San Diego’s Summer Savings
Get ready to have summer fun in San Diego without breaking the bank! Lots of things to see and enjoy in San Diego are absolutely free — and with 70 miles of beautiful beaches, near-perfect weather and a variety of summer street fairs, concerts, and arts and cultural events, San Diego offers a fun and inexpensive summer getaway.
Beaches and Aquatic Adventures
Head to San Diego’s many beautiful beaches, which are consistently ranked among the best in the nation. The beaches are all free and open to the public for swimming, body surfing or hanging 10. Build a sandcastle, relax with a good book or just bask in the sun – you won’t be disappointed.
Go snorkeling off San Diego’s shores and see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Cove offers some of the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater reserves, where you might glide above schools of stunning (but harmless) leopard sharks or spot the bright-orange glint of the garibaldi, California’s state marine fish.
YAY FOR MISSION BAY
Spend a day relaxing and playing in the recreational and aquatic wonderland that is Mission Bay Park, whose 4,600 acres take in sandy beaches, playgrounds, grassy lawns for picnicking and sports, a 12-mile path for biking and hiking and much more. Tecolote Shores along the park’s eastern edge is the place to go for kite-flying, while families and their animals will love the new, interactive Tecolote Shores Park North as well as Fiesta Island, whose entire expanse is dog- and horse-friendly. Mission Bay’s western beaches are also just a few blocks from the Pacific.
DOGS BY THE WATER
Watch tail-waggin’, Frisbee-catchin’ and stick-fetchin’ dogs splash in the surf at select San Diego beaches. Pooches are permitted to roam leash-free at all hours of the day on designated dog beaches in Ocean Beach, Coronado and Del Mar.
FREE SUMMER MUSIC
Take advantage of San Diego’s warm summer nights and enjoy a number of free summer concerts held in parks throughout the county.
BALBOA PARK TWILIGHT CONCERTS
When: June 20 – Aug. 31, 2023
Beginning in June, Twilight Concerts concerts are held at 7 PM on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday summer evenings in Balboa Park.
Tours and Sightseeing
MARVEL AT BALBOA PARK
Stroll through Balboa Park and marvel at its beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. While there, take advantage of the park’s variety of offerings, including 18 museums (select museums are free on Tuesdays for San Diego residents), free daily park tours and spectacular gardens (seven are free daily). The Timken Museum of Art is always free, and the beautifully renovated Mingei Museum also offers free areas. And for night owls and astronomy buffs, there’s stargazing outside the Fleet Science Center on the first Wednesday of every month: The San Diego Astronomy Association sets up huge telescopes to offer guests a great view of the night sky.
EXPLORE OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO STATE HISTORIC PARK
Visit Old Town and witness the living legacy of San Diego history. Guests are invited to wander free through Old Town’s historic buildings, including the blacksmith shop, Seeley Stables, Stewart House, Estudillo House and the oldest schoolhouse in San Diego. Be sure to visit the recently opened Iipay ~ Tipay Kumeyaay Mut Niihepok (Land of the First People) outdoor area, which offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the area’s earliest residents, the Kumeyaay.
TAKE THE 59-MILE SCENIC DRIVE
San Diego is famous for its 59-Mile Scenic Drive, which winds along the beautiful coastline and through some of the city’s most charming neighborhoods. And that’s just one of many fun road trips around the region, from the ocean-to-desert adventure of Historic Highway 80 to the backcountry beauty along Highway 79.
GALLAVANT THROUGH THE GASLAMP
Explore the sprawling Gaslamp Quarter, a nationally recognized historic district and the lively epicenter of San Diego’s Downtown. Check out such landmarks as the Davis-Horton House, the area’s oldest surviving structure, which was brought around Cape Horn from Maine in 1850 and reassembled here. Take time to admire what the Gaslamp Quarter Foundation calls the largest collection of restored Victorian office buildings this side of the Mississippi, and walk what was once the home turf of such memorable figures as the Old West lawman Wyatt Earp. And discover such modern wonders as the “Flame Flower” sculpture in front of the Westin Gaslamp Quarter hotel — and of course the impressive edifice that is Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres and named by USA Today as the No. 1 ballpark in America.
DISCOVER THE EMBARCADERO
Stroll along San Diego’s Embarcadero for hours of free entertainment, shopping and more. Enjoy a laid-back day of hanging out in the grass and watching the many passing yachts and ships on picturesque San Diego Bay, or take in the sights from one of the many bay-view benches and walkways. And don’t miss the numerous public artworks — including the towering and playful “Embracing Peace,” which sits just south of the massive USS Midway Museum. It’s all part of The Wonderfront, San Diego’s “largest attraction,” with 27 miles of bayside parks, marinas, shops, restaurants, promenades and bikeways.
7 SIGNATURE ARCHITECTURAL ATTRACTIONS TOUR
With its unique identity as a beach town, a border city, a bustling international port and a former frontier burg, San Diego has mixed and matched architectural styles to surprising and sometimes dazzling effect over the decades. While the influence of the region’s early Spanish settlement remains prominent, plenty of signature architectural sites here draw on other, more disparate traditions.
VIEW FROM THE TOP
Drive to the top of Mount Soledad in La Jolla for breathtaking, 360-degree views of San Diego, including the gently curving La Jolla coastline and Mission Bay. Spectacular views of San Diego’s East County communities also await guests at the top of Mount Helix.
VISIT AN OLYMPIAN TRAINING GROUND
Visit the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center (formerly the U.S. Olympic Training Center) in San Diego’s South Bay for a free tour of the 150-acre facility, including training fields and tracks, athlete dorms and the Otay Lake Reservoir. Self-guided tours are available daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
ESCAPE TO THE MOUNTAINS
Step back in time with a stop in Julian, a century-old mining town in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Pick up a free map at the Chamber of Commerce for a self-guided walking tour of the area’s historic sites, and later enjoy a slice of homemade apple pie — a Julian specialty!
