Trip Ideas sky outdoor walkway Beach tree road Coast urban area residential area boardwalk vacation way morning Sea evening sidewalk
Trip Ideas

30 + Things to Do for Free In San Diego

There are dozens of ways to entertain yourself without spending a penny in this laid-back city. Here's our list of 30 + things to do for free in San Diego (leaving more money for craft beer and fish tacos, obviously).

See recent posts by Kathryn O'Shea-Evans

Trip Ideas Beach outdoor sky water photograph woman image shore Nature Sea sand body of water girl Beauty photography Ocean vacation season Coast sunlight morning leg model sun tanning Sunset spring photo shoot fashion Romance human body wave sandy
Trip Ideas outdoor sky water Beach horse Sunset sunrise horizon Sea shore Coast body of water Ocean dawn afterglow people cloud morning dusk evening Sun Nature wave sunlight sand wind wave sandy
Trip Ideas outdoor sky Nature water Coast Sea shore Beach Ocean body of water cliff vacation horizon rock terrain cape bay cove wave sand

Hit the Beach

In a town with 70 miles of public shoreline, how do you choose where to dig your toes into the sand? We say: go full Goldilocks and try a bunch. At La Jolla’s Children’s Pool—a gentle inlet created by a seawall in 1932—you can watch harbor seals and sea lions frolic; Coronado’s 1.5 mile powdery sand beach is lined in eye-popping mansions; Ocean Beach has a half-mile long pier jutting into the sea, one of very few places in the city where you can fish without a license. Exploring the tide-pools at Point Loma can be a whole afternoon’s entertainment, with their sea-stars and urchins—just wait for a fee-free day at Cabrillo National Monument. At Sunset, you’ll want to be at La Jolla Cove, with its insta-worthy sandstone cliffs.

Beach Beachfront Ocean Trip Ideas outdoor sky grass cliff Coast Nature landform rock geographical feature Sea shore badlands terrain rocky geology hill cape landscape formation material hillside highland
Trip Ideas outdoor sky water Nature Coast Sea shore Ocean body of water landform horizon sunrise rock Sunset Beach cloud dawn cliff wave morning dusk evening hill landscape cape mountain bay terrain sand overlooking
Family Travel Trip Ideas Weekend Getaways outdoor grass sky natural environment road hill cloud badlands mountain rock landscape Sea rural area Coast sand infrastructure valley geology terrain stone dirt

Find a Bird’s Eye View

Getting high has always been legal in California—and yes, we’re referring to finding an epic view. Our favorite vista in San Diego is from the clifftop Torrey Pines State Park, where sky-high pine trees stand watch over 1,500 acres of wilderness and seaside lagoons. For a sweeping panorama of La Jolla’s beaches, the mountaintop Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial is the spot. At the new, design-forward branch of the San Diego Public Library, you can get a killer view of the skyline from the rooftop cafe.

RELATED: Hotel Views That Will Blow Your Mind

Trip Ideas sky building outdoor landmark Church place of worship tower cathedral City steeple facade basilica bell tower
Trip Ideas table cup Drink indoor cocktail alcoholic beverage plant liqueur distilled beverage produce food land plant martini fruit flowering plant margarita
Trip Ideas sky outdoor ground Beach body of water walkway boardwalk vacation Sea Resort sand group Coast landscape shore sandy several

Live it Up

San Diego’s so close to Mexico you can practically touch it, so why not take a day trip to Tijuana? Crime is down, and the hipster-fun is up. Tijuana’s now known for its affordable steakhouses and a burgeoning art scene, and its streets lined with crayola-bright buildings are great for window shopping (FYI, entering the country is free for a day trip if you’re on-foot). Of course, there’s plenty of raucous free fun to be had in downtown San Diego proper, like listening to the bands playing al fresco at Seaport Village, overlooking the yachts of the bay, or even a fee-free beer bus to local bars.

