arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up play-button plus tab-indicator dots close menu search facebook google-plus instagram pinterest rss twitter youtube rss-two heart Check FeaturedBadge linkedin minus apps placeholder linkedin

Free Things to Do that Arts Enthusiasts Will Love

Immerse yourself in art without blowing your budget

Budget-friendly travel doesn’t have to mean giving up the finer things in life. From a 17th century masterpiece to a sci-fi hybrid of technology and art, San Diego has plenty of places to engage your mind and stretch your dollar.

Balboa Park free art show

Balboa Park

Besides the ocean and sunshine, Balboa Park is one of the region’s most popular attractions, beloved by residents and visitors alike. The natural beauty is heightened by the park’s signature events, many of which are completely free. Every weekend the House of Pacific Relations, a consortium of 34 cottages representing different countries, opens up to share art, food and cultural dialogue. Free special events include the Fiesta Botanica, Make Music Day, Parkeology, Balboa Park After Dark and December Nights. And seven days a week, the brightly-colored cobblestones of Spanish Village will lure you in to watch artists at work.

Dancers at ArtWalk


With weather that’s nearly perfect year-round, it’s no surprise that visitors can find a free festival or artwalk event almost every weekend. There’s the Mission Federal ArtWalk, which fills 17 blocks in the Little Italy neighborhood; the Sun & Sea Festival in Imperial Beach, where shovels, buckets and trowels produce an amazing array of sand sculptures; the funky Art Around Adams in Normal Heights, and the music + beer + art + craft + food festival that is North Park’s San Diego County Credit Union Festival of Arts. Monthly gallery crawls include Ray at Night in North Park and Friday Night Liberty at Point Loma’s ARTS DISTRICT Liberty Station.

Others to explore: Solana Beach’s Fiesta del Sol, Escondido’s Grand Avenue Festival, Oceanside’s Days of Art, and Liberty Station’s Latin American Art Festival.

La Bodega Gallery opening


San Diego’s unpretentious vibe extends to the local galleries. Show up at the opening reception in designer heels or flip-flops; you’ll be welcomed either way. Favorites are the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla (don’t miss their annual juried exhibition of local talent), Quint Gallery’s experimental warehouse in the Bay Ho neighborhood where A-list artists are given room to play, La Jolla Historical Society, San Diego Central Library, William D. Cannon Art Gallery in Carlsbad, Bread & Salt and La Bodega Gallery in Barrio Logan, and Sparks Gallery in the Gaslamp Quarter.

La Jolla Murals


Street art is free to begin with, but it’s even better when you know the story behind the pictures. The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library offers walking tours of the Murals of La Jolla, led by project curator Lynda Forsha. Hanging out with one of San Diego’s most knowledgeable art insiders is a gift in itself. Tours take place on the last Wednesday of every month, and reservations are recommended.

Spreckles Organ in Balboa Park

Music and Dance

Imagine yourself dancing salsa under the stars, or swing dancing on a rooftop terrace with the city skyline for a backdrop. Don’t know a razz m'tazz from a rock step? No problem – friendly volunteers are ready to help. Salsa sessions take place at the Headquarters at Seaport Village, and the swing dancing is held under the Central Library’s iconic dome. If dancing’s not your thing but music is, you’ll find free concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park, Coronado’s Ferry Landing, Point Loma Park, Del Mar’s Powerhouse Park, and the ARTS DISTRICT Liberty Station. Between October and March, San Diego Opera performs “Opera on the Concourse” at noon in front of San Diego Civic Theatre.

Queen Califias Magical Circle

Sculpture Gardens and Parks

One of the best ways to spend a relaxing afternoon is sprawling on the grass in the San Diego Museum of Art’s sculpture garden, watching George Warren Rickey’s kinetic “Two Lines Oblique” as it sways in the breeze. Look for works by Joan Miró, Auguste Rodin and Louise Nevelson in the plaza in front of the museum, part of the “Art of the Open Air” exhibition on view through February 2018.

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, located in Escondido, is the only American sculpture garden created by artist Niki de Saint Phalle. San Diego County is a hotspot for Saint Phalle’s art, as she lived in La Jolla for the last eight years of her life.

The abuelito of open-air art, Chicano Park, features more than 80 murals and sculptures, blending history and cultural pride with bold graphics and brilliant colors.

The acclaimed Stuart Collection turns the campus of the University of California San Diego into one big sculpture park. Don’t miss the opportunity to tour Do Ho Suh’s vertiginous “Fallen Star” for free on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The newest addition, John Luther Adams’ musical “Wind Garden,” is embedded in a eucalyptus grove just west of the La Jolla Playhouse. It will be formally unveiled later in 2017 but you can sneak a listen now. Pack your walking shoes if you want to hit all 19 pieces in the collection. You’ll log more than three miles on your pedometer in the process!

