Lifestyle

56 Free Things to Do in San Diego

Updated On 03/13/2017 at 03:42PM EST Updated On 03/13/2017 at 03:42PM EST

Our city is indisputably America’s Finest, but as rent prices soar and wages stagnate, you might find it difficult to indulge in every Taco Tuesday, beer festival, or TJ day-trip that comes your way. Instead of spending money to have fun, take comfort in our never-ending San Diego sunshine and the many free things to do to chase those empty-wallet blues away. From dancing under the stars to checking out new works of art, here’s a list of free things that'll keep you active, cultured, and entertained in the city of San Diego.

1. Art galleries at University of San Diego

University students regularly display their works as part of their class projects, offering a free art-gazing opportunity that few people actually know to look for.

2. Salsa Under the Stars at The Headquarters

The Manny Cepeda Orchestra plays for free on select Friday nights at The Headquarters at Seaport Village. Grab a partner and make new friends as you dance the night away in the courtyard, under the stars.

Flickr/Ted

3. Timken Museum of Art

The Timken features a collection of European and American masterpieces, and it's also the only museum in Balboa Park that has free admission all day, every day!

4. Take a walk on the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

Stroll along this highly Instagrammable bridge at the edge of Spruce St in Bankers Hill. Built back in 1912, the bridge stretches across Kate Sessions Canyon at a height of 70ft, nestled among trees and connecting historic neighborhoods.

Flickr/teddeady

5. Chicano Park

Take in the beautiful murals and history of Chicano Park in Barrio Logan. Visit in April for Chicano Park Day: a free festival filled with food, art, musical performances, and a serious low-rider show.

6. Get sweaty at the San Diego Public Library

Other than checking out books for your reading pleasure, the Public Library Downtown also offers a number of free events. From yoga to Zumba, and even special exhibits, the official calendar has a full roster of upcoming activities.

7. Meditate at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga

Learn how to calm your mind at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in North Park. Every Monday evening a free guided meditation takes place in the studio, and there are often free yoga classes as well; check their schedule for details.

Flickr/Christopher Allison Photography

8. La Mesa Classic Car and Bike Show

From July through August, visit Downtown La Mesa on Thursday nights to catch a serious display of automotive nostalgia, featuring live music, an award ceremony, and the most colorful retro cars you'll find outside a Matchbox collector's set. 

9. Picnic at Presidio Park

Grab a blanket and pick a spot at this serene park that overlooks Old Town San Diego, then crack open a bottle of Champagne -- if you're here between 8am and 8pm, it's totally legal.

Flickr/Eric Neitzel

10. See some mind-bending sand castles

Head to Imperial Beach in July for the Sun & Sea Festival, and get a view of world-class sand sculptors doing their thing. Stick around for a parade, live music, and food from a dozen different food trucks.  

11. 33 beaches

San Diego has 17 miles of coastline. Swim, surf, play volleyball, toss around a frisbee, or just pick a spot, smear on some sun block and... lie there. It’s the beach; you know what to do.

County of San Diego Waterfront Park

12. Big Bay Boom 4th of July celebration

The Big Bay Boom represents one of the largest fireworks shows in the country, with four barges shooting off explosives in San Diego Bay. Best seen from a rooftop that someone else paid for.

Flickr/myhsu

13. Bike races at the Velodrome

One of the lesser-known gems tucked away in Balboa Park is the Velodrome. Stop by at 6:30pm on Tuesdays to catch some serious fixed-gear bike races.
 

14. Botanic Garden

Whether you still call the place the "Quail Botanic Garden" or go with "The San Diego Botanic Gardens," admission is still free the first Tuesday of the month.

Flickr/kiry

15. Mt Woodson

You can never have enough pictures of yourself standing on Potato Chip Rock. Ever.
 

16. California Surf Museum

Get schooled on the origins of surfing for free, every Tuesday.
 

17. Coronado Summer Concert Series

Bring a blanket and pack a picnic for the free music at Spreckels Park on summer Sunday evenings.
 

18. Cruisin' Grand

There’s a free car show and street fair every Friday night on Grand in Escondido from April-September.
 

19. Dive-in movies at The Pearl

Hang by their vintage oyster-shaped swimming pool and catch a different flick every week.

Flickr/macdevotee

20. Old Town

In case you couldn’t tell by the name, this historic area of San Diego is full of lots of old stuff like the Whaley House, the first SD courthouse/jail, and the El Campo Santo Cemetery -- all within a few blocks walking distance of each other.
 

21. Free fly fishing lessons

Be at Lake Murray in La Mesa from 9am-noon for a free fly casting clinic. They even have free equipment for you to use, but get there early.
 

22. Free museum days

Peel yourself off the couch and soak up a little culture. Almost every museum in town offers a free day for SD residents.
 

23. Summer concerts

During the summer, San Diego offers free concerts all over the city for just about any kind of music lover.
 

24. Grunion Run

From March through August, when the tide is high during the full or new moon, you can catch the circle of life in action as thousands of Grunion take to the shore to spawn.

Flickr/prayitnophotography

25. Seaport Village

Go eat some salt water taffy and check out what the tourists are up to.
 

26. Hiking

You know the weather's going to be good.
 

