The great thing about visiting San Diego is that it doesn’t require a lot of money. There are many things you can do that wont cost you a penny.
Here’s a list I’ve compiled of beautiful places you can visit for free during your stay in America’s Finest City.
- Watch the sunset
The sunsets in San Diego are absolutely breathtaking and the good thing is there are so many places you can go to take in this beauty. During our stay, we watched the sunset from Coronado beach.
- Balboa Park
While parking is a bit of a challenge here, the best time to go is late afternoon during golden hour which is around 2 hours before sunset. You will capture beautiful golden light which will make for amazing photos.
It is 1200 acres of gardens, walking/jogging paths, museums and theatres and is connected to the world famous San Diego Zoo. There is many must-see structures and landscapes throughout the park including the California Bell Tower, Botanical Building, Reflection Pool and the iconic fountain.
The organ pavilion holds many concerts throughout the year at no cost. If there is no concert during your visit, it makes for a great photo opportunity.
- Hotel Del Coronado
The Hotel Del in Coronado is a historic hotel situated right on the beach across from San Diego Bay. It has been designated as a Historical Landmark and has gained popularity over the years and has been featured in many films.
It’s a large resort with beach villas right by the beach boardwalk. You will recognize this iconic hotel by its red shingled roof and Victorian design. It is truly a sight to see in person. There are shops and restaurants throughout the resort with many outside dining options, perfect for watching the sunset or people watching.
- Harbor Island
Harbor Island in San Diego is one of the best places to see a great view of the city skyline and Coronado Island. The “island” is between Shelter Island and Downtown and very close to the San Diego airport.
Take a stroll or go for a run while watching boats on the marina. There are several restaurants here with phenomenal views of the San Diego Bay such as Island Prime. I highly recommend going there and getting a table by their floor-to-ceiling windows for the most perfect view.
The Embarcadero (means “landing place”) is home of the USS Midway, the cruise ship terminal and the Star of India.
Walk along the embarcadero and snap pictures of the USS Midway museum, the Star of India and the Maritime Museum. This is also the home of the cruise ship terminal and where you can board a boat for a sunset dinner cruise.
Don’t forget to stop by the Unconditional Surrender Kissing Statue!
- Seaport Village
If you keep walking past the USS Midway museum on the Embarcadero, you will reach Seaport Village. Here you will find shops, restaurants, and free outdoor entertainment. On any given day, you will find people flying kites, laying out on the grassy area or watching street performers do their act.
The Headquarters at Seaport Village is a fairly new addition. It used to be headquarters to the San Diego Police Department which is now an outdoor center for dining and entertainment. You will find many restaurants here such as The Cheesecake Factory, Puesto, Season’s 52 and Eddy V’s to name a few.
There is free entertainment in the afternoons with a salsa band playing right in the courtyard. Let the kids run around here and burn off some energy while you relax and enjoy the music.
- Hike Torrey Pines State Reserve
Come here if you want to take in a hike, walk and get some exercise in a beautiful and clean natural environment.
A few things to consider before going:
- Only water is allowed on the Reserve
- Dogs are not permitted
- There are no trash cans on the Reserve
- There is no smoking allowed anywhere
- Showers are off to conserve water
The Torrey Pines State Beach across the Reserve does allow food so if you want to bring a snack or picnic, you’ll have to eat it on the beach.
- Go to the Beach
There are so many beautiful beaches in San Diego and all are free for you to enjoy! Some may require a small parking fee but other than that, bring your own snacks and drinks (no alcohol allowed, sorry) and you’ve got yourself a day of fun at no cost.
Here is a list of my favorite beaches in San Diego:
- Coronado Beach
- La Jolla Shores
- Windandsea Beach
- Del Mar Beach
- Mission Beach
- Torrey Pines State Beach
- Solana Beach
- Cabrillo National Monument
While visiting the Cabrillo National Monument is not exactly free, the fee is so nominal that I felt compelled to add it to the list because its so worth going to.
The cost is $10 per vehicle, $7 for motorcycles and $5 for walk-ins. The best thing about this is that your entrance receipt is good for not just that day but for the next 6 days too. So really, the fee for 7 days is very reasonable and it all goes towards maintaining the park.
Make sure to see the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. It’s no longer operational but has been converted into a museum. The view is so beautiful from up there!
- Old Poway Park
Old Poway Park is such an adorable hidden gem in the city of Poway. Its about a 30-minute drive from Downtown San Diego and when you arrive you will be pleasantly surprised at how tranquil and calm it is there.
You will be transported back into 20th century California.
Here you will see historical buildings, vintage trains and museums. You may even get a chance to ride a steam locomotive train. There is also a Speeder train you can ride for a mere $1.50 for adults and $.50 for children.
If you are there on a Saturday, there is a farmer’s market from 8am-1pm. Pick up some healthy goodies to snack on!
The kids will have plenty of room to run around here and the trains and buildings provide a good backdrop for photos. You will find many people having photo shoots here.
Bring a picnic and a blanket and enjoy a peaceful afternoon at this beautiful park.
Comment below if you know of any places I should add to this list.