Having fun during the summer in San Diego doesn’t require a lot of money. In fact, many things to see and enjoy in San Diego are absolutely free. With 70 miles of beautiful beaches, near-perfect weather and a variety of summer street fairs, concerts and arts and cultural events, San Diego offers a fun and inexpensive summer getaway.
Put on your bathing suit, grab your towel and head to one of San Diego’s 33 beaches, all open to the public, and perfect for body surfing, boogie boarding, building sandcastles, collecting seashells and basking in the sun. www.sandiego.org/article_set/Visitors/5
Bring a picnic and listen to Coronado’s Summer Concert Series in Spreckels Park on Sunday evenings throughout the summer. On the first and third Sunday of the month, come early and browse the work of more than 50 artists from San Diego County during the Coronado Art Association’s bi-monthly Art-In-The-Park event. www.coronadovisitorcenter.com
Soak up the international flavor at the House of Pacific Relations in Balboa Park with the International Cottages’ Lawn Programs. Held each Sunday throughout the summer, these free performances feature ethnic song and dance. www.balboapark.org
Head to the historic Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside on June 14 – 15 for the 12th Annual Inter-Tribal Pow Wow. Hosted by the San Luis Rey Luiseno Mission Indians, this event draws tribe members from all over the United States for contest dancing, Native American arts and crafts, games and food. www.slrmissionindians.org
Catch a magnificent Pacific sunset and watch sea lions play along the shoreline at La Jolla Cove, one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world. www.lajollabythesea.com
Visit Seaport Village during the weekends for free entertainment and hours of leisurely strolling and window-shopping. Guests can also walk along the bay-front or sit in the grass and gaze at passing yachts and ships along San Diego Bay. www.seaportvillage.com
Listen to live bands lined along the 26.2-mile marathon route of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on June 1. The course begins in Balboa Park, runs through various popular locations around the city and ends at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Visitors can also stop by the Marathon’s free Health and Fitness Expo, May 30 – 31, at the San Diego Convention Center. www.rnrmarathon.com
Stroll through the 16½-block historic Gaslamp Quarter’s turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture in downtown San Diego. Once the stomping grounds of the legendary Wyatt Earp, the Gaslamp Quarter is now home to unique stores, numerous restaurants, nightclubs and bars. www.gaslamp.org
Fly a kite along the grassy field in the Tecolote Shores of Mission Bay Park, a 4,600-acre aquatic playground for all ages. Here, away from trees and overhead wires, families gather to launch colorful kites high into the clear-blue, breezy skies. www.aboutmissionbay.com
Check out gnarly international and U.S. body surfers competing in the 32nd Annual World Body Surfing Championships at the Oceanside Beach and Pier on August 23 – 24. www.worldbodysurfing.org
Visit Old Town State Historic Park to experience San Diego’s rich Mexican heritage. Guests can view festive folkloric and flamenco dancers, stroll through a variety of international shops and wander free through the Park’s historic buildings, including Casa de Estudillo, Casa de Machado y Stewart, the blacksmith shop, San Diego’s oldest schoolhouse and San Diego’s first newspaper office. www.oldtownsandiegoguide.com
Sample some of the more than 200 varieties of fresh produce grown in San Diego at one of the region’s many Farmer’s Markets, held daily at locations throughout the county: Tuesday afternoons in Coronado, Escondido and the UCSD campus in La Jolla; Wednesday mornings in Temecula, afternoons in Carlsbad and evenings in Ocean Beach; Thursday mornings in Oceanside and downtown San Diego, evenings in Chula Vista, North Park and Tierrasanta; Friday mornings at Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo and Borrego Springs, and afternoons in La Mesa; Saturday afternoons in Del Mar, Pacific Beach, Carlsbad, Poway, Scripps Ranch and Temecula; and Sunday mornings in Hillcrest, downtown San Diego, Leucadia and Solana Beach. www.sdfarmbureau.org
Enjoy free organ concerts on Monday evenings, June 16 – August 25, during the 21st Annual International Summer Organ Festival at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park, featuring the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ. Also enjoy the Organ Pavilion’s Twilight in the Park Summer Concerts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, June 17 – August 28. www.serve.com/sosorgan
Bike or jog along Mission Bay Park’s many trails. Joggers and walkers share more than 20 miles of scenic running paths winding through sunlight and shade near the shoreline with workout courses at planned stations along the route. www.aboutmissionbay.com
Visit the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the nation’s first warm weather, year-round Olympic training facility located in Chula Vista, for free daily tours of the 150-acre lakefront facility. Tours begin at the Copley Visitor Center. www.usoc.org
Attend the 29th Annual Ocean Beach Street Fair & Chili Cook-off on June 28, featuring more than 200 vendors, local artists, food, a children’s area and entertainment on five stages. www.obstreetfair.com
Cross the international border into colorful and exciting Tijuana, Mexico where the entrance is free and a plethora of shops offer unique gifts and apparel, and restaurants offer the finest in Mexican cuisine. www.tijuana.com
Rollerblade, skateboard, bicycle or people-watch along the Mission Beach Boardwalk, a scenic three-mile boardwalk along lively Mission and Pacific Beaches.
