San Diego, given the nickname of America’s Finest City, is among the most popular tourist spots in California on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The city is known for its pleasant and mild weather year-round, providing opportunities for an array of activities. Even though the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld comprise the main attractions, there are plenty of other equally engaging things which you can explore while in the city.
From pristine beaches, bays, coves, and tons of museums dedicated to different things such as history or art, there are numerous free things that one can do and enjoy some of the things this city has to offer. Whether you want to spend your day beside the water, go out in nature and enjoy its abundance or stroll along with some exquisite exhibits in a museum, the city has plenty of attractions so everyone can find something or the other they like. Here is a list of 14 such places, which are free, you should check out on your visit to the city.
14 Free Things To Do In San Diego
- 14 Free Things To Do In San Diego
- 1) Balboa Park
- 2) Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
- 3) Gaslamp Quarter
- 4) Seaport Village
- 5) Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial
- 6) Old Town San Diego
- 7) Cabrillo National Monument
- 8) USS Midway Museum
- 9) La Jolla Shore Beaches
- 10) Fleet Science Centre
- 11) Museum of Photographic Art
- 12) Botanical Building San Diego
- 13) Timken Museum of Art
- 14) Spruce Street Suspension Bridge
1) Balboa Park
If you are looking for a place that offers a variety of things to do then you should visit this historic, 1,200-acre urban cultural park. The place is nothing less than stunning with beautiful architectural buildings, open green spaces, and gardens. The place is lively with plenty of music and greenery. There are numerous attractions that one can enjoy. You can walk along with the water fountain, look at amazing sculptures, enjoy the shade of beautiful trees, etc. The architect of the building is something really marvelous and Instagram-worthy as well so you can click a few pictures for your followers.
With sunsets like these and visitors like you, we’re so happy to call San Diego our home. We can’t wait to welcome you to Balboa Park soon. ✨ Visit https://t.co/FUCWQbZOwf to learn more about our museums, attractions, gardens and more.— Balboa Park (@BalboaPark) June 28, 2022
📷: @surfmeetsturf pic.twitter.com/H3zycsMu32
There are several museums for people who want to not only enjoy but learn something as well. If you wanna eat something then there are plenty of restaurants too. Inside the park, there are several theatres and the San Diego zoo. This is a perfect place for people who want to see and explore as many different things as possible in one location. There is something for everyone here. This place makes for a fun day out with your friends and family. The place stays open 214 hours a day. It is situated at 1549 El Prado, San Diego, California.
2) Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
It is 2,000 acres of coastal State park located in the community of La Jolla. It is one of the wildest stretches of land on the southern California Coast. If you are someone who wants to enjoy untouched nature in its truest form then you should consider this place. The reserve is absolutely gorgeous with its vast, long beaches with serene coast terrains that look straight out of a movie. The views from this place are stunning regardless of what hour of the day. You can just walk along the shore or you can also do hiking.
Sunset at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve pic.twitter.com/iQkZhk2QZB— Ken Schultz (@KSchultz3580) May 28, 2022
It is a great place to just lay, relax, unwind and have a quiet time listening to the waves crashing onto the shore, and be one with your own thoughts. The clear blue sky and the pristine pacific ocean make for an unforgettable view. This is a must-visit place if you are in San Diego. The place stays open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. It is located at 12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, California.
3) Gaslamp Quarter
If you are looking to enjoy the nightlife and party hard then you should consider visiting this vibrant and lively downtown neighborhood. It is known as the heart and soul of Downtown San Diego. The area is known for its nightlife and party culture. It has numerous Clubs, Dive bars, and Cocktail lounges which draw a lot of young crowds. Even if you want to visit the area during the daytime, you won’t be disappointed. It is still a fun and great place to explore and enjoy the atmosphere. It looks retro and vintage, giving it a unique and standout character. There are numerous examples of fine architecture which you can enjoy while perusing through various stores.
