San Diego, California is a treasured locale for families to enjoy. An abundance of sunshine, miles of gorgeous beaches, and kid-friendly activities galore make this city ripe with a wide variety of fun, free things to do. From diving into adventures along the coastline to exploring museums and historical sites, there are plenty of family activities in San Diego you don't want to miss.
Spend the Day in La Jolla Cove
If it's sand, surf, and sea lions you're searching for, be sure to put La Jolla Cove on your "must do" list when visiting San Diego. This natural gem is a favorite spot for water-sports lovers, as the waters are clear and calm. It's also home to unique and interesting sea creatures too. Kayak and snorkel amidst leopard sharks and tropical fish, or spend an afternoon observing sea lions and seals. Who needs to pay admission to an aquarium with a beach like this?
Take in the Amazing Sights of Torrey Pines
There's tons to do in Torrey Pines, and after a full day here, no one will be awake past 7 p.m. Tire kids out with a hike along Guy Fleming Trail or, for older kids, the more strenuous Beach Trail. Make a pit stop at the Visitor's Center before taking in a meal and observing the sights at Torrey Pines Gliderport. Here, brave souls take a flying leap off cliffs as they glide through the sea breezes with the help of brightly colored paragliders and knowledgeable experts.
For extra adventurous families, paragliding options are available. While the trip across the sky will cost you, various free gifts, like a free lunch, T-shirt, mug, or photographs, are offered on multiple days of the week to accompany your experience.
Explore Mission Trails Regional Park
Active families can enjoy over 7200-acres of the open space preserve that is Mission Trails Regional Park. The terrain is comprised of rugged canyons and hills where families can walk, hike and bike the scenic California outdoors. Try some bird watching or spend the day on Lake Murray. A day soaking up the California sunshine is a day well spent.
Stroll Gaslamp Quarter
The 16-block historic district is packed with swanky eateries, nightclubs, and Victorian architecture and history. You can make a dinner reservation here or simply wander about taking stunning pictures of all you see. Don't forget to snap the family's pic under the notable Gaslamp sign on 5th Avenue and L Street. Can you say next year's Christmas card?
Tour Tons of Tide Pools
During the winter months, the ocean tide is low during the daytime and primed for exploration. Hermit crabs, sea anemones, sea stars, and sea cucumbers, to name a few, are some of the sea creatures that can be discovered in the Pacific's tide pools. San Diego has tons of spaces to try this activity out, and the best part is, each tide pool offers something a little different. No two pools are exactly the same!
See the Sights and Sounds of Seaport Village
It's free to roam around Seaport Village, and totally worthwhile. Often, lucky guests are entertained by dozens of performers working the waterfront. There are plenty of free concert series held throughout the year for vacationers and residents to enjoy as they take an afternoon stroll along the boardwalk.
Make a Splash at San Diego's Waterfront Park
San Diego can get really hot, and families who find some inland water to cool off in will be grateful. Kids will never tire of splashing about in the interactive splash fountains at Waterfront Park, and with tons of open green space, there will be ample room to spread out towels and dry off before hitting up your next San Diego destination.
Picnic at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Wrap up a day of exploring San Diego by watching the sun descend at Sunset Cliffs. As the name implies, this is one of the most jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring spaces to witness the sun call it a day and sink into the night. Plan an elegant evening picnic here for a cost-effective dinner, or grab a sweet treat for the kids to enjoy. This is a terrific way to end an epic San Diego vacation.
Cruise Around Coronado
The resort city known as "Crown City," lovely Coronado, lies a mere ten minutes from San Diego. Here you can beach it up, bike around the beautiful buildings, take in a weekend jam session at Ferry Landing, or enjoy some art in the park. With so many fun and free things to do in Coronado, you almost need more than a day to devote to this unique space.
Give Fly-fishing a Try
If you head over to Lake Murray on a Sunday morning, the San Diego Fly Fishers (SDFF) offer a free fly casting clinic for anyone interested in learning the sport. Those wanting to cast their poles can either bring their own gear or borrow some at no charge.
Bring on Balboa Park!
Balboa Park is packed with exciting things for families to experience, many of which won't cost a dime. Residents have access to rotating museums offering free admission on Tuesdays, and those visiting San Diego can take in parts of Balboa Park free of charge as well. Check out the 65 miles of hiking trails, let Fido roam the dog parks, set kids loose at one of the five children's playgrounds, explore the many museums, and never feel the need to whip out your wallet.
The Green Dragon Tavern and Museum
While most tourists who head to San Diego want the western experience, families can check out The Green Dragon Tavern and Museum and bring a little east coast into the west coast adventure. Touring the colonial museum is free of charge, but adults can tack on a beverage to enjoy while taking in the sights.
Bum Around Countless Beaches
San Diego's beaches are some of the most stunning in the entire world, and there are so many family-friendly beaches to explore. Be sure to visit at least a few of them should you ever find yourself in the area. Pack a frisbee, plenty of sunscreen and picnic foods, and soak up as much Vitamin D as you possibly can.
Hang Out At Cabrillo National Monument
Located at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay in 1542. Here visitors can load up on their history while checking out the lighthouse, the relics, and the exhibits, or immerse themselves in the nature surrounding the monument.
Go Back in Time at Old Town
A visit to Old Town San Diego is an absolute must for any family. Considered California's birthplace, Old Town is packed with so many sights, sounds, and wonders, many of which cost nothing. Take a free guided tour of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and wander the park, learning about life in the 1800s. Explore the Junipero Serra Museum, which also offers free admission, but donations are graciously accepted. Stroll through the many shops, then finish the day off with some delicious Mexican food and free musical entertainment.
Learn All About the USS Midway
The USS Midway is an aircraft carrier that served in the United States Navy for nearly fifty years. Families can climb aboard and learn all about this amazing aircraft carrier, which was once the largest in the world. Kids under the age of five can access the museum completely free of charge. Two kids below the age of 13 can also get in free if they are in the company of an adult who purchased a full-price ticket.
Attend Mass at Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá
You don't have to be religious to appreciate the stunning architecture, sights, and history of Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá . Widely known as "The Mother of All Missions," Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was the first of 21 Spanish missionaries built on California soil. There is beauty and history to be explored here, which can be done through a guided tour or on your own. If attending mass is on your agenda, this is a free perk of putting this attraction on your "must-see" list.
San Diego Is a Sunny Playground for Families
Whether you make San Diego your home, your family vacation spot, or pass through on a whim, one thing is for sure; you can never be bored in "America's Finest City." While parts of California are notably pricey, San Diego proves that not everything worth doing breaks the bank. With so many free family activities in San Diego, the real trouble will be choosing which ones to work into a visit.