Turn your attention towards the sky during the Annual Ramona Air Fair on May 31 – June 1 with aerial fire fighting, aircraft demonstration flights, military aircraft flights, World War II aircraft, aerobatic planes, airplane rides, carnival rides, hot air balloons, music, fireworks and numerous vendor and food booths. www.ramonaairshow.com
Stargaze outside the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center on the first Wednesday of every month during “Gazin’ with the Experts” as members of the San Diego Astronomy Association set up huge telescopes and offer guests a great view of the moon, planets and brighter stars. www.rhfleet.org
Join the festivities at San Diego’s many Fourth of July celebrations, held in communities throughout the county. Coronado’s popular Independence Day Celebration features a two-hour parade followed by a family concert in Spreckels Park and spectacular fireworks over Glorietta Bay on July 4.
Take a scenic drive to Mt. Laguna to hike, bike or picnic while enjoying the fresh mountain air whispering through the pines. www.julianca.com
Climb the bluffs of Torrey Pines State Reserve and watch daring hang gliders and paragliders sail the air currents along the coastline from the Torrey Pines Gliderport. www.torreypine.org
Wiggle your toes in the sand at the Annual U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition at Imperial Beach Pier on July 12 – 13. View hundreds of sand sculpting artists at work; the event also features a children’s sandcastle contest. www.usopensandcastle.com
Visit Mission Trails Regional Park featuring a state-of-the-art Visitors Center where guests explore and learn about the wonders of nature and the native people who once lived on the land. The park also offers over 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails. www.mtrp.org
Go scuba diving or snorkeling off San Diego’s shores to see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Shores and Cove offers some of the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater preserve to explore. www.lajollabythesea.com
Watch the 54th Annual World Championship Over-the-Line Tournament, San Diego’s original boisterous beach softball event, on July 12 – 13 and July 19 – 20 at Fiesta Island, Mission Bay. www.ombac.org
Tour San Diego Bay and view impressive public art sculptures, tributes and memorials set all along the shoreline. The artworks celebrate San Diego’s international ties, cultural diversity, military significance and unique oceanfront environment. www.portofsandiego.org
Attend the California State Summer Games and cheer on amateur athletes as they compete in 20 different sports, ranging from archery to track and field. The games are held on July 11 – 13 at various locations throughout San Diego County, including the Balboa Park Activity Center and the University of San Diego. www.calstategames.org
On warm summer nights when the tide is high and the moon is full, join San Diegans in a local natural phenomenon, the grunion run. Witness thousands of small grunion fish swimming ashore to mate and bury their eggs in the sand before riding the waves back out to sea.
Join in celebrating San Diego’s rich jazz and blues history at the Harlem West Fest & San Diego Jazz Parade (July TBA) in downtown’s East Village, featuring food and live performances by well-known jazz, R&B and blues artists. www.harlemofthewest.com
Watch tail-waggin’, Frisbee-catchin’, stick-fetchin’ dogs splash in the surf at Ocean Beach’s Dog Beach. Man’s best friend is permitted to roam there leash-free at all hours of the day. www.sandiego.gov
Experience real California car culture during the Cajon Classic Cruise, Southern California’s largest weekly classic car show, in downtown El Cajon each Wednesday evening from June 4 – September 24. Stroll through El Cajon’s historic district while enjoying the cars, street vendors, food, live entertainment and vibrant small town atmosphere. www.downtownelcajon.com
Join the festivities at the Annual San Diego Pride Celebration, one of the most popular events of its kind in the country. Free festivities include a mile-long parade through Hillcrest on July 19, beginning at 11 a.m. www.sandiegopride.org
Go bird watching at one of San Diego’s many coastal nature preserves, including the Tijuana Estuary, Tidelands Park in Coronado, J Street Tidal Flats in Chula Vista, Northern Wildlife Preserve/Kendall Frost Marsh on Mission Bay and Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad.
