8 Free Things To Do in San Diego

San Diego is California’s oldest and second-largest city. Named after Diego de San Nicolás (a.k.a. Saint Didacus) by Spanish missionaries in 1602, America’s Finest City is famous for its beaches, warm year-round climate, naval history, and close proximity to Mexico.

Read on for a list of my favorite free things to do in San Diego!

A Spanish garden in Balboa Park

1. Take a stroll in Balboa Park

Balboa Park was named after Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa in honor of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and declared a National Historic Landmark and District in 1977. The park features Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, museums, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

While you’re there, be sure to check out the Casa del Rey Moro garden and Botanic Building.

Exploring the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

2. Walk the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

The Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is a hidden pedestrian footbridge in Bankers Hill–less than one mile west from Balboa Park.

Supported by cables embedded in massive concrete slabs beneath the soil, the 375-foot construction shows a beautiful vista of the Sessions Canyon 70-feet below.

Sealions in La Jolla Cove

3. See marine life in La Jolla

Almost translating to “the jewel,” La Jolla occupies the area between Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Pacific Beach. Here, I recommend starting at La Jolla Cove and passing through the Children’s Pool, Cuvier Park, and ending at the Tide Pools.

In addition to large mammals like sea lions, harbor seals, and dolphins, countless marine birds like seagulls, cormorants, and pelicans can be spotted here.

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Gentle waves at Mission Beach

4. Hit the beach

Whether you want to swim, snorkel, surf, or sunbathe, a trip to San Diego wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of its beaches along 17 miles of coastline.

My favorite is Mission Beach, which is home to a 2-mile boardwalk and Belmont Park. Come by on a weekend morning if you wish to join or watch people of all experience levels surf.

Pretending to be a model in front of Scripps Pier

5. Pose like a model at Scripps Pier

The Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier is located at Scripps Beach, which is adjacent to the UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus in northern La Jolla.

Both the series of frames created by the reinforced concrete structure and the perfectly tousled hair you get from the funneled wind makes this a perfect shot for a small photo session. Besides, who hasn’t dreamed of moving to California to become model at some point in their lives?

Cabrillo National Monument around sunset

6. Visit Cabrillo National Monument and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

Cabrillo National Monument, located on the southern point of Point Loma, commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the United States.

In addition to the statue, the site encompasses the Old and New Point Loma Lighthouse and Point Loma Tide Pools. Just up the road is Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, which is marked by approximately 100,000 marble headstones.

Old Town San Diego
The very festive Old Town San Diego (Source: http://www.sandiego.org)

7. Explore Old Town

Created in 1769, Old Town San Diego was California’s first settlement consisting of only a mission and a fort. Today, you can experience 19th century Mexican-American life by exploring original and reconstructed buildings and furnishings.

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A fiery sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

8. Watch the sunset

As cliché as it sounds, watching the sunset is one of my favorite things to do both at home and on vacation.

There are several good spots to watch the sunset in San Diego, including Cabrillo National Monument and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Pictured is a sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park on what had been an overcast day.

Do you agree with my picks for best free things to do in San Diego? Please let me know in the comments!

For greater detail on what I did each day in San Diego, check out my previous post, A Long Weekend in San Diego.


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