Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Free Things to Do in San Diego
- Make a Splash in the City of San Diego
- Locations That Are Free In San Diego
- Free Family Fun in Balboa Park
- Free Things to Do on Coronado Island
- Free Ways to Enjoy the Outdoors in San Diego
- Free Annual Events in San Diego
- San Diego Seasonal Freebies
- Free San Diego Fitness and Fun
- Fun in the San Diego Sun with Your Pup!
- Free San Diego Family Activities in the Sunshine
- Free San Diego Events for Adults
- Free Cultural and Historical Activities in San Diego
- Free Ways to Celebrate Art and Diversity in San Diego
- After Sunset Free San Diego Family Activities
A family-friendly vacation in San Diego doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. In fact, 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, these free San Diego family activities go a long way towards a fun and inexpensive getaway. Check out this guide with 55 free things to do in San Diego.
Free Things to Do in San Diego
As a San Diego native, I’m always looking for free activities in San Diego for families. Fortunately there are TONS of great things to do in the San Diego year-round. The weather is almost always gorgeous and there are constant events and activities going on all around the county.
This is the ultimate list of the best free things in San Diego that everyone will enjoy. I’ve sectioned them off into categories so you can easily find something that’s ideal for your family vacation in San Diego!
Make a Splash in the City of San Diego
1. It’s almost always a good time to fill up your summer beach bag in San Diego! San Diego is known for the best beaches, so there’s always fun to be had along the waterfront. Put on your bathing suit, grab your towel and head to one of San Diego’s 33 beaches. All are open to the public. San Diego beaches are perfect for body surfing, boogie boarding, building sandcastles, collecting seashells and basking in the sun. Just download our TravelingMom Ultimate Beach Packing List before your trip!
2. Go scuba diving or snorkeling off San Diego’s shores to see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Shores and Cove offer some of the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater preserve to explore. La Jolla is a beautiful location that’s ideal for snorkeling and sea lion watching.
3. Take free fly-fishing lessons from the San Diego Fly Fishers club on Sunday mornings during 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. at Lake Murray, located in La Mesa. If you don’t have your own gear, arrive early for a free equipment loan.
4. Explore clear shallow tidepools when the tide is low and the pools are teeming with aquatic life. All San Diego locations offer free tidepooling, but the premier spot in Point Loma does charge a nominal free for parking. The Cabrillo National Monument Tide Pools are an incredible place to catch an up-close view of natural marine life. Parking is at a charge and it’s free to explore the tidepools, lighthouse and museum.
Locations That Are Free In San Diego
5. Visit Seaport Village on weekends for free entertainment and hours of leisurely strolling and window shopping. Guests can also walk along the bay-front. Or you can sit in the grass and gaze at passing yachts and ships along picturesque San Diego Bay.
6. 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.
7. Hang 10 at the California Surf Museum, which houses a permanent collection of historic boards, photographs and videos on Highway 101 in Oceanside. Visitors can explore its colorful and educational display on the sport of surfing and the legends who braved the waters over generations. Kids under 12 are always admitted free with an adult (adult cost is $7 each).
8. Belmont Park in Mission Beach offers free admission and parking as well as complimentary seasonal activities. Amusement park rides like the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster are an additional cost.
9. Stroll through the 16 ½-block historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego. The Gaslamp Quarter is now home to unique stores and numerous restaurants, Petco Park stadium, nightclubs and bars, many of which are set in turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture.
Free Family Fun in Balboa Park
There’s a ton of free things to do in Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the United States. This includes parking, which is completely free in all lots.
10. Discover Balboa Park’s beautiful historic buildings with Spanish Colonial-Revival architecture and glorious gardens. The botanical building is a must-see. Visitors can take advantage of the Park’s variety of other free offerings, including ranger-led walking tours at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesdays and Sundays (currently suspended).
11. Enjoy free organ concerts every Sunday at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. Concerts are held on Monday evening at 7:30 pm, mid-August through the end of October 2021. Sunday afternoon organ concerts happen year-round at 2:00 pm. Open seating on park benches in direct sunshine.
12. Stargaze on the first Wednesday of every month from the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park during “Gazin’ with the Experts.” Members of the San Diego Astronomy Association set up huge telescopes and offer guests a great view of the moon, planets and brighter stars.
13. Balboa Park Twilight Concerts happen on the Spreckels Organ Pavilion stage, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, the entire month of August. Music varies from folk, honky-tonk, blues and more.
