Living in San Diego can be expensive – after all, who WOULDN’T want to live in a place with endless days of sunshine, gorgeous beaches, and the best Mexican food on the West Coast? But there are still plenty of free things to do in San Diego. In this video on Off the 56, Courtney and I share our list of the best free things to do in San Diego from Balboa Park to the Self Realization Center in Encinitas and beyond!
1) First up is Torrey Pines Gliderport. While this one might not technically be free if you are actually paragliding, it’s a great place to go and enjoy views of the ocean, beach, sunsets, and paragliders.
2) Next on our list is one of our favorite places in San Diego, Balboa Park. While many of the museums do charge admission, there is one day a month where select museums are free for San Diego residents. A few of the museums are actually free all the time! Plus, it costs nothing to stroll around the park and enjoy the picturesque grounds and stunning architecture.
3) Every fall, the Miramar Air Show returns to San Diego. While it does cost money to attend the air show on the MCAS Miramar base, if you live nearby, you can take in the show for free from the comfort of your own car, backyard, driveway, or roof.
4) If you’ve never been to the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, add this to your weekend to-do list! While the park is really more of a street, it’s filled with museums, preserved historic buildings, shops, and restaurants. There’s also a Mission you can explore. Some of the attractions have paid admission, but it’s free to go down and explore the area, particularly when there’s a celebration going on like Cinco de Mayo or Dia de los Muertos. Fun fact: There are only two registered haunted houses in all of California and one of them, the Whaley House, is in Old Town San Diego!
5) Many new residents of San Diego are surprised to learn that San Diegans love to hike and mountain bike! With miles of trails all over the county, this heart-pumping activity is #5 on our list of free things to do in San Diego. Click here to find a trail near you! Some of the most popular hiking trails in the area are the trails that make up the 5 Peak Challenge, in Mission Trails Regional Park. There’s also Los Penasquitos Canyon, Potato Chip, Torrey Pines, and more!
6) La Jolla Cove is a popular destination for tourists and residents alike. It’s free to go and enjoy the antics of the harbor seals that hang around the rocks and cliffs in downtown La Jolla. There are also great tide pools to explore with the family and beautiful beaches where you can swim, surf, snorkel, and more! Just be sure to bring money for parking.
7) Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma is one of the most gorgeous places in all of San Diego. If you’ve never watched the sunset at Sunset Cliffs, you are missing out! While there’s not a ton to do there, it’s definitely an experience that makes you feel blessed to live in beautiful San Diego.
8) The Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in San Diego Bay. He is remembered as the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the United States. Also in Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument is free to visit and explore. There’s a museum there and an old preserved lighthouse. You can also explore the trails in the area which lead to some great tide pools!
9) It’s not summer in San Diego if you don’t take in at least one outdoor movie or concert. Of course, the weather in San Diego is great all year round, but in summer most communities in San Diego offer regular free movie nights or concerts with local bands in a community park. We recommend packing a picnic or bringing some snacks to get the full experience! We should also note that there’s actually still a drive-in movie theatre in Santee, though it’s not free.
10) The Mt. Soledad Veteran’s Memorial is one of the most recognizable sites in San Diego. Situated at the top of Mount Soledad, it features a massive white cross, which you can actually see from the 5 freeway. While paying your respects to our veterans, you can enjoy panoramic 360-degree views over La Jolla, Pacific Beach, and downtown San Diego. Get there early to find parking!
11) Seaport Village is another popular tourist haunt that’s free to explore. Located in Downtown San Diego right on San Diego Bay, it’s full of cute shops and restaurants. They also have an old-fashioned carousel that was hand-carved in 1895. Grab an ice cream cone and take in the stunning views of the Coronado Bridge!
12) Beach bonfires are a popular, free summer activity in San Diego County. Not every beach allows bonfires, but several of the most popular beaches in the county like Coronado, La Jolla Shores, and Mission Beach do allow them. Just make sure to observe the rules about dogs, glass containers, and alcohol while enjoying your bonfire.
13) You may or may not know that Encinitas is home to the Self-Realization Fellowship Center, which was founded by an Indian Monk named Paramahansha Yogananda. It features a gorgeous garden and seaside trails you can enjoy while you meditate.
14) Mission Bay is an amazing place to spend the day. If you have your own kayak or paddleboard, it’s a great place to go and get some exercise in the sun. You can also picnic or walk or bike on the trails around the bay.
15) While few people make the trek out to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park except during the spring “Super Bloom” which is when the desert erupts with colorful wildflowers, this park is free to explore all year long. A nice contrast to all the beaches on the list, this rugged desert landscape has its own harsh beauty. We hope you enjoyed our list of 15 free things to do in San Diego! Do you have any additions? Leave us a comment below!