Skip to main content

See also:

Fun (and FREE!) things to do in San Diego

See the seals at La Jolla.
See the seals at La Jolla.
Rae A. Costa-Pierson

San Diego, CA is one of the top tourist destinations in the world with its idyllic climate and beautiful beaches, but visiting 'America's Finest City' can sometimes be expensive. On average, tourists spend more than $8 million dollars each year visiting such popular attractions as the San Diego Zoo, Sea World San Diego, and LEGOLAND California.

The Old Globe in Balboa Park
Rae A. Costa-Pierson

However, there are plenty of things to do for FREE in San Diego. Whether it's taking a walking tour of downtown, watching seals frolic along the shoreline, or visiting a favorite author's house, San Diego has something the entire family will enjoy.

1) La Jolla is located just 15 minutes from downtown San Diego. While La Jolla is known to be one of the more affluent areas to live, visiting La Jolla is very easy on the wallet. There are lots of fun and free things to do in La Jolla including walking out on a seawall and watching seals play at La Jolla Cove, picnicking at La Jolla Shores, watching hang gliders soar overhead at Torrey Pines Gliderport, exploring the tide pools at Shell Beach, window shopping at upscale shops and boutiques, enjoying a California sunset at Windansea Beach, and honoring our veterans at Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial.

2) The Gaslamp Quarter is rich with culture and considered the historic heart of San Diego. To take a self-guided tour of the Gaslamp Quarter, pick up a map at the William Heath Davis House located at 410 Island Avenue. Your tour will take you past such beautiful buildings as the the elegant Horton Grand Hotel, built in 1886 and where Wyatt Earp once stayed, the U.S. Grant Hotel where 13 U.S. presidents have been guests, the Chinese Mission (now a museum) where Chinese Immigrants studied English, and the Spencer-Ogden Building, built in1874 and one of the Gaslamp Quarter's oldest buildings.

3) Balboa Park is definitely a must-see during anyone's visit to San Diego, if for nothing else than to marvel its architecture. Much of the 1,200 acre park's look was created for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition. Today, Balboa Park is home to the World's Famous San Diego Zoo and many museums, including the San Diego Museum of Art built in 1926, but there is plenty to do within the park for free. Visit the historic Botanical Building, the largest lath structure in the world, which houses more than 2,100 plants. The Timken Art Museum is also free, as well as the lawn programs outside of the International Cottages. During the summer, treat yourself to a free concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavillion. Check at the Visitors Center for information on free guided tours of the park and maps for self-guided tours, as well as information about other free events.

4) When the Hotel Del Coronado opened in 1888, over 1,400 San Diegans traveled to see the Victorian-style hotel. Today, millions of tourists flock to Coronado to not only visit the historic Hotel Del, but to enjoy all that 'The Crown City' has to offer. Visit the Ferry Landing, where ferries have docked for over 125 years and enjoy downtown city views or walk along Coronado Beach, which was named by Parents Magazine as the #4 Best Beach in the U.S. for Families. Fans of the Wizard of Oz will enjoy a visit to the Coronado Museum of History and Art to see first editions of L. Frank Baum's books and the little yellow house where Baum wrote several books is located nearby at 1101 Star Park Circle. During December, Coronado is a prime location to watch the Parade of Lights, where more than 80 boats decorated in Christmas lights proceed along San Diego Bay.

5) Seaport Village started out as a landfill where the Spanish expedition of 1782 buried their dead, but has become one of San Diego's premiere waterfront dining and shopping destinations. Be entertained by street performers and wander along cobblestone pathways through lush landscaping while window shopping over 50 unique shops. Seaport Village is adjacent to Embarcadero Park where families picnic, kids fly kites, and the views of San Diego Harbor and the Coronado Bay Bridge are amazing. Follow the boardwalk along the Embarcadero to connect to the Convention Center, Midway Museum, and the Maritime Museum.

Visit the San Diego Visitor Information website to learn more about all the fun things to do in beautiful San Diego and to view their list of 50 Free Summer Things to Do in San Diego.