Gaslamp Quarter is such a vibe…especially close to Comic-con, you can feel your inner geek showing up…— Mérida (@Blackdeerly) June 27, 2022
Gaslamp Quarter turns into a carnaval-like during San Diego Comic-Con. It’s worth coming even if you don’t have tickets for Comic-Con. pic.twitter.com/3kWbgTwX44
People like to click photos around the area given the place is so unique and beautiful. It is certainly an experience which you will love if you like to party and enjoy good food. There are so many establishments to choose from that it has something to offer to everyone. It is a perfect place for couples to have a romantic dinner date as well. From shopping to music and other programs, the area has a lot of diverse fun things to explore.
4) Seaport Village
It is a 14-acre waterfront area adjacent to San Diego Bay Downtown, which has more than 50 diverse shops offering to dine to various other eclectic mixes. The place is perfect for those who want to visit a place where they can browse through multiple shops, buy things such as souvenirs and gifts and at the same time enjoy good food. The views are equally stunning from the place. It is a perfect location for couples who want to indulge in leisurely shopping, enjoy each other’s company and eat some fantastic food with a view to go with it.
My son picked Joe’s Crab Shack, Seaport Village, San Diego for his 18th birthday. pic.twitter.com/EZm2hhjrVO— Chip Robinson (@ChipRobinson8) July 1, 2022
You can find art galleries, cafes, restaurants, and a historic, hand-carved carousel. The place, in general, has a relaxed, lively, and welcoming vibe. Many live performances are going on in the area such as live music etc. This is like a place where you can spend a full day and yet won’t get bored. The food here is some of the best. Most of the shops stay open from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., except for a few businesses. It is located at 849 W.Harbor Dr, San Diego, California.
5) Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial
It is a place that has a massive cross monument honoring American Veterans. It is the only one to honor veterans, living and deceased. It has plaques telling their stories. It has been situated at the top of Mt Soledadsince 1954. The place provides a top view of the whole skyline. It is a perfect place to pay your respect and know about the sacrifices of these brave heroes. It also provides an inhibited and unobstructed view of the whole skyline of the city in every direction. It is certainly a beautiful view to absorb.
Honored to have attended the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial ceremony this afternoon. To all veterans, past and present, the men and women of #SDPD salute you and your family. #ThankYouForYourService pic.twitter.com/fkWlqA1urt— David Nisleit (@ChiefNisleit) November 12, 2019
The place is perfect to have a quiet time away from the crowd of the city and enjoy the view and have a picnic at the top of Mt Soledad. You can come with your friends or family and enjoy a day out here. The view from the top of it at night is especially something to behold. The city skyline with all the lights and calm night looks amazing. It remains open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. It is located at 6905 La Jolla Scenic Dr S, La Jolla, California.
6) Old Town San Diego
It is the historic center of San Diego, created in 1769. It was California’s first settlement, thus it is aptly known as the birthplace of California. It is a neighborhood that is spread over more than 230 acres of area. This neighborhood is one of the must-visit places in San Diego. It has Mexican heritage and culture, historic sites, eclectic shops, amazing restaurants, a theatre, and many more things to explore. It has so many things that one can easily spend their whole day and yet won’t be able to see and explore everything.
San Diego Old Town is very pretty! pic.twitter.com/aJa7WXeIwu— Pepe Mapache (@pepe_mapache) July 1, 2022
Whether you want to shop and dine at quaint and sophisticated restaurants or go to historically important sites and relish old facts and exhibitions, you have options for everything. The area has over 30 restaurants and 10 quality hotels. You will have a great time enjoying great food as well as great music and ambiance. There are also numerous haunted sites for those who want something adventurous to do. Most of the restaurants stay open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. You can visit this area by train, trolley, bus, and taxi, so the commute is fairly easy.
7) Cabrillo National Monument
This is situated 10 miles from San Diego at the southernmost tip of Point Loma. People visit this place for its calm, peaceful, and beautiful scenery. If you want to spend your day close to the ocean in a less crowded place where you can just stroll and enjoy the natural scenery around you then this should be on your list. Though technically, this place is not free as it will cost you 10 dollars but the price is more than worth it for what you get. This place is dedicated to the first European explorer to navigate the California coast in 1542, i.e, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.
