We love this city and we love free stuff. With so much to see and do in San Diego we though we would combine the two and create a list of the top 25 free things to do in San Diego. There are plenty of year-round activities to choose from for locals and visitors alike.
1. Mission Trails Regional Park
Just a few minutes from downtown San Diego, Mission Trails Regional park has hiking trails, campgrounds, fishing, picnic facilities, and lots of wide open spaces. Run, bike or walk and enjoy the beautiful and peaceful scenery.
2. Torrey Pines
8 miles of trails with gorgeous ocean views will keep you occupied for hours. Torrey Pines State Beach is great for swimming, surfing and fishing. Red-hued bluffs and wet sand make strolling on the beach popular at low tide. Enjoy picnic area and parking lot are near the entrance on North Torrey Pines Road. With an array of species here, the bird watching can be tons of fun!
3. Old Town
One of the most visited San Diego attractions. Explore the popular historic site that recreates life in the Mexican and early American periods of 1821 to 1872. Wander around and experience over 25 restaurants with authentic and cultural cuisine, shopping and nightly entertainment.
ps. All of the museums in Old Town are free to the public.
4. Ellen Browning Scripps Park
One of the most photographed spots in San Diego; this popular oceanside spot offers an extensive coastal walkway, grassy areas, picnic benches and summer concerts–it also makes for a great destination for weddings!
5. Mission Beach Boardwalk
Biking, jogging and skating on San Diego's scenic waterfront path is popular with tourists and locales alike. Soak in the views without spending a dime!
6. Mission Bay Park
This is one of San Diego's most fun-filled spots to visit! It’s the largest aquatic park of its kind in the country. A 4,600-acre aquatic park dedicated to leisure and active sports. Bike and walk paths, basketball courts and playgrounds for children will keep you and your family entertained for hours.
7. Dog Beach
A must for dog lovers! It's like a giant doggie play date… if you like dogs and you want to see them having fun, this is the place to do it. Dog Beach is nationally famous and is one of the first official leash-free beaches in the United States.
8. Shell Beach Tide Pools
This small beach in La Jolla experiences extremely low tides which creates an interesting tidepool-like area with many marine creatures visible. It’s definitely worth looking at the rock formations and sea creatures in this easy to access hot-spot. Fun for the whole family!
9. Cowles Mountain
Cowles Mountain is the highest point in the city of San Diego and is part of the Mission Trails Regional Park system. This spot can get really busy, but it's worth it. It’s a great place for a hike–you’ll definitely enjoy the breathtaking view at the summit!
10. Fiesta Island
A hidden gem and a fantastic place to bring your family and pets. it’s not too busy and is a great place to swim, bike ride, kayak, walk and relax.
11. Botanic Garden
Explore four miles of garden trails, enjoy restful vistas, flowering trees, majestic palms, and the nation’s largest bamboo collection. Admission is free the first Tuesday of the month as a public service. The Botanic Garden features numerous exhibits, including rare bamboo groves, desert gardens, a tropical rainforest, California native plants, Mediterranean climate landscapes, succulent gardens, an herb garden, firesafe landscaping, a subtropical fruit garden, and native coastal sage natural areas. You won’t want to miss this freebie!
12. Ho Chi Minh Trail
One of those trails you’ll never forget. This beautiful hiking trail isn’t for the faint of heart. The trail is maintained by fellow hikers and surfers and boasts great views of birds and hang gliders beyond the sandstone and the a great view of the ocean at the end. If your looking for scary, fun and free, the Ho Chi Minh Trail is worth checking out!
Tip: Once you get to the end of the trail, you can continue north to Black Beach (San Diego’s famous nude beach).
13. Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve
A great local hike that lets you getaway without going too far. The trails take you through a dense canopy of old oaks and lush green forest across a stream which eventually leads you to a waterfall with some easy bouldering. Great for friends, family and pets!
