, and walk what was once the home turf of such memorable figures as the Old West lawman Wyatt Earp. And discover such modern wonders as the “Flame Flower” sculpture in front of the Westin Gaslamp Quarter hotel — and of course the impressive edifice that is Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres and named by USA Today as the No. 1 ballpark in America.
  5. Take in the sights and sounds of San Diego's vibrant arts and culture scene. The San Diego Symphony regularly offers rehearsals that are free and open to the public at the stunning new Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, set along the waterfront west of the San Diego Convention Center. And in La Jolla, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego — now open again after a dazzling rebuild — is free on the second Sunday and third Thursday of each month.
  6. Spend a day relaxing and playing in the recreational and aquatic wonderland that is Mission Bay Park, whose 4,600 acres take in sandy beaches, playgrounds, grassy lawns for picnicking and sports, a 12-mile path for biking and hiking, and much more. Tecolote Shores along the park's eastern edge is the place to go for kite-flying, while families and their animals will love Fiesta Island, whose entire expanse is dog- and horse-friendly. Mission Bay's western beaches are also just a few blocks from the Pacific.
  7. Enjoy free organ concerts at 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. The Organ Pavilion features one of world's largest outdoor pipe organs, a San Diego landmark since 1914, where organists play traditional favorites, waltzes and show tunes on enormous 32-foot pipes.
  8. Visit Old Town and witness the living legacy of San Diego history. Guests are invited to wander free through Old Town's historic buildings, including the blacksmith shop, Seeley Stables, Stewart House, Estudillo House and the oldest schoolhouse in San Diego. Be sure to visit the recently opened Iipay ~ Tipay Kumeyaay Mut Niihepok (Land of the First People) outdoor area, which offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the area's earliest residents, the Kumeyaay.
  9. Stroll, rollerblade, skateboard or bicycle along the Mission Beach Boardwalk, a scenic 3-mile walkway along picturesque Mission and Pacific Beaches. Or incorporate that stretch of pavement into a scenic run; the pathway is just part of what makes San Diego a runner's paradise, with numerous beautiful waterfront routes around the region. For a more relaxed pastime, you also can just sit along the boardwalk's beach wall and people-watch, as an ever-fascinating procession of humanity passes by.
  10. Visit the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center (formerly the U.S. Olympic Training Center) in San Diego's South Bay for a free tour of the 150-acre facility, including training fields and tracks, athlete dorms and the Otay Lake Reservoir. Self-guided tours are available daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  11. San Diego boasts a collection of great mountain hikes that will take you up towering peaks, through verdant forests and past sparkling high-country lakes. Stonewall Peak is a longtime favorite among those who relish a pulse-boosting climb, while such hikes as the Lake Cuyamaca loop and the Sunset Trail near Mount Laguna offer more relaxed strolls past backcountry wonders. On the eastern side of the mountains, visit the trails of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, one of the largest state parks in the country. After the winter rains each spring, the park explodes into a rainbow of colorful wildflower blossoms.
  12. Step back in time with a stop in Julian, a century-old gold mining town in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Pick up a free map at the Chamber of Commerce for a self-guided walking tour of the area's historic sites, and later enjoy a slice of homemade apple pie — a Julian specialty!
  13. Grab your picnic basket and head to any one of San Diego's inviting spots for a casual outdoor repast — from Downtown's Waterfront Park, with its wide patches of grass and interactive fountain, to the beachside charm of Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla, to the sweeping city vistas from Kate Sessions Park in Pacific Beach.
  14. San Diego is famous for its 59-Mile Scenic Drive, which winds along the beautiful coastline and through some of the city's most charming neighborhoods. And that's just one of many fun road trips around the region, from the ocean-to-desert adventure of Historic Highway 80 to the backcountry beauty along Highway 79.
  15. Visit Mission Trails Regional Park to explore its cultural, historical and recreational treasures. Stop at the visitor's center and learn about the local habitat and wildlife and the people who once lived here. Then, roam through the park's 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails.
  16. Go snorkeling off San Diego's shores and see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Cove offers some of the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater reserves, where you might glide above schools of stunning (but harmless) leopard sharks or spot the bright-orange glint of the garibaldi, California's state marine fish.
  17. Go bird watching at one of the region's many wetland reserves, including Tijuana Estuary, Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and the Famosa Slough in Point Loma. San Diego has more than 500 species of birds that either stop along the migration path in fall and spring or call San Diego home year-round. That's more than any other place in the continental United States.
  18. Explore the natural wonders and dramatic landscapes of Torrey Pines State Reserve, perched high above Torrey Pines State Beach. (There is limited free parking along the highway north of the reserve.) Or discover San Diego's numerous other great coastal hikes, from Border Field State Park in the south to San Onofre State Beach in the north.
  19. Stroll through Balboa Park and marvel at its beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. While there, take advantage of the park's variety of offerings, including 17 museums (select museums free on Tuesdays for San Diego residents), free daily park tours, and spectacular gardens (seven are free daily). The just-reopened Timken Museum of Art is always free, and the recently renovated Mingei Museum also offers free areas. And for night owls and astronomy buffs, there's stargazing outside the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park on the first Wednesday of every month: The San Diego Astronomy Association sets up huge telescopes to offer guests a great view of the night sky.
  20. If you've got a bike — either manual or electric — San Diego has a perfect path for you, from the natural beauty of Penasquitos Canyon to the urban-neighborhood explorations of Adams Avenue. And going electric will help you conquer the heights of such marquee sites as Mount Soledad in hilly La Jolla.
  21. Gather family, friends and firewood for a cozy beach bonfire at one of the scenic beaches in San Diego County, including Coronado Beach, La Jolla Shores, Ocean Beach and Mission Beach. Check out the full rundown of places to work up that warm glow by the ocean, from Moonlight State Beach in the North County community of Encinitas to the southerly Silver Strand State Beach between Imperial Beach and Coronado.
  22. Check out the 80+ murals of Chicano Park, a National Landmark and home to the largest collection of outdoor Chicano murals.
  23. Drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla for breathtaking, 360-degree views of San Diego, including the gently curving La Jolla coastline and Mission Bay. Spectacular views of San Diego's East County communities also await guests at the top of Mt. Helix.
  24. You can get out on the water here (or at least over it) without even getting your feet wet, courtesy of San Diego's great pier walks. Check out the surf action from Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, or the Ocean Beach Pier just a few miles to the south. Or watch passing parade of boat traffic against the stunning backdrop of San Diego's skyline at the Coronado Ferry Landing Pier.
  25. And no list of San Diego's fantastic freebies is complete without an ode to our gorgeous sunsets. There are loads of great places around the region to witness the sun sink behind the ocean waves, whether it's the famed Windansea Beach in La Jolla or the aptly named Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma. Or you can watch those twilight hues settle over the city from the elegant perch of Mister A's restaurant, a San Diego classic near downtown. Whatever spot you pick, the views are guaranteed to leave you with that golden glow.

Find more fun in the San Diego sun things to do here.

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