15 Free Things To Do In San Diego This Year

March 02, 2021

San Diego is a city rich in culture and history, with a huge amount to see and do. Best of all you can see the best of the city without spending a single penny. Here's how...

1. Mission Bay Park

Mission Bay is water sports heaven, and a great place to spend the day without having to spend a dime. Ski Beach is a great spot for picnics and beach bonfires, head to Crown Point for a game of volleyball or Sail bay has a running path, live music, and Fanuel Park Playground. For a fee, you can try out stand up paddle boarding, kite surfing, kayaking and water skiing (as well as every other water sport imaginable) at Santa Clara Point. Mission Bay is described as the largest water park in the world! There is something for every level from beginner to expert, you can book lessons or just hire out equipment to take out on the water. Mission Bay is also home to SeaWorld San Diego (though there is an entrance charge to get in!). For a chilled afternoon head over to East Mission Bay Park where you’ll find the information center as well as playgrounds and huge grass parks to chill out and enjoy the summer sun. Parking is not a problem and there’s lifeguards on patrol at the weekends in spring and fall, and every day through the summer.

2. Torrey Pines Glider port

Torrey Pines Glider port

You can head up to Torrey Pines, park for free and enjoy the amazing views out across the Pacific Ocean. On busy days, the sky is filled with an array of colorful hang gliders, and there’s live music every Saturday from 1pm -4pm. If you do want to splash some cash you can learn to fly on a tandem flight with an instructor, but for a free day out, simply enjoy the spectacle from the viewing platform or head down to the beach, where the surf is great. Also keep a look out for dogs enjoying a tandem flight with their owners. It is more common than you’d think!

3. La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove offers some visitors one of the most amazing sunsets on the west coast. La Jolla Cove includes a 6000-acre underwater park, home to seals, seabass, baitfish, and barracuda. If you have your own snorkelling gear you can head straight into the water (or rent some for a few $). If you are not a confident swimmer or you’re new to the Cove, check the safety rules with the lifeguards, and always snorkel within site of the lifeguards on duty. You are guaranteed to spot wildlife in the water, if you’re lucky you’ll spot a few turtles and even Leopard Sharks. Open water swimming is another option, with buoys located 0.25 and 0.5 miles out to sea. If you do not want to head to far out into the water, you can explore the rock pools at low tides to get a glimpse of the marine life at La Jolla. Take some non-slip shoes as the rocks can get slippery when wet! La Jolla is also great for cycling. Take your bike and explore the bike paths that meander around La Jolla. Ellen Scripps Park is a great spot to spend a few hours, enjoy a picnic under the huge palm trees with great views out to sea.

4. Children's Pool

Children's Pool

The Children’s Pool at La Jolla Cove is great for kids and adults. The Children’s Pool consists of a breakwater, built in 1930 and donated to the city of San Diego by Ellen Browning Scripps. The breakwater provides shelter from the waves making it perfect for children to swim. The pool has become home to a population of seals and sea lions in recent years, which have become a huge tourist attraction> the public aren’t allowed on the beach during pup birthing season (December to May), but during the summer lifeguards are on duty and the water is beautifully clear. If the beach is closed, head over to La Jolla Shores, which is the best (seal free) family beach nearby.

5. Moonlight State Beach

Moonlight State Beach

Moonlight State Beach is the main beach operated by the city of Encinitas at the west end of Encinitas Boulevard. It’s about 25 miles north of Downtown San Diego, and well worth the trip if you’re looking for a change, or a great stop off point if you’re heading to or from Los Angeles. As well as a grass park and play area, the gentle slope of the beach makes it safer for kids. Lifeguards are on duty throughout the summer. The beach gets very busy when the weather is good, if it’ too busy you can also try D Street Beach to the south or Stone Steps Beach to the north. There’s free street parking if you get here early enough. There’s also tennis and beach volleyball available.