Galleries, Master Class

They’re a little bit trickier to find and parking can be a challenge, but adventurous art-goers will enjoy the rewards offered by San Diego’s university and community college galleries. Expect a mind-boggling intersection of art, science and tech at the UC San Diego Gallery@CalIT2, short for the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology. San Diego State University’s Downtown Gallery is conveniently located on West Broadway near the downtown waterfront, but the campus also maintains four galleries within the School of Art + Design. Others worth seeking out are the University of San Diego, City College, Mesa College and Grossmont College.

Literary and Performance

For hilarious, soul-baring, deeply real and occasionally raunchy stories about life in SoCal, look to the literary and performing arts group So Say We All, particularly their VAMP series (Visual/Audio Monologue Performance). Topics range from what it means to be a military vet in today’s world, to roommate horrors, to “putting the fun in funeral.” Most events are free or $5 suggested donation. Looking for something more kid-friendly? The San Diego Shakespeare Society holds informal readings and discussion, accompanied by tea, scones and jam, on the third Sunday of every month at the Central Library.


The Timken Museum earned its reputation as a “jewel box of fine art,” thanks to an exquisite collection of European and American masterpieces and Russian icons, presented under natural light in a striking midcentury modern building. Key pieces include Francisco de Zurbarán’s “Saint Francis in Meditation,” John Singleton Copley’s “Portrait of Margaret Kemble Gage,” and Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Saint Bartholomew.”

Other free museums around town are the Coronado Museum of History and Art, and the New Americans Museum in Point Loma. In Balboa Park, the Museum of Photographic Arts and the San Diego History Center have “pay what you wish” policies, while the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego offers free admission and tours during their monthly Downtown at Sundown event.

Find a place to stay

Book online or call 1-800-350-6205 to speak with a local expert

Related Articles and Features

Deals just for you

Whale Watching

Luxury Whale Watching Onboard Catamaran. Save $10

Davey's Locker Whale Watching & Sportsfishing
Valid: Jun 5, 2023 - ongoing

Onboard our 50’ pristine Catamaran Yacht, our always low passenger capacity makes for an intimate at sea experience. The luxury whale watching...


AARP/Senior Rate

Best Western Plus Island Palms Hotel & Marina
Valid: Jan 3 - ongoing

AARP Members or guests 55+ enjoy a discounted rate. Valid AARP Membership card or ID required.  


STAY 3 & SAVE $100

Grande Colonial Hotel
Valid: Jan 3 - ongoing

Stay more and save more and find paradise all at the same time…right here in the Village of La Jolla, just a block from the ocean, with our “Stay 3 and Save $100”...

Events to check out


Port of San Diego Big Bay Boom!

Jul 4, 2023

The Port of San Diego Big Bay Boom July 4th Fireworks Show is back, promising another spectacular display over San Diego Bay. Fireworks will be discharged simultaneously from barges placed...


Comic-Con International: San Diego

Jul 20 - Jul 23, 2023

Comic-Con International is the largest comics and pop culture event in the United States, attracting thousands of artists, celebrities and fans of comic books, movie memorabilia and all things related...


Bike the Bay

Aug 27, 2023

San Diego's finest annual cycling event across the Coronado Bridge and around the bay! Ride the bridge, Bike the Bay for the 16th annual ride on Sunday, August 27, 2023! Cruise around San Diego Bay...

Stay in touch

Sign up to receive the latest news, events, and updates about San Diego. Our monthly and weekly newsletters will keep you informed about the latest and greatest happenings in the destination.

Sign Up





Follow Us


English | Change Language

Select your country or region

China FlagChinaGermany FlagGermanyGreat Britain FlagGreat BritainJapan FlagJapanMexico FlagMexicoKorea FlagKoreaSwitzerland FlagSwitzerlandBrazil FlagBrazilFrance FlagFranceAustralia FlagAustraliaCanada FlagCanada USA

Or use Google Translate

Afrikaans Albanian Arabic Belarusian Bulgarian Catalan Croatian Czech Danish Deutsch Español Estonian Filipino Finnish Francais Galician Greek Haitian-Creole Hebrew Hindi Hungarian Icelandic Indonesian Irish Italian Japanese Korean Latvian Lithuanian Macedonian Malay Maltese Nederlands Norwegian Persian Polish Portuguese Romanian Russian Serbian Slovak Slovenian Swahili Swedish Telugu Thai Turkish Ukranian Vietnamese Welsh Yiddish