Budget travel doesn’t have to mean boring travel, especially not in San Diego! It’s true this Southern California city has earned its expensive reputation, but it’s easy to enjoy a visit to San Diego without breaking the bank.
With stunning beaches, world-class museums, and a vibrant food scene, there’s a lot to love about San Diego. This sunny SoCal hotspot is on everyone’s travel wish list for good reason. There are also plenty of free and affordable things to do in San Diego, if you just know where to look. Here’s how to go about visiting San Diego destinations on a budget.
The best time to visit San Diego
Save money and skip the crowds!
The best way to save money in San Diego is to plan your visit during the off-season. The city fills with tourists in the summer, from the end of May until school starts again in September. If you can visit during Spring (March to May) or Fall (September to November), you’ll enjoy mild weather and fewer crowds.
If you’re excited to explore San Diego’s famous museums, consider a winter visit. February is Museum Month in San Diego. Pick up a free pass and get half-price admission to 40+ participating museums, including the popular Maritime Museum and the San Diego Museum of Art.
Things to do in San Diego on a budget
1. Start with San Diego’s top attractions
San Diego is home to countless attractions and museums. It would be easy to spend an entire day at the world-famous San Diego Zoo, home to more than 3,500 animals. History buffs will love the Maritime Museum and the USS Midway, while Balboa Park boasts beautiful gardens and theaters.
All those admission costs can quickly add up. You can save money and still have a great time by picking just one or two of the top sights. If you’re in town for more than a few days, you can grab a Go San Diego Card and save on the entrance fees to 39 different San Diego attractions and tours.
2. Enjoy Balboa Park on a budget
Speaking of Balboa Park, there’s a lot to explore in this sprawling, 1,200-acre urban oasis. If it’s famous museums you’re after, save money on admission with a Balboa Park Museum Explorer Pass. Otherwise, the charming Timken Museum of Art is always free.
Another budget-friendly way to enjoy the park is to pack a picnic and catch one of many free, open-air concerts. The Balboa Park summer concert series has delighted visitors for 38 years. You can also opt to join a free guided walking tour of Balboa Park to learn more about its botanical gardens and heritage architecture.
3. Lace up your sneakers and take a hike
Southern California is known for its rugged coastline and outstanding natural beauty. San Diego is no exception! Head to Torrey Pines State Park for some of the best hiking trails in San Diego. This wild stretch of coast is accessible for all to enjoy, with free parking and free admission.
Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail is another option suitable for all ages and experience levels. This scenic, peaceful route winds through a picturesque canyon complete with babbling brooks, waterfalls, and the occasional deer sighting.
4. When in doubt, head to the beach
Is there anything more SoCal than a day at the beach? Even as the sun sets, locals love having beach bonfires and roasting s’mores on the shore. San Diego’s beaches are also a very budget-friendly way to enjoy the city. With 70 miles of stunning coastline, you really can’t go wrong!
One of the best beaches in San Diego is Mission Beach, with its boardwalk amusement park and youthful nightlife scene. Skip the aquarium and head to La Jolla, where you can spot playful sea lions sunbathing at La Jolla Cove. With the famous Hotel del Coronado as its backdrop, Coronado Beach is consistently voted one of the top beaches in the country.
Save money on food & drink in San Diego
1. Dig into the city’s best street tacos
Delicious and budget-friendly street tacos are everywhere in San Diego. Keep an eye out for Roberto’s, with plenty of locations all over town, or head straight to Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop. Featured on The Food Network, Lucha Libre serves up authentic street tacos with a side of Mexican wrestling.
2. Save money at San Diego’s top restaurants
San Diego is home to an innovative dining scene, but that comes with a hefty price tag. Restaurants in the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter are notoriously expensive, but with a little flexibility, you can still eat well on a budget in San Diego. Save money by visiting pricier hotspots at lunchtime or taking advantage of happy hour specials.
The historic Hotel del Coronado is an experience itself. Booking a room will cost you a pretty penny, as will dining at the hotel’s glamorous restaurant. Skip them both but instead, treat yourself to a cocktail with an ocean view at the scenic Sun Deck Bar and Grill.
3. Explore San Diego’s craft beer scene
One last tip for visiting San Diego on a budget is to enjoy the city’s exciting craft beer scene! Many city breweries offer complimentary tours and some even include free samples. Taste the latest small batch brews at the most popular breweries in San Diego, including Stone Brewing, Ballast Point, Green Flash, and Karl Strauss.
Sightseeing the smart way
As all savvy Californians know, sightseeing San Diego doesn’t need to take a toll on your wallet. If you want to travel with the best local expertise, booking a unique San Diego guided tour is another smart way to save money during your trip to SoCal. Be sure to book your GoCar tour of San Diego today.
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