Family Travel Trip Ideas Weekend Getaways grass outdoor sky habitat Nature shore horizon Coast cloud Sea tree body of water natural environment Ocean hill morning landscape Beach rural area bay wetland reservoir Lake overlooking lush
Trip Ideas sky outdoor water rock Nature Coast shore Sea body of water mountain geographical feature landform Beach Ocean cloud canyon valley horizon cliff vacation bay landscape rocky loch cove cape terrain sand wave material

Be Outdoorsy

Pack your sunscreen because 70-degree days are the norm here. Hike along Lake Poway and amid boulders to get to Potato Chip Rock, which looks like—you guessed it—a Lay’s Potato Chip, and makes for a great photo op. At the Tijuana Estuary (on this side of the border) you can borrow free binoculars at the visitor’s center to spot 370 species of birds as well as jackrabbits, lizards, and grey foxes. Don't miss a grunion run, when the fish come ashore to spawn on local beaches.

Book Hotels in San Diego
Trip Ideas outdoor sky road City neighbourhood residential area street plaza vacation Downtown town square condominium walkway curb
Trip Ideas person outdoor clothing man facial hair fashion hat cap
Trip Ideas person blue indoor tattoo arm leg human body

Embrace Art

The third Thursday evening of every month, downtown San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art is gratis—making it the perfect night to see exhibitions like Jennifer Steinkamp’s Madame Curie video installation, a panoramic view of more than 40 flowers and trees mentioned in Curie’s biography. To find emerging artists, stop by Visual, an art gallery-meets-pop up shop in the North Park neighborhood with works by, say, local tattoo artists. Music obsessives might enjoy listening to a concert every Sunday afternoon at the 1914 Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Trip Ideas tree outdoor plant swimming pool estate Resort Garden botany vacation reflecting pool arecales home plaza botanical garden backyard park palm Courtyard flower water feature yard bushes surrounded
Trip Ideas tree sky outdoor water landmark reflection building Town estate waterway River reflecting pool palace tourism cityscape Canal plaza château
Trip Ideas sky tree outdoor Beach transport Ocean vacation Sea palm shore Coast caribbean arecales palm family vehicle woody plant bay tropics wind

Get Schooled

You haven’t properly visited San Diego until you’ve explored Balboa Park, a 1,200 acre expanse of Spanish-Renaissance-style museums and gardens. San Diego citizens get regular free entrance to certain museums (full list here) but there’s plenty to see and learn about without paying a dime, including the 1915 orchid-filled botanical building, with its lily pond. The first Tuesday of every month, the California Surf Museum is free, and all days are free days at San Diego Union Museum, a recreation of the 1868 newspaper office of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Trip Ideas outdoor sky Beach rock Coast walkway body of water Sea shore Town boardwalk vacation Ocean Resort Nature rocky tower bay cape sandy
Two sandwitches

Be California Cool

Just two hours from La-la-land, San Diego has long been home to legendary musicians like Eric Clapton. Learn how his instrument of choice, the guitar, gets made at Taylor Guitars (you'll see raw wood transformed). Film buffs will love The Pearl for their free dive-in movies set above an oyster-shaped turquoise pool, and food-obsessives won't want to miss the new Liberty Public Market, where free events include live music Sundays.

RELATED: 11 Best California Beach Escapes

Trip Ideas sky outdoor water Sea shore Coast aerial photography body of water Beach marina Nature dock River Ocean vacation bay Harbor vehicle estuary port
Trip Ideas flamingo aquatic bird Bird red beak vertebrate animal water bird close up
Trip Ideas sky tree outdoor road street transport walkway lighting vehicle way line day

Let the Kids go Crazy

In the city of SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, and Legoland, kids are kings, but not everything has a royal price tag. The zoo is free for kids in October (normally $42 a head). Tweens might balk, but younger DIY types will love to make a kite and join the throngs at Mission Bay Park, where the sky teems with floating Technicolor creations. For the wee ones, Chula Vista Live Steamers offers a train ride around Rohr Park that children adore.

Want More?



All products are independently selected by our writers and editors. If you buy something through our links, Jetsetter may earn an affiliate commission.