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The Top 50 Free Summer Activities in San Diego

Having fun during the summer in San Diego doesn’t require a lot of money. In 2016, Money Magazine designated San Diego as the #1 vacation value in America. Many things to see and enjoy in San Diego are absolutely free. With 70 miles of beautiful beaches, near-perfect weather and a variety of summer street fairs, concerts and arts and cultural events, San Diego offers a fun and inexpensive summer getaway.

The following is a list of 50 fun and free activities that guests in San Diego can enjoy during the summer months:

  1. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego offers year-round free admission to guests 25 and under with valid ID at both its downtown and La Jolla location as part of its effort to engage youth in San Diego’s global art scene.
  2. Bike, walk or jog along Mission Bay Aquatic Park’s many trails. Outdoor exercise enthusiasts share more than 20 miles of scenic paths winding through sunlight and shade near the shoreline with workout courses at planned stations along the route.
  3. Experience all the Liberty Station ARTS DISTRICT has to offer by attending a free Friday Night Liberty art walk on the first Friday of every month from 5-9 p.m. Meet working artists, enjoy dance, theatre and music performances, visit museums and galleries and explore the growing historic district that once housed the Naval Training Center. Visitors can start at the information desk in the Dick Laub NTC Command Center and pick up a monthly program and district map.
  4. Check out the local craft beer scene during free tours and events at many of San Diego’s breweries including free tours by appointment at some Karl Strauss Brewpubs and free movie night events for guests 21 and up at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens. Beer lovers can download a free brewery guide map of San Diego’s more than 120 breweries.
  5. Go scuba diving or snorkeling off San Diego’s shores to see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove offer some of the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater preserve to explore. While in La Jolla, catch a magnificent Pacific sunset and watch sea lions play along the shoreline at the Children’s Pool.
  6. Witness the living legacy of California’s birthplace in Old Town State Historic Park, San Diego’s first “downtown.” The six-block park features 12 acres of Mexican lore and historical sites presented in shops, restaurants, museums and several carefully preserved or restored adobe and wooden buildings. Free “Living History” tours are offered at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.
  7. Soak up the international flavor at the House of Pacific Relations in Balboa Park during the free International Cottages’ Lawn Programs. A different country is celebrated each Sunday through October with ethnic foods, songs and dance.
  8. Head to the historic Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside on June 11-12 for the Annual Inter-Tribal Pow Wow. Hosted by the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians, this event draws tribal members from all over the United States for a dancing contest, Native American arts and crafts, games and food.
  9. Take a free public tour of the renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the seaside neighborhood of La Jolla. Outdoor walking tours, including historic buildings along the Pacific coast, are offered monthly and are free, but registration is required.
  10. Experience early California history during the Festival of Bells, July 16-17, the anniversary celebration of the founding of Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the first of California’s 21 missions. Guests can celebrate the beginning of Christianity in the western United States with food, entertainment, dance and traditional activities like the blessing of the bells.
  11. Put on your bathing suit, grab your towel and head to one of San Diego’s 30-plus beaches, all open to the public, and perfect for body surfing, boogie boarding, building sandcastles, collecting seashells and basking in the sun.
  12. Visit Seaport Village and the new Headquarters at Seaport on weekends for free entertainment, hours of leisurely strolling and window shopping, and a small free police museum including vintage jail cells open to the public at the site of San Diego’s former police headquarters.
  13. Listen to live bands lined along the 26.2-mile route of the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon on June 5. The course begins in Balboa Park, runs through various popular San Diego locations and ends at the county’s new Waterfront Park downtown. Visitors can also stop by the marathon's free Health and Fitness Expo on June 3-4 at the San Diego Convention Center.
  14. Stroll through the 16½-block historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego.  Once the stomping grounds of the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, the Gaslamp Quarter is now home to unique stores and numerous restaurants, nightclubs and bars, many of which are set in turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture.
  15. Take free fly-casting lessons from the San Diego Fly Fishers club on Sunday mornings, 9 a.m.-12 p.m., at Lake Murray, located near the village of La Mesa. Guests who don’t have their own gear can arrive early for a free equipment loan.