Have a wonderful Saturday everyone. This is the lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument here in San Diego. pic.twitter.com/YHeODgHG7k— Leslie SoCal ☮️📸 (@Leslie64993617) June 11, 2022
You will be able to see some of the best views of the city, the ocean, the coast and much more. The cool blue water and the calm and serene sky make for an amazing view. There is also a short trail of about 2 miles, which is perfect for those who want to get out in nature for a bit. You can hike by the water and get a panoramic view of the city skyline from the lighthouse as well. There are many tide pools too. The place stays open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is situated at 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr. San Diego, California.
8) USS Midway Museum
There aren’t really many museums dedicated to maritime travel or the Navy. It is a historical naval aircraft museum. This makes for one of the most unique experiences you will ever get. Not only the place has some of the coolest exhibits but the sheer size of all the aircraft and display things would give you a new perspective on things that you, otherwise, have only seen in movies. The museum consists of the aircraft carrier Midway.
On board the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, 20 military service men & women from 15 countries took the oath of allegiance ceremony towards becoming U.S. citizens pic.twitter.com/CWN6wLykQ2— Nelvin Cepeda (@NelCepeda) July 1, 2022
The place is super realistic with all the beds, kitchen, and other assortments to make you feel you are in the real deal. You can enjoy the free audio tour of the place as well as a little movie about the Midway battles and the soldiers. This place is perfect for those who want to see something grand. All the airplanes and other props look realistic. You can stroll around the place and enjoy the amazing view from it. There is a place on board to eat also. The staff is helpful and informative. The experience is not only fun but also educational. The museum stays open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is located at 910 N Harbor Dr. San Diego, California.
9) La Jolla Shore Beaches
A day out in the sand and the sun!? Well if that excites you then you should absolutely consider this amazing 1-mile long shore beach. It is particularly perfect for families and kids who want to spend their day by the ocean and enjoy the cool breeze and a scenic view. You can sunbathe and do swimming as well. It is a perfect spot in San Diego for surfing, kayaking, and scuba diving.
La Jolla Cove is another thing you must visit when in the area. It is a small deep water bay. The beach itself is small but due to tame water, it is a good spot for snorkeling, swimming, kayaking etc. The children’s pool is another spot you must check out. It is located just a walking distance from La Jolla Cove. A small cove protected by a concrete breakwater wall. It is closed for swimming but it provides an amusing view of marine inhabitants. It is a perfect place to have a picnic day out with the family by the beaches. It is situated at Camino Del Pro and Calle Frescota La Jolla, California.
10) Fleet Science Centre
This one is great for kids. If you want to visit a place where kids can have fun as well as learn, then you should definitely check this place out. It is a place filled with amazing and cool exhibitions which you recognize but with a twist. Everything is fun, interactive, and engaging. Kids can learn basic science and technology-related concepts through very simple and useful experiments. The exhibitions change frequently so it always feels refreshing and new.
Our exhibition Mechanics Alive! opens at The Fleet Science Centre in San Diego, CA, USA on Saturday 9 October. They are open every day. Go and see exhibits by Peter Markey, Keith Newstead, Carlos Zapata, Paul Spooner and Ron Fuller and more https://t.co/uiL2peG8ud pic.twitter.com/nxdR1WykE1— Cabaret Mechanical Theatre (@CabaretMT) September 29, 2021
There is a dome planetarium screen where you can catch cool IMAX science/nature movies. It is the most recommended thing to do there. The place is not just great for kids but adults can have fun again. You can rediscover and experience things that you had done as a kid. There are various exhibitions such as transport, electricity, VR, etc. The place stays open throughout the week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is located at 1875 El Prado, San Diego, California.
11) Museum of Photographic Art
If art and creativity speak to you then this is the place you would want to visit. It was founded in 1974, its mission is to inspire, educate and engage through the collection and preservation of photography. This is an ideal place if you want to visit a place that will inspire and instill some creativity in you. The calm and peaceful museum is a good spot for you to visit with your partner and enjoy the various exhibitions by various talented photographers.
