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15 budget-friendly things to do in San Diego

San Diego aka SD is a vibrant coastal city in Southern California, known for its beautiful beaches, mild climate, and world-class attractions. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly vacation, a romantic getaway, or an adventurous escape, you’re sure to find something to love in San Diego.

Here are some of the best things to do in San Diego, California on a budget:

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Budget-friendly things to do in San Diego

1. Visit the San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is one of the most popular zoos in the world, and for good reason. It’s home to over 3,500 animals from all over the globe, including many rare and endangered species. It’s also known for its innovative exhibits and conservation programs. The zoo opens from 9am to 9pm and tickets start at $67 USD per person ($57 USD for kids under 12 years old).

2. Explore Balboa Park

Balboa Park, San Diego

Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park in the heart of San Diego. It’s home to 17 museums, gardens, theaters, and other attractions, including the San Diego Museum of Art, the Fleet Science Center, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Balboa Park is also a great place to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

3. Hit the beach

Pacific Beach, San Diego

SD has over 70 miles of coastline, so there’s a beach for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly beach with calm waters, a surf spot with awesome waves, a beach where your dog can run wild unleashed, or a secluded beach where you can relax and escape the crowds, you’re sure to find it in San Diego. Some of the most popular beaches include Coronado Beach, La Jolla Shores, and Pacific Beach.

4. Explore Coronado Island

Hotel del Coronado

Coronado Island is a charming coastal city located just across the bay from downtown San Diego. It is known for its pristine white sand beaches, sparkling blue waters, and iconic Victorian architecture. The island offers a variety of shops, restaurants, and attractions. One of the most popular attractions on Coronado Island is the Hotel del Coronado, a historic hotel that has been welcoming guests since 1888.

5. Visit SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego show

SeaWorld San Diego is a renowned marine park and theme park that’s home to a variety of marine animals, including dolphins, whales, sea lions, and penguins. It offers over 16 attractions, 3 animal shows, and plenty of animal interactions and encounters for an extra cost. The park opens at 10am and costs $65 USD per person.

6. Catch a baseball game at Petco Park

Inside Petco Park

Petco Park is home to the San Diego Padres, Major League Baseball team. The park is known for its beautiful location in downtown San Diego and its intimate atmosphere. It is very accessible on foot and by car, and offers lots of food and drink options. My favorite part about the park is the “park at the park” AKA Gallagher Square, a raised grassy area where you can sit and watch the game.

7. Go whale watching

Whale watching off the west coast

San Diego is a great place to go whale watching. There are a number of companies that offer whale watching tours starting at $52 USD per person. In SD you can see a variety of whale species, including gray whales, blue whales, and humpback whales.

8. Visit the Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego

The Gaslamp Quarter is a lively historic district in downtown San Diego. It’s home to a variety of restaurants, bars, and clubs. The Gaslamp Quarter is a great place to go for a night out on the town.

9. Chill with sea lions in La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove sea lions

La Jolla Cove is a beautiful seaside cove in San Diego, California. It’s a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, and diving. The cove is also home to a variety of marine life, including leopard sharks, sea turtles, and sea lions. One of the best things to do at La Jolla Cove is simply relaxing and enjoying the scenery. The cove is surrounded by lush cliffs and features stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. You can also take a walk along the coastal boardwalk or sit on the beach and watch the sea lions play.

Other popular things to do in San Diego include:

Pacific Beach, San Diego

10. Visit Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a coastal state park that’s known for its dramatic cliffs, secluded beaches, and rare Torrey pine trees.

11. Take a surfing lesson

SD is a great place to learn how to surf. There are a number of surf schools that offer lessons for all skill levels.

12. Visit the Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument is a national monument that commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the United States. The monument offers stunning views of the SD skyline and the Pacific Ocean.

13. Visit the USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum is a museum ship that’s anchored in San Diego Bay. It’s the longest-serving aircraft carrier in U.S. history. The museum offers tours of the ship and exhibits on the history of the USS Midway and the U.S. Navy.

14. Visit the LEGOLAND California Resort

LEGOLAND California Resort is a theme park and resort that’s designed for families with children ages 2-12. The park features rides, attractions, and shows that are all made with LEGO bricks.

15. Take a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico

Tijuana is a vibrant city located just across the border from San Diego and it’s a popular destination for day trips. You can explore the bustling markets, sample delicious local cuisine, visit historic landmarks, or simply soak up the lively atmosphere of the city. There are several ways to get to Tijuana from SD, including by car, bus, trolley, or even walking. It takes around 1 hour by car from downtown SD to the border. With its unique blend of Mexican and American cultures, Tijuana is definitely worth a visit for anyone looking to explore the border region between the two countries. But don’t forget to bring your passport!

San Diego is a great beachside city that offers a ton of things to do! Whether you’re into food, art, nature, or just want to chillax, there’s something for everyone. You definitely won’t want to miss out on the beautiful beaches, amazing museums, and delicious food scene. SD is definitely a must-visit destination that’ll leave you feeling inspired and amazed. Careful though, you might end up wanting to move there! 😆

If you need help booking your budget-friendly San Diego vacation, read my blog about the best websites to book affordable travel. Or check out my services and let me personally help you!

Heads up: As a way to earn passive income, this post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you buy something through one of those links, I might get a commission at NO extra cost to you. I appreciate your support! 💕

Pacific Beach, San Diego

October 12, 2023

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