A laid back, mostly unspoilt version of the more popular Los Angeles area, this city in Southern California is just as fun without having to brave too many tourists, heavy traffic and spending a lot just to visit a certain attraction. In San Diego, you can enjoy unique museums, massive parks, historic piers and a variety of entertainment for free. Here’s a list of the best free things to do in San Diego that will definitely make you come back for another visit.
12 Free Things To Do in San Diego, California
1. Balboa Park
Comprising 1,200 acres of space that’s home to museums, restaurants and the San Diego Zoo, a visit to Balboa Park is a must. It’s free to visit, there’s even a free tram ride that takes you from the parking area to the visitor center that offers a wealth of information about the park.
There are museums such as the Museum of Man, Air and Space Museum and even a Dinosaur Museum. You can enjoy a relaxing a stroll through the Japanese Gardens, Rose Gardens or Cactus Gardens. One of the best free attractions in San Diego, plan your visit so you can make the most of your time here.
2. San Diego Zoo
You can’t visit San Diego without a trip to the famous San Diego Zoo. This massive space houses more than 3,700 animals including the Giant Pandas. Spend a day here, as there are over 100 acres to explore. When touring the zoo, you can either walk the hilly trails, hop on the guided tour bus or on one of two gondola lifts. There’s just a lot to see and do, most of it for free and sure to delight both adults and kids alike.
3. La Jolla Cove
An amazing underwater park that lets you do a lot and enjoy even if you’re in San Diego on a budget, La Jolla Cove simply won’t disappoint. Best for snorkeling, swimming or diving – you’ll get to interact with leopard sharks, colorful fishes, and adorable seals. When done pkaying in the waters, you can relax in one of La Jolla cove’s many picnic areas with lifeguards on duty to ensure your safety.
4. Gaslamp Quarter
San Diego’s National Historic District is one kf the city’s best free attractions. This divers collection of shops and restaurants spread over 16 city blocks is also known as The Gaslamp. Check out the Victorian architecture, discover the unique shops or enter a local restaurant and listen to some great live music. There’s plenty to do here even at night so make sure you stop by and get to know another side of San Diego.
5. Torrey Pines State Reserve
A 2,000-acre coastal state park with eight miles of trails, the Torrey Pines State Reserve is best if you want to spend a few hours hiking while enjoying the views.
One of the best free things to do in San Diego, you can either take the trail hike or hike on the bluffs, which both have stunning views of the ocean. Watch out for whales that appear during migration season or dolphins that often play in the surf.
This reserve is also home to the Torrey Pine, the rarest pine in North. This area is the only place in the world where this subspecies grows.
6. USS Midway Museum
When in San Diego, make sure you spend a few hours at the most-visited naval ship museum in the world — the USS Midway Museum. It has a self- guided audio tour through several decades of world history. It’s free to enter and whether you’re into history or not, you’ll enjoy touring the sixty exhibits that include sleeping quarters, the ship’s jail, the captain’s cockpit, as well as restored aircraft. There is a lot more to do here so make sure you plan your visit and don’t forget to bring a camera.
7. Cabrillo National Monument
For more of San Diego history, the Cabrillo National Monument honors Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the 16th-century explorer. He was also the first European ever to reach the West Coast of the United States of America in 1542.
Aside from the monument, this place also has hiking trails along the rocky intertidal area where you’ll find tide pools filled with hermit crabs at low tide. You can also enjoy whale watching here as well as visit the 19th century Loma Lighthouse, which makes a visit to this place one of the best free things to do in San Diego.
8. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
This park is known as one of the best places to watch the sunset in San Diego, and a nice stop after you visit the Cabrillo National Monument which is nearby. Occupying about 68 acres of National Park, this shoreline is full of dramatic cliffs, caves, and miles of ocean. If you want to see more of it, head down a set of steep stairs to explore the caves and hidden beaches. There’s also a soft dirt path behind the rails that offers some outstanding views of San Diego.
9. Oceanside Municipal Pier
Spanning 1,942 feet, the Oceanside Municipal Pier is one of the best free attractions in San Diego. Great for fishing and wave watching, this is the oldest wooden pier on the West Coast. Plan your visit and bring your camera, as the Oceanside Municipal Pier is known for its picture-perfect sunrises and sunsets. Still, a stunning backdrop any time of the day, make sure you take lots of photos when you visit.
10. California Surf Museum
Home to an eclectic collection of historic boards, photographs, and videos, the California Surf Museum is one of the more unique free things to do in San Diego.
It offers free admission every Tuesday, so make sure you time your visit to this museum that’s located in Oceanside on Highway 101. Wander through the interactive displays, and learn about the history of surfing, get to know iconic surfers, and more.
11. Brewery Tours
Home to America’s draft beer scene, a trip to San Diego isn’t complete without a visit to a brewery. Definitely, an interesting and free San Diego activity, check out Stone Brewing Company, The Green Flash Brewing Company, La Jolla Brewing Company, and Karl Strauss Brewery, which all have free tours and tasting. San Diego has a good transport system so you can rest easy if you had too much fun at the breweries.
12. Seaport Village
A good place if you want a taste of the nightlife in San Diego but prefer not to spend much is a visit to the Seaport Village. Stroll along the bayfront for some window shopping, stop by in one of the affordable cafes and enjoy some free live entertainment. It’s especially fun during weekends as there are free mini-concerts. Seaport Village is also home to the historic carousel which has been around since 1895 and hosts the annual Busker Festival each spring.