20 Free Things to Do with Kids in San Diego

san diego sunsetI love San Diego. The weather is wonderful nearly every day and the beaches are beautiful. Plus, there are so many parks, museums, neighborhoods and restaurants worth exploring as a family. Take a look at 20 free and fantastic things to do with kids in the San Diego area. 

1. Explore Balboa Park. Spend the day at Balboa Park taking in the grounds and outdoor gardens, hiking on miles of trails and playing on several different playgrounds. Before you explore, stop in the Balboa Park Visitors Center for maps, brochures and a schedule of free guided tours of the park.

2. Make S’mores at Coronado Central Beach. Bring along some chocolate bars, marshmallows and graham crackers for s’mores-making at one of the many fire pits along Coronado Central Beach. Also, be sure to visit the swanky Hotel Del Coronado (the inspiration for Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian). For more on what to do on Coronado Island, check out this Coronado Island Day Trip Guide. 

3. Take in Sweeping Views from Mount Soledad. Drive to the top of Mount Soledad near La Jolla to enjoy panoramic views of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. You’ll find a cross at the top along with a memorial to military veterans. There’s plenty of parking as well as good spots for a picnic lunch.

Related article: LEGOLAND California: 10 Reasons Why It Really Is Incredibly Awesome 

4. Visit a One-Room Schoolhouse. Spend time exploring Mason Street School, the first public schoolhouse in San Diego County. Inside you’ll find a pot-bellied stove, student desks and various teaching materials on the walls. The schoolhouse in Old Town served students in eight grades.

5. Splash with Fido and Friends at Dog Beach. In the nearby town of Ocean Beach, head to Dog Beach where dogs roam free and off-leash. Kids will love watching the dogs splash in the waves and play fetch with tennis balls. More than a few pups will also be up for pets and love from your kids.

6. Watch the SeaWorld Fireworks. If you have no plans to visit SeaWorld, at least take time for the fireworks. Head to Mission Bay and enjoy the nightly light show for free from the beach. Or, book a Moonlight Fireworks Kayak Tour to see the show from a kayak on the water (fee applies).

7.  Tour the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Head to nearby Chula Vista for a tour of the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Free guided tours take place on Saturdays at 11 a.m. or enjoy a self-guided tour daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. You’ll see an archery complex, field hockey facilities, BMX tracks and more.

8. Stroll the Gaslamp Quarter. In the historic Gaslamp Quarter, take in 16 square blocks of Victorian-style buildings and modern offices and stores that sit side-by-side. Admire the buildings, shops, galleries and restaurants as you stroll the Gaslamp Quarter. It’s a great place to explore after dinner.

Related: Huntington Beach: 10 Things You’ve Got to Do in Surf City USA

9. Watch the Sunset from Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.  Make the drive to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park to watch beautiful sunsets as the waves crash against the cliffs. Get there early and take some time to walk along the top of the cliffs before the sun dips below the horizon.

10. Visit the Wells Fargo Museum. Kids will love learning to send and receive telegraphs, as well as checking out an actual stagecoach on display at the Wells Fargo Museum. You’ll also learn how westward travel was done in the 1800s. As a bonus, there are crayons and coloring pages for little ones.

11. Have a Bonfire on the Beach. Sure, you can roast marshmallows in Coronado, but you can also have bonfires right on the beach. So, bring a picnic blanket and some tunes to enjoy a beach bonfire once the sun sets. You can also have bonfires in Ocean Beach, Oceanside and Pacific Beach.

12. Take a Bike Ride on the Boardwalk. Grab your bike or simply put on your walking shoes and make the three-mile trip between Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. As you traverse the boardwalk, take time to watch beach volleyball games and stop for lunch (this is a great area for people-watching).

13. Explore Tide Pools at Cabrillo National Monument. Hike out to the ocean at Cabrillo National Monument during low tide for a look at anemones, sand dollars and other marine creatures lurking in the tide pools. If you like, take a ranger-led walk during low tide (a $5/car entry fee applies).

Related: 20 Free Things to Do with Kids in Los Angeles

14. Visit Museums on Free-Entry Days. Multiple museums offer free admission on certain days of the week or month. For example, the New Children’s Museum offers free entry on the second Sunday of each month. Or, get in free at the Museum of Contemporary Art the third Thursday evening of each month.

15. Enjoy a Movie in the Park. Parks all across San Diego County from Fallbrook to Vista are offering free outdoor movies through the end of September. Simply bring a blanket and a picnic dinner (or dessert) since movies start 15 minutes after sunset.

16. Splash in a Sprayground and Dancing Fountains. Put the kids in their swimsuits and head to the new Waterfront Park at the Embarcadero for a brand new sprayground complete with dancing fountains and water-friendly play structures. You’ll also find a playground and gardens to explore.

17. Learn About Marine Corps Aviators. Make a stop at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at Miramar to explore the work of Marine Corps aviators and ground crews. On select weekends through early-September, you can even sit in the cockpit of one of the fighter jets like a true aviator.

18. Watch Sea Lions Sun Themselves. Head to the Children’s Pool (also known as Casa Beach) in La Jolla to catch a glimpse of chubby seals and sea lions as they bark and play. Another great place for checking out seals and sea lions is Seal Rock, which is also in the La Jolla area.

Related article: 12 Fun Things to Do with Kids in Irvine

19. Visit a Farmers Market. It’s easy to find farmers markets worth exploring all across San Diego. Chat with the vendors, pick up some fresh produce and look for fruits and vegetables grown locally, like avocados and strawberries. A good one to check out is Hillcrest Farmers Market.

20. Enjoy Free Outdoor Performances. Head over to Seaport Village where you can enjoy free outdoor performances a few times a week, including those that are part of the free Sunday Concert Series. You’ll also find balloon artists and face painters from time to time, and don’t forget to ride the carousel ($2/ride).

Eager for more things to do in California? Check out The Atlas Heart for a massive bucket list of amazingly cool things to do in California, from cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge to hiking to the world-famous Hollywood Sign.

Photo Credit: moonjazz