11 Fun & Free Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

March 2, 2018

When you’re searching for children’s activities that won’t cost a dime, add these fun spots to your list.

When traveling with family, there are several factors to consider. From finding a family-friendly hotel to planning the perfect vacation itinerary, you have a lot on your mind. The last thing you want to worry about is going over budget! Luckily, there is a whole world of entertaining and free things to do in San Diego with kids.

A visit to the beach won’t break your travel budget.

1. San Diego Beaches

Naturally, the top free things to do in San Diego with kids are the beautiful beaches. Kids can play in the sand, go for a swim, and discover the tide pools filled with marine life. Plus, at beaches such as Children’s Pool, kids can see California sea lions and seals—from a safe distance, of course

Plan a day or two to explore the many beaches of San Diego, including:

  • Mission Bay Park
  • Moonlight State Beach
  • La Jolla Shores Beach
  • Children’s Pool
  • Coronado Municipal Beach
  • Del Mar City Beach

Be sure to bring your own towels, beach toys, and sunscreen!

2. Torrey Pines Nature Preserve

Torrey Pines Nature Preserve is filled with adventurous hiking trails, a beach, and even a Gliderport. In addition, the preserve is free to visit and explore.

But keep in mind, this is a preserve—not a park. Meaning, the wildlife, plants, and natural elements in the preserve are considered threatened or endangered. With this in mind, try to use your visit to the preserve as a teaching moment for your kids and explain the importance of protecting our lands for future generations.

Also, do note that pets, food, and beverages (aside from water) are not permitted in the preserve in an effort to protect the wildlife.

Set out on San Diego’s hiking trails with your kids

3. San Diego Hiking Trails

There’s nothing more fun (and free) than the abundance of hiking trails in San Diego. San Diego’s hiking trails highlight the area’s natural beauty and terrain while simultaneously offering unbelievable views along the way. Plus, many of the trails have little to no elevation and are short distances, making them ideal for younger children.

Go for a hike on one of these popular San Diego trails:

  • Sunset Cliffs Beach Walk
  • Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail
  • Bayside Trail
  • Tijuana Estuary Trail
  • Harper Creek Pools
  • Piedras Pintadas Trail
  • La Jolla Ocean Path

Be sure to respect nature as you explore the trails and always bring out whatever you bring in!

4. Explore Old Town San Diego

Known as the birthplace of California, a trip to Old Town San Diego with the family is a must. Filled with authentic Mexican restaurants, traditional gifts, and a wealth of entertainment, there is so much to do and see. If your kids are old enough to appreciate haunted houses, be sure to check out the Whaley House Museum, known as the most haunted place in the country!

It is free to enter the town and stroll through the historic state park. In addition, the area boasts free museums such as the Casa de Estudillo, the Seeley Stable Museum, and the Visitor’s Information Center. However, you may need to pay for parking and whatever activities you decide to do within the town.

It doesn’t cost a dime to explore Balboa Park’s grounds.

5. Balboa Park

With more than 16 museums to visit, you may not initially understand why Balboa Park made our list of free things to do in San Diego with kids. However, guests can visit this expansive and beautiful park free of charge!

Known as “where culture, nature, and science collide,Balboa Park offers a variety of outdoor fun for kids including:

  • EthnoBotany Children’s Peace Garden
  • Pepper Grove Playground
  • Morley Field Playground
  • Bird Park at Cedar and Upas
  • Multiple Hiking Trails

In addition, should you decide to stretch your budget a bit, kids can enjoy the carousel and miniature train for a small fee. Or, treat your kids with admission to the museum or park attraction of their choice. Popular destinations in the park include the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Natural History Museum.

6. Visit Seaport Village

For seaside fun, bring the kids to Seaport Village. While strolling through this quaint shopping and entertainment area of San Diego, kids can marvel at the gigantic ships at port. Again, visiting the plaza and taking advantage of the sprawling green spaces is completely free. Should you choose to patron one of the restaurants or pick up a gift along the way, you will need to dip into your travel budget.

For inexpensive family fun at Seaport Village, make a trip to the carousel which dates all the way back to 1895. The carousel costs $2 per ride, making it an affordable memory for everyone in your family.

The USS Midway Museum is also right next to Seaport Village. To save money in the long run, plan ahead and buy your tickets online from Tripster for an extra discount.

Photo Credit: Joe Wolf / Flickr

7. Check Out the Views from Mt. Soledad

Among the exciting and free things to do in San Diego with kids is the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial. In addition to the historic nature of the memorial, visitors are treated to an incredible view of San Diego. Kids love looking out onto San Diego and exploring the natural areas around the memorial, as well.

8. Go Stargazing at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

On the first Wednesday of each month, the San Diego Astronomy Association places massive telescopes in Balboa Park. During this event, guests can view the stars, constellations, and planets in the sky using these state-of-the-art telescopes free of charge! Members of the Astronomy Association are also on hand to assist kids and answer any questions they may have.

9. Coronado Summer Concert Series

Visiting San Diego in the summer? Take advantage of free concerts every Sunday evening in Spreckels Park. This 8-acre park located in Coronado also features a playground, picnic tables, and excellent views. Get there a little early to claim your spot for the concert and enjoy all the park has to offer.

10. Hang Ten at the California Surf Museum

Have your kids taken an interest in surfing after being on vacation in California? If so, bring them to the California Surf Museum. If you time your trip just right, your admission will also be free! The museum offers complimentary admission to visitors on the first Tuesday of every month.

While at the museum, kids can learn about the history of surfing, iconic surfers, and the science behind the sport.

If you visit San Diego in October, kids can visit top attractions like SeaWorld for free!

11. Visit San Diego in October for Free Admission

When on the hunt for free things to do in San Diego with kids, you’ll want to plan your trip for the month of October. Every October, San Diego celebrates kids with free admission to some of the area’s top attractions including LEGOLAND California, the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, and more!

Kids can receive free entry to these attractions with the purchase of a valid adult ticket. For the most affordable family vacation, visit San Diego in October!

Experience the Many Free Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

Have you visited San Diego with children before? What free activities did you find and enjoy?

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