  16. Sample some of the more than 200 varieties of fresh produce grown in San Diego at one of the region’s many Farmer’s Markets, held daily at locations throughout the county.
  17. Enjoy free outdoor organ concerts on the world's largest outdoor pipe organ at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park every Sunday at 2 p.m. The Summer International Organ Festivaloccurs Monday evenings at 7:30 p.m., June 27–Aug. 29. Beginning June 14, Twilight in the Park free concerts are held at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
  18. Attend the 37th Annual Ocean Beach Street Fair & Chili Cook-off on June 25, featuring more than 200 vendors, local artists, food, a children’s area and entertainment on five stages.
  19. Rollerblade, skateboard, bicycle or people watch along the Mission Beach and Pacific Beach Boardwalk, a scenic three-mile esplanade running along the coastline of these lively neighborhoods.
  20. Stargaze on the first Wednesday of every month at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park hosted by the San Diego Astronomy Association.  During Stars in the Park, SDAA members set up huge telescopes and offer guests a great view of the moon, planets and brighter stars. 
  21. San Diego celebrates Independence Day with a variety of Fourth of July celebrations throughout the county. Coronado's popular Independence Day celebration features a two-hour parade followed by a family concert in Spreckels Park and spectacular fireworks over Glorietta Bay. The Port of San Diego celebrates with its Big Bay Boom fireworks extravaganza over San Diego Bay, the largest fireworks display in the county.
  22. Take a scenic drive to Mt. Laguna to hike, bike or picnic while enjoying the fresh mountain air whispering through the pines.
  23. Hike the trails of Torrey Pines State Reserve in La Jolla and see the rare and elegant Torrey pine trees, a number of wild flower and animal species, and miles of unspoiled beaches below.
  24. Visit Mission Trails Regional Park featuring a state-of-the-art Visitors Center where guests explore and learn about the wonders of nature and the native people who once lived on the land. The park also offers more than 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails.
  25. Explore the clear, shallow tidepools of La Jolla Cove and Point Loma when the tide is low and the pools are teeming with aquatic life.
  26. Watch the 63rd Annual World Championship Over-the-Line Tournament, San Diego’s original boisterous beach softball event, during July 9-10 and July 16-17 at Fiesta Island on Mission Bay.
  27. Walk along downtown’s beautiful new Embarcadero, featuring new parks, promenades and an 830-foot-long water fountain to splash and play. Visitors can view impressive public art sculptures and memorials celebrating San Diego’s international ties, cultural diversity and military and maritime heritage. 
  28. Join San Diegans in a local natural phenomenon, the grunion run, on warm summer nights when the tide is high and the moon is full. Guests can witness thousands of small grunion fish swimming ashore to mate and bury their eggs in the sand before riding the waves back out to sea.
  29. Watch tail-waggin’, Frisbee-catchin’ and stick-fetchin’ dogs splash in the surf. Man’s best friend is permitted to roam leash-free at all hours of the day on designated “dog beaches” in Ocean Beach, Mission Bay, Coronado and Del Mar. 
  30. Join the festivities of the Annual San Diego Pride Celebration, one of the most popular events of its kind in the country. Free festivities include a mile-long parade through Hillcrest on July 16, beginning at 11 a.m.
  31. Celebrate the discovery of gold in the East County mountain community of Julian during Julian Gold Rush Days, June 25-26 beginning at 10 a.m. Enjoy this quaint, historic mining town that grew into San Diego County’s second largest urban center during the Southern California gold rush of 1869. The weekend includes gold panning, gold mine tours, face painting, historic skits and more.
  32. Hang 10 at the California Surf Museum, which houses a permanent collection of historic boards, photographs and videos, located just off historic Highway 101 in Oceanside. During free admission day on the first Tuesday of the month, visitors can explore its colorful and educational display on the sport of surfing and the legends who braved the waters over generations. 
  33. Take a walk through Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the United States, and discover its beautiful Spanish Colonial-Revival architecture and remarkable gardens.  Visitors can take advantage of the park's free ranger-led walking tours at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesdays and Sundays. 