Great Community Events
When: Aug. 19, 2023
A free literary celebration, TwainFest brings reading and writing alive all over Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, with live performances, classic characters (from Mark Twain to Emily Dickinson) and old-fashioned arcade-style games. All that and free books, too!
CHULA VISTA LEMON FESTIVAL
When: Aug. 12, 2023
Eat, Drink, and Be Zesty! The Lemon Festival includes two stages of live music, zesty photo ops, a lemon cookoff competition, a kids zone for the “Lil’ Lemons,” delicious food options, arts and crafts vendors and a wine and beer garden.
HILLCREST CITYFEST STREET FAIR
When: Aug. 13, 2023
CityFest takes place in the heart of Hillcrest under the signature Hillcrest sign and is a huge celebration of community spirit through music, arts, crafts and food.
INTERNATIONAL COTTAGES’ LAWN PROGRAMS
Soak up the international flavor at the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages in Balboa Park during the free International Cottages’ Lawn Programs. It’s a summer-long event, and a different country is celebrated each Sunday through ethnic foods, songs and dance.
SAN DIEGO FARMERS MARKETS
Sample some of the more than 200 varieties of fresh produce grown in San Diego at one of the region’s many Farmers Markets held daily at locations throughout the county.
SUMMER CAR SHOWS
San Diego’s car cruises and auto shows are the perfect way to spend a warm summer evening checking out everything from classics to the latest and greatest in the world of automobiles.
When: Sept. 1-3, 2023
Join the Barona Band of Mission Indians for Barona Powwow — a weekend of contest dancing in all categories, plus camping, drums and cultural immersion.
ARTWALK @ LIBERTY STATION
When: Aug. 5-6, 2023
ArtWalk @ Liberty Station brings fine art outside under San Diego’s sunny skies to create the perfect viewing under natural light. Purchase artwork directly from the finest artists in the region.
FEAST FOR THE SENSES
Take in the sights and sounds of San Diego’s vibrant arts and culture scene. The San Diego Symphony regularly offers rehearsals that are free and open to the public at the stunning new Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, set along the waterfront west of the San Diego Convention Center. And in La Jolla, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego — now open again after a dazzling rebuild — is free on the second Sunday and third Thursday of each month.
HISTORIC CHICANO ARTWORK
Check out the 80+ murals of Chicano Park, a National Historic Landmark and home to the largest collection of outdoor Chicano murals.
SOUTH BAY PRIDE FESTIVAL
When: Aug. 26, 2023
South Bay’s LGBTQIA+ community gathers to celebrate by the beach, with everything from art to yoga to live music, plus plenty of food and drink options.
When: Aug. 27, 2023
An eclectic and inspiring celebration of Leucadia’s unique culture and roots in creative expression, the LeucadiART Walk is a revival of the original ‘80s art event in historic Leucadia, with art, entertainment, a children’s pavilion and more.
When: Sept. 8-10, 2023
A favorite for 30 years now, Sycuan’s annual Pow-Wow immerses visitors in the cultural riches of Native culture, unfolding over two days in the East County community of El Cajon. A highlight of the Pow-Wow’s happenings is the traditional Bird singing and dancing.
When: Sept. 9-10, 2023
In a venue overlooking the ocean, explore different facets of art while enjoying beautiful views and much more during ArtWalk Carlsbad. More than 150 fine artists’ work will be featured, along with interactive art for families at KidsWalk, a full palette of musical performers, food trucks and stands, and more.
OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO FIESTAS PATRIAS
When: Sept. 16, 2023
Celebrate Mexican Independence Day with this free festival in Old Town, which begins with a vibrant parade and includes Escaramuzas (traditional female equestrians), music and dance groups, games and informational exhibits that showcase the lives of San Diego’s pioneer-era settlers.
FREE SUMMER MOVIES
After a day enjoying San Diego’s beautiful beaches, world-class attractions, numerous golf courses, fabulous shopping and amazing cultural institutions, spend the evening under the stars relaxing with a free movie, family, food and fun.
Surf and Sand for Spectators
WORLD BODYSURFING CHAMPIONSHIPS IN OCEANSIDE
When: Aug. 19-20, 2023
During the annual World Bodysurfing Championships, 350-400 bodysurfers from around the world compete in their respective age divisions for trophies and prizes.
LUAU AND LEGENDS OF SURFING INVITATIONAL
When: Aug. 27, 2023
Surfers, scientists and survivors come together to support the fight against cancer at the annual Luau and Legends of Surfing Invitational at the beach near Scripps Pier in La Jolla.
STROLL ALONG A PIER
You can get out on the water here (or at least over it) without even getting your feet wet, courtesy of San Diego’s great pier walks. Check out the surf action from Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, or the Ocean Beach Pier just a few miles to the south. Or watch the passing parade of boat traffic against the stunning backdrop of San Diego’s skyline at the Coronado Ferry Landing Pier.
And finally …
No list of San Diego’s fantastic freebies is complete without an ode to our gorgeous sunsets. There are loads of great places around the region to witness the sun sink behind the ocean waves, whether it’s the famed Windansea Beach in La Jolla or the aptly named Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma. Or you can watch those twilight hues settle over the city from the elegant perch of Mister A’s restaurant, a San Diego classic near downtown. Whatever spot you pick, the views are guaranteed to leave you with that golden San Diego glow.
“50+ Free Summer Events to Do in San Diego”, San Diego, SanDiego.org.