27. NoLI Nights

Each quarter, there will be live entertainment on a center stage as the small businesses, galleries, and restaurants of Northern Little Italy open their doors to the public for this walkable event.
 

28. Rock Out Karaoke

Live out your rock 'n’ roll fantasy (or just embarrass yourself) with a live band backing you at Tin Roof, 710, and other venues around San Diego.
 

29. Mission Bay Park

Fiesta Island is one of only a few beaches in San Diego where you can have dogs off-leash. Take Fido out and let him run free with the other pups.

Flickr/hoteldelcoronado

30. Hotel del Coronado

Every year, the historic Hotel del Coronado receives dozens of awards for best hotel, best beach, best dining, etc. It's free to stroll around the property and hang out on the beach, so take advantage.
 

31. Mission Trails Regional Park

With 6,800 acres of rec area, you ought to find something to entertain yourself.
 

32. Mt. Laguna

Climb 6,000ft above sea level, and check out the tiny little town while you’re at it.
 

33. Museum of Contemporary Art

Both the Downtown and La Jolla locations are free every third Thursday from 5-7pm, allowing you to act all cultured and whatnot.
 

34. South Park Walkabout

Get up close and personal with South Park during this quarterly event. Businesses along the walking route will have their doors open, many with entertainment and refreshments.

Flickr/roebot

35. Mt. Soledad

Take a hike up Mt. Soledad for a panoramic view of San Diego from 822ft above sea level. You can also check out the giant cross and pay your respects at the Veteran’s Memorial atop the mountain. After years of controversy and legal battles, the SD landmark may not be there much longer.
 

36. 59-mile scenic drive

See everything worth seeing in San Diego on this three-hour driving tour.
 

37. Ray at Night

North Park’s art walk has been going on for 13 years, the second Saturday of every month, from 6-10pm.
 

38. Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

The Science Center has free admission the first Tuesday of every month for local residents, local college students, and military. And PROBABLY Bill Nye.

Flickr/Jon Lee Clark

39. Children’s Pool in La Jolla

Swimming in the Children’s Pool isn’t nearly as juvenile or completely creepy as it sounds. The cove has the perfect calm water conditions for snorkeling, and there are tons of sea lions and seals that hang out there as well.
 

40. SeaWorld fireworks

You can set your watch by them every night of the summer, and they can be seen for miles around San Diego.
 

41. Have a bonfire

Fire pits are first-come-first-serve, so grab some wood, stake out a spot, and get ready for all the s’mores.
 

42. Adams Ave Street Fair

The last weekend of September, you can get your groove on in Normal Heights for two days of free music with 110 bands performing on eight stages.
 

43. CityFest

CityFest celebrates the spirit of the Hillcrest community with food, music and art, this and every August.
 

44. Summer Movies in the Park

During the summer, you can bet that just about any movie you’ve ever loved is playing in a park somewhere in San Diego. Unless you have terrible taste.

Flickr/portofsandiego

45. Fiesta Del Sol Summer Music Festival

The festival takes over Fletcher Cove Park in Solana Beach for two days of music, food, and vendors by the beach.
 

46. Sunset Cliffs

Take in the beautiful scenery with a little hike along the cliffs, and then climb down to the beach for a less-touristy experience.
 

47. Surf

If you don’t have a board of your own, borrow one and paddle out.
 

48. TGIF Concerts in the Parks

2015 will be the 30th season for TGIF Concerts in the Parks in Carlsbad. Bring a blanket and post up to enjoy some tunes and the warm summer nights.
 

49. Thursday Night Thing

Three times a year, the Museum of Contemporary Art hosts a night of artist talks and performances, live music, cocktails, and exhibitions that is free to members.

Flickr/augustfilms

50. Boardwalk

The boardwalk is 3.5mi of rollerblading, biking, and people-watching right along the beach.
 

51. Tidepooling

Along the shores of San Diego, you’ll find numerous rocky spots prime for tide pools full of little sea creatures.
 

52. Torrey Pines

8mi of trails await exploration with plenty of killer ocean views.
 

53. Tour Taylor Guitars

If you’ve ever wondered how a guitar is made, you should check out the tour at Taylor Guitars in El Cajon. It lasts about an hour and happens every Mon-Fri at 1pm.
 

54. Balboa Park

There are trails, historical sites, gardens, and much more. If you can’t find some free way to entertain yourself in this 1.875sqmi park, then you simply aren’t trying.
 

55. Take a day trip to Julian

All you'll need for this one is a full gas tank: Julian is a quaint, gold-rush town nestled in the Cuyamaca Mountains, about an hour east of San Diego. Go for a hike, window shop, and if you can swing it, splurge on one of the town's famous apple pies.
 

56. Farmers markets

There is a different market happening every day of the week. You'll find free entertainment, and, more importantly, free samples.

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Originally from Chino, California, Michelle moved to San Diego in 2000 to attend San Diego State University, and never left. The daughter of immigrant parents from Quito, Ecuador, she’s a fluent Spanish speaker, a lover of travel, a foodie, a wannabe yogi, and an accomplished freelance writer. Follow her life adventures on her website and on Twitter @MichellePoveda.

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