  34. Dance along Fifth Avenue during the annual Hillcrest Cityfest Street Fair on August 14, featuring crafts, food booths, three entertainment stages and beer gardens.
  35. Gather friends, family and firewood for a cozy beach bonfire at one of San Diego County’s bonfire-friendly beaches located in Coronado, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Oceanside.
  36. Go on a self-guided walking tour of The Stuart Collection, a display of contemporary sculptures scattered throughout the University of California, San Diego campus in La Jolla. Tour maps are available at the Gilman Drive campus entrance. 
  37. Bring a picnic and listen to Coronado's Summer Concert Series in Spreckels Park on Sunday evenings throughout the summer. On the first and third Sundays of the month, come early and browse the work of San Diego artists during the Coronado Art Association’s bi-monthly Art-In-The-Park event. 
  38. Take a drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, home of the Mt. Soledad Veterans War Memorial, for breathtaking, 360-degree views of San Diego. Spectacular views also await at the top of Mt. Helix in La Mesa, offering visitors a birds-eye glimpse of San Diego’s East County communities.
  39. Experience the history of the local Hispanic community’s struggles and triumphs with a visit to the Chicano Park Murals, established by activists in 1970. This cultural park has received international recognition as a major public art site for its commanding mural paintings set beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. Some of the murals narrate the history of Barrio Logan, where the park is located. 
  40. Dozens of dogs take to the waves during the 12th Annual Unleashed by Petco Surf Dog Competition in Imperial Beach on July 30. Visitors can watch the fun as more than 40 dogs compete in small dog, large dog and tandem surfing challenges.
  41. Visit the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the nation's first warm-weather, year-round Olympic training facility located in Chula Vista. Free guided tours of the 150-acre lakefront facility are offered at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Self-guided tours are also available 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday–Saturday. 
  42. Take advantage of San Diego’s warm summer nights and wonderful public parks, and enjoy a number of free summer outdoor concerts held throughout the county.
  43. Explore the meditation gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship Ashram Center in Encinitas, where Paramahansa Yogananda, a preeminent spiritual figures of the 20th century, wrote his Autobiography of a Yogi. Located on a breathtaking cliff above the Pacific Ocean, the gardens are open to the public 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday–Saturday, Sundays 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
  44. Walk 1,942 feet along the Oceanside Municipal Pier, the longest wooden pier on the U.S. West Coast, a perfect setting for fishing, strolling and wave watching.
  45. Celebrate summer with art, food and music during the Fiesta Del Sol music festival, May 21-22, at Fletcher Cove Park in Solana Beach. Guests can enjoy live performances, international food trucks, a beer and wine garden and activities for the kids.
  46. For bird watching in comfort, walk along the ADA-accessible Nature Center Loop through the San Elijo Ecological Reserve in Cardiff-by-the-Sea and look for birds, insects, plants, fish and animals in one of San Diego’s largest coastal wetlands.  The Nature Center holds free guided nature walks on the weekends, Family Fun Days on the first Sunday of each month, and is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Dec. 25).
  47. Check out the monthly Ray at Night art walk in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, featuring gallery exhibitions, artisan crafts, live music showcasing local bands, and fresh local food. The event is held 6-10 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month along Ray Street.
  48. Visit Escondido for free arts events this summer. The California Center for the Arts Escondido hosts free concerts monthly on first Wednesdays and Jazz Jams every Friday in August, and kids are admitted free at the Center Museum. On Second Saturdays, enjoy new gallery exhibit openings downtown and Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, the wonderful sculpture garden by Niki de Saint Phalle, in Kit Carson Park.
  49. Spend the afternoon at Tidelands Park in Coronado. The park’s 22 bayfront acres feature four baseball fields, a playground, picnic tables, small beach with an exercise course, boat access, a fishing pier and bike and pedestrian paths.
  50. Get a dose of free science advice from the Reuben H Fleet Science Center’sTwo Scientist Walk into a Bar” quarterly events. Twenty-five bars and breweries around San Diego County host 50 scientists from varying fields who sit at the bar and field questions from patrons. The next scheduled two hours sessions will be June 2, 2016.

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