Best Free things to do in San Diego
It’s no secret that living in San Diego doesn’t come cheap, but what we love about this city is the plethora of free things to do in San Diego! In fact, we’ve personally done at least 90% of the things listed on this page, so you can rest assured these are only the best of the best things to do that are free of charge to you. You’ll want to mark this page so you can look at it again because you won’t want to miss these San Diego activities!
Top Free Things to do in San Diego
When it comes to life in San Diego, we’d rather you splurge on your home and enjoy all of the free things this city has to offer! Here are our favorite ways to be entertained in San Diego without breaking the bank.
Torrey Pines Glider Park
The Torrey Pines Natural Reserve is one of San Diego’s most unique places to visit. And while you could hike around the reserve, you could instead visit the Glider Park for free. The Torrey Pines Glider Park is a city owned prive use glider airport, and is home to the adventurous few who are willing to sprint towards a cliff and give faith to the wind to safely glide them through the air to the beach below.
There are paragliding lessons and tandem flights available, but many stop by to enjoy the cliffside views over the Pacific Ocean. There is a small counter order cafe that serves sandwiches and snacks, however you can also bring your own food.
Our expert tip, come here for beautiful sunsets made even better with the occasional paraglider breaking your focus.
Balboa Park is an absolute MUST visit and considered to be the crown jewel of public parks in San Diego. Entrance to the park is free and it contains both architectural and cultural activities, museums, hiking trails, restaurants, a golf course and the famous San Diego Zoo. If we wanted to get really specific, we would tell you that there are 17 museums, an Organ Pavilion amphitheatre, a theatre mirrored after the Old Globe in London, a botanical garden, a dog park and over 80 cultural and recreational facilities open to the public.
Now, not every place is free to the public, such as the museums or the zoo. Here is what’s free in Balboa Park:
- The dog park
- The Botanical Garden
- Walking through the center of the park, where the Spanish architecture can be marveled at
- The Organ Pavilion performances
- Any of the hiking trails
A big bonus for San Diego residents is the Free Tuesdays offered at the park museums, making entrance to rotating museums on Tuesdays 100% free!
One of our favorite things to do is visit Balboa Park early on a weekend morning, purchase a cup of coffee at the cafe cart and enjoy the sun rise over the Pavilion area.
Learn More: What are the best San Diego neighborhoods?
Star Gaze at the Fleet Science Center
Located within beautiful Balboa Park, San Diego residents can take advantage of free stargazing at the Fleet Science Center. On the first Wednesday of the month the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park sets up telescopes to offer visitors the opportunity to stargaze!
Miramar Air Show
The Miramar Air Show is an annual three day air show event put on by the Marine Corps at the air station in Miramar. Technically the Miramar Air Show requires tickets to enter, however, it’s an air show. So you can catch the show if you are located anywhere near the area.
Walk around Old Town
Old Town is a historic district of San Diego, and one that is rich in history. You can wander the streets of Old Town and visit the first San Diego courthouse and jail, the spooky El Campo Santo Cemetery and haunted Whaley house (The Whaley House is one of two registered haunted houses in all of California!). As well as visit one of the delicious restaurants and shop around the many locally owned shops in the area. If you’re really into history you could join a free educational tour led around the Old Town State Park.
Old Town also has annual events held there throughout the year. Our favorite is Dia de los Muertos where a parade is held, along with live music, a fair and so much more!
San Diego is ripe with beautiful hiking trails throughout the entire county. We personally like to use the All Trails app to find new hiking trails, but some of the more popular hikes in San Diego are:
- Cowles Mountain
- The 5 Peak Challenge
- Mission Trails Regional Park
- Torrey Pines
- Iron Mountain
- Potato Chip Mountain
Along with many hiking trails, there are also plenty of biking paths in San Diego that are free to use. You can most likely bike along the hiking trails or utilize the public roads that offer a separate biking path lane too.
La Jolla Cove/Children’s Pool
I feel like I’m being repetitive by saying this is another one of San Diego’s most beautiful places to visit, but I guess that just shows how incredible San Diego county truly is. And we really mean it when we say that La Jolla Cove is one free place in San Diego that you should frequent often for its beauty… and wildlife!
The area of La Jolla Cove is so unique and beautiful. From tide pools to explore, kayaking, free diving, sea lions sunbathing and just super pristine beaches, you can’t go wrong with a free day spent here.
Hike Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve
The Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve hiking is listed separately from general hiking because the area is famous for its landscape and Torrey Pine trees, so it feels like it needs its own shout out. The park is free to enter, however the standard parking area is paid parking. You can, however, find street parking nearby if you arrive early in the day.
Sunset at Sunset Cliffs
While any beach will do for a sunset, you have to experience at least one sunset at the place that is named after it – Sunset Cliffs! This area of San Diego is a few miles long of coastal rock cliffs that ease down into the Pacific ocean. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the sunset, and the perks of it not being a beach means little to no sand being dragged into your car afterwards.
