San Diego is home to world-class surf breaks, amazing nightlife, and an internationally recognized cuisine. Dubbed as “The Largest Small Town,” San Diego has a comfortable, small-town vibe with big-time amenities. Endless miles of sandy beaches, rugged mountains, and some world-class surf breaks make it a city that has something to offer for everyone.
Luckily, just about everyone can afford to travel to San Diego as well. While it may have everything you’d expect in a seaside city, you don’t have to spend Southern California prices in order to enjoy all that San Diego has to offer. Check out the list of 30 things you can enjoy in San Diego for under $30 a person.
Even if you don’t have a board with you, surfing in San Diego is a must. There are over 30 beaches in San Diego, and plenty of surf breaks for all skill levels to enjoy. Just walk along the shore at a popular beach and you’ll find a dozen surf rental signs with boards available. Most of them average anywhere from $5-$15 an hour for each board. Many stores have wetsuits available for rent as well.
Price: Under $20
Mission Bay and Pacific Beach’s Boardwalk is a must for some of the best people watching you will ever experience in your life. There are almost always a few very talented musicians playing music, and some sort of crazy Youtube video in the making being created on the boardwalk. The boardwalk runs for over 3 miles along the San Diego beach, giving you some of the best views of the sun setting over the ocean, all for free. You can also walk out on the pier and watch the local surfers catch breaks beneath you. If walking isn’t your thing, you can also rollerskate, bike, or longboard.
Point Loma’s Tidepools are a fantastic way to get an upclose look at sea anemones, crabs and fish up close. The entrance fee to the park is a few dollars, but definitely worth the price. If you visit the tidepools during the winter, make sure to keep an eye out for whales; their migration route from Mexico to Alaska runs right alongside the tidepool and Point Loma cliffs.
Price: $5 per car
Feeling hungry for seafood? Catch yourself some dinner! The Pier in Oceanside has a Bait & Tackle shop located halfway down the Pier where you can rent fishing poles and tackle. There is no fishing license required to fish off the pier, and you will never be lonely; even if no one else is fishing, Charlie the Pelican is always around to keep you company (and eat up any fish you leave behind).
Price: Under $15
Balboa Park is the largest urban cultural park of its kind in the United States, and is a haven for those who wish to experience beautiful architecture, museums, and hikes for free. The San Diego Botanical Garden is located in a large, open building in the middle of the park, right up again the San Diego Zoo. Visitors are welcome to walk around and learn about some of the most beautiful plants found in San Diego. There are several park benches for you to sit and enjoy the views.
For only a few dollars, you can hop aboard an old fashioned train for a ride in Old Poway Park. The vibe is definitely vintage; the train staff even dress in period costumes. Check the Old Poway Park Train website for updated schedules on when the train is open.
Price: Under $3
No need to blow your budget (and induce rage from protesters) by visiting Sea World; instead, drive 20 minutes up the coast to La Jolla Coves. Located right in the heart of downtown La Jolla, the coves are a great place for scuba diving, swimming, and seal watching. Seals are constantly swimming and sunning themselves on the giant rock cliffs and outcroppings located right off shore. You can hike down to the beach for an up close look, but be careful not to get too close!
Old Town San Diego is fun glimpse into the start of San Diego and home to some of the best historic buildings in the city. There are dozens of free museums and structures, like the first San Diego Jail and the first School in California. You can watch blacksmithing, sit in a covered wagon, and even visit a petting zoo. Watch out for graveyard plaques if you are walking down the sidewalk; instead of moving an old graveyard, the road and sidewalks were constructed on top of the burial sites.
There are only 3 official Olympic Training Centers in the United States. San Diego is home to one of them, and you can meet actual Olympic athletes who will give you a guided tour around the complex. Tours are held on Saturdays, although you are welcome to visit by yourself and walk around any other day of the week as well.
Even if a trip up to Disneyland is out of your budget, San Diego’s Belmont Park can satisfy the adrenaline rush without the long lines and steep prices. Located right on the Boardwalk in Mission Beach, Belmont Park has a great selection of roller coaster and amusement park rides for all ages. An all day unlimited ride wristband pass is only $25 for adults if you buy online. Plus, you can’t beat the ocean views from the top of the roller coaster.
If you want to enjoy some art without spending an entire day inside, the Timken Museum of Art is another Balboa park wonder that won’t cost you a dime. The museum features paintings from a variety of time periods and styles, so you can enjoy a little bit of everything to satisfy your art thirst.
Itching to get out on the ocean? Even if you can’t afford a yacht cruise, you can still enjoy a ferry ride across the San Diego harbor to Coronado Island for only a few bucks each way. The ferry leaves from Seaport Village, and has a schedule of departures and arrivals so you are free to explore the island at your leisure.
Price: Under $5
If you want to learn more about the vast sea life surrounding San Diego, make sure to stop at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla. The aquarium holds many varieties of fish, sea creatures, and crabs for visitors to look at and learn about. Don’t feel like staying inside? The aquarium has wonderful tide pools located just outside the museum.
On nearly every day of the week, there is a farmer’s market somewhere to be found in San Diego. There are over 50 of them to visit throughout San Diego county, and all of them are filled with unique vendors, food trucks, and locally grown produce.
