9 Free Things to do in San Diego

Dining with the dolphins, coast-lined hikes leading to awe inspiring views, backstage pass to Taylor Guitars, and don’t forget to breath as you cautiously cross the suspension bridge swaying above tree tops!

If you were to guess how much a vacation including every single one of these adventures in San Diego cost, how much would you bet? A couple thousand, maybe?

No way! ALL attractions I am sharing with you today are all FREE things to do in San Diego!

Have plans to visit San Diego on a budget? This local’s list of free things to do in San Diego is going to entertain your family the entire vacation on a budget!

You need to make San Diego a priority on your places to visit! By using this insiders guide to free things to don in San Diego you will find out how you can make the most of this great vacation destination without breaking the bank!

Let me just say that living in one of the most expensive places in the US is no easy feat for this frugal girl! But we have made it a priority to have fun and find ways to enjoy our life here without breaking the bank.

A trip to the beach, is of coarse, almost a weekly occurrence for our family but sometimes we like to mix it up a bit. I want to share with you all of the fun free things to do in San Diego that we love, to help you have the vacation of your dreams all while spending less money doing it!


If you are planning a vactaion to San Diego, California you have to read this post! These are awesome ideas of free things to do in San Diego!


9 Free Things to do in San Diego

1.Oceanside Pier

Regardless of the time of year it is always a fun thing to visit Oceanside Pier. The pier is always peppered with dozens of fisherman looking to bring home the big catch.

Located right at the center of Oceanside Harbor, it is the spotlight of the area. Ideal for the whole family for a fun walk out over the water! Plenty of picnic tables to cater the packed lunch.

But the highlight would be at the very end of the pier where you will find a fun 80’s themed diner serving up delicious burgers all while dining out over the ocean. Keep your eyes peeled to spot dolphins passing by!

2.Suspension Bridge

It’s going to take your breath away but don’t stop! Located down the street from First Avenue and Spruce Street, this swaying bridge is not for the faint of heart. This is the perfect picture opp for your San Diego vacation! You might even want to send your designated DIY photographer down the trail below for the perfect shot!

3.Annie’s Canyon Trail

This has to be one of my all time favorite hikes in all of San Diego! You can find the trail head at the end of N Rios Ave. Don’t let the short distance of the trail fool you. Once you make your way meandering along the lagoon, you will be met at the sheer face of a steep uphill sandstone cliff! This is where it gets fun!

Tough little ones can make the climb with the safe assistance of an adult. We did it with a baby strapped to my chest, a 5 year old, and 3 year old. There are areas where the trail gets super slim so don’t eat too big of a breakfast before you head out!

4.Taylor Guitar Tour

Yes, we are talking about THE Taylor Guitar people! Their shop is located in El Cajon which is a town in what is considered East County San Diego. Don’t worry, you wont be too far from the beach. It’s only about a 15 minute drive from La Jolla.

Even if you are not a music aficionado, this is one tour you will definitely want to add to your itinerary! Did you know that they make guitars out of water soak logs found at the bottom of rivers? Crazy right! There are all sorts of interesting facts to be found throughout the tour!

Free Things to do in San Diego - penniesintopearls.com - living frugal and fabulous. Local or visitor these 6 FREE activities are sure to entertain the whole family.

5.Gaslamp Quarter

After spending the day at the water, going downtown is one of my favorite places to go. The big buildings and lively atmosphere are the perfect ambiance for a fun date night with your hubby!

Holding hands, walking around the Gaslamp Quarter will provide perfectly lit city lights to spark the romance. With so many different types of restaurants, you are sure to find something to eat within your budget.

If date night isn’t in the plans, the area is still a fun site to see during the day, plenty of shops and cityscapes to take in.

6.Balboa Park

Over 10 different entertaining museums, a vintage inspired carousel, mini railroad, art buildings and shops, water fountains around each corner, and plenty of green space to stretch your legs. Balboa Park in San Diego has something to offer everyone in the family.

If you have made room in your budget for a little spending money, make sure to check out their website before you visit for special offers for the museums and rides.

But don’t forget that there is plenty to see and experience without cracking open your wallet. There are over 19 different gardens, hiking trails, dirt bike trails, and even a few free museums to explore. An entire day can easily be spent enjoying the 1,200 acre park full of San Diego’s historic beauty!

7.San Diego Harbor

A real life pirate ship? Well, it may not have belonged to pirates, it is oldest active sailing ship in the world and just one of the many different historic ships you can see along the harbor.

Though there are many paid opportunities to tour the ships, there is still plenty to see from land. Continue walking south on the Embarcadero and you will pass by the Midway Museum, which is the longest serving aircraft in the US Navy history, and find your way into Seaport Village. Seaport village offers beautiful views of the San Diego bay and across into Coronado Island.

