10 Fun Things To Do For Free In San Diego, California

things to do in san diego for free

Sitting on the southern coast of California is the beautiful city of San Diego. Due to the warm climate, sandy beaches, and many attractions, it is a tourist hot spot. One of the main draws in San Diego is Balboa Park, home to the San Diego Zoo. The city is also known for its water activities including sailing, boating, and fishing. Sadly, the price tag attached to many of the most popular attractions is not affordable for everyone. If you want to see San Diego on a budget, we can help. Check out this list of 10 fun things to do for free in San Diego, California.

1. Spot the seals while strolling along La Jolla Boardwalk

La Jolla Boardwalk
Source: Pixabay

Running along one of the sandiest beaches in the area of La Jolla Shores is the La Jolla boardwalk. The concrete promenade is lined with palm trees on one side and the beach on the other. On the other sides of the palm trees is a large grassy park with a playground for the kids. While strolling along the boardwalk, you’re likely to see seals and sea lions entertaining visitors.

La Jolla Boardwarlk

Address: 8300 Camino Del Oro, La Jolla, CA 92037

Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)

Price: 0 USD

2. Visit the spectacular Oceanside Municipal Pier

things to do in san diego for free | visit the spectacular oceanside municipal pier
Source: crusephoto on Instagram

Just north of San Diego is the coastal town of Oceanside. It is known for having the longest wooden pier on the West Coast. The pier measures 1,942 feet (about 591 meters). At the entrance, there is an amphitheater that’s popular for hosting music and cultural events. Right about the midpoint of the pier is a small shop that sells everything you need for a day of fishing. On the end sits Ruby’s Diner, a great place to grab a bite to eat and watch the dolphins swimming below you.

Oceanside Municipal Pier

Address: 928 North Coast Hwy, Oceanside, CA 92054

Website: Oceanside Municipal Pier

Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)

Price: 0 USD

3. Explore the Cowles Mountain for prime panoramic views of San Diego County

Within the San Carlos neighborhood is the Mission Trails Regional Park. Lying within the park is the tallest mountain in San Diego, Cowles Mountain. The scenic trail up the mountain begins at the intersection of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road. The trail is 2.9 miles (4.7 km) that zig-zags to the summit. It is popular among hikers and mountain bikers. Once you reach the summit, you will be stunned at the panoramic views of the city below.

Cowles Mountain

Address: Big Rock Trail, 8301 Big Rock Rd, Santee, CA 92071

Website: Cowles Mountain

Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)

Price: 0 USD

4. Discover the iconic Point Loma & Cabrillo National Monument

things to do in san diego for free | discover the iconic point loma & cabrillo national monument

Along Point Loma Peninsula, at the southern tip, sits the Cabrillo National Monument. The iconic monument was built to honor Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. In 1542, he was the first European to set foot on the western shores of North America. The park named for him is also home to a historic lighthouse and stunning coastline. If you visit during low tide take the time to explore the many tidepools that are revealed.

Cabrillo National Monument

Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106

Website: Cabrillo National Monument

Opening hours: 9am - 5pm (daily)

Price: 0 USD

5. Go and explore the California Surf Museum on Tuesdays

The California Surf Museum is located in Oceanside. Inside, you will find exhibits on everything related to California’s most popular pastime, surfing. Founded in 1986, the museum houses one of the largest collections of surfboards and memorabilia to showcase the history of surfing. They have a permanent collection along with revolving collections that change throughout the year. The museum charges a small admission fee of 5 USD, or visit on the first Tuesday of every month and pay just 1 USD to get in.

California Surf Museum

Address: 312 Pier View Way, Oceanside, CA 92054

Website: California Surf Museum

Opening hours: 10am - 4pm (daily)

Price: 5 USD

6. Enjoy free organ concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion

In the center of Balboa Park is the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, home to the largest outdoor pipe organ. Every Sunday afternoon, 2:00 pm, Organist Raúl Prieto Remírez, performs a one-hour concert. The concert is free to the public. The pavilion has seating for up to 2,500 people on the provided metal benches. If you are attending a concert in the summer, be sure to bring umbrellas or something to shield yourself from the sun. Pets and picnics are welcome.

Spreckels Organ Pavilion

Address: 2125 Pan American Rd E, San Diego, CA 92101

Website: Spreckels Organ Pavilion

Opening hours: Sun: 2pm - 3pm

Price: 0 USD

7. Tour the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center

The 155-acre sports facility was originally called the U. S. Olympic Training Center. The huge facility is where the U.S. Olympic athletes train before the games. Get a look behind the scenes where history is made. Guided tours are available on weekdays and start at 5 USD per person. The minimum tour takes you along the mile-long Olympic path where you will see the main areas of the facility and many of its sporting venues.

Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center

Address: 2800 Olympic Pkwy, Chula Vista, CA 91915, USA

Website: Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center

Opening hours: Mon - Fri: 9am - 5pm

Price: 5 USD

8. Stroll along the Embarcadero for hours of free entertainment

The Embarcadero is the place to see and be seen. Lying along the wharf, the Embarcadero comprises a number of restaurants, shops, and tour agencies. You can book a yacht cruise that takes you along the coast to see the San Diego city skyline. Enjoy browsing the many souvenir and surf shops. Or throw down a blanket in one of the two parks and watch the passersby.


Address: 200 Marina Park Way, San Diego, CA 92101

Website: Embarcadero

Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)

Price: 0 USD

9. Go hiking at Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of the wildest stretches along the Pacific Coast. The 2,000-acre (809-hectare) natural park is a beautiful mix of blue ocean beaches and sepia-toned desert landscapes. Inside the reserve, you will find a number of marked trails for hiking. Or you can choose to stroll along the beach while enjoying the cool breeze off the Pacific.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

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

Website: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Opening hours: 7:30am - 5pm (daily)

Price: 12 USD per vehicle

10. Discover the murals of Chicano Park

Chicano Park - September 2018 - 8
Source: Photo by user RightCowLeftCoast used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Chicano Park lies under the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. Originally, it was a place for the residents of the predominantly Mexcian community to meet and relax. When the bridge was built, many residents were not happy about it. Three art students chose to turn the eyesore into something the community could enjoy. Today, you can explore Latin American art by visiting the park to see the largest collection of outdoor Mexican murals.

Chicano Park

Address: 1949 Logan Ave San Diego, CA, 92113

Website: Chicano Park

Opening hours: 6am - 10pm (daily)

Price: 0 USD

San Diego on a budget

Blue Angels flying over San Diego
Source: Pixabay

A San Diego vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. As you can see, there are a number of free, or inexpensive, things to do. Explore the city and you are sure to find others not listed here, we just brought you the best.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Shawna is a domestic goddess living by the sea in the beautiful state of South Carolina. She has earned two degrees in Criminal Justice and Human Services but now spends her time pursuing her...Read more

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