7 San Diego Attractions that won’t Break the Bank!

affordable San diego attractions

Want to visit San Diego on a tight budget? Here are 7 great attractions that won’t break the bank!

San Diego is known as “America’s Finest City” for good reason, it is gorgeous and evokes a laid back, life is good attitude. While some attractions are incredibly pricey, we found some gems that are either free or quite affordable.

1. A day in La Jolla

La Jolla has one of the most expensive zip codes in America with oceanfront mansions and probably more Ferrari’s than a few US States. However, it’s queen jewels are free to take in. Spend the day swimming around one of the most beautiful beaches in the US, La Jolla Cove for absolutely free. Afterwards walk along La Jolla Shores and check out the seals and take pictures of the many stunning viewpoints. The tide pools are nearby where, if the tide is low, you can see all sorts of crabs, anatomies, sea plants and more. The ritzy area of Prospect Street is a fun walk (even if you’re not a high roller) as it has nice galleries and ice-cream for the kids.

La Jolla Cove

2. San Diego Zoo and 3. San Diego Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo is pretty much a must-see on everyone’s visit, but most people go about it the wrong way. Often people will buy a day-pass to the zoo and a few days later buy a day-pass to the Safari Park. If there are 2 or more of you, a great option is to buy a season pass or family pass which will get you into both parks for a very low price. The zoo is so huge (with very big hills) and a some tired legs or a high maintenance child may mean only covering ½ the zoo on your first visit. The membership works out great in these instances as you can come right back and see what you missed. Kids (up to age 2) at these two parks are free, and the money you spend on adult passes or memberships is going to a great cause. Each year, from October 1–31, children ages 3–11 are admitted free to the Zoo and Safari Park when accompanied by an adult.

San Diego Zoo

4. Old Town

Take a step back in time by vising Old Town, the center of San Diego during the 1800s. It is a beautifully restored area of the city with great Mexican and Early American charm. From horses and traditional dresses and outfits, to the hat shops and amazing Mexican food all around, it’s a great place to spend hours walking around. There is some very talented live music in the outdoor square. You could have a great day there without spending a dime, although I highly recommend buying a margarita or two.

5. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

For the cost of a couple of sandwiches you can enjoy spectacular views and pristine hiking trails along Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. It provides breathtaking views of the ocean amidst the sunshine, the freshest pine air and a nice variety of terrain. Most trails are easy in that they are only a mile or so long, but some are quite steep and present a challenge if that’s what you’re looking for.

6. Balboa Park

When it comes to size of metropolitan-based parks, San Diego’s Balboa park is second in the US only to New York’s Central Park. You can walk for miles enjoying the sprawling and unique plants and trees, top-notch museums and mission architecture. Every day there are a number of weddings as so many locals all find this park special and claim one of the many corners of it for their special day. Oftentimes one can stumble upon great music ranging from classical, jazz and afrobeat. Time it right and come on their free museum days, or an event like Earth Day, Christmas Nights or Diwali, the Indian festival of lights.

7. Pacific Beach / Mission Beach

Have fun people-watching in a place where people love to be seen! Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are packed to the rim with people who focus on the surfing, their figures and their tans. Switch two blocks East for a stroll along the calmer but almost as pretty San Diego Bay. Switch back to walk along the ocean’s boardwalk and take all of the characters, then enjoy a priceless sunset alongside them on the beach. If you’re looking for nightlife Garnett Avenue has plenty.


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  • Reply
    Esther of Local Adventurer
    Aug 28, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    love all these suggestions. we haven’t spent enough time at the beaches, but we’ve done everything else. 🙂

    • Reply
      Aug 30, 2015 at 4:01 am

      Hi Esther! Thanks for a sweet comment! By the way, I am a big fan of your site..

  • Reply
    Aug 31, 2015 at 6:21 am

    I am seeing a lot of posts about San Diego. I really need to plan for us to go there. I will take not of your suggestions.

  • Reply
    Annemarie LeBlanc
    Aug 31, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Thanks for sharing with us these places that do not require a lot of money to spend. It is nice to be able to get close to nature and have a great time.

  • Reply
    Robin Rue (@massholemommy)
    Aug 31, 2015 at 9:43 am

    I was at the zoo & safari park last year and kids are definitely not free. Maybe little kids, but I had to pay for my 7 & 10 year old. It was less than the adults, but not free.

