Beaches, sunshine, history, and culture – San Diego has it all. Best of all, it’s easy to live the high life here on a traveler’s budget. Start with our list of free activities from beer tasting to sunbathing, and you can save your money for more important things, like fish tacos, local craft beer or that quick trip to Tijuana.
Travel back in time to the 1800s at the Old Town Historic Park. The park features restored and reconstructed buildings, museums, shops, and more. Completely free access includes docent-led tours twice a day, where you can learn about San Diego’s progression from a Spanish settlement to the bustling metropolis it is today. Keep an eye out for the living history demonstrations of blacksmithing, fiber arts, printing, and more.
Beaches, Beaches, Beaches
70 miles of coastline and year-round sunshine make San Diego paradise for the beach-loving traveler. For thinner crowds and a truly local experience, head to Pacific Beach and Imperial Beach. Staying at HI Point Loma provides great access to Ocean Beach, and if you’re tired of lying in the sun, you can explore the tide pools at the Sunset Cliffs.
Hiking in Nature
From the coast to the mountains, San Diego is home to hundreds of miles of trails. North of the city is the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, with 2,000 acres of parkland preserved as it was before Europeans settled here. Arrive at 10:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. on a weekend for a free guided nature walk. Hike over towards the Glider Port, and watch adventurous locals and travelers leap off cliffs and slowly glide to safety.
There is too much to see in just one day at Balboa Park, so consider hitting these must-see freebies first: The Timken Museum of Art, a world-class mini-museum, is home to old European masters, Russian icons, and American classics. Keep your ears open for free concerts at the outdoor Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The park also has over 15 public gardens to choose from, but we recommend exploring local flora at the California Native Plant Garden and counting Monarch butterflies at Zoro Garden, a former nudist colony grotto that’s now a butterfly garden.
If it’s getting dark in Balboa Park and it’s the first Wednesday of the month, don’t go back to the hostel just yet! Every month, the San Diego Astronomy Society (SDAS) hosts Stargazing at Balboa Park, a free event during which anyone’s welcome to try out the society’s best equipment – for free! Get an up-close view of the moon, planets, stars, far-away galaxies, and get the skinny on what you’re seeing from on-site SDAS experts.
Learn How Beer is Made
If you’re a beer lover, welcome home. San Diego’s beer culture has exploded over the years and is credited for perfecting the Double India Pale Ale. Now it’s home to over 85 breweries, including some of the biggest names in the industry. Check out Ballast Point’s Old Grove location for a free, behind-the-scenes look at how these hoppy suds are brewed. Want to experience a beer fest but low on funds? Consider volunteering at a fest to be part of the action and score some free beer fest swag!
The art comes out at night! Head out to the eclectic North Park community on the second Saturday of each month for the Ray at Night Art Walk. San Diego’s largest and longest-running art walk features locally and nationally renowned artists displaying their work. Stroll among 15 galleries and venues while checking out live street performances and eclectic vendors.
Immerse yourself in the culture, art, and history of San Diego’s Chicano community. Created by an inspiring act of civil disobedience, Chicano Park was built by the surrounding community, who took over the area when the city reneged on its promise of a park here. Today you can walk amongst colorful murals, sculptures, and works of art depicting the culture, perseverance, and pride of the local community.
Need more fun and free activities? Check out the great activities hosted regularly by the staff at our two San Diego hostels. From Balboa Park and brewery tasting room tours, to game nights and free dinners, our hostel teams will help you get the most out of your San Diego experience.
Find more free things to across the country in the HI USA Free For All.