14. Soak up the international flavor at the House of Pacific Relations in Balboa Park during the free International Cottages’ Lawn Programs. A year-long event, a different country is celebrated each Sunday through ethnic foods, costume, songs and dance.
Looking for more free fun? Read this post for 21 Free Things in Balboa Park.
Free Things to Do on Coronado Island
15. Year-round, browse the work of San Diego artists during the Coronado Art Association’s bi-monthly Art-In-The-Park event. This happens on the first and third Sundays of the month, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
16. Spend the afternoon at Tidelands Park in Coronado. The park’s 22 bayfront acres feature four baseball fields, a playground, skate park, picnic tables, small beach with an exercise course, boat access, fishing pier and bike and pedestrian paths.
17. It’s free to explore the famous Hotel del Coronado lobby and grounds. Take a walk to the Coronado Beaches from here.
18. Bring a picnic and listen to Coronado’s Concert Series in Spreckels Park on Sunday evenings from June to September. Take advantage of San Diego’s warm nights and enjoy a number of free concerts held throughout the county. Nearly every city in the county has a summer concert event (a quick online search should tell you where to go and what music will be playing). Just pack your picnic dinner, low chair or lawn blanket.
Read More: Meet sea critters in the Cabrillo National Monument tide pools!
Free Ways to Enjoy the Outdoors in San Diego
19. Walk along the Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad and look for birds, insects, plants, fish and animals in one of the few remaining tidal wetlands on the Southern California coast. The nature reserve is open daily 9 am – 3 pm.
20. Take a scenic drive to Mt. Laguna to hike, bike or picnic while enjoying the fresh mountain air whispering through the pines.
21. Walk the hiking trails of Torrey Pines State Reserve and see the rare and elegant Torrey pine trees, a number of animal species and miles of unspoiled beaches below.
22. 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 over 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails.
23. Explore the mediation gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship Ashram Center in Encinitas. It is here that Paramahansa Yogananda, one of the preeminent spiritual figures of our time, wrote his Autobiography of a Yogi. The meditation gardens are open to the public 12 p.m.- 4 p.m., Tuesdays – Sundays (temporarily closed).
For more ways to play outdoors this summer, read the 33 Things to Do Outside In San Diego with Kids.
Free Annual Events in San Diego
24. Join the festivities at San Diego’s many Fourth of July celebrations, held in numerous communities throughout the county. Coronado’s popular Independence Day Celebration on July 4 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 the Big Bay Boom fireworks extravaganza over San Diego Bay, the largest fireworks display in the county.
25. Celebrate in the sand at Imperial Beach’s mid-August Sun & Sea Festival. There are world-class sand castle sculptors plus live music, a parade and a Kids n’ Kastles competition for ages 5 through 12.
26. Have fun during the Festival of Bells, a multi-day anniversary celebration of Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the first of California’s 21 missions. During the mid-July event, 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.
27. Dance along Fifth Avenue during the annual Hillcrest Cityfest Street Fair in mid-August. San Diego’s largest street fair and music festival features crafts, food booths, multiple entertainment stages and beer gardens.
28. Attend the Annual Ocean Beach Street Fair & Chili Cook-off in late June, featuring more than 200 vendors, local artists, food, a children’s area and entertainment on multiple stages.
San Diego Seasonal Freebies
29. Each October in San Diego, select locations offer free admission for children to some of the most popular destinations! Kids Free in San Diego for October includes free tickets (with the purchase of an adult ticket) for places like LEGOLAND, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo.
30. December Nights, held annually in Balboa Park, are a Christmastime tradition for many. Held over several days, expect to find food vendors, live music and a spirited atmosphere.
31. Spring in San Diego includes egg hunts! There are a lot of free locations throughout the county, held mainly at local recreation centers.
32. Get ready to polka and celebrate Oktoberfest. There’s beer, brats, dancing and other family-fun! The La Mesa version offers free entry over the course of three days in early October.
Free San Diego Fitness and Fun
33. Mission Bay Park covers over 4200 acres, with 27 miles of shoreline of which 19 are sandy beach. The park’s free admission includes a horseshoe court, sand volleyball courts, fire rings, picnic areas, children’s play areas, and paths for biking, rollerskating and jogging. The park includes several wildlife preserves for ideal birdwatching. It’s also one of the best places in San Diego to fly a kite!