14. La Jolla Underwater Park
Not all of San Diego’s great parks are located on dry land. Spanning a 6,000 acre-wide area of ocean floor, tidal shoals, and coastal shoreline north of downtown San Diego off La Jolla, The La Jolla Underwater Park is a marine life preservation and aquatic recreation zone with multiple components including: The Ecological Reserve, La Jolla Underwater Canyon and the Marine Life Refuge. Great place to experience all the La Jolla coast has to offer. Beach, tidal pools, and seals.
ps. Here you’ll also find La Jolla Cove - San Diego's most desirable spot for swimming, diving and snorkelling. The water is calm and the cove is ecologically protected. It won’t cost you a thing to watch the famous sunbathing seals laying on the Beach, you can even walk up close to them and see them in their natural habitat!
15. Spanish Landing Park
A waterfront park boasting retro picnic pavilions, paths & a playground, plus a bell tower. It’s a nice quiet area for a family with young children that offers a great view of the marina and downtown San Diego. Perfect for a casual stroll, jogging, biking or a picnic near the waterside.
16. Seaport Village
A shopping center with 75 specialty shops and eateries. From the village you can see and walk to the Midway (naval ship), Coronado Bridge, Coronado Island and the Bay Cruise Ships. Take a seat outdoors in and enjoy free live entertainment. There's a performance of some kind almost every day, from musicians to magicians. Saturday nights feature performances by more recognized artists.
17. Mount Soledad
Drive to the top of Mount Soledad in La Jolla. The hill, situated between Interstate 5 and the Pacific Ocean, has panoramic views of downtown San Diego and the ocean. At the top is the Mount Soledad Cross, which stands at 29 feet and is a well-known landmark of San Diego.
18. Little Italy
San Diego's oldest continuous neighborhood business district has continued to be a vibrant ethnic business and residential community since the 1920s. Browse works by local artists and enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres at one of Little Italy’s Kettner Art Nights. All the galleries and studios in the area participate which makes for an impressive collection open 6-9pm on some Fridays (see website for details). Saturday mornings are a treat in Little Italy. Enjoy a Farmers Market with 150+ vendors offering fresh produce, meat & eggs, plus crafts, plants & more.
19. Girard Avenue and Prospect Street
Walk the fashionable streets in La Jolla that offer expensive shops, boutiques, art galleries and elegant restaurants.
20. San Diego Mormon Temple
A beautiful building with a peaceful atmosphere. You have to be a member of the church to enter the template but anyone can go and walk around the temple grounds to feel the wonderful spirit and its calming atmosphere.
21. Waterfront Walkway/Unconditional Surrender
Home to cruise ships, museums, restaurants, shops and art. Memorials line the harbour with iconic sculptures of the sailor and girl friend (Unconditional Surrender) and a tribute to Bob Hope. It’s a lovely place to stroll and enjoy the breeze coming off the water, regardless of the time of year.
This walkway along San Diego's waterfront gives visitors great views of downtown and a chance to choose from many restaurants along the way. A great place to walk, jog, picnic, sit and relax, or watch the boats and ships pass in the bay. There is usually some major event or activity at the park every weekend, and well worth the time to visit.
Hillcrest is also known as the Bohemian neighborhood of SD and known for its tolerance and acceptance for GLBTQ and its gender diversity. It's worth to pay a visit to this eclectic and diverse neighborhood. There are restaurants, cafés, bars, clubs, trendy thrift-stores, and other independent specialty stores along 5th avenue.
24. The Promenade at Pacific Beach
A scenic promenade next to the ocean that offers a wide selection of markets, stores, restaurants and special services. Perfect for enjoying the beach, relaxing, walking along the shore or people watching.
25. Balboa Park
One of the most popular urban parks in the United States, this bucolic paradise is packed with an array of attractions, including the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Experience its beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and enjoy the public organ concerts on Sundays with free access to gardens and daily park tours. Locals can also enjoy free admission to select gardens and museums on Tuesdays (in rotation every week).
ps. Did we miss anything? If you have any amazing free things to do in San Diego that you feel should have been on this list, feel free to share with the community in the comments below!