San Diego Beaches are all free!
Unlike some coastal beach cities (Looking at you Jersey Shore!), all of the beaches in San Diego are absolutely free to enjoy! Once you live in San Diego for a bit you’ll have built out an epic beach going bag with your essentials, and you can be enjoying the sound of the tide pulling in and out while you lay in the sun.
So many of San Diego’s beaches are great places to spend the day; from Mission beach, to La Jolla, all the way to Solana beach and more! Just be forewarned, while the beaches are free, the parking near them may not be easy to come by, or is paid parking.
Learn More: Best San Diego School Districts
Outdoor concerts & movies in the summer
San Diego is ripe with weekly events you can enjoy. We like to say there is no excuse for anyone to be bored in San Diego, because there is always something to do! With our beautiful weather year round, there’s plenty of opportunities to enjoy outdoor concerts and movies, especially during the summer months.
*With the pandemic of 2020 we aren’t sure which groups/places will be continuing free events in the summer months, so we will wait to update this section with a few examples once we know which places will be reopening in 2021.
Mount Soledad Memorial
The Mount Soledad Memorial is a beautiful place to experience for free. Drive to the top of Mount Soledad and you’ll be greeted with a larger-than-life veteran’s memorial standing tall over the entire county. From the top of the mountain you can see 360 degree views of San Diego; from the La Jolla coastline, to the mountains of east county, through downtown and more!
Walk around Downtown’s Gaslamp district
Downtown San Diego is home to the historic Gaslamp district. This area of downtown was first built in the 1860’s and went through a revival in the 1990’s, making it the central location of all of downtown San Diego. While visiting one of the many popular drinking holes, shops or boutiques may require you to spend something for purchase, you can walk around and enjoy the Victorian architecture and window shop for absolutely free.
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San Diego’s Seaport Village is part of the San Diego Embarcadero (we chose to split the Embarcadero into different free things to do here because while you could enjoy them all in one day, most likely, your feet will be swollen from all of the walking). It’s a 14+ acre waterfront complex that hosts boutique shopping, multiple bars and restaurants and entertainment.
There are monthly live musical performances, an adorable merry go round, and large events (although those usually require purchased tickets). Plus you have views of Coronado and the Coronado Bridge. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon outside.
Self Realization Center in Encinitas
The Self Realization Fellowship is an international religious organization, which has a temple in Encinitas (north San Diego). Located on the property is a meditation garden that has views of the Pacific ocean – ocean views with a luscious garden, and it’s free to visit?! In the words of Joey from Friends ‘Put your hands together’, this place is perfect for a relaxing afternoon of meditation, or just to enjoy the sights.
Like the beaches, all of Mission Bay is free to enjoy. What we love about Mission Bay is how large & expansive it is. There are so many different nooks & crannies to enjoy and park at, which means there is typically parking available and space for all to enjoy it.
If you have your own items for water sports, such as Stand up Paddle Boards, kayaks, or even floaties, you will love it even more. And if you don’t have those items, there are plenty of places where you can rent from for a small fee.
Located in Barrio Logan, a neighborhood just south of Downtown, lies the beautiful Chicano Park. Chicano Park is a National Landmark home to the largest collection of outdoor chicano murals. It’s quite a unique place, where the murals are spread over seven acres, some of which are painted on the underpass of highways. We can’t think of a better way to beautify an otherwise standard mediocre space like an underpass.
The area is also on the up-and-up, with more local breweries and art galleries opening up.
Learn More: Pros & Cons of Living in San Diego
Taylor Guitars Factory
Did you know that the famous Taylor Guitars has a factory in San Diego? Out in east county Taylor Guitars creates guitars and offers free factory tours to guests. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time, especially if you have guests visiting from out of town.
Anza Borrego State Park
Anza Borrego is California’s largest state park and one that packs a punch of beauty in the springtime. Every spring the park lights up with a super bloom of flowers bursting from the ground. It’s definitely a sight to behold. The entire park is great for camping and stargazing.
Dog Beaches & Parks
San Diego is a wonderful dog friendly city, so it’s not surprising that there are tons of dog parks and dog beaches throughout the county. All of them are free to use.
Walk around Hotel del Coronado & its beach
The infamous Hotel del Coronado is a historic hotel that’s become a landmark for San Diego. Enjoy the views of the hotel and the beach that it resides on, which is considered one of the best beaches in the nation.
San Diego is lush with farmers markets. And each showcases the many wonderful local farmers, bakers, artists and more, all for you to enjoy for free! While you can visit the farmers markets for free, you will most likely want to support at least one of the vendors. There are so many amazing sellers there that it may be difficult for you to choose just one.
Thinking of moving to San Diego, California?
With all of these free things to do in San Diego, we know you’ll be entertained throughout every season of the year. And trust us when we say that the beauty of southern California makes the decision to move to San Diego that much easier. If you’re looking to relocate to San Diego or are ready to start the journey to finding your dream home here, then give us a call or email us and let’s get started!
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