34. Rollerblade, skateboard, bicycle or people watch along the Mission Beach and Pacific Beach Boardwalk, a scenic three-mile boardwalk running along the coastline of these lively neighborhoods. Or just stop to watch the surfers.
35. Walk 1,942 feet along the Oceanside Municipal Pier, the longest wooden pier on the U.S. West Coast; the pier is a perfect setting for fishing, walking and wave watching.
36. Listen to live bands lined along the 26.2-mile route of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. The course begins in Balboa Park, runs through various popular locations around the city and ends at Petco Park. Visitors can also stop by the marathon’s free Health and Fitness Expo at the San Diego Convention Center. The two-day expo features the latest in running technologies, fitness apparel, health & nutrition information and interactive displays.
37. Visit the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in South Bay for a free tour of the facility. Formerly called the U.S. Olympic Training Center, guests can see training fields and tracks, athlete dorms and the Otay Lake Reservoir. Self-guided tours available each day between 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Fun in the San Diego Sun with Your Pup!
38. 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 beaches in Ocean Beach, Coronado and Del Mar.
39. Take in the action as fun-loving canines brave the waves during the Imperial Beach Resort Surf Dog Competition in late summer.
Free San Diego Family Activities in the Sunshine
40. Explore the beauty of La Jolla, the “jewel” of San Diego. Known for having one of the most beautiful beaches in America, it also offers a gem of a view of the Pacific Ocean from atop the sea cliffs. Watch sea lions bask in the sun at the “Children’s Pool”. For swimming, surfing, kayaking and a waterfront playground, head to La Jolla Shores.
41. San Diego’s Waterfront Park is located along Pacific Highway. Kids and adults are invited to get wet in the many splash pads and interactive fountains here. There’s also a playground, green space and picnic areas.
42. 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. My favorite is the farmer’s market in Little Italy. So many fantastic samples of local goods here.
Free San Diego Events for Adults
43. Watch the Annual World Championship Over-the-Line Tournament, San Diego’s original boisterous beach softball event. Over-the-Line happens for two weeks starting in mid-July at Fiesta Island on Mission Bay.
44. Check out the local craft beer scene during free, daily brewery tours at Stone Brewing Company in Escondido. Beer lovers can go behind the scenes and sample several microbrews from one of the world’s top breweries. Call ahead for your reserved time as these tours are very popular.
Free Cultural and Historical Activities in San Diego
45. Visit Julian in San Diego’s East County and 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. Autumn is the best time to visit when their annual apple season in full swing!
46. Witness the living legacy of California’s birthplace in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the city’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. Click to read for more free things to do in Old Town.
47. 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 underneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. Some of the murals narrate the history of Barrio Logan where the park is located.
48. Head to the historic Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside in early June for the Annual Inter-Tribal Pow Wow. Hosted by the San Luis Rey Luiseno Mission Indians, this event draws tribal members from all over the United States for contest dancing, Native American arts and crafts, games and food.
Free Ways to Celebrate Art and Diversity in San Diego
49. Browse through the Ocean Beach Antique District, located along Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach, offering the largest concentration of antique and collectible dealers in San Diego County. Here, guests can find one-of-a-kind antiques, mid-century modern furniture, fine estate sale items, vintage jewelry and specialty memorabilia.
50. 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.
51. The Museum of Contemporary Art’s downtown location is free of charge for public tours on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm as well as 5:30 and 6:45 pm on every third Thursday of the month.
52. 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 taking place in mid-July.
53. Walk along the downtown Embarcadero and view impressive public art sculptures, tributes and memorials set along San Diego Bay. The artworks celebrate San Diego’s international ties, cultural diversity, military significance and unique oceanfront environment.
After Sunset Free San Diego Family Activities
54. 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, Oceanside, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.
55. Experience the monthly Ray at Night art walk in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, featuring art, live music and fresh food. Guests can stroll through 25 art galleries and business venues displaying new and current works by local and nationally known artists. The event is held from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. on the second Saturday of every month.
56. Check out the La Mesa Car & Bike Show along La Mesa Boulevard in the village of La Mesa every Thursday night between 5:00 and 8:00 pm during June through August. In addition to vintage cars on display, guests can enjoy shopping, dining and live music.
57. Catch a magnificent Pacific sunset at one of the many glorious beachfront locations. The appropriately named Sunset Cliffs is a popular spot. Watch sea lions play along the shoreline at La Jolla Cove, one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world.
58. Join San Diegans in a local natural phenomenon, the grunion run. It happens 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.