Visiting “America’s Finest City” with your kids shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, if you plan it right, you and your family can visit San Diego and have a great time without spending a ton of money. This sunny city has plenty of free activities for kids. Whether the youngsters prefer indoor activities, the great outdoors, or a mix of both, there are plenty of options for free things to do in San Diego with kids.

1. Children’s Pool La Jolla

The Children’s Pool in La Jolla is an ideal spot to check out the California harbor seals and sea lions that make this small cove their home. It’s protected from oncoming waves by a brick seawall, and provides a safe haven for these mammals and an amazing opportunity for spectators.

2. Seaport Village

Fourteen acres of shopping, entertainment, and views that need no filters await you and your family at Seaport Village—and yes, admission is free! There is plenty here to keep everyone in the family entertained for the day, including live music, panoramic views of the San Diego Harbor, face painters, balloon artists, and more.

3. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Grab your sneakers and head out for a family hike at Torrey Pines, where there is no entry fee as long as you park on the street. Beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean serve as your backdrop, while many protected animals provide excellent company for a peaceful day in nature.

4. Balboa Park

An icon of the downtown area, Balboa Park offers plenty of free activities to keep you busy all day, including the many hiking trails, children’s playgrounds, the WorldBeat Cultural Center, and more. Although many of the free museums in San Diego have rotating days for residents to receive free admission, the Timken Museum of Art is free to everyone all year!

5. Coronado Island

Family adventures in San Diego aren’t complete without hitting the beach. Coronado Island has some of the nicest beaches around, and is one of the best free things to do in San Diego with kids. Free parking is available on Ocean Boulevard and Ferry Landing Marketplace, so pack your car full of beach towels and prepare for a day of fun in the sun!

6. Old Town

Wandering through the streets of Old Town is just like taking a tour of early San Diego history. Make it an educational trip by heading to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park to experience Mexican culture through history programs, art, mariachi, and cuisine.

7. Waterfront Park

waterfront park

Still looking for things to do in San Diego today? You can easily spend hours at Waterfront Park. Pack a lunch and enjoy one of several picnic areas, then head to the children’s playgrounds, one of the garden rooms, or the interactive splash fountain to cool off on a hot day.

8. Farmers Markets

What better way to experience San Diego like a local than to try the local produce and see the work or local artists? Various San Diego neighborhoods host weekly farmers markets year round, so no matter which day you choose, you’re sure to find one. Some of the most popular markets include Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, Hillcrest Famers Market on Sundays, and Ocean Beach Farmers Market on Wednesday evenings.

9. Free Museum Days

The San Diego Museum Council sponsors some amazing free activities for kids in San Diego. During October, and children 12 and under get into any of the city’s 40+ museums with no admissions fee. If you’re planning a trip in February, you’re in luck! Every February is Museum Month, when all museum passes are half price. Pro tip: Although many of the free museums in San Diego have rotating days for residents to receive free admission, the Timken Museum of Art is free to everyone all year!

10. Summer Movies in the Park

In San Diego, the warm, sunny weather means Summer Movies in the Park stretches out the family-friendly fun for six months! That’s right—parks all over the county host free outdoor movie nights May through October. This is one of the best free activities for kids in San Diego, especially when you want to enjoy the city like a local. Participating cities include San Diego, Vista in North County, Chula Vista in the South Bay, and several more.

11. Cabrillo National Monument

San Diego is home to a long history of indigenous arts and culture and the California coast didn’t see European explorers until 1542 when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo reached what’s now called Point Loma. Learn about this time in America’s history and splash around at low tide. The surrounding park includes the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and kid-friendly hiking trails. If you visit during the winter months, observe migrating Pacific gray whales on their annual excursion.

12. Community Festivals

All year, San Diegans love to gather together and celebrate, well, being San Diegans. Depending on which neighborhood you stay in and the weekend you happen to visit, you could find yourself in the middle of a free community street fair. Just a few include Sun & Sea Festival in Imperial Beach each July, Old Town’s Stagecoach Days every July and August, and Fiesta del Sol, hosted every May in Solana Beach. And that’s just scratching the surface!

Wondering about other things to do in San Diego with kids? Check out these low-cost options that go easy on your wallet.

  • Take the family to the ballgame! Sit in the “Park at the Park” section for $20 or less.
  • Head to Belmont Park in Mission Beach and check out the Giant Dipper, a classic wooden roller coaster.
  • Get a glimpse inside the US Navy by visiting the USS Midway Museum.
  • Enjoy breathtaking views of the San Diego waterways on a City Harbor Sightseeing Cruise.

There are so many low-cost things to do in San Diego. This is a town with endless possibilities. With these tips and our San Diego on a budget guide, you’ll have no problem saving money during your trip to the beach. Have an excellent time, and don’t forget to tell us about your own favorite ways to enjoy San Diego on a budget!

Header image via Rigucci/