Price: Free + whatever you buy
Every Friday night in the summers, Escondido hosts Crusin Grand for free to the public. Old time cars drive down Grand Avenue; after the parade, they can be admired up close at the nearby Grape Day park. The city has different themes for each Friday night, so you can admire a different variety of cars each time you visit.
San Diego has a plethora of Decobike stations throughout the city. Simply hop on a bike, ride as long as you like, and return it to whichever Decobike station you like. The cost is by the hour or by the day, but either way it’s a cheap, fun way to enjoy the warm weather and soak up more sights than you can by foot.
Price: Membership is $20-30 per month
One of the best walks in San Diego ends in one of the most photographed locations in the county. Potato Chip Rock is just what is sounds like; It is a rock shaped like a potato chip jutting out over an amazing overlook. The result is a fun place to sit and enjoy a view of the valley below. Be sure to hike out early in the day, as the trail becomes increasingly crowded as the day progresses.
Oceanside’s Beach has a number of fire pits that are available on a first come, first serve basis. Fire pits are free to use, but you do need to bring your own fire supplies. Firewood can be bought from any number of gas stations located in Oceanside. Bring your beach blankets, smore supplies, and be ready to soak up the campfire smell as you listen to the ocean waves just steps from your fire.
Price: Under $10
While there are plenty of amazing locations to watch the sun disappear behind the ocean in San Diego, Mount Soledad is the best place to turn around and watch the city slowly light up while the day’s light disappears. You can park right next to the monument or a bit further down the street for more of a hike up to the top. Sit on the stairs and watch San Diego light up for one of the best night landscapes in the county.
Just outside of Old Town there are several restaurants that sell fresh tortillas to passerbyers on the street. You can watch the skilled artisans whip up fresh corn or flour tortillas, melted with butter and with salsa, if you prefer. They are served hot and best eaten right away, so don’t be afraid to chow down in the middle of the street. They usually cost anywhere from 25 cents to 50 cents apiece, but eating just one is nearly impossible.
Price: Under $1
Encinitas and Carlsbad are two North County Coastal beach towns with plenty of state owned shoreline beaches. Several of these beaches have campsites available to rent out by the night. Bring your own tent, camp under the stars, and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean crashing beneath the cliffs, all for half of the cost of an average hotel room.
Price: Under $30
Cabrillo Monument is located in Old Point Loma. The monument pays tribute to the first white explorer to land in San Diego, Juan Cabrillo. There is a small museum and gift shop; you can also watch several films that play throughout the day for free and learn about different aspects of the explorer and San Diego sea life. There monument and the museum both have breathtaking overlooks looking back onto San Diego and Coronado Island, which give you a fun new perspective on the town.
Price: $5 per car admission
There are thousands of trails and hikes that are available for free to anyone who visits San Diego. But if you want one with a good variety of hikes and some breathtaking views, Torrey Pines State Park is one of the best places to visit. You can hike up the cliffs and along the ocean while enjoying breathtaking vistas and watching paragliders run off the cliffs. Park alongside the beach down the road for free parking.
Dixon Lake is located in Escondido, and is free to enter on weekdays. You can also park outside the park and just walk in for free on the weekends as well. They have a variety of boats available for rent by the hour or day, as well as lifejackets. While you won’t set any speed records, the little motorboats are a fun way to enjoy a different kind of California water than the powerful ocean 20 minutes down the road.
Price: Under $30
Even if you forgot your passport, you can still catch a glimpse into Mexico from almost any mountain in San Diego. One of the best ones to glimpse the area's topography and gaze into Mexico is from Twin Peaks Park, located in San Marcos. From the top you can not only see Mexico, but nearly every mountain range in San Diego County.
The park is also a great place to bring a picnic dinner and watch the sunset; there are even picnic benches and trash cans located at the top. There is also a map on the ground of the surrounding area, so you know what mountains and towns you are looking at.
Seaworld has one of the best firework displays in the country, and they put on a fireworks show pretty regularly throughout the summer. Instead of paying admission price, head down the road to nearby Mission Bay and enjoy the show for free.
Balboa Park is home to the largest outdoor organ, and the amphitheatre it is housed in is one of the most beautiful music venues in the city. On Sundays the pavilion puts on free concerts in the park. Feel free to pack a picnic, sun umbrellas, and whatever else you desire to enjoy some beautiful music under the constant San Diego sunny skies.
San Diego has over 30 different beaches, all with their own flair and beach going crowd. That means you could spend an entire month with non stop beach days and never see the same beach twice. Now that sounds like a vacation. About the only thing you’ll ever pay for is parking, unless you are diligent and lucky enough to scope out for the free spots down the road.
San Diego, like any good Southern California beach town, offers free movies in the park throughout the summer months. Movies usually start at dusk; be sure to check out the San Diego Summer Movies in the Park website to get the full schedule with movie listings and park locations for the year.
Reaching a true zen state of mind is so much more relaxing when the sound of the waves in the background is real life and not on a CD player. There are plenty of individuals and meet-up groups that practice yoga on most of San Diego’s beaches at different times throughout the day. If you feel like a more solitary practice, feel free to bring your yoga mat and just do a Vinyasa Flow on your own as well!
Need more great ideas and suggestions for San Diego? Check out Trekeffect to find great places to stay, cheap activities, and must see destinations in San Diego, California!
We want to hear from you! What are your thoughts on the article? What did you find most interesting and do you have any of your own experiences you can you share with us to make this article even better? Let us know in the comments!