  • Reply
    Mistee Dawn
    Aug 31, 2015 at 11:00 am

    I have always wanted to visit San Diego! Especially the zoo! I have heard such wonderful things about it!

  • Reply
    Aug 31, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I have been to San Diego once and we LOVED the zoo, We are thinking of going back there in the next year and all these places look like just what we want to see!

  • Reply
    Aug 31, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    I have been to California but not yet San Diego, my cousin was based out there when he was in the military but my parents would never let me take off school so I could go visit! and by the time my summer break came he was stationed somewhere else! I would love to get out there someday thanks for the tips and attractions!

    Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly

  • Reply
    Sarah Bailey
    Aug 31, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Wow what a fantastic place to sounds like to spend sometime, I would love to visit more of San Diego, The Zoo and Safari Park sound right up my street. x

  • Reply
    Liz Mays
    Aug 31, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    I love visiting San Diego. The zoo is probably one of my favorites even though I haven’t seen everything.

  • Reply
    Aug 31, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    This sounds like a great list of things to do.I have never been to San Diego but I would love to check these places out.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Van Huss
    Sep 1, 2015 at 12:44 am

    I have never been To San Diego but that s definitely some where I would like to go! These are great tips! I want to see the zoo! I have heard good things about it!

  • Reply
    Martine - Meunfinished
    Sep 1, 2015 at 12:57 am

    I’ve been to LaJolla and it is just beautiful! I Will have to go back for the rest ?

  • Reply
    Martine - Meunfinished
    Sep 1, 2015 at 12:58 am

    I’ve been to La Jolla and it’s just beautiful! I Will have to take another trip there to see the rest ?

  • Reply
    Tatanisha Pitts-Worthey
    Sep 1, 2015 at 8:51 am

    We’ve been to San Diego and we loved the Zoo! I love that their are other affordable choices, I’ll be sure checking these places out on our next San Diego visit.

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 11:02 am

    I’ve never been to San Diego. I keep meaning to visit and when I do I’m going to do all these things. Looks like so much fun!

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    I LOVE San Diego. Years ago we did the Wild Animal Park, the zoo, Balboa Park and Lego Land. It was such a great vacation with the kids. Reading this makes me want to plan another trip.

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    This is awesome! might come in handy anytime soon. Thanks for this one.

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    I’ve never been to San Diego though I love California. My mission would definitely be to hit the beach. I’ve been to the zoo one too many times in different states.

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    I want to go to the zoo! Look at the little seal! I love animals, lol!

  • Reply
    Chubskulit Rose
    Sep 1, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    This reminds me of the beautiful zoo we went to uin San Antonio, Texas. Zoo is a great place to visit.

  • Reply
    Rebecca Swenor
    Sep 1, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    These are all great attractions to see in San Diego that won’t break the bank. I would love to go to the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park. Both of these would be so much fun for everyone. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    These are great places to visit with the whole family. I would love to visit!

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    I haven’t been to San Diego yet. These look like fun things to do. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the zoo.

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    These all look like fun!! I want to travel to Cali soon and I will definitely keep these things in mind when I go!

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Knowing us we would spend the whole time on the beach! I love the rest of your ideas, just incase the weather isn’t nice enough to beach!

  • Reply
    The Trophy WifeStyle
    Sep 1, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    I just love la jolla! I love it there so much I almost considered a move there. That’s always on my San Diego recommendation list

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    I would love to visit any of these! I’ve only been on the east coast so going elsewhere would be so much fun.

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    So many great reasons to hit San Diego. I’ve never made it to Cali, but if I needed more reason to make it happen, this is it.

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    I’d love to visit Sand Diego. Thank you for sharing all of these wonderful ideas! This makes me want to visit more than ever.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Pridemore
    Sep 2, 2015 at 1:22 am

    I would love to visit San Diego sometime! There are so many great things to do there!

  • Reply
    Yona Williams
    Sep 2, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Sign me up for La Jolla and the San Diego Zoo. We try to visit the local zoo at any destination that we travel to.

  • Reply
    Paula Schuck
    Sep 2, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    I have always wanted to go to the The San Diego Zoo. There are so many great things to do in San Diego. I would love to go there on a vacation.

  • Reply
    Kelly Hutchinson
    Sep 2, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    I was in San Francisco last year but didn’t have time for much sightseeing. I would love to see the San Diego zoo!

  • Reply
    Krystal's Kitsch
    Sep 9, 2015 at 2:55 am

    I have always wanted to go. I have heard it is SO pretty there.

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