If your little one’s legs need some exercise, try out the city’s new waterfront park located right outside the County Administration Building. The kids will have fun running through the spray fountains, picnicking on the large grass area, and getting their wiggles out on the playground. It’s all free!


These are such fun ideas of things to do in San Diego on vacation! It can be hard to visit California on a budget but these San Diego attractions are all free!


8.Mission Trails

If your family thrives in the outdoors, then you can’t miss a stop at Mission Trails Regional Park. With a quick 10 minute drive inland, you will find a variety of different hiking trails, bike/walking/running paths, and a seemingly endless amount of wildlife to explore.

It doesn’t matter your skill level or age, there is guaranteed something to entertain the outdoor enthusiast. Don’t forget to stop by the visitor’s center for a free behind the senses look into the surrounding natural habitat.

9.Tide Pools

This has to be one of my favorite free things to do in San Diego! With the tides permitting (make sure to check online for the tide forecast before you make plans) you can walk among a hidden under water world.

Make sure to watch your step! Each time I have made the excursion to the tide pools I have seen a variety of sea life. Clams, starfish, sea anemones, and crabs are almost sure to be seen! There are a handful of tide pools to choose from. Some locations to checkout might be Cabrillo, Oceanside, and Scripps.

Are you ready for an unforgettable vacation without spending any extra money? Are you planning to visit this year? Do you already live here? What are your favorite fee things to do in San Diego? I would love to know more! Leave me your tips in the comments below!



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  • Aliza B
    May 4, 2015 at 8:55 am

    Balboa Park sounds like a must-see stop for our family. A little bit of everything there. And we love tide pools! Any time at the beach would be wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

  • Pepper and Style (Lara)
    May 4, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Great post, thank you so much for sharing! I love Cali, and I love San Diego, I’ve been there 3 years ago 🙂 xoxo Lara


  • Astrid
    May 4, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Wow, you are lucky to have found the love of your life and live in the city of your dreams. The tide pools sound exciting. That pier also sounds like a great place to go and see the fishermen (and perhaps eat some freshly-brought-in fish)

  • Erica Brooks
    May 4, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    Sounds like some awesome attractions. You can’t beat free! I’d especially visit Balboa park. We love going to parks in cities we visit.

  • Valerie@Occasionally Crafty
    May 4, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    We loved the tide pools! And the beach of course 🙂 I’ll have to explore some of the others next time we come.

  • Donna
    May 4, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Awesome! We will be heading to San Diego in a couple months so I will be saving this for later 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Britney
    May 4, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    I need to go to San Diego and do all of these things!

  • Amy Ngai
    May 4, 2015 at 6:27 pm

    What a great list! And free too! I love how different all the places are as well. I will need to come back to this if I ever go to San Diego. Thanks for sharing.

  • Amy Turberville
    May 4, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    We were stationed here 2 years and we enjoyed all of the things you mentioned.

  • Jessy @ The Life Jolie
    May 4, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    I haven’t been to San Diego since I was really young (too young to remember!).I would definitely use a beach in my life…

  • Brooke Knipp
    May 4, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    I’m going to be in San Diego for a quick weekend to attend a blogger conference—I WISH I was going to have time to check out all of these great places! I’ll just have to come back with my husband sometime in the future, sooner than later 🙂

  • Tirralan @ Tinseltown Mom
    May 4, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    This is a cool post. I absolutely love San Diego and since it’s normally a pretty pricey city it’s nice to have some free things to do!

  • Stacey Valle
    May 4, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    I love San Diego! In fact, I will be heading there for this weekend! Gotta love free things to do! (:

  • Chastity
    May 5, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Great list! We are vacationing in SD this summer – can’t wait to visit the places on this list.

  • Lydia @ Thrifty Frugal Mom
    May 8, 2015 at 7:02 am

    We actually honeymooned in San Diego and it really is a beautiful area! We both agreed that we could easily live there….but the cost of living kind of scared off any dreams of that! 🙂 We have talked about maybe going back for a visit for our 10th anniversary, and if we do, I really want to check out some of these things. We’re all about free, you know. 😉

  • Cait
    January 2, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    This post is awesome! I live here in San Diego and I just have to say, you made an awesome list of free things to do 🙂 love it!
    I think I’m going to check out the Taylor shop tommorow!

    • Brittany Cooper
      January 6, 2018 at 2:29 am

      Yay! Thanks so much for stopping in!

  • Tilde Andreasen
    April 17, 2020 at 4:51 am

    Head to San Diego’s many beaches which are consistently ranked top in the nation. The beaches are all free to the public, to swim, body surf or hang-ten. Build a sandcastle, relax with a good book, or just bask in the sun you won t be disappointed. Visit La Jolla Cove and see the magnificent sunset on the ocean. La Jolla Cove is one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world and delivers a spectacular sunset display at the end of each day.

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