Enjoy gallery hopping and light fare on the second Saturday of each month when North Park’s Ray Street galleries welcome artists, art lovers and curiosity seekers during Ray at Night. This monthly gallery walk provides galleries an opportunity to display the works of local painters, photographers and sculptors. www.northparkmainstreet.com
Cheer on youth soccer players at the 28th Annual San Diego Surf Cup Soccer Tournament, July 26 – 28 and August 2 – 4 at the San Diego Polo Club in Del Mar. This nationally-recognized amateur tournament draws the country’s best players, aged 10 – 19. www.surfcup.com
Take a walk through Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the United States, and discover its beautiful Spanish Colonial-Revival architecture and glorious gardens. Also take advantage of the Park’s variety of other free offerings, including free admission to select museums on Tuesdays, ranger-led walking tours and concerts at Spreckels Organ Pavilion. www.balboapark.org
Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego on the third Tuesday of the month, when admission is free at both its La Jolla and downtown facilities. www.mcasd.org
Get involved every first Thursday of the month, when the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego hosts TNT (Thursday Night Thing) at their downtown galleries. TNT’s eclectic events provide an occasion to interact with the arts and artists of the San Diego region through visual art instillations and exciting live music, dance and performance art pieces. www.mcasd.org
Dance along Fifth Avenue during the annual Hillcrest Cityfest Street Fair on August 10, featuring crafts, food booths, three entertainment stages and two beer gardens. www.hillquest.com
Gather friends, family and firewood for a cozy beach bonfire at one of the County’s bonfire-friendly beaches like Coronado Beach, La Jolla Shores and Mission Beach.
Go on a self-guided walking tour of The Stuart Collection, a display of contemporary sculptures scattered throughout the University of California, San Diego campus in La Jolla. Tour maps are available at the Gilman Drive campus entrance. stuartcollection.ucsd.edu
Run over to the 31st America’s Finest City Half Marathon on August 17 to cheer on runners as they race along San Diego Bay from Cabrillo National Monument, through downtown San Diego and to the finish in Balboa Park. The race begins at 6:45 a.m. www.afchalf.com
Explore the clear shallow tidepools of La Jolla Cove and Point Loma when the tide is low and the pools are teeming with aquatic life.
Drive through the wine country of San Diego’s North County and stop for a free wine tasting at Bernardo Winery, Southern California’s oldest operating winery. www.bernardowinery.com
Visit Julian in San Diego’s East County. Enjoy this quaint, historic mining town that grew into the County’s second largest urban center during the Southern California gold rush of 1869. www.julianca.com
Take a drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, home of the Mt. Soledad Veterans War Memorial, for breathtaking, 360-degree views of San Diego. Spectacular views also await at the top of Mt. Helix, offering visitors a birds-eye glimpse of San Diego’s East County communities. www.soledadmemorial.com
Watch a Movie by the Sea on an outdoor 35 x 40-foot screen on the grass of La Jolla Cove. Moviegoers have a chance to breathe the sea air while taking in a popular family film, showing on August 1. www.lajollabythesea.com
Experience the history of community struggle with a visit to the Chicano Park Murals, established by activists in 1970. This cultural park has received international recognition as a major public art site for its commanding mural paintings; some of the murals narrate the history of Barrio Logan where the park is located. www.chicanoparksandiego.com
For more information on San Diego complimentary offerings, visitors can contact the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2215 India Street, San Diego, CA 92101 or call (619) 236-1212. In San Diego, visit the International Visitor Information Center, located at the corner of West Broadway at Harbor Drive in downtown San Diego, and the La Jolla Visitor Center, located at the corner of Herschel Avenue and Prospect Street in La Jolla. Internet users can visit www.sandiego.org