15 Best Free Things to Do in San Diego in 2023

What are the free things to do in San Diego? Well, San Diego is not a cheap place to visit in California. It is becoming more expensive day by day. However, if you’re looking to save money when visiting San Diego, then you’ve come to the right place. With a comfortable climate, easy-going culture, lots of free activities, and all-year-round bucket list items, San Diego is the perfect place to visit at any time.

From stunning beaches, and magnificent La Jolla Cove to free Summer concerts or scenic hiking trails – with so many cheap things to do in San Diego, there’s no need to spend money on pricey tour guides. Oh, I forgot to say, hiking a little and watching the sunrise from Balboa Park is another great experience!

free things to do in san diego

There is another affordable thing you can do if you’re in San Diego – visit Chapter One Tattoo, one of the best tattoo shops in California to get a unique Japanese Traditional tattoo.

Add a few of these Things To Do in San Diego for Free into your itinerary to save your wallet.


15 BEST cheap things to do in San Diego

This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you won’t pay any extra penny, but I’ll get a small commission that encourages me to deliver more helpful content for you.

1. Pay a Visit to Balboa Park

From the Automotive and Air and Space Museums to the historical buildings, theatres, restaurants, and wonderful grounds, this 1,200-acre urban park is filled with an array of free attractions.

Don’t miss the Balbo Park Botanical Building and the park, one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in California. You can also visit the botanical gardens and lily ponds, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Man, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the famous San Diego Zoo. Check out some other amazing zoos in California!

There are seasonal events, a Shakespeare Theater, puppet shows, a large rose garden, open space preserves, hiking, a velodrome, and Frisbee Golf. Truly Balboa Park is the cultural heart of San Diego with endless varieties.

things to do in san diego for free | Historic Building in Balboa Park
Historic Building in Balboa Park
Tips: Take Advantage of the Free Museum Days at Balboa Park. Don’t miss the Spreckles Organ Pavilion which hosts outdoor organ concerts on Sundays free of cost.

2. Wander Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Explore the historic Old Town of San Diego and visit Old Town San Diego State Historic Park which is the perfect place to feel the mixed vibe of the Mexican and early American periods. This 12-acre park boasts historical buildings and sites covering shops, restaurants, museums, and more. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most authentic free things to do in San Diego.

If you want to bring San Diego-themed gifts for your closed ones, Old Town San Diego is a great spot to buy amazing souvenirs.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

If you are searching for an authentic free thing to do in San Diego, this popular state park is the right place for you. Witness the history of San Diego that includes the blacksmith shop, Seeley Stables, Stewart House, and the oldest schoolhouse of San Diego.

Among the ample free things to do in San Diego at night, visiting Old Town San Diego can be a memorable experience with its charm, culture, and a good historical vibe.

Tips: Free walking tours are offered two times daily. Check their site for more details.

3. Watch Sea Lions at Children’s Pool in La Jolla

Children’s Pool is a small public beach in La Jolla which offers stunning views of the Pacific ocean. It is partially protected by a seawall and popular snorkeling spot due to offshore reefs.

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cheap things to do in san diego |  Seals at Children's Pool
Seals at Children’s Pool

Children’s Pool is now becoming a more popular and entertaining tourist attraction as you will find countless seals and sea lions are wandering there. If you travel to San Diego with kids and looking for free things to do in San Diego with kids, Children’s Pool won’t disappoint you.

Tips: Baby seals are so adorable. Do NOT approach, they are wild animals(especially when you are with your kids). 

4. Free Things to do in San Diego: Moonlight State Beach

Looking for a cheap romantic weekend getaway in California? Stroll along the Moonlight State Beach, hand in hand with the one you love. The beach has all the modern facilities including a picnic area, restrooms, washrooms, volleyball courts, tennis courts, and a snack bar.

Moonlight State Beach, fun free things to do in san diego
Moonlight State Beach

This beach is ideal for beginner surfers for its gradual slope and safe water conditions. Other popular free activities include swimming, sunbathing, and playing tennis and volleyball at beachfront courts. Free street parking is available nearby throughout the town. During peak season and weekends, finding a parking space can be challenging.