6. Brewery Tours

Brewery Tours

California is hoe to over 900 craft breweries, and many of them offer tours to visitors, some of which are completely free! Check our Ballast Point Brewery, who offer a free 45-minute tour from their locations in Miramar, Scripps Ranch and Little Italy. Check the website for details. The Lost Abbey Brewery in San Marco offers free 20-minute tours on Saturdays from 12pm to 5pm. Society Brewing Company has free tours on Saturday from 2pm – 4pm

7. Balboa Park

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a 1200-acre cultural park in San Diego. At Balboa park you’ll find 15 museums, performing arts centres and San Diego Zoo. Great for hiking, bird watching or just relaxing in the beautiful surroundings. The Alcazar Garden, inspired by Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain features flower beds replanted throughout the year to best reflect the changing seasons. The area around the Museum of Art features open air sculptures and art installations. Palm canyon is a tropical oasis featuring 60 unique palm species, while the Japanese Friendship Garden features a koi pond and bonsai collection. For kids, the Ethnobotany Children’s Peace Garden allows kids to learn about the fruit and vegetables they eat every day. Stop by Pepper grove playground to enjoy the jungle gym and swing park.

8. Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve & Beach

Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve & Beach

Torrey pines is a 1,500 acre are of land, incorporating miles of sandy beach and a lagoon, preserved from development of nearby San Diego. Amazingly, the park is situated within the city limits. This beautiful area is great for exploring, but visitors should remember this is a nature reserve and not a park, so certain rules apply. Dogs are not permitted, either is food or drink of any kind (except on the beaches) ad smoking is prohibited. These rules help to keep the reserve. Torrey Pines is a perfect destination for hikers and nature lovers.

9. California Surf Museum

California Surf Museum

The California surf museum has been in operation since 1986, featuring a permanent exhibition chronicling the history of surf from the early 1900’s to present day. The museum is visited by 20,000 people every year. The museum features the surfboard of Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack off the coast of Hawaii, complete with teeth marks.

10. Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter is a historical area of San Francisco covering 16 blocks. The area hosts several festivals through the year including Mardi Gras, and the Shamrock St Patricks festival. There are also several entertainment venues, bars and restaurants spread throughout the Gaslamp Quarter, making it a lively spot at night. Development of the Gaslamp quarter began in 1867 and was home to many saloons and gambling halls through the late 1800’s and was once known as the ‘Sailor’s Entertainment District’ due to its high concentration of less than savoury establishments! The area saw a period of renewal in the 80’s and 90s and is now one of the prime leisure and entertainment districts in the city.

11. Coronado Municipal Beach

Coronado Municipal Beach

The Coronado hotel featured in the Marilyn Monroe film. Some Like it Hot’ is the backdrop to Coronado Beach. The beach literally sparkles, thanks to the mineral ‘mica’ found in the sand, and the beach is continually voted among the best in the US. Driving across the Coronado beach gives you amazing views of the city of San Diego before you hit the beach. You can also get there in a water taxi or Coronado Ferry. You can enjoy surfing, paddle boarding and bookie boarding on the beach, or just chill out on the golden sands. At low tide you can explore the wildlife in the tidepools or stroll up to Orange Avenue and spend the afternoon browsing the shops and boutiques.

12. Oceanside Municipal Pier

Oceanside Municipal Pier

Oceanside Pier was built in 1888 (before being destroyed by a storm in 1890 and then rebuilt in 1893). Since then, the pier has been destroyed four times by storms and then rebuilt, the last one in 1987. The pier is great for fishing, with some great spots for surfing from the beach around the pier. The pier if 2,000 feet long and a great place for an evening stroll, taking in the local wildlife and watching the sunset.

13. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

The Old Town San Diego State Historic Park celebrates the early years of San Diego, including building dating from 1820 The area includes shop, museums and restaurants, and historical buildings including a blacksmith and a schoolhouse. All the museums are free, and there’s no admission charge for the park itself.

14. San Diego Embarcadero

San Diego Embarcadero

San Diego Embarcadero gives visitors a taste of San Diego’s maritime history, featuring historic ships, museums as well as a working fishing harbour and several shops and restaurants. The waterfront park at the embarcadero is a great place to relax in the sunshine, with a par and splash fountains popular with kids in the summer.

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