The gallery displays some of the most amazing and talented photographers and their works, which are surely going to mesmerize you. Apart from this, there is a bookstore inside too. You can purchase books if you want to. The staff is super friendly and all the exhibitions are professionally displayed. This place also exhibits contemporary works as well. There is no entry fee but they do ask for some donations, that too is totally up to you. The place stays closed on Wednesday and Tuesday. For the rest of the week, it stays open from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It is located at 1649 El Prado, San Diego.
12) Botanical Building San Diego
Exotic flowers, Manicured grass, and shrubs around a designed waterbody, if these are the things you like then you should consider visiting this place. It is a historical building located in Balboa Park. It was built around 1915-16. The place is absolutely gorgeous and a feast for the eyes. The place has a perfect mix of urban sophisticated structures and beautiful exotic flowers. Those visiting Balboa park should definitely consider visiting as it is inside it.
The County Administration Center was lit up in red in recognition of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Week of Action tonight.— SanDiegoCounty (@SanDiegoCounty) May 6, 2021
Balboa Park’s Botanical Building and lily pond and the San Diego Convention Center were also illuminated in red. pic.twitter.com/cN6Jirawl8
It houses more than 2100 permanent plants. It features a collection of Cycads, ferns, orchids and other tropical plants and flowers. Under the dome, wooden structure, there are 1200 tropical plants featuring some of the most exotic and rare flowers which you are ever going to see. The building itself is an architectural beauty. Even on a summer day you would love strolling among the flowers with a nice constant easy breeze. You can just sit at one of the numerous spots inside and just relax. It is a place perfect for those who want to enjoy the natural beauty of Flora in an urban setting. It is located at 1549 El Prado, San Diego, California.
13) Timken Museum of Art
It is a fine arts museum established in 1965. If you are someone who likes paintings then you should definitely visit this place. The museum exhibits and preserves collections of European old masters, American art, Russian icons, and French as well as Spanish examples of fine art. To say the museum looks stunning and the art is displayed in a very meticulous manner. The exhibits are nothing less than stunning and awe-inspiring. You can hope to see various examples of works from numerous masters.
Madonna and Child with Saints or Madonna and Child with Saint Elizabeth, St Catherine and the Infant John the Baptist is a c.1565-1570 oil on canvas painting by Paolo Veronese, now in the Timken Museum of Art in San Diego. pic.twitter.com/xhcYgbRZYy— EUROPEAN ART 💙💛 (@EuropeanArtHIST) April 19, 2020
The collection is certainly not huge but it is beautiful and thought-provoking. You can stand and study, observe and fully observe the little nuances in all of these beautiful masterpieces. You would feel inspired as well as relaxed in the museum’s laid-back environment. The staff is friendly and polite. They are enthusiastic as well. They love to discuss and talk about art and various aspects of it. The museum stays closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. For the rest of the week, it stays open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is located at 1500 El Prado, San Diego, California.
14) Spruce Street Suspension Bridge
If you want that one instantly recognizable Instagram location where everyone wants to visit and get a photo, then this is one of those locations. It is a hidden Footbridge built in 1912 by Edwin Capps. It is a suspension bridge. The main highlighting factor why you should consider going here is the beautiful view of the valley below. This footbridge provides an amazing and unparalleled view of the valley. You feel on top of the place. The bridge itself is a beautiful example of engineering. It is sturdy and rather long, so ample space for people to move around.
The Spruce Street Bridge, a suspension bridge built over a canyon here in San Diego in 1912. pic.twitter.com/xs1oZloIxg— J. Dianne Dotson (@jdiannedotson) January 5, 2019
The experience of walking on the bridge itself is fun. You can feel the sway and bounce while walking on it. The view from it is absolutely beautiful and Instagram-worthy. It is located in a quiet neighborhood as well so you don’t have to worry about crowds and loud noises. There isn’t much to do except enjoy the view of natural beauty and experience walking on the bridge. It is a pet-friendly space but your dog needs to be always on a leash. It is located at W Spruce St, San Diego, California.
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Note: The hours of operation, ticket prices, and admission criteria of museums, parks, etc. may change from time to time. For the most updated information, we recommend checking the official website of the attraction directly prior to your planned visit.
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