Note: Dogs are not allowed in this beach.

5. See the Sunset at La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is considered as one of the most romantic places in the US for its romantic vibe and gorgeous natural beauty. Enjoy the shimmering sunset over the Pacific Ocean. The water is gentle here and ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and diving.

free things to do in san diego | Sunset at La Jolla Cove
Sunset at La Jolla Cove

La Jolla offers gorgeous views of the San Diego coastline. There is also a famous diving site that is located in the La Jolla ecological preserve. The cove is picturesque and you can walk along the rocky shoreline. La Jolla Cove is a must-visit place in San Diego and one of the best free things to do in San Diego with families.

6. Check Out San Diego’s Embarcadero

Walking along the Embarcadero is a great visual delight and relaxing with extensive views of the bay and easy to do with wide sidewalks. San Diego’s Embarcadero is the home of many historic and cruise ships.

San Diego’s Embarcadero
San Diego’s Embarcadero

Enjoy a laid-back day and watch many passing yachts and ships on picturesque San Diego Bay. You can visit the maritime museum, the USS midway museum, or take a seal tour. There are many monuments to see and ‘Unconditional Surrender Statue’ is one of the best of them.

Tips: Bring the camera as this is an amazing place to see the sights of San Diego. Go early as metered parking is free prior to 10 a.m.

7. Explore Mission Bay Park

Mission Bay Park is another popular San Diego Free attraction. This aquatic park is located in the north of downtown San Diego at Mission Bay and consists of 27 miles of shoreline that more than 15 million people visit and enjoy every year. It has boat docks and launches, bike paths, playgrounds, boat rental facilities, and more.

Mission Bay Park
Mission Bay Park

Mission Bay Park offers plenty of outdoor activities such as swimming, biking, hiking, kite flying, and many more. You will also find volleyball courts, picnic areas, and children’s play areas. There are so many things to explore in this marvelous park that you can spend your entire day. The bicycle path goes all around the bay. The entire path is very scenic with lots of shady places to stop along the way. I will recommend renting a bike which is very affordable and explore the park.

8. Discover the Seaport Village

This 14-acre complex is a great place for shopping, dining, and entertainment. There is no entry fee here and you can stroll around the place and spend a relaxing afternoon. Seaport Village is located right on the waterfront and packed with small shops, great restaurants, and affordable cafes.

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Seaport Village in San Diego
Seaport Village in San Diego

Seaport Village hosts the annual Busker Festival each spring and some special events including the ‘Salsa Under the Stars’ concert series. Eclectic performers take to the outdoor stage regularly in the afternoon. Overall it can be a great place for relaxing or free entertainment.

Tips: Check out their site to see upcoming live musical performances.

9. Go on a Hike

There is no shortage of picturesque hiking trails in San Diego. From the scenic Torrey Pines beach trail to the plunging hills of Three Sisters Falls, there is a trail for everyone in San Diego. Cowles Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Southern California. It is a strenuous three-mile hike. From the summit point at 1593 feet height, it offers breathtaking panoramic views of San Diego county.

From the Summit Point at Cowles Mountain
From the Summit Point at Cowles Mountain

Other popular hikes in San Diego for all hiking levels are Iron Mountain trail, Los Penasquitos Canyon, and Cuyamaca Peak Loop trail.

Tips: Start early in the morning for the best views and less-crowded trails along the way.

10. Take a Biking Tour along the Boardwalk

The boardwalk of San Diego includes Pacific Beach and Mission Bay. Bring your bike or just rent a bike for a full day at an amazing rate and explore Mission Bay. You’ll find lots of shops and places to eat along the boardwalk. Biking along the Boardwalk is truly a fun free thing to do in San Diego.

You will see incredible attractions such as the Giant Dipper roller coaster, historical Belmont Park, Sea World, and the eclectic beachfront neighborhoods besides the Pacific Ocean. When you are tired, just lock your bike, hit the beach, have some water fun, complete lunch then again hit the Boardwalk.

Mission Bay
Mission Bay

Most of the time, the weather is pleasant here and you can spend a relaxing afternoon. You will also see people camping near the Pacific Beach area. Campland on the Bay is a popular campground in Southern California.

11. Discover Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

If you are a nature lover you must hike Torrey Pines to see the natural beauty of San Diego. The picturesque trails curve around sandy mountains, with splendid views of the blue coast, jagged sea cliffs, and the rare Torrey pine. You will find the nation’s rarest pine tree, Torrey Pines, in this reserve. Climbing down to the beach is totally a rewarding experience.

The Torrey Pine State Beach is a popular spot for swimming, surfing, and sunbathing. You can swim at the base of the 300-foot Torrey Pines cliffs. Next to Torrey Pines State Park, you will find Black’s Beach, a popular nude beach in California where you go naked under the sky and get tan naturally.

things to do in san diego for cheap | Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

The reserve is day-use only and open daily from 7:15 am until sunset. 

Please Note: Entrance to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for individuals is free, but there is a parking fee applies to all vehicles entering the park.

12. Relax in Coronado Municipal Beach

For its calm water, white sand, and convenient location, Coronado Municipal Beach is awarded as the top beach by many publications. The beach is very clean and the sand even sparkles with little flecks of gold due to a mineral called mica.

Coronado is a popular dog beach in California. You can see cute pups playing in sand and waters. You will also see lovely shells being thrown upon it as it’s open to the coast.

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Coronado Municipal Beach
Coronado Municipal Beach

It offers great views of large ships, Point Loma, and Cabrillo National Monument. Shops and restaurants in downtown Coronado are walkable from here. Unarguably, it’s a great place to enjoy a relaxing stroll and to take in the fresh ocean breeze.

13. California Surf Museum

California Surf Museum was founded in 1986 to preserve surfing heritage. This small museum is fully dedicated to surfing, even non-surfers will find it interesting for the cool exhibits. Here you can see a good collection of historic boards, photographs, and videos.

Know the history of boards, surfing, and surfers. There is an inspirational exhibit featuring Bethany Hamilton, the legend surfer who survived a shark attack and kept surfing.

California Surf Museum
California Surf Museum

Admission Fee: Free for kids. $1 for the first Tuesday of the month. Adult: $5 Perfect for people looking for inexpensive things to do in San Diego.

Tips: Don’t miss the outdoor Secret Spot and Bethany Hamilton’s surfboard which was bitten by a shark.

14. Watch Sunset at Sunset Cliffs

Still wondering for the best free things to do in San Diego, California? Visit Sunset Cliffs, Natural Park. This is not a typical park but one of the best sunset spots in San Diego. The surrounding scenery is pretty charming. You can climb down to the beach if you want to avoid the crowds or join everyone jumping off the dangerous arch at your own risk.

Sunset at Sunset Cliffs
Sunset at Sunset Cliffs

When you stand at the cliffs and look down at the ocean rolling into and over the rocks, you know nothing ever will match that view. Watch the awe-inspiring sunset and witness an array of pinks and oranges painting the sky. If you are lucky you might also get a glimpse of migrating gray whales during mid-December to April months.

15. Explore 59-Mile Scenic Drive

If you have a limited amount of time and have a car, then this is the best way to see San Diego’s highlights. The drive includes multiple sites in the harbor area, Point Loma, several stops in elegant La Jolla and Torrey Pines, Old Town, and the Gaslamp district.

If you are going to do the drive, start it early in the morning for the least amount of traffic. There are road signs all along the way throughout the driving route. Each sign has a white background, blue letters, and a large seagull in the center of the sign.

59-Mile Scenic Drive
59-Mile Scenic Drive

If you follow this driving tour with stops as indicated, you will have a full-day tour of the San Diego and La Jolla area that will be completely satisfying. Surprisingly most of the visitors don’t know about this driving route of San Diego. You can get the detailed driving route and information about each stop here.

Tips: Use your online navigation system. Be prepared for traffic. There is an entrance fee of around $10 per car to Cabrillo National Monument.

If you know of any other free activities, I’d be more than happy to hear from you and add them to this list of Top Free Things to do in San Diego. Just leave a comment below.

Please don’t forget to share this post.

Happy traveling… 🙂


Top free things to do in San Diego


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